Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You Can't Go Home Again: You may not want to either

Palm Springs right now is hot. VERY hot. After days of living a kind of monastic life hiding from the heat of up to 115º and unless it was pee & poop time for my dog Maggie, who I might add seems oblivious to the heat concentrating instead on catching lizards, we hid inside! Anyway, you lay low, very low when the temperatures climbs to 115º.

Brookdale - Alhambra, CA
Last weekend, bored out of my mind, I  mean how many movies, how much TV and how many books can you read? I decided to visit friends in my old stomping grounds. Well, one after another was busy, not home so with Maggie, riding shotgun, I decided to visit my old assisted living home, Brookdale Alhambra.

I entered there a little more than a year ago in a wheelchair. After a series of medical issues I was placed in this facility after leaving both the hospital and a therapeutic care facility. I could walk but barely. While I never liked the home I did make some good friends and so since no one else was around, I decided to visit friends and see if anything had changed.

NO ONE wants to go into assisted living, even if they know, deep inside, they are unable to care for themselves completely. Facilities such as this merely warehouse you until the inevitable or they are no longer able to provide for almost hospice like needs. So, some walk, use canes or walkers or are in wheelchairs, sometimes getting around alone but often being wheeled about by a caregiver. It has a specific design management of residents and often, the residents are not happy.

Brookdale lobby - the death watch awaits
Brookdale Alhambra is one of a chain of residents with homes in 43 states managing (they say caring) for over 110,000 residents. Or as they say in OUR BRAND PROMISE: "Our brand promise tells prospective residents, family members, referral sources, partners, the media and investors that Brookdale is different and special. We are the industry leader and are changing this industry - something that no other senior living company can say." Ah ...  let me count the ways.

As one of the few that was able to leave NOT feet first but actually move and drive away, this facility, and you have to question all the others as well, was not up to snuff.

Simply entering the lobby was the first clue. As you later learn, the same people sit in the same chairs and snooze away there all day. It is depressing at first sight. If you sit in one of the "designated" spots, fights would break out. Until humiliated into action, the director finally replaced the burnt out bulbs in the lobby chandelier. It was a dreary place with a half hearted attempt to decorate monthly themes dictated by management in Tennessee.
From the garage to the lobby.

Typical Brookdale carpet
The place was filthy. Originally a motel built back in the 70's, the doorways were too small for wheelchairs. The red carpeting looked like it came over on the Mayflower and had been cleaned about as many times. There were two elevators, small things that could barely hold two people and two wheelchairs. For many it was the only way either to the lobby on the main floor or to the dining room one floor above. The entire structure had three floors. In case of a fire we were told, only on asking, to just stay in our rooms. The doors were fireproof. I was told by those in the know, they weren't. The other elevator went down to the garage and you went across the garage to the lobby and more carpet that caused many of us to trip, was removed and then put back into place so we could trip some more. All in all not a very safe environment for those with even the slightest disability.

It was good to see old friends. Some of the staff was still there (I moved out in January 2016) and many of the residents I knew, or at least those I wanted to see. I have talked to another resident who left because he just couldn't stand the place. They were both surprised and pleased to see me. We caught up on events ... people who have passed, new staff and what has been going on or more likely not going on.

Panorama of the dining room
Entry into the dining room. The metal
sash was so high wheelchair residents had
to enter backwards
Seeing that so little had changed was depressing. The lobby was a dreary as ever, the walls and floors were scuffed and the carpet still filthy. When they all said to come to lunch at 11:30 I followed them down, sat down with them at their table and answered questions. They were interested in my new life in Palm Springs, my trips, the moving and setting up of my condo rental.

However, as I talked my eyes wandered about, remembering the seating of everyone, noting that the chandeliers still had burned out bulbs and wondering if the carpet would ever be fully cleaned or replaced. A carpet in a dining room with seniors that dropped things all the time? Really?

When these issues were brought up at the residents council meeting, you could write a book on the list of reasons why it couldn't be done.  Case in point. The light switch that controlled the lights over the table I and my partner sat had a timer switch. Why, no one knew. It was nearly impossible to keep on and would shut off while you ate, if you could get it turned on. I pointed that out to the director finally and man oh man what a stream of excuses. It turned out my partner was a retired contractor and just looked at her. I said, "Michelle, you go to Home Depot, buy a normal on / off switch, take this one out and replace it with the new one. Five minutes tops." She didn't know what to say. However, that evening, we had a new switch.
Typical dining room chandeliers

The lighting in the dining room was so bad in certain areas that the cook had to bring out a stool and tried to replace some of the bulbs. I don't know, saving electricity? Since they were all CFL's wasn't that the point? They used less power? Maybe they were trying for a romantic ambiance or hiding the food.

However, it was when they brought the food out to choose from, that I nearly retched. It was the same crap and to a man or woman all opted for either a grilled cheese or hamburger that was actually pretty good. Nothing had changed and while I was offered lunch several times, I just couldn't. It looked that bad. I don't eat white rice to this day!

Our evening entree - beans and hot dog or slabs of tofu

We were supposed to have two entree choices ... one western and one Asian (at least 70% of the residents were Asian) but over time rice was offered on both entrees and they would serve items a good many of us were not supposed to eat.

One night was so bad, I got up and walked to a pub nearby that served wonderful craft beer and had a menu that was palatable.

Drip dripping away
For awhile there would be a daily menu. But when items were changed from what was printed that was dropped. Then they would place a sample of each meal for us to choose from. I can't tell you how many times many of us  would choose something else. For me the big problem was foods that had Vitamin K in them. If you are on blood thinners, you can't eat broccoli, spinach, cauliflower or drink cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, green tea and such. Guess what was on just about every lunch and dinner? Finally the servers would take out the offending vegetables and we would have flecks of them remaining with our carrots, corn and whatnot.

And if this doesn't turn your stomach while you are eating, you have a much better constitution that I do. Sitting near the kitchen dirty dishwater would creep in from the kitchen. This occurred more than once in my 10 month stay.

To be fair though, I will say that for a few months at least, this probably was the place for me to be. A series of pneumonia episodes laid me low and soon after arriving there, an orderly that checked on residents day and night found me unconscious on my bed, unresponsive running a 103º temperature. I was taken to the hospital where I remained for nine days. My lungs had completely filled with fluid.

Yup, salads were lettuce and dressing
For a home that "is different and special" getting fresh fruit and vegetables was a chore. In fact, you snooze, you loose. A few people would take all of the fruit if either apples, oranges or bananas were placed on the counter to take. Evidently they counted them because if the 5 or 6 of each were gone, there weren't any more. The same could be said about the salads ... something you had to ask for and then verbally make if you didn't want literally lettuce and dressing.

Yet, at the same time there were amazing shortcomings as well. Many of the bathrooms had had new fiberglass shower stalls installed yet not one of them had handholds. Bringing this up to the director I was told to get a suction cup type from Walmart. And, that would be when?  With no driver and fighting to even get to doctors appointments trips (though promised in the literature) getting anywhere was out of the question. I was told on and on why they couldn't be installed. When I slipped in the shower I had to page for help that took at least 30 minutes. I was naked and wet and couldn't get a good enough handhold to get up. After my last hospital bout, I found that two new handholds had been put in my shower even though a million reasons were given to me why it couldn't be done. Then later they went from room to room to see who did and didn't have shower handholds.

One night I woke up in the common restroom laying on the floor twisted in my walker. I pushed and pushed my alert button yet nothing happened. Luckily I had my cell phone with me and called the lobby to send someone to get me. I couldn't get up. Thirty minutes later, I know I was watching all this on my iPhone, they came to rescue me. I never used that walker again.

Crafting class
There were high points. As a crafter I had always wanted to teach. The several opportunities I had were laid low by two years in a row of illnesses. So, I volunteered to teach a class at the home. Even at 69 I was a youngster. Some couldn't speak a word of English, some did their own thing but I would get a crowd of 8 - 10 every week. I was given just about no budget so had to make do with what I could find around the home. We did have fun and I would see my students carrying around their latest project all day after class.

There were things to do and residents could participate or not. One of the biggest hurdles though was that everything was in English and many of the residents were Chinese. Some of those spoke Mandarin, others Cantonese and while the written language is the same, the spoken part is totally different. Still, many were game and I enjoyed working with them. I quickly learned seniors were little different from kindergarteners. I finally relaxed and let them do their own thing. Even at an hour, and oftentimes more, it was exhausting but exhilarating.

Even Christmas got short shift. Whatever
was found in closets and the decorations
made by my class, were the decorations.
When staff tried to take credit the class
vocally added that many of the decorations
were theirs, items printed by their teacher, me!
I have no idea what the other Brookdale's are like. Friends here in the desert took me to a facility of theirs here in the Coachella Valley and the difference, at least from the outside, was like night and day. However, I can easily understand why seniors don't want to go to them. You are ripped away from your surroundings, your support system ... church, shopping, friends, family are suddenly gone and you enter a kind of regimen that revolves around your meals and medications. It wasn't until after dinner, unless you just decided you wanted to miss a meal and could, that you had some truly free time and then, well, it was bed time!

Seeing all this after moving away, setting up my own digs as a bachelor, traveling again, experiencing freedom for the first time in many years, I realized how we design our lives. We all fall into a rut and truth be told, resent those that have, like me, broken from the past and are willing to forge a new life. Each person has to take their own path. With or without a lifetime partner, there are times in our lives when we need to start all over again. Renters next door sold everything and have moved from place to place now for six years. Husband and wife, older than me, seemed very alive and were wonderful people to chat with! So, as I saw firsthand it can be done.

Assisted living may be in my future again, but this time I hope that I will have more of a choice and that can help me make a decision that will be best for me.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs. All have a common these of how our lives are designed and how we respond to that!

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