My husband and I visited my FIL today at the skilled nursing facility. We found him and my MIL in a pleasant dining room space with other patients and family members. The remains of a salmon and mashed potato lunch were still on the table. My FIL had cruised through some amount of salmon, which was encouraging.
My FIL is very, very frail. So much so that the care staff couldn’t let him walk (which he wanted to do), because there were no physical therapists on site today (Sunday). We got him back to his room and into bed. It’s heartbreaking to see him like this. It’s been hard enough to see his decline outside of a medical setting, but at least he was at home in his own element. He is expressing some amount of what’s called ‘hospital delirium,’ or confusion caused by being ill, elderly, and away from one’s normal surroundings. He’s having a hard time getting all of a train of thought out (usually one sentence) in one breath, and then, upon taking another breath, doesn’t seem to remember where he left off. My husband and MIL step in at once, offering words up for his consideration. Sometimes this works, and sometimes not. His humor is evident. When my husband was sitting in his dad’s wheelchair, the chair squeaked. My FIL made reference to the squeak sounding like a cat, which sent us down an entertaining conversational path that he enjoyed, and circled back to sometime later.
The plan is for my FIL to stay in skilled nursing until he is strong enough to return home. My MIL tells him, when he asks (frequently) how long he’ll have to be there, “As soon as you’re stong enough to climb the stairs at home, you’ll be able to come home.” I am doubtful this is going to happen.
As I watch everything my MIL does at the skilled nursing facility, I am reminded of myself when my father spent his last month in the hospital. Every interface with the staff, attending to every need one possibly can for the patient, looking for every glint of positive in each dissected piece of a wretched situation, keeping her ‘game face’ on for him, us and herself… She is doing one thing for herself I was unable to, due to circumstances: She’s coming and going rather than staying all day. She’s taking care of herself, at least a little bit. While I had the help of my nurse daughter during my dad’s last month in the hospital, I also had my mom. She took more energy to manage, to keep from being a detriment to my father’s wellbeing, due to her own confusion, than the total emotional and physical energy it took to be there for my dad. Watching my MIL go through this dredges this back up for me in very painful echos.