There’s a lot I need to write about here (like the Great Escapes 1 and 2 that have led us to where we are today) but what I really need to write about is what happened today at the nursing home/assisted living facility that my Mom is currently living at (see, told you I need to write about GE 1&2–the first involves Mom, the second, me).
First of all, everyone is fine. Well, everyone I know and care about, that is. The fire wasn’t big, probably someone sneaking a smoke or something equally stupid on the 2nd floor balcony (this place has three floors).
I was trying to decide if I liked this new place or not. Plus: there seemed to be a lot of staff, and all the staff seemed to be paying attention to who came, who went, and making sure they found out if/how you belonged there. Minus: the memory care side, i.e., lockup, where Mom is, to prevent her from wandering off again…getting in was like wandering into the walking dead section. Naturally, you have to buzz to be let in to that side. Problem is, the residents come to the door when they hear the bell. I swear I just saw that scene in “Legion” the other night, people shuffling and pacing from side to side just behind locked doors.
Mom was parked in front of a tv showing “An American in Paris” with four or five other residents, and looked forlorn. Dad and my brother had gone to get lunch, she’d already eaten. When she saw me, she perked up, something she’s not done lately. Did she recognize me? The boys soon came back and we all ended up spending an afternoon outside dozing, chatting, the usual things you do when someone is in a place like this, not much. My brother said they were supposed to have a fire drill some time today.
By 4, I was ready to go. I wanted to beat the traffic back to my place. I asked to see Mom’s room before we left, and mom’s “pal” (they don’t call the nursing assistants that, in fact, they don’t call anything like other places…the CNAs are ‘pals’, I forget what the other staff are called but you can imagine, and the section of the building she’s in is called ‘the neighborhood’. Creepy coded language. )
Mom has only been there three days, and you can tell it was my Dad and brother who unpacked her stuff in the new place. Who wads up sweaters? Who puts socks with hats and t-shirts and pants in one drawer, when you have six? I was sorting stuff to make it easier (at least for me) when the alarms went off. Mom’s ‘pal’ said it was ok to ignore it, then went to check to see if he needed to help anywhere. He came running back yelling IT’S REAL! EVERYONE OUT!
My brother and I took off up the hallway to find Mom. She’d just sat down to supper. We got Dad to take her on out the building. The rest of the staff were herding folks in wheelchairs and walkers to the exit. There was a massive logjam at the exit: there were gates to be opened, a hill (!!!) to go down, curbs, a hose left on the sidewalk. When there was only one resident left who wouldn’t leave unless she could hold on to my wrist, I talked her out of the building.
Even by the time I got out, it was still chaos. One resident had fallen; ‘pals’ had paper towels against her head but the wound was still too fresh. While everyone was jostling on the sidewalks, slopes and lawn for space, I heard a sickening thud, and another person (he looked more like a guest than a resident) had gotten tripped up and faceplanted on the sidewalk.
We were outside for about an hour while the fire department came, put out the fire, cleared the building. One of the supervisors came and told everyone it was ok to go back in, exclaiming “Good Job! Good Job!” to everyone as they struggled to get back up the hill and back into the ward. I wanted to smack her, or at least to call her out on what constituted “good” but was too shaken by the ordeal. I sat with Dad’s cane in the tv area for a while, then checked to see if Mom was getting supper or what. The dining area was full of residents, and of course, they were eating as if nothing had happened. Their pie for dessert looked both delicious and nauseating in its normalcy.
My sister, when I called her later to tell her of the day’s events, dryly observed, “Can you imagine what it would have been like at night, when most places like that have half the staff?” Yes, I can, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to think about it at all. I don’t want to be a part of this any more, but how do you walk away from something like this?
FYI, the injured woman was transported to the ER. The injured man was patched up by the paramedics but declined transport.