I almost gagged when I went through the doors, partly at the smell, but partly at the whole depressing atmosphere of the place. It was lunch time, and the smell was a combination of that of hospital food, disinfecting cleaning agents, and recently used bathrooms. Seeing the people there was almost as bad as the smell. Many were just sitting in the halls in wheelchairs, with nothing better to do. One was talking nonstop and nonsensically, another was smiling with an other worldy look on her face. The majority of residents didn't seem intact mentally, perhaps from Altzheimer's, maybe from a stroke, or maybe from previous long standing mental disease.
I don't write this to mock these people. I just feel tremendous sympathy for them; what an awful way to spend your waning years on earth. For the people who are mentally intact, it must be almost worse, because they can realize how lousy this is. And this, I might add, seemed like a fairly clean nursing home, although it was far from luxurious, making me wonder how much worse some less clean nursing homes can be.
It reminded me of one reason I went into pediatrics. It was partly because I could deal with dirty kids, maybe with smelly clothes, or babies with dirty diapers and the like, but I was somewhat repulsed by adults who were unbathed or incontinent, even if they couldn't help it. Kids are almost supposed to be dirty, at least at times like when they've been playing hard or before they are toilet trained, but a dirty or incontinent adult can be very unappealing. It's a bit ironic. When we get very old and infirm, we revert to the ways of infants and toddlers, unable to care for some of our basic bodily needs and functions. Unfortuately, we don't revert to the cuteness and hopeful potential of young ones.
When we walked out of the nursing home into the fresh air, I took a huge breath, trying to purge my lungs of the air and smell inside. "If I ever need to go into a place like that to live," I said to my companion, "just shoot me." I don't know if I really want that or not, but I would sure give it serious consideration.
P.S. Check out a new pediatric grand rounds - and a yummy recipe - at the Granola Rules.