9 January

Helping The Elderly. Loneliness, Helplessness, Boredom

by Jon Katz
Loneliness And Boredom: Red And Summer At The Mansion

Brenda wrote me this morning, she wanted to offer thanks for the Geranium Garden at The Mansion, she called the garden “another nurturing event.”

The post about the garden, she said, “reminds me of the process employed by The Eden Alternative to “nurture our elders in the hope of preventing loneliness, helplessness and boredom.”

In a culture that typically views aging as a period of decline, the Eden Alternative philosophy asserts that no matter how old we are or what challenges we live with, life is about continuing to grow. Elderly care is not a one-way street, but rather a collaborative partnership.

It is easy to dismiss the elderly as incompetent or failing. They are rarely called upon the find their creative spark or grow and change. Like anyone, they need encouragement and support of the idea that they have contributions to make and skills and friendships to develop.

Brenda’s message struck a deep chord with me, because my goals in the Mansion work are to address questions of loneliness, helplessness and boredom, three problems researchers who study the elderly are almost always present in assisted care and nursing home facilities.

At the Mansion, there is an unusual atmosphere of loving and listening by the staff and administration.

The residents often tell me they feel safe and comfortable there, and heard. That is not always the case in assisted care facilities, the elderly are often simply warehoused out of sight, shunted from one doctor to another, left to die where nobody can see them.

Loneliness, boredom and helplessness are characteristics of the elderly, even at the Mansion.

It is of course, a lonely experience to leave everything you know and love – family, friends, pets – to live only with other elderly people at the edge of life.

Like refugees, people lose everything when they move to Medicaid assisted care, and begin the process of building their lives anew, and with little chance for fulfillment and self-awareness.

Loneliness was the primary reason I asked the followers of my blog – now known as the Army Of Good – to write letters and send messages and  photographs to the residents, so many of you have made real and powerful connections to them. They talk about their friends from exotic places like Ohio all of the time, they eagerly sit down and read your letters and think about them and talk about them.

To some extent, the letters have eased the residents sense of loneliness, they see that there are people who care about them, write to them, and get to know them. This is a powerful antidote to loneliness, even for the residents who can’t, for various reasons, respond (you can write the residents c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.)

The second challenge I have undertaken is the ease the boredom that comes from living in a regimented a scheduled and somewhat regimented facility. There are activities every day, and they are diverse – puzzles, painting, writing, poetry, games, drawing – but there is only one Activity Director and more than 30 residents. They have considerable time to fill on their own.

This is one reason I have proposed that we fund a series of outings, to bring the residents out into the world and into contact with their communities. We are also working to bring more outsiders into the Mansion. I have seen the power of the letters and the holiday decorations and the very personal gifts.

The most successful outing I’ve seen was the boat ride on Lake George, N.Y.. The residents loved getting out in nature, dancing, looking at the beautiful coastline and gorgeous homes. They enjoyed the Hubbard Hall Christmas breakfast, they loved watching children perform, they love coming to our farm and seeing our animals, and seeing Red work with the sheep, or going into Maria’s studio to learn to draw.

The more they get out, interact with the other world, see different kinds of people, the more energized and the less bored they are. They talk about their outings for days and months, they bring back memory and meaning to them.

Helplessness is a subject I have not yet tried to tackle, and probably won’t. Helplessness is about being unable to control one’s life, and that is beyond my scope and ability. America’s system of caring for the elderly promotes helpless and despair.

Between government regulations, insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations and the health care system, the advanced elderly have almost no control of their lives. Modern medicine can keep them alive longer, but it does not even attempt to address quality of life or the reality of helplessness.

The Mansion staff sees this as clearly as I do, even more so. The residents live in a bureaucratic and Kafkaesque netherworld of hospitals, nursing homes, rehab facilities, regulations and rules. Their health care is determined by insurance companies, and the skyrocketing cost of medications and the stringent rules that dictate their care and doctors who refer them from one place or another..

The elderly are shunted from one hospital or nursing home to another, and given no real say in how they wish to live or end their lives, sent into one surgery after another, and no one at any point ever asks them how they wish to live, or to end their lives and leave the world.

Studies have shown that on average, the last six years of the lives of elderly people are marked by pain, illness and decline. No one ever talks about this, or offers the elderly any real choices about how they wish to end life. After all, it is their life, and the residents tell me all the time that they do not wish to live forever, be a burden, get hooked up to machines, or suffer for years.

The sad truth is that this is how elderly people die, and no one wants to do much about it.

No one listens to them, or has the freedom and encouragement to help them make these decisions.

I believe that the Army Of Good and I have been successful to some degree at easing loneliness and boredom. We have worked hard to bring a sense of nurture and life the to the residents – Gus, Red, the new cat Summer, the Geranium garden,  a book of stories and a poetry book.

We now have a steady stream of outings planned, especially after the cold weather. Brenda reminded me to write about the  fact that our work with the Mansion residents has a purpose and a focus: to ease loneliness, to avoid boredom, and I would add, a third: to promote dignity.

No one at the Mansion should ever want for clothes, they should never suffer that loss of dignity.

As for helplessness, the challenges and struggles of the elderly don’t really seem to be on anybody’s urgent list, certainly not in Washington, there elected officials are on fire to cut benefits for the elderly in assisted care even more.

Thus, to help the elderly also means taking on the entrenched and protected insurance companies and pharmaceuticals. At the moment, there are no politicians brave or caring enough to do that.

We do what we can, and that is a lot an it matters.  We do the best we can for as long as we can. Thanks for your support.

9 January

Hard Day For Gus, For Us

by Jon Katz
Troubled Day For Gus

It is true that megaesophagus is an up-and-down disease, it is an emotional thing for us and a difficult time for him. Every time we get a clear day or two, it is followed a hard day of uncertainty and disorder.

I wrote the other day that we seemed to have a handle on Gus and his illness, I barely wrote that when Gus began a very difficult two day period of vomiting, spitting up, a re-gurgitation of his food. He seems to me to be losing some weight, and today, I don’t believe he was able to digest any of his food, at least not as of 6 p.m.

We are seeing Dr. Fariello again on Thursday, and I’m not sure she has too much more to offer us. We spent a good deal of the day mopping up a lot of Gus’s food, but off of the floor and carpet.  You know the drill, some of you, a smell mess, all day.

The poor guy.

I believe the next step, if he doesn’t improve radically, is to see an internist, a specialist in this disorder, probably in Albany. We would have to have a long talk with Dr. Fariello about that. We have never consulted a veterinary specialist, it is a major stop for us, and it raises a lot of questions about how far we can go and wish to go.

Today, I thought Gus was suffering a bit, he was not himself, and that is understandable given he lost all of the food he had eaten. This could be a one-day phenomenon unrelated to his megaesophagus, or it could be getting worse. He could be sick, or he might have eaten something he shouldn’t.

We just don’t know. Gus does not seem in any way to be an unhealthy dog, at least not until today, he is lively, playful, affectionate, and energetic. This does not look like a sick dog, yet he is, and that makes this disease  especially confusing and emotional. We love Gus and are committed to figuring out just how to live with this disease.

Today, for the first time, he did not seem himself. We’ll see about tomorrow, this is a one-day-at-a-time thing.

The next three days might be fine but I see that doesn’t really mean anything, as I was told. The disease could return with a vengeance at any time. If Gus is losing weight and  suffers from starvation or malnutrition, that is new terrain for us.

But I do not believe he is there yet, and we are not there yet. I don’t want to be yo-yo’ing up and down every day, in my head, or on the blog, but I do wish to share the experience with you, as I promised.

We’ll figure this out on Thursday, but my guess is we will have to think about some other treatment options. We are prepared to do that.

9 January

Refugee Help: Jacket for Sifa, Boots For Kids, Calling Karen and Jodi, Retreats

by Jon Katz
Refugee Notes

I wanted to pass along to some of you very good people various things about the refugees and our plans to support them. There’s a lot happening and i want to keep everyone informed, insofar as possible.

First, I ordered a new winter jacket for Sifa, and got her a sweater an scarf.  I didn’t find anything suitable in my thrift shops, and Rifa, who has eight children, has no good jacket to wear in this difficult winter. She’ll have it by Friday. I got a good one, a Columbia jacket.

Sifa has been in the United States for four or five months, she was in a U.N. refugee camp for 20 years, her first husband died in the camp, her second is trying to get a visa to come and join his family. It is an uphill struggle for him.

Sunday, at the refugee kids festival in Albany, I’m bringing Ali $200 so he can take three of Sifa’s kids out to buy snow boots. We thought that was better than buying them online.

We gave one of the RISSE kids $70 to buy a special white jacket and shoes so she can dance in the refugee festival on Sunday. Otherwise, she would have stood out as the only kid without the right outfit.

We are sponsoring a two-day retreat for the 14 members of the RISSE soccer team at Pompanuck Farm over the Martin Luther King weekend. I’m going to buy three sleds and a couple of sleeping bags.

Someone from Ohio sent a box of wood carving tools for Maulidi, I’ll see him this weekend, and he may have more carvings to sell. I got a huge box of waterproof socks from Kansas today in my P.O. Box, they’re on the way to RISSE.

Cheryl Lasher of RISSE asked me to try to contact Karen and Jodi, followers of my blog for many years, they sent a lot of much-needed winter clothing to RISSE, (including a pink jacket) and RISSE is eager to thank them.

I remember Karen, her beloved nephew Jenson died six years ago, and she and Jodi  gave this generous gift in his memory. Karen, if you see this please contact me at jon@bedlamfarm.com or Cheryl Lasher at RISSE, 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208.

“This expression of love is what the Army Of Good and RISSE are all about,” said Cheryl in a message to me. “I don’t want these women to feel unappreciated or their nephew unrecognized….” I told Cheryl most members of the Army Of Good never tell me what they have done or given, they seem to want nothing more than the joy of being generous and helping.

I know or hear from very few of them directly, yet we seem to be very close to one another.

If you are comfortable doing so, Karen, let me or Cheryl know how to get in touch with you. You deserve some thanks.

On the Mansion side, we are sponsoring a Valentine’s Day lunch with lasagna and a cake and cookies. Our sleigh ride is postponed until warmer weather. For the moment, everyone has the clothes they need.

And we have finished the first leg of the indoor Geranium Garden. We’ll be putting together another tray next week.

Good stuff, and thanks for your support. Next month, we will bring groceries to another refugee family that needs support. The winter clothing drive was very successful, they always need socks and shoes and boots for kids – 714 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208.

If you wish to contribute to this work, you can do so by sending a donation to Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. And thank you. All donations are sept in a separate bank account and overseen by a bookkeeper and a certified professional accountant.

9 January

The Mystery Slouch Beanie

by Jon Katz
The Mystery Slouch Beanie

I am not much known for my fashion choices, Maria often scolds me for dressing dull. Under her influence, I’ve gotten colorful socks and lately, some colorful hats for the winter. I now have color and style at the top of my body and the bottom, the middle is all jeans and work shirts, and all blue.

I have to say I love my new Slouch Beanies, I ordered one for Maria as a Christmas gift, and on impulse, order one for myself. I have never received so many compliments for anything in my life as I have  received for my Slouch Beanies, even a stocker at Wal-Mart came over to me and told me how much he loved it and asked me where i got it. It actually came from Turkey.

Yesterday, another Slouch Beanie arrived, I’m not sure where this one came from or who ordered it. It’s possible I bought it for Maria many months ago, when I started  Xmas shopping for her. It’s possible I bought it for me. The package is a bit mysterious, so it’s possible someone bought it for me an sent it to me, I did write about Slouch Beanies.

I offered it to Maria but she said it was just right for me, so I’m keeping it and wearing it right now. It is warm and stylish and helps me to feel alive and colorful without feeling foolish (I will never wear shorts in my life).

I think for me Slouch Beanies are a beautiful expression of art and individuality, i love the way they look and I love they way they feel, an I love how warm they are. There is one on my head almost every minute. How nice to be making fashion statements later in life, I reject all forms of old  talk, old talk kills more people than disease and age.

I hope I am never too old to change and experiment. If I bought it, good for me. If someone out there bought it and send it to me,  you don’t need to be doing that, but thanks.

9 January

The Thawing

by Jon Katz
The Thawing

Because I always have a border collie nearby, I can’t really say what sheep are thinking, I suspect they rarely think of anything beyond grazing and eating. For the past two weeks, they have been largely holed up in the Pole Barn, staying out of the brutal cold.

They seemed a bit restless to me, but other than that, I wouldn’t swear that they knew it was cold at all, sheep live in the moment, and their thick coats insulate them from most of the weather.

Still, we take good care of them. They have heated water, good second cut hay, solid shelter from the wind, and some grain every day for energy. They are fat and happy creatures, I believe. And they offer beautiful wool for Maria to sell.

This morning I was happy to see them parade out and look me over hoping for food. They came through the cold well. In just a few  weeks, they will be out grazing in the sun, and the world will return to normal.

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