Tuesday, May 27, 2008

why i get sad and lonely sometimes

Tuesdays are the day I visit the convalescent hospital. Just to give you the backstory, I volunteer with an organization called LITA (Love is the Answer) that matches volunteers up for one on one visits with people who are in convalescent facilities that do not get visitors. I've been doing it off and on since my early 20's.

My current match is James. James is totally coherent, he just has some physical challenges. He reads lots of books, and has Netflix dvd's coming and going almost daily. He even has a computer and an internet connection. He also runs a bible study at the facility a couple of times a month.

A little over a year ago, James went into the hospital for a leg amputation due to complications related to diabetes. He was certain he'd be home as soon as he was well enough. That's when I met him. He never went home. He's never going home. In the year or so I have know him, he has had to sell his home and permanently commit himself (and his state disability check) to the institution he now "lives" in. It is a real bonafide convalescent home. There are quite a few patients who are still mentally "with it", but I'd say at least half suffer from dementia.

To make matters worse, at the beginning of this year, James got really sick. He was sent from the convalescent hospital to the real hospital where he was stuck for almost a month trying to get over pneumonia. During the time he was in the hospital, the convalescent facility (let's call it "James' home, because for all intents and purposes, that is how he sees it) could not hold his room for him. They called a member of his church to pack up his things and they gave his room to someone else. They didn't care diddly-sqaut about his phone service, his cable, his internet, his personal items (that had all been recently downscaled from a house full to a closet full).

And then the bonus??? The buddy from church that was called to store all of James' belongings?? He had some friends and family cleaning out his garage during the time James was in the hospital. Guess what got tossed? James' stuff. Like the big stuff. His checkbook, his birth certificate, his debit cards, cash....I won't bother to continue listing.

I am pretty much the only person that visits James. He's in his very early 60's, a couple of years younger than my parents. His wife died a couple of years ago, and neither of his siblings visit him, nor do his step-kids (even though he raised them since they were toddlers). He gets an occasional visit from the mother of another patient in the same facility who treats him like family, and I think a Tibetan monk visits him from time to time.

Anyhow, there's the backstory, although I have probably written on this blog in part before.

So, let me just replay for you a portion of my conversation with James today (who is now back in his original convalescent facility and is working to rebuild some of what was lost).

James: So what else do you have going on this week that interesting?

Me: Well, MyFavoriteKid has an end of the year band concert on Thursday night...although today in school is their last rehearsal and he left his damn clarinet in the car, I noticed.

James: Do you still have time to bring it to him?

M: Yeah, I though about it. Although I swore I wouldn't bring it to him ever again if he forgot it one more time. Besides, it would cut my visit with you short.

J: Oh, I think you should bring it to him if you can. This rehearsal is probably pretty important. I'm glad to have seen you, even if it is for a short visit. Maybe I can get a hug before you go though.

M: Of course you can get a hug! (I always hug him when I get there, and when I go, by the way)

J: I really like getting hugs from you. I used to get them from the staff, but they stopped when I came back from the the hospital. I'm not sure why. Maybe they aren't allowed to now. I hardly get hugs anymore. Just from you.

I'm hoping this little discourse between James and myself illustrates why I can manage to get so danged bummed out sometimes, because I have a really hard time putting words to it. I mean, I'm not going to stop doing the volunteer work just because it can occasionally be a downer. I mean, I feel like I am making a tiny bit of a difference, at least to one person, and that feels good (actually, I also make shorter visits with a few other folks there just for the heck of it). And it's a happy-bummer, if that makes any sense at all. Kind of like when you are so happy that you cry....if you know what I mean? But different?

Anyhow, I'm not telling you about my volunteer work to toot my own horn or something, so don't go telling me about how great it is that I volunteer, please. I'm writing about it because it just gets challenging sometimes, and there a many a time when I just can't figure out how to work it out for myself, at theend of the day.
There are just too many lonely people in the world.
And it makes me sad.


(formerly) no-blog-rachel said...

Then here's a hug for you. *hug*

jodi said...

I'll add to that (( )). (There's an extra one there to pass along to James).

MsAmpuTeeHee said...

nb-rachel ~ and here's one back! *hug!*

jodi ~ one back, for you too! *hug* (and I will TOTALLY pass an extra along for James)

Kim Ayres said...

more ((hugs))

Lorena said...

I've written and re-written a paragraph three times now, and none of it sounds right. Please consider me in line to give James a hug.

MsAmpuTeeHee said...

Kim ~ Thanks :-)

Lorena ~ Yeah, it's a tough one, aint it? I will pass along a hug. For sure.

Anonymous said...

I work with a somewhat similar population and I find some situations such as the one you describe very frustrating, probably because I know people like your friend do not belong in a convalescent home. I mean perhaps some convalescent homes are actually like "homes", but this has not been my experience. There is often not the social environment or a sense of equality that people need...and the warmth.
I pick my battles and advocate when I can. I have also noticed (in my experience with more than one place) that my opinion as a visiter to a convalescent home is valued more than the residents'.
Hugs and support help, but the situation as you know has much deeper issues involved. I'm wondering if there are more options for social links available to this guy...or other living situations. I'll be sending thoughts of support to both of you.

MsAmpuTeeHee said...

Anonymous ~ Thanks for writing. Yes, I feel strongly that he is in the wrong facility. And I feel like he does need an advocate. I'm struggling some with where I fit in, in that regard. I am a volunteer, and I don't have leverage in some regards. But he also feels like family, at this point.

When James lost his room due that hospital stay, two people (family members of other patients) stepped in and dealt with the ombudsman to get it straightened out. What I've do for James is to bring him a healthier meal once a week, and to run errands for him and pick up things he needs or go to the bank for him.

I'm just not sure how much advocating I can (or lets be honest--want) to do. It's a big responsibility. On the other hand, maybe if I was helping more in that fashion, I'd feel less powerless about it.

Thanks so much for the food for thought.

Anonymous said...


MsAmpuTeeHee said...

sara ~ thank you. Mwah.