Not Your Typical Monday

Ellen DeGeneres has a special twelve-day Christmas giveaway on her show this month. I have rearranged my schedule to be at my sister’s board and care home at 4:00 each day so that we can watch the audience go wild when they get free stuff. It seems like a nice break from the fixer-upper shows that she watches nearly round the clock.

My sister has the master suite in a house with five residents and two caregivers. But the husband and wife had a 24 hour trip, beginning last night. The substitute gal, Mary, sometimes does the job of two people. This is difficult for her and also breaks the rules of a licensed board and care facility.

So when I arrived at 3:50 today and no one answered the door, I remembered that the regular caregivers were out. I rang the doorbell several times, and no one came.

I walked around the house to the back gate, then changed my mind, and returned to the front door. I beat on the door with my fist, and the resident seated near the door got up to let me in.

Unfortunately the lock is difficult for me, so for a diabetic man with bad hands, it is nearly impossible.  Harvey tried the lock for a minute or two with no success. I was ready to call 911. How could five residents be unattended like that? Was no one there?

Harvey finally got the lock unlocked. I came inside, gave Harvey the sports page from my newspaper, and called for Mary, the substitute caregiver. There was no answer. I knocked on the door to the caregiver bedroom. No answer. I went to the kitchen and found no one. I looked out the sliding door to the back yard and saw Mary sitting outside on her phone.

When she saw me she jumped up and came inside. I told her that I’d been at the front door for quite a while. She apologized.

“Where’s the second person?” I asked.

“Maria just left,” she said.

I’ve heard this before. Maria is the administrator.

“There’s supposed to be two people here,” I said.

“Rita and Elvin will be back at 6:00,” she said.

“There’s supposed to be two people all the time,” I said.

I went down to my sister’s room and turned on Ellen. Then I texted the administrator and told her that no one answered the door and how I was ready to call 911.

Sis and I watched Ellen, and I read her the newspaper between commercials.

Then Mary came down with Sis’s dinner and left. She returned a moment later and asked me to come talk to her.

“Come in Edith’s room,” she said. “I think Edith has passed away. What do you think?”

Edith is the 95 year old resident in the back bedroom.

I have never in my life been asked to check to see if someone has died. Mary was a little freaked out, and I could only think, how sad that she wants me to handle this.

The short version is that yes, Edith had passed away. I had just read an article in the paper that said people’s consciousness doesn’t end when the heart stops beating, that it takes a minute or several minutes before it is gone. People who have been clinically dead (their hearts stop) and then are revived, have been able to tell their doctors and nurses exactly what was said while they were being worked on and brought back to life.

Thinking that Edith could still hear us, I said some nice things about her daughter (even though I’ve never met her) and how she loved Edith and how Edith had lived a good long life. Mary left the room and came back with a mirror to see if Edith was breathing or not. The poor woman was skin and bones, her mouth open, her eyes closed. She really did look gone. One hand was cold and the other one was still warm.

Mary called the administrator, who told her to call Hospice, and they said they’d get there as soon as possible. Mary was still freaked out but then assured me that this had happened in front of her many times.

I wonder if Edith had already passed away when I was beating on the door, trying to get in.

I returned to my sister and told her what had happened. We finished watching Ellen, and I went home to read a stack of picture books that came today for a contest I am judging.

It was not a typical Monday, starting at 3:50 p.m.

My friends tell me I should turn in this facility for noncompliance with state laws regarding staffing. But where would that leave my sister? She is very happy there with the regular caregivers. This facility is close to my house, clean, and I really like the husband. He laughs and jokes around with my sis and the other residents.

The best thing for me to do is to show up every day at different times to see what exactly is going on.

Today was an eye opener and also a first in my life, helping a caregiver check to see if someone has expired.

Not my typical Monday.


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