I don't really know what I was trying to do in today's update, but I guess I was just venting my anger at the way we treat our old people in this country. We live such a fast-paced lifestyle that it seems that we are more concerned about our jobs, material goods, and immediate desires rather than the goodwill of our aging parents and grandparents. We are so devoid of emotion that we tend to see seniors as annoying burdens to be tolerated. There seems to be no respect any longer for age and experience, and it's almost like everyone secretly wishes that old people would just die and get out of their hair so they can get on with their life. When you look at other cultures, they revere their elders and often take care of them at home until their natural death. In America we put them away so they are not heard or seen, dying alone in a strange place.
When I was 21 I worked in a nursing home for the summer as a temp job to make some money for school. The owner was an Indian man who was only concerned with money and cut corners when he could get away with it. I was hired to update their computer system and reorganize all their data files into an electronic format. At first I was deathly afraid of the old people, who walked around in a daze with sunken eyes like extras from Night of the Living Dead. The place reeked of piss and permeated the entire building. Soon I started spending less and less time in the office and started talking with some of the old folks there. I discovered most of them were extremely unhappy with their children who placed them there and rarely, if ever, came to visit. Sure they spent upwards of $5,000 a month have them there, but to the offspring it seemed well worth it to keep them out of their lives. I'm sure there are some cases where caring for these people are not an option, even with nurse visitations, but that was a rare exception.
I started getting extremely angry at the sort of solitary and depressing lives these people were living. Since this was a private business, the owner had the right to cut all activities since he didn't want to have to pay for any activities personnel, as well as only staffing one nurse per 80 patients at a time. He was making money off people's misery and suffering, and people were willingly putting their parents into these places.
Eventually I stopped going to the office altogether and started playing games with the residents, like bingo, cards, and mini-bowling. I would make some coffee and tea and wheel as many people as I could down into the activity room. Some of them had shut down almost completely because of neglect and lack of contact. After about a month of this, some of them started waking up. A man by the name of Jake, who could only look down and would not speak, came alive during the bowling game and became the undisputed bowling champion of the building. I befriended an old black man in a wheelchair by the name of Thomas, who had suffered a stroke. We talked about Greek and Roman history, and he told me about how he worked as a commercial director in Hollywood before he lost movement on his left side after the incident.
My initial fear of these old and suffering people had changed into one of understanding. But with the good feelings that came from helping him also came the anger and depression of the whole situation and my helplessness to really do anything about it. I would be leaving soon and the people would fall back into silent decay. It was too much for me to take and I had to quit. Also, the fact that I never worked on their computer system like I was hired for in the first place was a factor in the decision.
So why do we have a natural reaction of negativity towards old people? Is it the knowledge that someday we will be in the same dilapidated state, and that this dreadful confirmation of our own mortality looking us in the face is something we fear and despise? Maybe, but regardless of the reasons, we should never discard our elders like used up rubbish just because they have changed from able to needy. We should care for them out of respect for who they once were, and for the life they had lived. One day, you will be in the same situation.
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