I write in hopes of giving John Q. Public a bit of insight into what it is like to live in a nursing home.
I spent a year of my life transferring between three nursing homes, hoping to find a place that I could call home, but to my dismay, I found nothing of the sort. All of the facilities were sterile in their environments. Each had overworked and underpaid staff. There was no personal attention. You slept and lived in 10 foot by 10 foot space and ate in overcrowded dining rooms. The decor left much to be desired, and you could count on a monotonous, predictable routine. I've heard it likened to being in jail, and believe me the analogy fits.
I am not an elderly person. I am less than 40 years of age; the most important things I lost in the nursing home were my dignity and freedom. I felt as trapped as a caged animal and had very little to say regarding anything that directly affected me. Your dignity suffers greatly when someone has to dress you, bathe you, put you to bed and dispense your medication on their schedule, or it may not happen at all.
I waited anxiously for a phone call or visit from my friends, my only connection to the outside world society lives in from day to day. To take a ride in a car with no particular destination in mind until I got there, was a reason to celebrate. To do a menial task such as a part time job, or helping with the facility laundry was something I looked forward to because I had something to do that was productive.
Finally came the chance to live in the community once again. A group here in Salt Lake City called the Disabled Rights Action Committee launched a program called Our Homes Not Nursing Homes. The project was the result of the Supreme Court decision Olmstead vs. L.C. & E.W., which said that a person should live in "the most integrated setting." For me, that was definitely not in a nursing home.
In late 2000, I moved into my own apartment. I now have the freedom to choose what I do and when to do it. My dignity is restored as a productive citizen of this community. I supervise every aspect of my life and don't have to answer to anyone but myself when it comes to making decisions affecting my life. Indeed, the fact that I now get to make determinations about my life is one of the many joys that I once took for granted.
Even the hurdles placed in front of me during my transition into the community were worth it. I was permitted $45 a month to provide all my personal needs while living in the skilled nursing facility. That left me nothing to save toward paying rent or buying household supplies, etc. Thanks to many people at DRAC, and the fact that I had some things in storage, everything I needed was patched together in a short time.
My little apartment is not the Taj Mahal, but it is mine. From inside these four walls, I pay my bills and live my life as I choose from day to day. I treasure my freedom more each day and have learned to appreciate the little things in life, even those things that can be a big hassle.
When I start taking things for granted, I remind myself of how things were in the nursing home and how they could be that way again. If one can find blessings to having occupied a nursing home, then so be it. For me, there is no such thing.
Trish Smith resides in Salt Lake County.