Who’ll Take Care of Me?

Nurse holding hand of senior woman in pension home

I often hear people ask those of us who aren’t married and have no children, “Who’ll take care of you when you get older?” Interesting question. Yes, it has crossed my mind many times and I used to believe that my brother and/or my friends would take care of me. I ‘ve never been uncomfortable on my own and living by myself is something I treasure. I never have to argue over what television show to watch, clean up after someone else or let him know what time I’ll be home. If I want to waltz around the house naked, there’s no one to point out my flabby parts or use that as the right time to suggest a healthier diet. So it’s not loneliness that concerns me – well not now anyway. I might one day eat those words but right now, I don’t see that as the issue.

But what if I live to a ripe old age, and most of my friends and my brother are gone? I must admit, it is a concern. On the other hand, working in hospice, I see how abysmally family members can treat each other and fight over money and possessions. The patient is more often than not the one who bears the brunt of the disrespect and, sometimes, outright neglect. So, if I were married and had a bunch of children, could I necessarily count on any of them to do the right thing by me? I think not. Many times the children dislike each other and fight over who’s right concerning the patient’s care. The thing is – it’s usually the patient who suffers because the kids aren’t making a decision on what’s best for the patient; they’re deciding based on their own comfort levels. I guess I’m glad I won’t have a child who’s so determined to keep me here that he/she makes hospice staff withhold medications that would make me comfortable so I can be what they would call “alert” even though I’m thrashing around in the bed.

My biggest concern is the in-between stage – the stage where I’m no longer able to live on my own, require constant care but am not hospice appropriate. I hear horrible stories about the care the elderly get in many of the nursing homes. And I can see it clearly. Nursing homes, like most other businesses, have a plethora of employees who are primarily interested in the paycheck and not the job. Many of them have little or no empathy for the elderly people and how could they? They have zero understanding of living with legs that no longer hold them up, or having to take a ton of medications that take care of one thing but bring all kinds of side effects that may make the elderly person seem “slow, ” when, in fact, the brain works just fine. Those are the circumstances that concern me. I’m not sure the outcome of being in that environment has anything to do with whether or not I have children – and children who truly care about my best interests to boot.

So the fact that I don’t have a husband or children doesn’t bother me about growing older and ending up in a nursing home. What concerns me is ending up in a home where the culture is one of “just wheel them into a corner and let them sit all day.” And I’ve seen it. We had a case of a patient who was brought into the hospice to find placement in a different home because the one where he had been living had wheeled him outside ostensibly to “get some sun and fresh air” and left him in the Las Vegas summer sun for the better part of a couple of hours. I worry that I’ll need to go to the bathroom and someone will be irritated that I ring for help too often. I worry that I’ll reach a point where I have to defecate in a diaper and no one will come to change me for hours and hours. I worry that I’ll end up with Stage IV decubitus ulcers because it’s too much trouble to constantly turn me. I worry that I’ll be hungry but someone forgot to take me down to the lunch room to eat. I worry that I’ll be physically broken but mentally alert and people will come in and talk to me like I’m a two-year-old.

Bottom line: it’s the people in the facilities who will be tasked with my day-to-day comfort that worry me.

Self-Image

IMG_0073

Yes, this was me in the 80s in “Jubilee” at Bally’s Las Vegas. So, some 30-odd years later, I’m 50 pounds heavier, have these great gray streaks in my hair, too many lines on my face to count, liver spots, not an ounce of tone anywhere (of course I have to lift the boobs to see some of those areas) and dimpled thighs. The question is: do I care?

Well, I guess I care only enough that I’d like to lose about 30 of those pounds but other than that, not much. The weight gain has most definitely made me feel less feminine but then again, I’m not in the game for attracting a mate so my goal for weight loss would no longer be for outside image but health issues. And the advantage to not wearing dresses any more is that I’m able to bend and stretch and sit in my most comfortable position (legs tucked up) without worrying about exposing anything. There’s a freedom in that I really enjoy.

I find that, although most women will tell you they’re not influenced by slick magazine ads or television commercials or even the women around them, that’s absolutely BS. When I was young, I was also one of those women who professed to have her own mind, one who really loved wearing those sky-high heels that lassoed my toes and caused me to have surgery for a permanently pinched nerve in my foot. Of course, if I’m really honest, I suppose there was a time when I liked wearing uncomfortable things for the sole purpose of “looking good,” because those were the youthful, looking-for-love years. Everyone wants to be sexy, attractive and admired in those mating years, right? The problem for me was that, as a dancer, I spent so much of my time in leotards, tights and jazz shoes – comfort clothes, fit for running and jumping and striking positions you’d never dream of in a form-fitting skirt and heels – that I was always acutely aware of when I felt reined in.

Maybe it’s simply a question of time and place that makes us choose the uncomfortable over the comfortable. I may not be dressing to feel sexy or to stand out in a crowd of women any more, but I still dress (reluctantly) for the occasion. Although I’d love to spend the rest of my life barefoot and in sweats and t-shirts, I wouldn’t wear that to work (but only because I still want the paycheck or I might give it a go). I dress just enough to conform to the culture and no more. I really don’t care if anyone there thinks my shoes look cheap (they are) or whether they look at my ancient history showgirl photos where we lived in G-string underwear and wonder if I now don granny pants. Yes, I do, and some of them are ripped in places but they’re comfortable and who the hell’s going to see them?

Do we dress for ourselves or for others? I think that in a traditional environment (read office), we dress to conform to the crowd standard. In a show business environment, we can be whoever we want to be. But then one’s pretty conservative and one’s a bit more liberal, right? Hmmm, there are a few more variables to what makes us dress the way we do than I originally contemplated.

So, all in all, my self-image at 65 is pretty good. I’d like to lose some weight but mostly for health issues.  I don’t have a huge objection to getting older. Or let me clarify that: I don’t have a huge issue with looks as I age. I do object to the health limitations! But as a child, the people I loved spending time with and talking to were the adults and the older the better, especially when their faces had enough wear to know they had interesting stories to tell. I want to be one of those old-timers and have some interesting things to share. Just let me do it in sweats and t-shirts please.