ACT III: The Warehousing of the Elderly
The screams coming from the room were deafening. As I walked down the hallway toward the sound, I could feel my pulse quicken, my breath coming in short gasps, my palms sweating.
The male nurse must have seen the panicked expression on my face as he tried to catch up… “What’s the matter,” he asked me as if oblivious to the screeches and moans coming from down the hallway.
“What is going on in there?” I asked him.
“Oh, that is just Helen,” he said rather flatly, “She is old and believes that everyone is hurting her.” He turned abruptly on his heels and scampered away as if to nullify my concerns.
I couldn’t believe the callousness in his voice. Regardless of his lack of regard, and dismissing attitude, I rounded the open door and entered the room.
There she was…. slightly propped up on on her right side supported from behind by a long pillow, facing away from the door. She had a bony, tiny frame whose thin, frail skin bore red abrasions over her exposed protruding left scapula that had escaped the confines of the hospital gown carelessly thrown over her. She startled at the sound of my entrance and retracted, her already curled up appendages seemed to pull up closer, as she let out a horrifying scream..
“Mrs. Medlar,” I said to her as soothingly as I could, “My name is Nanaymie and I am the new charge nurse here on the 3rd floor”.
Her neck, as frozen as her bent appendages, strained to move and her eyes looked up at me in terror.
“Honey, I don’t want to hurt you.” I touched her lightly and felt her flinch. I removed the gown to expose the large bed sore over the end of her spine.
The nurse manager entered the room, “Just do the dressing change,” she told me loudly above the wails coming from the frail and writhing frame lying in front of us, “you can’t get involved with her issues. You just don’t have the time.”
“What happened to her?” I asked imploringly, in a vain effort to understand the foundation of the fear being evidenced.
“Helen was the wife of a man who spent most of his time beating her. Now that she is old, she can’t understand the physical pain that she is in and everything we do to help is torture”.
While that might have explained the mental status, it did not even begin to illuminate how this woman’s physical needs had been severely neglected as evidenced by immobile, bent limbs and bed sores that eviscerated healthy skin and tissue to reach the bony prominences over which they lay. Mrs. Medlar was in a perpetual fetal position, a metaphor for her imprisonment in a body that had been ignored, a mind haunted by a lifetime of trauma, warehoused in a nursing home where her caregivers “frankly don’t give a damn”.