LOST IN TIME…LOST IN SPACE

 

Toward the end of July, 2011, I began having back and abdominal pain that progressed from mild to extreme.  Four trips to the emergency room at McGuire Veterans Hospital provided no relief.  In desperation, and to avoid a wait time in the ER, on July 28th, I called an ambulance to pick me up at home.

Somewhere, during the trip to the ER, my mind went blank. I have no memory of being admitted to the hospital.  I have no memory of staying six nights.

My medical records show that seven days later, on August 3rd, I was transferred to Sitter and Barfoot Veterans Care Center.

Sitter and Barfoot is a veterans’ long-term care and rehab center. I had never heard of it.  I have no recollection of being included in the decision process. No family members participated in the decision to move me to a nursing home.

I’ve been told that I was discharged from McGuire on my own and arrived at Sitter and Barfoot by taxi. I have no memory of a cab ride. I completed the admitting paperwork but don’t remember doing so.

I have vague recollections of being in unfamiliar surroundings, being restrained in a bed at night with bolsters on both sides and with an attendant.  I have no idea why I was restrained other than being a possible flight risk. Staff members have told me that I was aggressive, delusional, and hallucinating.

In September, seven weeks later, I was scheduled for back surgery, returning to McGuire for a laminectomy at T-8 and T-9 vertebrae. I have no memory of the discharge from Sitter and Barfoot and being readmitted back to McGuire. The surgery was performed on September 22. I have been unable to stand or walk since.

My medical chart shows that on 10/26/2011, Kathryn L. Hall, a social work student wrote:  “When asked about his IDT [interdisciplinary team] meeting yesterday, the patient said that he understood he would not be able to return home, but hopefully will be able to return to Sitter & Barfoot.”

It remains unclear who was “hopeful.”

Ms. Hall was under the supervision of Thomas Olivieri, MSW.

I stayed at McGuire Hospital until December 9th, 2011, receiving various antibiotics, therapies, rehabilitation, and consults from a variety of medical disciplines.

Returning to Sitter and Barfoot was the only option offered, and I knew of no other comparable facility.  My previous experience at Sitter and Barfoot was unremarkable.

The social workers at McGuire glossed over the fact that I would have to switch from being treated under the Veterans Health Administration and change to Medicaid. I would lose all of my possessions; all retirement income less $40.00/mo personal needs allowance, and my best friend.

Even though the prognosis was grim, I remained optimistic about the future and refused to accept the fact that I would never walk again.

I did not comprehend the long-term consequences regarding the direction the social workers pushed me.  In retrospect, the options presented to me were end-of-life decisions—at the young age of 69.

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I will spend the rest of my life in a nursing home where if feel constrained. I was coerced into a controlled environment and had to surrender my independence; placed in a closed social structure that was foreign to me. I found myself surrounded by persons, not of my choosing, many experiencing cognitive decline, some inconsiderate, and others too loud for my liking.

The few residents that I had formed a friendship, sadly, have died. I stopped trying to replace them.

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Residents are encouraged to decorate their rooms for a personal, home-like feel.  Social activities offered are designed to entertain and provide a distraction for all age groups and abilities: Scattagories, Pictionary, Bingo, Trivia, Dominos, art classes, current events, music, etc.

Often residents remain alone with their thoughts, blankly watching TV or staring out at emptiness trying to recapture fading memories.

These conditions serve as a view into my future.  These conditions are what I will become. It is all too clear.  This is what I have to look forward to. It’s not a pretty picture. Those around me are in some stage of slow decline. It serves as a continual reminder of the futility of it all.

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Through education and perseverance, I prepared myself to regain some autonomy that was initially denied.  I have been able to expand my boundaries and travel to downtown Richmond by city bus.

Although Richmond is a friendly city for those with disabilities, the bus schedule is less accommodating. Destinations of interest often require transfers and long waits. Weather is a major consideration, requiring advance preparation, often forcing a disappointing change in plans.

My independence is limited by my power wheelchair, city bus, and economic constraints. Still, I take pleasure in the occasional excursion downtown. My ability to come and go is hampered only by my physical affliction, financial hardship, and climate conditions.

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I have a private room. I have my laptop. I have my music, and I am left alone to pursue the only thing of interest—writing.

I hope, as I move forward, my thoughts and opinions will reach those that share the same interests.

 

bc