by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
Septmember 15, 2002
FOR SOME ELDERLY, EVERY DAY IS SEPTEMBER 11
SAN DIEGO -- At the end of September last year I was talking with a geriatric psychiatrist who described her first group meeting with the families of Alzheimer patients after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. She thought they'd want to talk about how they felt.
She told me what one family member told her and I have thought of it many times this past year when I encounter what most of us would consider an extreme situation. "It's always 9-11 to us," one person said to her. For many of the elderly, every day can be a disaster. From loss of home and family to loss of health and body parts, it all can seem like a bad dream that they cannot wake up from. I have one particularly honest lady who tells me in a horrified voice, "It can't end like this." She wants nothing more than to be get out of her shabby retirement housing and go back to the country where she was born. Another woman, a diabetic, has lost both legs to amputation and is bedridden, unable to speak post stroke.
A gentleman I came upon this last week, sits alone in his house on a hill, 90 years old, insisting he doesn't need anyone to help him. His right lower leg raw and oozing from wounds that won't heal due to poor circulation. He had his leg wrapped with paper towels when I first went to see him. He'd been home from the hospital about a week where he was recovering from a fall out in the yard. He was on the ground for hours before his neighbors found him. Now here he was, back in his home, barely able to move around his house; what we call a "furniture walker" who has to hang on to the closest chair, table, sofa to steady himself. Slow painful, out of breath steps from kitchen to bathroom and back again. Over and over again, same track, table to toilet all day long. Whenever I come to see him, he is sitting at the same place at the table looking out the dirty kitchen window. Inhalers are sitting on the table in front of him. He reminds me of a treed animal. Afraid to go up or down, afraid to let go. He simply hangs on for dear life and smiles a brave smile that is part grimace and part trying to control front dentures that insist on downward mobility.
So many of the elderly are in this desperate situation but what is worse, don't want help. Some can't afford it and many can but refuse because they are simply too stubborn (true in the last case), confused or overwhelmed. Some are able to leave the situation with help from family members and go where they can get the help they need. Some choose to stay at home, in unsafe situations and make their last stand. Unless someone is able to document severe enough dementia or that the elder is a danger to himself or others, no social service agency can remove them from the home. Even adult protective services has to leave them alone. In every community in America, in your hometown this evening, there are elders who have refrigerators full of rotting food, toilets that are plugged up, bugs and rodents running rampant in their homes. They are sick and tired with only a bottle to comfort them while waiting for the end to come. Many go and find the end themselves. These elders are all around you; silently screaming, in what must seem like a never ending free fall from the burning buildings that were once their lives. You won't see their images on the tv screens of America. You won't hear about them in memorials or read about them in magazine articles. They are lining the halls of your local convalescent hospital, waiting and watching for someone to come who never does. They are hungry, in pain and can't breathe well. They are desperate but won't tell you. They are sitting alone, in an old green house on a hill, clinging to a dining room table, looking out of a dirty kitchen window and putting up No Trespassing signs with fine print that few will ever read: Please come in.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and free-lance writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at email@example.com