It’s funny how life comes full circle. Think about a young child – we love to take them to the zoo or to the aquarium in order to be amazed with what they can see. We feed them to make sure they don’t make a mess. We toilet them to make sure that they go. Songs are sung to comfort them. Sometimes, a bear or a blanket become the safest and most comforting things. With all of those descriptions, one would think that I was really into pediatrics. Sadly, I’m not. What I have described are the exact things done and given to the elderly in many facilities.
Some facilities are nicer than others. There are activities, outings, a low patient to caregiver ratio, the halls are decorated and they don’t feel so clinical. As I was typing, I realized that those are some of the same things that I would look for if I was investigating a preschool for my child. Will they be mean to my loved one? Will they be able to watch over them when I cannot to ensure that they don’t get hurt? Will they be able to continually stimulate their mind or will they get plopped in front of a tv? See what I mean? Very similar concerns.
This one Cadillac of facilities has several fish tanks with gorgeous fish. There are floor to ceiling bird cages with all sorts of delightful birds. There is a massive aquarium with the largest eel I have ever seen. Now, to me, that eel is what nightmares are made of. But, if I think about it from an elderly person’s point of view, it’s something that they can see, it’s large and bright and maybe they get lost in thoughts of freedom, just like that eel swimming so freely.
Sometimes, as I am assessing a patient, our eyes meet and it’s almost like I am pulled into their world. Perhaps it’s my own worries and fears, but, it feels like I lose my breath thinking of the frustration and anguish they must feel. Their bodies have betrayed them. Those once nimble fingers that threaded needles are now bulky and awkward. The feet that once held them up for hours as they worked in the mills now collapse with the slightest weight. The loss of dignity. The loss of identity. The loss of control. The loss of humanity. The thought is searingly bad.
I guess that’s maybe why certain facilities have the things they do. The ability to express themselves is gone. Locked in a body that is steadily falling apart, perhaps the fish and birds grasp their attention enough to forget about their world for even just a moment. Distraction. Just as a toddler is distracted when they are in the midst of a tantrum, so too are their counterparts. I guess the circle of life really is just that… a circle. Keep them safe, keep them distracted and keep them….