As an elder lawyer, I know that five out of ten of us will go to a nursing home – and that four out of ten of us will die in one. I know that of the one in ten of us who goes to a nursing home but does not die in one, a fair percentage simply die after a being transferred from the nursing home to a hospital.
For some of us, a nursing home, like a hospital, is a place where we go to recover, an interruption in our otherwise more-or-less-manageable lives.
For most of us, a nursing home is a place where we go to live, the last place we will live.
So I have been thinking about what I would bring to the last place I will live.
There won’t be much room.
I will probably have to share a room with someone, possibly someone with execrable taste in music or someone who keeps the television on day and night, tuned to channels I never watch.
There won’t be many visitors: one in four nursing home residents never have a visitor. My clients’ adult children think they are heroic in visiting once a week. Most do not want to keep that up for years on end: it interferes with their children’s band practice and soccer games and their own desires for rest and recreation.
I probably won’t be able to go places often, even if I am able and have money. Space in nursing home vans must go first to people on dialysis. The places they do visit aren’t necessarily the stores or theatres or concerts or games or libraries that I will want to go to. I won’t be able to go to church unless someone in my congregation picks me up. The services held at the nursing home simply may not suit. I wonder whether I will be able to get out in nature at all: most nursing homes do not even have a courtyard.
So what would I bring to the last place I will live? And how would I make sure that it gets there and, with all those strangers wandering in and out, stays mine? What do you suggest?
- I want a record of my medical history which will be continuously updated, and a record of my likes and dislikes – not just my allergies.
- I want my laptop and cell phone and stationery and stamps. I want to be able to communicate with the outside world at will and not feel like I am in jail.
- I want a folder with information on how to deal with procedures and decisions with which I disagree. Someone else may own the nursing home but I own me.
- I want plants and the pleasure of watching something grow.
- I want a friend – and may need to bring a cat or a dog to make sure that I have one.
- I want my memory books of photos and memorabilia and those special books which I turn to repeatedly. I also want library access, though I wonder how I will get it. I want a lamp, my lamp, on my bedside table, and magnifiers to help me read without disturbing my roommate.
- I want my music, and a way to listen to it without disturbing my roommate.
- I want my favorite artwork on the walls. Surely there will be room for that. Maybe I should hang a diploma and some pictures just to let people know something about me.
- I want my own bedspread and throw pillows and curtains, soft sheets and blankets; a warm bedjacket and a throw to put over my legs when I am cold.
- I want lotions for my face and hands and feet and wonder who will rub them for me when I cannot. I want emory boards and nail care and wonder who will provide that when I cannot. I may want makeup, perfume and a mirror attached to my bedside table. Most nursing homes have a beauty salon. Maybe, if I have enough money, I will get my hair done occasionally.
- I want access to classes of all sorts.
- I want to be able to exercise, even if it is just lifting two-pound weights with my one good arm.
- I want hobby materials and a chance to organize quilting bees or a discussion group or a choir or whatever else strikes my fancy.
- I want the ability to lock up my things, knowing that an absent-minded fellow resident may “borrow” them.
- Nursing homes generally say that they only have room for three weeks of clothes. I will have to rotate what I bring and be able to buy new clothes and shoes. Seasons change. Special occasions such as birthday parties and holidays call for different clothes. While I may have to wear clothes which are easy for other people to get on and off me. I still want them to be comfortable, to suit me, to be clothes that I like and will be complimented on.
- Nursing home food may not always suit me. I want to have favorite foods occasionally even if they are not on the nursing home menu.
- I want to get out. I want an account which pays for someone to push my wheelchair for a walk or drive me wherever I want to go.
- I want to have a journal and other writing materials. Old age offers a gift which the young cannot possess: repose. When I am in the last place that I will ever live, I want to tell you what life is like from my perspective. It may inform yours.
Elder law attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is an Approved Guardianship Attorney. She assists people in elder law, estate and special needs planning, guardianship and settling estates. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.