One of the problems with having a parent in a nursing home: the roommate. My dad's roommate (we'll call him Corduroy) is driving my mother mad.
Corduroy came in to Shiny Meadows in March, recovering from a fractured hip. He is coherent, somewhat friendly, and 80. The center of his life is the TV suspended from the wall in front of him.
I get it. I get needing the TV on for hours and hours and hours. Life can be lonely, and most certainly a nursing home existence is a pointedly lonely one. The problem is, Corduroy keeps his TV on, blasting, every night, all night long. Dad actually does go to sleep and snores like a bear cub with the noise, but the idea of him having to "put up with that damned TV all the time" has driven my mom to distraction. She calls Shiny Meadows late at night sometimes, to ask the night nurse if she'll turn off the TV. Corduroy is sleeping. He will never know the TV is off. And the night nurse says "It's Corduroy's right to have it on." And my mom says "What about Freddie's rights?"
My dad is next in line for a private room at Shiny Meadows. There are only six of them on his wing of the building. They are currently occupied by:
1. John, an elderly former local politician who is tired and bent over in his wheelchair and whose daughter was my 8th grade home-ec teacher.
2. Annie Mae, 80-ish, in dementia, back and forth between sweet and smiling and pissed off and troublesome for the staff. She regularly decides she is going out to get into her car and taking off to find her mother. On other days she is weeping because she thinks her mother has just died. This breaks my heart. As though going through the loss of your mother once isn't enough. She is the pickiest eater in the wing, often counting on her devoted daughter to bring her a milkshake. She likes sweets, as do virtually all Alzheimers patients. Also confined to a wheelchair.
3. Smiley, 85 or so, a skinny little fragile woman who darts around on her walker like a waterbug scooting across a pond. She has a real name, but one of our family friends who died in Shiny Meadows a few months back dubbed her Smiley because she never ever smiles. Hurries to the dining room, eats quickly, heads back to her room, pronto.
4. Blanche, a night owl. Mostly in a wheelchair, still coherent. My parents have known her forever. She and my dad have always chided one another for their polar political beliefs. When Dad first came to Shiny Meadows, Blanche could get a reaction from him when she said "Here comes that Republican. You know, I'm a Democrat." Dad would say "Oh NO." It was thrilling to Mom and me, having him react to anything. Blanche likes to sleep all day and roll around the hallways at night like a ghost. To keep her occupied, sometimes the night nurse lets her sit behind the nurses' station. But if there is anything to eat, Blanche finds it and eats it. Unapologetically.
5. Sophie. 85 or 90. Wears the same black and red flowered blouse almost every day. Has a constantly itchy back. My mom scratches it for her, through the black and red flowers. Moves along in her wheelchair with her feet, and sits and watches everything around her for entertainment. Quiet and sweet. Has started seeking my mother out for back scratches.
6. Then there is Marzo. She gets around on her walker, is coherent some days and not others, and she wears pink Crocs. She does her leg exercises in physical therapy, back and forth, back and forth, very well with little effort. My family has also known Marzo forever, partly because Marzo has been alive forever. She is 104 years old.
Here is the odd water I'm paddling in: If my dad had a private room, we could put an extra bed in it, a double bed, so that not only could my mom lie down and rest during her long, exhausting hours at Shiny Meadows, but she could also spoon/cuddle/be next to Dad. There would be no Corduroy blasting his blasted TV. There would be no worries about the next roommate and what he might be like.
But of course for Dad's turn at the private room to come around, one of the six would have to go home, or die. None of these six Shiny Meadowers is going home.
Smiley has been in a weakened state a couple of times, once after she took a header onto the cement floor. She's better now and scooting around quietly, her black eye healed, the tennis balls on the feet of her walker sliding past like the stockinged feet of a shy girl at her first sock-hop.
Blanche and Annie Mae are as healthy as horses.
Sophie is a quiet mystery, but seems pretty sturdy.
John is too sleepy to assess.
Marzo has had a rough spell. She got sick with something flu-like last week, then bounced back, though her bounces only go so high at this age. And now she's weak and in a wheelchair and on oxygen.
I used to make jokes to Mom about sneaking in to Shiny Meadows late at night and offing Marzo with her pillow, but Marzo would probably kick my ass and get me down and snap me in two with a thigh-lock.
I do not wish any of these people a quicker death. It makes me feel sick to want a private room for Dad as much as I want it. Mostly I want some rest for my mom.
Mom says Marzo, although 104, "is just as scared to die as she would've been at 80." This is something I have thought about more than is probably healthy. Are we supposed to be less afraid of death the older we get? I'm afraid at 50. I'm afraid of more things now than ever. I need sleeping pills now more than ever. Makes no sense. My life is better than it's ever been, and still fear eats me up.
As I'm going to sleep at night, I often pray for every person at Shiny Meadows. I ask God to rush through the halls like a whoosh of steam, touching every person there with some sort of peace. And then I wait for my pill to bring me sleep.