Aug 27

Chronicle from the Old Folks’ Home — Part 14

In Brief — The author gives readers a glimpse of the hard-working personnel who care for all of the oldsters in his department. [Written in June 2017.]

Hard-Working, With Uncaring Management —

The new management of this warehouse apparently believes the personnel are endowed with super powers: They don’t get tired from the long, mind-numbing hours of seeing to the needs of both the elderly and the demented, they don’t need more money, and they never get sick.

As if that weren’t enough, management’s canned retort to personnel’s repeated complaints is that the personnel level is the same as under the old regime and, besides, it’s hard to recruit qualified people. No wonder. Why bust your butt for low pay helping smelly old folks! Don’t ask about the personnel union because the union reps might have to get out of the comfortable bed they share with management.

How do I know all this? I have an inveterate need to ask questions…and in the face of injustice I write letters to the powers who need to know. Contrary to the first, my latest letter was met with total silence. I am led to think I must be losing my touch or that we are now in the era of Trump. The latter may be true because when I moved to Sweden I was told that Sweden was five years behind America. The camel has at least its nose in Sweden’s tent.

With that as a background, here is a bit about the personnel who work so hard to care for us.

The Personnel —

My contact person, Irene, is hard-working, efficient, abundantly friendly, outspoken…and very well informed. Though rushed, Irene always makes sure that my needs are met. She knows the ropes around here and, unlike many Swedes, doesn’t shrink from telling management the truth about what it’s like on the front lines. I ask, she tells. To say she is loved and respected would be understating it. Well-l-l, management respects and depends on her.

Sven-Gunnar, one of the few men here, is quiet, meticulous, friendly and helpful in both of the departments on this floor. After almost six years of being in a reduced state after the operation, I always feel relaxed when meticulous Sven-Gunnar’s feeding me. My muscles relax when I hear his distinctive knock on the door before a feeding.

Note: As I write this notes in late-July, Sven-Gunnar has had a stroke. Fortunately, it was treated in time and he’s improving. Not yet 50, he shows that even relatively young people can suffer a stroke. If he returns, I plan to advise him to eat a vegan diet to help prevent a build-up of fatty plaque in his circulatory system. Fingers crossed that Sven-Gunnar can join us again soon.

To continue, there’s Kicki. Garrulous, helpful, overweight and something of a complainer about her assorted physical ills, Kicki may sometimes be repetitive, but she knows exactly what needs to be done and does it with a smile. She often volunteers to do small things for me like watering the drooping flowers guests sometimes bring. She’s priceless.

Tall, slender Charles, a 23-year-old Rwandan refugee who came to Sweden at 19, is smart as a whip, quickly learning exactly how I should be fed. Charles speaks four languages: his native Ikinyarwanda and Swedish (fluently), English and French (passably). Charles is pleased that I showed interest in his mother tongue by learning a few phrases that I use every time he appears. He smiles, responds in Ikinyarwanda and bows. When I asked why he bows, he replied, “Because I respect you.” When I responded, “I respect you, too, Charles,” he smiled…and bowed. The moral to that story is that we must never underestimate anybody.

Occasionally, Marie feeds me. She’s also an expert at taking care of our feet, often referred to as a pedicure. That expertise pays the rent. However, to be accurate, Marie cuts my toenails that seem to be beyond my reach. I know it’s time for her services when my toenails start snagging the insides of my socks. While that is certainly important, she is always cheerful and, more to the point, she never fails to get my feedings right. She obviously paid attention to Irene’s instructions.

There are other allegedly trained individuals anointed by management with the task of feeding me because of sicknesses, summer vacations or unanticipated absences. Of course, management stinginess may be in there somewhere. Mind you I’m not implying some personnel can’t grab their fannies with both hands — because some are sorta competent as well as always friendly — but let’s just say I have to watch them like a hawk and can’t relax as I can with those mentioned above.

I know I promised to tell you about the old folks in the next department, but you can look forward with ‘bated breath to some future installment.

Meanwhile, my heart goes out to the American readers who have to live with the antics of a nut-job and a mean-spirited political party bent on taking the country back to medieval times. At least the nut-job may be removed soon. About that political party, though…

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on April 2016.


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  1. Two thoughts to start. You are both appreciative and understanding of the staff with whom you interact. These qualities say much about you. We all need to appreciate and understand the people in our lives, no matter what the realities of why and how they are in our lives. I can only imagine what it’s like to live in an old folks warehouse, as you call it, and how important these people are to and for you. And they deserve respect and compassion for who they are and for the often difficult jobs they have, especially in the face of uncaring and probably unaware management.

    I have to wonder why they are in those jobs. Choice, necessity, lack of opportunity? It isn’t a job I would like and I am reminded by your post of how lucky I was and am that I had and have the life I have. Visiting my mother and grandmother in such places I have seen much of what you describe, and seeing that from the outside instead of the inside makes all the difference.

      • Don Bay on August 28, 2017 at 10:48

      The reality of day-to-day living in this warehouse makes me appreciate all the responsibility that the personnel have to carry. At the same time, there are occasions when it breaks down — for instance, lately. I groused to Kitty about those occasions. The personnel are too few and overworked to be able to cover everything that must be covered.

      Personnel have complained and now are leaving, so top management knows full well what’s going on. They say they are doing something or making excuses, but it’s slowly getting worse despite the massive efforts by the personnel. Sven-Gunnar exemplifies the problem: stress from overwork. As I say in the piece, management expects the personnel to have super powers and makes excuses instead of doing something.

      I don’t know why caregivers choose this line of work. I’m not sure many of them know. Regardless, thank goodness they are here. Now top management must be as appreciative as I am.

    • Kitty Courcier on August 27, 2017 at 19:39

    Dear Don, I so appreciate the fact that you appreciate your care givers.That comes from having a grateful heart. Yes some are better than others. I’ve seen this in my 26+ years of nursing. Having a bit of perfectionist in me I want every job done it’s best and when that involves another human beings welfare then it should be.

    You are absolutely right about the conditions on the front line caregivers suffer through. Aside from low wages the physical demands not to mention the emotional drain. I tend to look at my patients as a family member or friends family. I thinks it human nature to do this. We have all had family or friends who have been in hospital or care facilities at one time or another. That is where the emotional drain comes in. Some folks balance this better than others.

    As an RN I’m assisted by many ancillary staff. I couldn’t do my job without them. I’ve notice that it’s a certain type of person who can do these jobs. Most have a deep concern for people especial in their time of need. I know this is part of why I love nursing. It’s a gift of mercy. The truth be known, no amount of money could really compensate for some of the types of jobs I have to do. That said, I’m a California RN with a union behind me and I get paid well. It’s the relationship I have with my patients that is the most satisfying part of the job. And when I get a thank you from a patient or a family member it goes way beyond the pay check.

    It’s good you are able to pay close attention to the task at hand. Some staff can become absent minded when doing a routine task and a gentle reminder can prevent an accident.

    All and all it sounds like “the old folks home” is a pretty good place.

    I wish health and safety for you Don.

    love you,

      • Don Bay on August 28, 2017 at 07:18

      Sounds as if the problems are similar in Sweden and America. The difference is that in Sweden everybody gets pretty much the same benefits while in America money or the lack thereof determines the quality of the facilities and even the care.

      Your attitude of compassion is admirable, but humans being humans, not all caregivers have the same high standards you have. It’s far too easy to cut corners, particularly with old folks who may not have all their faculties. Being something of an idealist like you, I would like all caregivers to provide high-quality service all the time.

      Since there are only about 34 old folks — some with dementia and some simply old — it’s easy to know at least a bit about my fellow inmates. Because of my need to ask questions, it’s much easier to know what the caregivers think and feel. All are frustrated by management’s refusal to acknowledge the burdens they carry.

      As an example, both of the nurses here have recently resigned and caregivers are leaving. We now have to call in an outside nurse. The union is in bed with management, so they’re no help to the personnel. The number of helpers has increased…but there simply aren’t enough qualified personnel. I’ve recently had to feed myself (I have an implant into my stomach). Something is going wrong. As I’ve said, we’re in the age of Trump. Better than the average American situation, but fast deteriorating. Could it be the Danish corporation that fairly recently took over? Seems so.

      Forgive my grousing. I have no doubt that you bring comfort to those who need your services. Keep it up while you can.

    • Donna Boe on August 28, 2017 at 05:01

    You are really lucky, Don, to have such skilled and caring people working with and helping you. Nursing home attendants are almost always underpaid, overworked, and must be really caring people to have a job like that in the first place. It sounds as if you know your helpers on a personal basis, which likely makes both yours and their job easier and much more pleasant. Give them all a High 5 from me.

      • Don Bay on August 28, 2017 at 06:44

      As I said, I’m an inveterate question-asker. Fortunately, my caregivers answer the questions. Unfortunately, try as I might, I’ve been unable to right the inadequacies faced by the caregivers.

      There aren’t a lot of people — inmates and caregivers — here so it’s easy to know folks. For good or ill, it’s in my bones to make an effort to help the caregivers as much as I can. The gratifying thing is that my efforts are appreciated. The frustrating part is that the caregivers are overworked and underpaid. As Irene has said to me, it’s vital to care for their charges in the best way possible…but she has also said that she’s fearful of what lies ahead when she is in an old folks’ home.

      They’ll appreciate those high-5s.

    • Linda on August 30, 2017 at 23:05

    I have so many images of you smiling and caring and showing your appreciation to the people around you, no matter their status, that it doesn’t surprise me that you are so supportive of those that are caring for you. They are lucky to have you on their side. You make a difference no matter where you are and that brings a smile to my face.

      • Don Bay on August 31, 2017 at 06:40

      Thanks for the kind memories. It’s easy to appreciate the folks who care for us here in the warehouse, just as it was easy to appreciate the people on my staff who made it work. We were a good (if inadequately appreciated and remunerated) group. You made it easier for me…even after the arrival of the guy whose name won’t be mentioned.

      BTW, Sven-Gunnar is back as of yesterday. Apparently the early treatment of his stroke is the reason he looks and acts so healthy now. I just need to get him to eat a vegan diet to assure his good health.

      We now have a nurse here in the warehouse. She’s a nurse-superattendant and seems efficient. Maybe there’s improvement in our future.

        • Linda on September 1, 2017 at 21:02

        Terrific news re: Sven-Gunnar! Early treatment was the key to my mother’s complete recovery from a stroke seven years ago when she was 92! Also good to hear about the great nurse attending to you folks now!

          • Don Bay on September 2, 2017 at 06:53

          Yes! Had not Sven-Gunnar had the good luck of having it happen as he was getting on a bus AND had it not been recognized and treated right away, the outcome would have been awful. Your mother had similar luck. Think what could have happened if both had been far from knowledgeable health professionals.

          It’s a step in the right direction, BUT we had two nurses before…one on each floor for the needs of 30+ inmates. The question to be asked is…is corner-cutting taking place? Follow the money.

    • Kitty Courcier on September 3, 2017 at 19:01

    Dear Don, I hear the comment “the union being in bed with management” often. It is a disastrous affair and completely invalidates the union members voices. That said, many union members feel “the union” is an outside entity that will somehow miraculously fix what needs to be fixed. It is difficult for many in a union to realize that “they” are the union. Building membership involvement takes a continuous effort, and lots of it especially during the bargaining process. We are in negotiations at my hospital right now as our current contract expires in December.

    Back in the 1990’s when I first went into nursing we did not have a union at my hospital. It was an era where we found our community hospital moving into the corporate health care network. A new CEO and CFO were hired and staffing was being dramatically cut. We went without a cost of living wage increase for 5 years. Our hospital was hemorrhaging RN fasting than we could hire new trainees. Ancillary staff were cut the most and it was impossible to give all the care that was needed to our patients. Needless to say we RNs were fearful for the safety of our patients and our licenses. We had many meetings with management to plea our case. The response was that to stay in business (not be sold to a larger hospital chain) we had to tighten the belt straps. That’s when we started talking to The California Nurses Association. We knew they were a nurse run union with a good record of fighting for nurses and their patients. The CNA nurses where legislating for the Safe Patient Ratio law at that time. Fighting for unionization was an extremely tough battle. Our hospitals put huge amounts of money into union busting. It became a public battle as family and community members began writing letters to the editors demanding the hospital provide a safer place for patients and employees. It took several years but we are proud to say we are Union nurses. We now have the Safe Patient Ratio law in California and at my hospital we have made many gains for our patients and our staff.

    It is not an easy task to stand up for patients and yourself even with a good union. It is next to impossible to decertify and try to recertify with a better one. It takes an enormous amount of time, effort and courage. I’ve been involved with that at my hospital when the ancillary staff tried to leave SEIU and go with a better union The United Health Care Workers of Ca. It failed and as a result weakened the member involvement.

    I can only hope that your staff and the residents persist in efforts to keep you all safe. We in the states are looking at some hard times for union protections. There is legislation on the federal level right now that is trying to make it illegal for public service employees to have the right to bargain and unionize. Complaisant attitudes are the norm and the battle for labors rights will never end. So the fight must goes on….

    Power to the people…..

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