Daily Aging: What freedom is most important to you?

August 19, 2014
Heather Reynolds

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” Williams Jennings Bryan

I believe much becomes lost when you enter a nursing home. The worst loss is the loss of autonomy, or choice. The ability to make choices for yourself is empowering, you have the control over your own destiny. This right is achieved as we learn and grow from a small child into adulthood. As a child, I remember I had to earn the right to make choices and decisions based on earning trust with my parents. Times were different then and respect was a very important part of growing up. You respect your elders, or anyone older and wiser than you. Face it that sometimes included your siblings as dis-respect could in fact earn you a slug in the shoulder.

As a small child my mother let me pick my clothes, my bedtime story, and if I was especially good, I got to pick my favorite radio show. Adventure stories were my very favorite. I dreamed that someday I too would embark on a great adventure and discover a buried treasure. My greatest adventure, adulthood.

As a young adult my choices became more about daily survival. I had choices in managing my money, my friends, what I ate, where I went, and my daily entertainment. Did I always make the right choices? Of course not, who does? But what is life without some risk? These are the stories we share with our grandchildren and our best mates. Some of my choices landed me in some pretty hot water.

Life winds down as the body slows. I kept my power of choice until I moved into a nursing home. I found myself at the mercy of a 20 something-year-old aide with a pretty bad gum chewing habit and a mouth to go with it. The first day I arrived I was instructed to dis-robe so my skin could be checked for wounds and bruising. Of course I had bruising, I had fallen and broken my hip. The nursing home did not want to take a chance with being blamed. My next choice to be taken away, my eating time and what I ate. I lost the power to shower when I wanted, go out when I wanted, take my medication when I wanted, I even lost the power to get a midnight snack. 2am cookies are the best!

I knew I could not live alone anymore and really I did not want to be alone. For me, losing the power to make my own choices is worse than being lonely.

Did you know that even the littlest choices make the most difference? I want to go to bed when I please and get up when I please. I want my morning coffee and paper when I first wake up. I would prefer to have breakfast later in the morning. I want to socialize when I please and I prefer my shower before bed. I want to help decide what is on the menu, what activities are on the calendar, and when I want to take a nap. I want the youth that assist me to respect my wishes and no matter how risky my decision is, I want them to know that taking risk in life is about growth. You never stop growing, no matter how old you are, so stop trying to keep me in my wheelchair or lying in bed.

With everything that I gave up in my personal world in exchange for safety, the freedom I find most important is choice.

Marvin
Twitter @missionhealth

3 Comments. Leave new

Wow! Beautifully written and important for all to read.

Reply

A perfect example of the wisdom of our Elders. We can’t work hard enough or fast enough to give the Elders back their lives. Thank you Marvin for “getting real”.

Linda

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Hi Martin, you touch on the fundamental point of ‘choice’….real and not imagined. With the renewed focus on ‘choice’ being available and freely given for people moving into care homes, organisations and staff are struggling with the ‘how will we do this’? Especially those who are more an institution than a home.

For me it is autonomy & Identity. Who am I? What has my life been like? How can a care partner support and enhance rather than take away those hard won skills, experience and attitudes of life.

Part of our role I believe is to ‘teach others’ what it is like or could be like if it was them in that chair / bed, instead of you. Role playing would be one way to ‘reverse the travesty of time’ and show what is really happening when we take away all the things that are important.

As a friend so eloquently put it, “for every one thing that we take away from an Elder, we are cutting them with disempowerment. The more we take, the more cuts that are given, until such time as the recipient is bleeding profusely.” Not a pretty image I know but a powerful one that shows what damage we are doing to people who need our support and not have them controlling our lives for their own benefit.

I truly hope that in some small way you can rebel against the institutional prison and strive for an environment that is more like your home. I look forward to hearing about your victories in the future.

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