Sunday, 13 November 2016

Story Time: Why I Work With Seniors

Anyone who has read any blog post I’ve ever written has likely noticed that I work with seniors with dementia. Most people don’t know why, but I’m about to get down to the nitty gritty personal life story as to why. It’s a side of my life I often don’t talk about, but it’s an important topic that needs to be talked about: the overall mental health of our aging population.

In 1999, when I was six, my grandpa was hospitalized for a psychiatric breakdown. I’m lucky enough that I don’t remember much from his hospital stay. The one story that I have heard on several occasions: once during a hallucination, my grandpa jumped out of a window and broke his ankle. He then ran into the parking lot and sat down. When the hospital noticed he was missing, they sent one police officer to look for him. They said he was missing. My parents and my mom’s godparents found him hiding in the bushes from the staff. It was the second time he had gotten out that night. My mom and my grandma had to sit and watch him 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, he was waiting to be transferred into psychiatric care but since he had a broken ankle, he had to stay in a general medical hospital for it.

At first, they thought my grandpa had late onset schizophrenia. He was extremely aggressive to everyone, including myself. I remember going to visit my grandparents and him threatening to beat me with a cane for doing simple things. One Christmas, he knocked my grandma down the stairs trying to get out in his pajamas in the winter. That Christmas was a particularly difficult one because my grandma was in one hospital and my grandpa was in another. Since my mom is an only child, she quite often was running between the two to care for them.

Eventually, my grandpa started to develop a tremor, which helped the psychiatrists determine that it was most likely Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, he was still going in and out of the hospital for psychiatric problems. Eventually, the realized that ECT treatments were helping him, so they did them once a week. Electroconvulsive Therapy is extremely high risk and can leave permanent damages, let alone the amount that my grandpa had.

In December 2007, my grandpa was doing alright. He was still going for the ECT treatments and seeing his psychiatrist on a regular basis. It was then that his life had a massive event happen that would change his mental status forever. My grandma, his wife, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. My grandma had a mastectomy then went through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It was particularly hard on my entire family, but my grandpa took it the hardest I think.

In August 2008, my grandma went for a follow up after only being in remission for a few weeks. It was determined that the cancer had spread to her lungs. During that time, my grandpa also started to have seizures, a side effect from the ECT treatments. By December, my grandpa had his last and final psychiatric break at home. He was admitted into the Seniors Mental Health Unit (now Geriatric Psychiatric Unit) at Ontario Shores for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby.

My grandpa was in there, while also on the list for long-term care. My grandpa hated it in there, and it was heartbreaking to see him in such misery. Unfortunately, he was going downhill a lot faster than he was at home. He was in a wheelchair, lost all continence. He couldn’t come home.

In August 2009, my grandma’s cancer spread to her brain. We tried to hide it from my grandpa at first, knowing that it would be really hard on him. One day, when we were visiting him, he looked at my mom and said “I know the cancer spread”, so we told him the truth. We worked really hard to get them to spend as much time as possible before she passed away, but she was placed in palliative care in October 2009 and was bedridden.
One thing that Ontario Shores did for my family, which was great: they had their bus driver bring my grandpa alongside a nurse to the home twice before my grandma passed away.

In December 2009, my grandma passed away. The hospital had promised us that my grandpa would have accompaniment to the funeral by a nurse so our family could mourn without having to do his personal care. Unfortunately, the week she passed away was the week that the nurses had mandatory in-service training. We decided that the best option was going to be to take him to the 2-4 visitation. Therefore, he wouldn’t be too overwhelmed by the number of people there, it would be older family friends who hadn’t seen him in a while and the timing was easier for the family. The morning of, my mom and her godparents went to get him. Him being at the visitation went well, and he was given the opportunity to say goodbye to my grandma.
That evening, while we were at the evening viewing, a nurse decided to tell my grandpa that my mom would take him to the funeral. Then left a voicemail to let her know, but didn’t leave her name. No nurses would confess to who it was, and my mom had to face my grandpa to let him know that he couldn’t go because the day was going to be crazy.

Christmastime came, which was an emotional day for the whole family, because my grandma (who was essentially the glue to our family), had passed away 20 days earlier. When we went to the hospital to visit my grandpa, a nurse approached my mom telling her that she was a bad daughter for not visiting my grandpa enough.
My mom hates Christmas, and I genuinely wonder if this is one of the reasons why she does.

There wasn’t much involvement from Christmas to October. My grandpa continued to go downhill. We continued our weekly visits; we would take him down to the cafeteria for lunch, or bring him something he wanted. He loved Quarter Pounders from McDonalds.

On October 22, 2010, my grandpa was in the dining room. We aren’t entirely sure what exactly happened, but according to the nursing staff, he was fine one moment and the next, he was basically in a coma from choking. Working in long-term care now, I know that situation should never have happened. He was unsupervised for too long.

On October 23, 2010, my grandpa passed away. It is believed that he had Lewy Body dementia, which is so new that it wasn’t a thing when he first presented symptoms. The only way to diagnose it is through an autopsy. Our family determined that my grandpa had been through so much as it was, that we were going to let him rest in peace instead of being cut open.

This story was not to make the hospitals that cared for him seem bad. They were great to him. He had nurses who took fantastic care of him, and treated him like he was their family. The point of the story was to show much more work the government needs to invest in our aging population to ensure safe and proper care. Working in long-term care, I have seen significant improvements since my grandpa’s death. I can’t wait to see what else the government does in the future for our aging population to ensure they can age well, even with dementia.

I think the hardest part of losing someone, isn’t having to say goodbye, but rather than learning to live without them. Always trying to fill the void, the emptiness that’s left inside your heart when they go.


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