An Account of Being Sentenced to Life in a Skilled Nursing Facility

An empty room in a nursing home with a bed, chair, desk, and window.

Content notes: toileting, neglect, isolation, institutionalization

This morning I watched my roommate eat her breakfast on a bedside commode that had been full since yesterday. Again. I don’t really know which stench was worse, the potty or the shame. If our food hadn’t already arrived cold, it would have been by the time she got her appetite back. She is in this skilled nursing facility because she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on her right side and as such, she is mistreated daily by a staff that consistently picks (on) the low hanging fruit.

More often than not she is placed with no bottoms on in front of an open door. The alternative is equally disturbing. That would entail Staff standing over her or sitting in front of her while she tried to conduct some private business in a very public way. And then there are the bedsores, which are a pathway to infection and proof of neglect.

And it is only 8 a.m. I pressed my call button knowing that would just piss them off. If anyone came at all they would probably come in, turn the light off and promise to be right back. Yeah, and I weigh what it says on my drivers’ license.

So, here we sit- alone together. In the civilian form of isolation. But the word isolation is not loud enough; not razor sharp enough; not poke you in the eye with a pointy stick enough, to express the soul scraping that goes on here on the daily.

After a while you tend to think that smiles are not so much given as they are won by us ‘lesser-thans’. Something big, like Oprah big, would have to intervene.

“You get a smile and you get a smile and you get a smile!” a distinctly disinterested Emcee/Administrator would announce. And all you had to pay was taxes or $6000/mo., whichever was higher.

Or maybe a better quality of life for us was a simple shell game where some less than divine hand was shaking things up and shifting them around until we picked the shell with a hot meal underneath or maybe water that didn’t smell like raw sewage or a dead body. Now, I don’t go around smelling dead bodies but the nurse that proffered that part of the analogy had smelled her share.

I’m not potty obsessed, it’s just since being in this place that served me up one of the most humiliating moments of my life in a bedpan theoretically, my gut hurts. In short, I feel like shit.

I met the administrator for the first time in over a month after I became a resident. He was there on a very chaotic weekend for a change. The chaos wasn’t the change but his presence was. He came into my room because of a clogged toilet. He marched in armed with a plunger, chest puffed out, determined to show that toilet who was in charge. I wasn’t even sure if he knew what end of a plunger to use.

He plunged with all of his might for at least 30 seconds. Toilet: 1, Administrator: 0. He came out and told us that he would have to get somebody to fix it. As he headed for the door, I asked what I was supposed to use for a toilet until then. Equally confused and caught off guard after his near-death experience with the plunger no doubt, he sputtered that he would get me a bedside commode. The next time I saw him was when he crossed the street and got into his truck. Silly man, I thought to myself, ‘Commodes R Us’ is closed on Sundays!

I was able to use the bathroom that night in an empty room at the end of hall. The next morning was awfully different. With no empty room at my disposal, I grabbed a handful of plastic lined cloths called ‘chucs’ and spread them out on the floor. I stood on them, squatted as best I could and then I pissed and shitted on them.
Oddly, as urgently as I had to go, it took a while to make a move(ment) as if my body was morally opposed and appropriately frozen in this debasing snapshot of my life. And then I cleaned up my mess. I forgot to bring toilet paper so I used my panties and threw them away afterwards. And it wasn’t my day to shower either.

In retrospect, that Monday was the culmination of a weekend full of examples of the lengths staff was willing to go just to cover their asses and protect each other. My Grandma would say people like that would rather walk a country mile to tell a lie rather than stand still and tell the truth.

For example, the wounds I went in with got worse and I even got new ones while there chiefly because the ‘wound care nurse’ refused to see me nor would she order what I needed to dress them myself because what I needed was too expensive.

My desperately needed therapy stopped when my Medicare benefits ended after day 20. I was really counting on my physical and occupational therapy so I could get strong enough to take care of myself. Since I am a ‘sheltered homeless’ person, strength and the ability to defend myself are crucial to my survival. My speech therapy is integral because since my intubation for almost 4 months, proper breathing and swallowing techniques are life savers. It also doesn’t hurt to have a big voice to scream with either.

But, the biggest WTF? moment came courtesy of the facility physician. I’d been asking about a visit from him since I arrived almost 6 weeks prior. He came with an intern and two staff members including the wound care nurse.

The doctor insisted he had seen me several times. He usually came on Fridays and I arrived on Thursday July 15th. When pressed for answers he was beyond irate. When I didn’t let up, he grunted, “Not only have I seen you several times but I saw you on Friday July 16th and I saw you right here in this room in that bed!”

My reply? “That was a neat trick since I was in another room up until a couple of weeks ago!”

Can you say Medicare fraud? I knew you could.

I immediately requested a copy of my medical records, anxious to see if Medicare had been billed for visits never made. I only saw the physicians’ assistant once since I arrived so that wasn’t an explanation for any billing discrepancies either. I’m still waiting.

I wish I could say that I’m not usually so jaded but after years of trying to dodge bureaucratic boulders, I am battle-tested and war-weary. I encountered the same deception during my last stay at a skilled nursing facility. But that’s a story for another day.

The time is past due for those who contribute to the systemic handcuffing of those of us who must be chained for a lifetime to poverty and ‘lesser than-ism’, to sup on their share of the blame.

But how? A good start would be for all individuals and organizations that feed and therefor enable the greedy to stand over the needy. That means stop making contributions whether they be of service or monetary in nature without seeing first hand where the money and the time goes. Show up before your annual ‘days of service’ and get a real picture of where your dollars are going. The element of surprise is one of your best weapons.

AND PLEASE, STOP WRITING CHECKS AND WASHING YOUR HANDS! There’s more to life and death than that.

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