Journalcalling #14 – Rules to Live By?

Journalcalling   •   May 25, 2021

My mom recently moved into an apartment in a senior housing facility, and we were not prepared for the grip of the rules. She signed up for the “Independent Living” option advertised in the brochure and the sign out front. But once there, it did not appear that really existed.

Although she was fully vaccinated, had a negative Covid test and as requested, submitted her vital signs before moving in, nurses were knocking on her door and sometimes letting themselves in two and three times a day to check her temperature and oxygen level and conduct other screenings. One did a TB test and then there was a memory test. “I feel like I’m under surveillance,” my mom said.

A memory test? What was happening here? My mom shows no signs of cognitive decline.

Is this how they shuffled people off to their high-priced memory unit? The nurse recited three words: apple, penny, cable, and my mom was able to recall them after she counted backwards from 100 by 7s. Phew. This test would be conducted every six months, the nurse said. Huh. 

A day or two later, a nurse arrived for an unscheduled physical therapy screening, saying it had been ordered by the in-house doctor who had given my mom a physical. After running her through the motions, she admitted she wasn’t sure why she had been sent. “You’re in great shape,” she told my mom. 

My brother and I were allowed to help her move in on May 7th but were asked to stay in her apartment and not go in and out. Late in the afternoon, we took a break from unpacking the 70+ boxes and went out to get lunch. When we returned and got out of the car, we were surprised to see my mom calling out to us from her second floor window. “You can’t come back in,” she said. “They lock the doors at 5.” 

She told us to wait and marched around the three connected buildings that house about 100 elderly residents until she found someone to help. A sympathetic nurse soon motioned us in a side door and told us to quietly leave the same way.

Two days later — on Mother’s Day — I called to ask if we could visit and a nurse said they were all booked, but she would try to get us in. In the parking lot, we greeted a mother and son who were about to drive out for the afternoon. I asked the son a few questions. It could be done, he advised, if kept on the down low. 

We decided to be upfront and headed for the front office. If we filled out a form, the receptionist said, we could take my mom out. “I feel like a child,” my mom said. At 85, she still drives her red Camry and is used to running errands on her own. Until two weeks ago, she managed her nine-room house and a yard full of gardens alone. And now her children had to sign a paper pledging to keep her safe. 

As we drove down the driveway, it was already 3 p.m. After enjoying a small family dinner at my nearby home we brought her back. It was three hours after curfew. Instead of ringing the bell, my brother found an open door next to the stairwell that led up to her apartment. My mom smiled smugly and giggled a little as she climbed out of my car.

She was in bed at 10 p.m. when she heard a knock on her door. Before she could answer, a nurse was inside her apartment asking my mom how she had gotten in. Busted. Since then, that outside door has been locked, day and night, along with all of the others except the main entrance which is only open 9-5. 

On another day, as we were on our way out, the receptionist announced,  “Just so you know, you now have to give us 24 hours notice before you come to sign her out.” Huh.   

“Maybe we should have checked into this more,” my mom said once we were outside. In all of the communications leading up to her arrival, there was no mention of the restrictions still in place due to Covid. All we knew was that we and everyone there had been vaccinated. We figured there would be a welcome level of freedom for the residents who had been isolated in their apartments for more than a year.

Outings in the facility’s van were happening again, but no one could step out of the vehicle. It was mentioned in a family meeting I attended that overnight excursions were not allowed. My heart fell.

After my stepdad had died in February, my mom and I planned a June trip to Denver to visit my son and his family. Mom and Bob had tried to visit them three times over the past few years, but a broken hip, cancer and finally, heart failure kept them from ever going. When I proposed the idea, I was thrilled to hear my exhausted mom say, “I think I’d like that.”  

Due to our family’s schedules, it was not possible to push it further out into the summer or fall. This was our only week. My mom was strong and in good health. She had been walking laps around the complex every morning to rebuild her strength after many difficult months as a caretaker. It was an opportune time. 

How the heck was I going to get her out of there? “Make it a real sob story,” my daughter-in-law said. It was one. With my mom’s blessing, I wrote a letter to the administrator requesting she be allowed to go. Twenty-four hours passed. Silence. My mom lost hope. 

“I want you to go,” she said. “I’ll be okay.” 

Friends were outraged. “I think they are violating her civil rights,” one said. “They should not be doing this,” said another who works for the NH Dept. of Public Health. 

The email arrived that night. I held my breath as my eyes skittered across the paragraphs from the director thanking me for reaching out….but…the ideal situation was for the seniors to stay put….Then the shift: she understood the importance of a healing family trip. If my mom would agree to a few Covid tests upon her return, she could go. We were stunned, a bit confused and overjoyed. Others could not get out of the van on road trips, but my mom could board a plane? “Don’t ask questions,” my husband said. 

Maybe my mom will be okay there. She will keep reaching and pushing and questioning to hang on to her independence as long as she can. She’s not a big rule-breaker, but over the years she has learned how to get what she needs.