Sunday, August 1, 2010

Rehab, Part 2: The Call Button

The ambulance team wheeled me down a long corridor to an end room. There were two beds, one occupied by an elderly man with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease, unable to walk, talk, or feed himself. The team lifted me into the unoccupied bed, gathered their equipment and left.

I took a few minutes to assess my situation. My inflamed knees were screaming for pain meds, and my five-day constipation struggle had put me into a foul mood. The room felt absurdly hot, even though there was an air-conditioning unit next to my bed that was set to 60 degrees. There were no amenities near the bed – no tray table, no bedside commode, no urinal, no walker, no wheelchair.

Across the room were two desks, clearly unused by any resident since they were assembled 10 years ago. My roommate’s desk had a small TV, loudly blaring an episode of Little House on the Prairie. At every commercial break, an older man and woman dressed in conservative clothing thanked the viewers for watching the show, “depicting the early pioneer days of American history, based on the core biblical values of faith and family.” They would then ask for donations to enable them to continue such programming. That was it – no other advertising.

I decided to deal with the medication issue first, and reached for the Call button. There wasn’t one. Horrified, I started to call out: “HEY! ANYBODY THERE?” Down the hall I could hear other elderly residents in various stages of dementia take up the call, like so many magpies: “Heeeeyyyy! Hellooooo! HEY!” It occurred to me that the attendants had long ago learned to ignore them.

I yelled myself raw for about 10 minutes before somebody showed up. Red-faced, I demanded to know why there was no Call button. “Were you not expecting me today?” I sputtered. “What if I had a medical emergency?” The attendant listened to me, wide-eyed, and then said she would go get the nurse. The nurse waddled in, an older woman with the spreading thighs of a desk-bound bureaucrat.

“You don’t have a Call button? She asked. “I guess we should find one for you.”

Once the Call button was hooked up, the nurse turned to me and asked the stupidest question imaginable: “Is there anything else you need?”

“Well, we can start with the reason I wanted the Call button in the first place,” I snarled. “I need my pain medication.”

“It’s not here yet,” she said. “We had to order it.”

Once again, I was dumbfounded. “You’ve had all day to prepare for my arrival!” I was red-faced now, and shouting. “If you’re unable to provide the basic essentials for my care, I should never have been transferred here! Has anyone read my chart? I’m not ambulatory! I’ve been constipated for a week, and I could launch this torpedo at any time! How were you planning to handle my bathroom visits? Is someone going to bring a wheelchair and take me to the bathroom?”

“No,” she told me, “we can’t do that because you haven’t been trained how to transfer from a wheelchair to a toilet yet. Too dangerous.”

“OK!” I exclaimed. “Got it! Now what the hell is Plan B?”

“I suppose we could find you a bedside commode,” she suggested hesitantly.

“Excellent idea. Why don’t you do that, and while you’re at it, find out when exactly my meds will arrive.”

I lay there fuming, while the wide-eyed attendant watched me from across the room, fully expecting my head to explode. I get the impression that most residents don’t possess the capacity to complain, and this was a new phenomenon.

The nurse returned shortly with a commode, which they placed next to my bed, along with a tray table and a urinal. By then it was 9 p.m. The nurse told me my meds should arrive within an hour and a half, and then they got the hell out of there.

The meds showed up at 2:20 a.m., by which time I was sobbing from the pain and discomfort.

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