Title: Advocating for My Mother
Byline: As told to Debbie Shapiro
Three-and-a-half years ago, I moved my elderly mother to a nursing home in
, where I live. The nursing home that she had been in previously was in the Jerusalem , and I was only able to visit her every few months. Despite that American facility's sterling reputation, the care was far from optimal. Perhaps that was due to the fact that I was situated overseas and was unable to supervise and maintain a consistent presence with the staff. Upon my visits, I would notice, for example, that the caregivers would write in her chart that they had given her a shower or taken her for a walk, when in reality they hadn't. The last straw was when I hired a private night nurse – who came with the highest recommendations – and she repeatedly did not pick up my phone calls in the middle of the night. Upon investigation, I discovered that she was also taking care of another patient on a different floor! United States
After my mother moved to a nursing home in
, I was able to be more intimately involved in her care. I left my home every morning at six to be present when the nurses' aides woke my mother up and got her dressed. The aides have to wake many patients and dress them in a very short amount of time, so they are not always gentle. With me in the room, I felt assured that they would not be overly rough. While they were taking care of my mother, I would prepare a private "newspaper" with the day of the week, the weather forecast, a list of the day's activities and who would be coming in to be with her, as well as an uplifting picture. My mother treasured these papers and saved every single one. After the aides finished dressing her, I remained to feed her breakfast. The aides are overworked and stuff the food into the patients' mouths, often shoveling in one spoonful after another, without giving the patients time to swallow. Israel
I once watched two aides put false teeth on a screaming woman, and then go on to take care of another patient, while the first woman continued sobbing hysterically. I called over the nurse and told her that I thought the woman's teeth were hurting her. Sure enough, the aides had forced someone else's teeth into her mouth. Another time, I stopped a nurse just as she was about to give my mother the wrong medication. When I pointed out the mistake, she prepared a new batch, since my mother’s had already been given to another patient. But no one bothered to try to figure out the identity of that other patient!
After witnessing these things, I didn't want to leave my mother alone, but on the other hand, I couldn't stay with her around the clock. So I arranged for a very sweet kollel wife to come after my mother finished eating her breakfast. She would take my mother for walks, do art projects with her, and just be there for her when I couldn't. In the afternoon, another woman came and remained with my mother until she went to sleep at night. And of course, I made a point of popping in at all different times of the day and night to make sure that everyone was doing their job properly.
While my mother was in the nursing home, she had a stroke and ended up spending a month in the hospital. Since she was very sick, literally wavering between life and death, I remained at her bedside the entire time. I lived on a chair in her room, keeping an eye on all the machines and making sure that, in her semi-conscious state, she didn’t pull out any of the uncomfortable tubes. Many times I alerted the nursing staff to an emergency. During this entire ordeal, I was the only one who maintained hope that she would pull through, as her situation was critical. When she finally did return to the nursing home, she was paralyzed on one side, yet much to everyone's surprise, she was cognitively intact and able to communicate.
Back in the nursing home, one of the aides pulled my mother's paralyzed arm to get her up from the bed, despite my mother's hysterical screams. After that, my mother was in terrible pain, but everyone assumed that she was just a kvetchy old lady and didn't take her seriously. Finally, after two days, I managed to convince the doctor at the facility to send her for x-rays, which showed that the arm had been broken. I made a real fuss about what had happened and insisted that the staff undergo training on the proper way to get patients out of bed.
Following this incident, I was told that it's against the rules for me to remain in the room while the staff is taking care of my mother. They even banned me from standing outside the door. The nurses and aides were upset that I was "criticizing" the way they were taking care of the patients, but I knew that I was my mother's best advocate and insisted on excellent care. It was a real battle, but this was one battle that I was not about to give up on!
I lost my father when I was a young girl. My mother raised us on her own, working hard to give us all the things we needed. She literally sacrificed herself for my welfare. Baruch Hashem, with a supportive husband and grown-up kids, I was able to devote myself to her care, and I'm glad that I did. May my mother's memory be a blessing.