Nursing Home Reflections

Anger, and What It’s Good For

Several months after my dad arrived at his nursing home, a new resident showed up. Sharon (not her real name) is a chatty sort — lively and friendly, with an open manner and a helpful heart. She has Alzheimer’s, so conversations with her tend to be circular, and her own contributions often repetitive.

Nursing Home Reflections

Mental Stimulation and Edgy Architecture

Elder CondosAn artist named Shusaku Arakawa and his partner have designed a fantastical condo development in Mitaka, Japan. Called “Reversible Destiny,” it’s meant to challenge the occupants. The exterior is brightly colored, with improbable lines and edges running helter-skelter over the facade, and strangely shaped windows and openings.

At Home Gifts Good Stuff Kids Nursing Home Reflections

Companion Pets — Blondie the Golden Retriever

Blondie, Dad's Golden RetrieverAs my dad checked into a rehab hospital after spinal surgery several years ago, I noticed a woman down the hall who was preparing to check out. Actually, it was her companion who caught my eye — a nearly full-sized Golden Retriever: a beautiful stuffed animal perched alertly and affectionately at the foot of her bed.

Dad had lost his beloved companion of 14 years — a loving Golden named Amber — not long before, so my mandate was clear. I learned from his neighbor that her Golden had been made by the Douglas Company of Keene, New Hampshire, and a quick jump to their site let me identify the name and model number. An Internet search turned up a store, and Blondie (as she was quickly named) joined my dad in the rehab hospital.

It’s almost impossible to describe the effect her arrival had on my dad. She’s been his constant and loyal companion ever since. Blondie has been there to smooth the way as he’s moved to new hospitals, to Assisted Living, and, more recently, to his nursing home.

When my dad and I flew from the west coast to the east coast in an air ambulance, Blondie was squashed into the flying tube with us and the medical team — keeping watch at my dad’s feet. As a result she was with him from the first moment he was in his new nursing home.

Blondie has also been an amazing ice-breaker — everyone wants to ‘meet’ her, and to talk about her. Her proud ‘Daddy’ basks in the glow of all this attention; he’s never been “that new patient in room whatever.” Everybody knows who Blondie and her Daddy are.

We sometimes talk about Blondie when I visit him, and he frequently lovingly shakes a paw. She’s clearly a companion — my dad always has a friend in his room, even when no people are around.Sherman

I don’t see Blondie on the Douglas Toy site, but Sherman (pictured right) could be her younger brother, and he’s clearly all Golden — ready to love anyone on a moment’s notice.

Blondie and Sherman are big dogs — Sherman is 32 inches long, and I suspect Blondie is even a little larger — so they aren’t necessarily the right choice for every dog-lover. Most of the Douglas Toys are exceptional for an uncanny likeness to real life, though, and they do cover all the bases from little 6 inch puppies on up to the likes of Blondie and Sherman.

Sherman will set you back a hefty hundred dollars at his regular retail price, although I see that at least one Internet store has him for around seventy-five dollars. Never fear, though, Douglas has puppies for far, far, less, too — all of them as heart-meltingly sweet as Blondie and Sherman.

Douglas Toys

See also: Love, Imagination and Human Interaction



As of March of this last year, my stepfather is living on the east coast, where my husband and I live. I brought him here in an air ambulance, certified to fly by ambulance only and in pretty shaky shape. When his most recent pneumonia got him, the only nursing home where he lived on the west coast that could take him turned out to be awful. (“You think this is bad?” a social-worker friend said when he visited. “I’ve seen lots worse.”)


Who am I?

To see me now, you’d never guess my medical history. I’m female, petite, possessed of clear skin and a healthy glow, and look (at least on good days) far younger than I am (good genes — you can’t beat ’em). I have only one physical characteristic that anyone might wonder about, but it’s not so uncommon — I wilt excessively in heat much above 75 degrees.

You can’t, though, judge a book by its cover. I have a history of what were once diagnosed as strokes, but which science may one day determine possibly has determined (March, 2008) were are a rare form of migraine. Result: paralysis, lasting up to ten days, of my left leg, arm and face. I have a several decades-long history of mini-strokes, or TIAs neurological events , resulting in numbness and paralysis for periods of time up to twenty-four hours duration. Twelve years ago nerve damage was discovered in my left eye, perhaps from the “strokes,” neurological events, and I was unable to drive for a period of time. About ten years ago, after some time without difficulties, my left arm and face went numb — the arm for three months.

The “strokes” These neurological events first happened to me when I was a young adult, but I didn’t get a pass from “normal” stuff just because of them. Last fall, while gesturing happily in the kitchen, I nearly severed the two first fingers on my left hand. They’ve been numb for fourteen months now, and they just don’t work all that well. I have osteoporosis in my lower spine (you’d never guess it — not yet, anyway), and apparently may have coronary artery disease, in spite of a lifetime spent as a quasi-vegetarian and with very low blood pressure.

So I’ve had a little experience considering life from the other side of the room, as it were. I’ve also nursed one family member through tubercular meningitis, another through terminal Hodgkin’s Disease, and, more recently, helped my stepfather through six years (so far) of spine surgeries, other health problems and life changes. Maybe you could say that I’ve been all around the room — out in the open, around the edges, and in the corners where navigation’s a little tougher.

After the bigger strokes more serious neurological events, I always assumed that I’d end up in a wheelchair, and it seemed reasonable to assume that I might need some help in daily living — forks I could hold onto with a clumsy hand, that sort of thing. Now I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, but I’ve spent a lifetime observing how small things can make a life with limitations easier — and critiquing how small and large things can make it more difficult. Here’s where I get to share the fruits of my labors, and my observations.

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