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Cruising

By Grace Rudolph, BSW, LSW

The other day while I was working on care plans, a soft breeze eased through my office window. A sing-along with Lawrence Welk filled the air and mingled with the lively voices of two young Portuguese women as they pushed wheeled baskets of fresh linens and towels off the elevator outside my door. Suddenly I was anticipating the soft chime that precedes overhead announcements on cruise ships. And there it was! "East Wing, your lunch is on the way. Enjoy."

I put my pen down. Outside the window two gulls wheeled through the blue sky, caught an air current and drifted away. My thoughts drifted with them and I found myself thinking that nursing homes are a lot like cruise ships.

Think about it.

Before a cruise begins you check around because you're going to be away from home in a confined area seeing the same people day in and day out. How much will this cost? Should you take out trip insurance? What paperwork will you need? Who is the captain who runs the ship and sets the tone for the crew? Which cruise lines have made the front page of the Boston Globe because of disasters and law suits?

Choose your ship and pack your bags with comfortable clothing. Remember, you'll be doing a lot of walking or working out in the gym when you're not resting in bed, playing Bingo, going to the main room for live entertainment and special events, or just hanging out in a library well-stocked with large print Readers Digest condensed books.

When the admission work is in order it's time to book your room and choose either private or shared quarters. A bed by the door and the bathroom suits some passengers but maybe you should choose the window bed that overlooks the parking lot so you can watch the staff embarking and disembarking each day. Inner cabins are comparable to the bed in the middle of a three-bed room. You might want to avoid those because that can get tricky. Sure, you'll have a locked drawer in your room but leave your valuables at home. In the best of all possible worlds the crew is honest but you could get a confused roommate who turns out to be Louie Lightfingers. If that's the case, ask for an upgrade.

Now that you've decided on the embarkation date and the port of entry, home or hospital, it's time to book transportation. Car chair, ambulance, private car or like one of my clients, ambulance jet.

Once on board resign yourself to being photographed. Were you ever able to fend off the annoying theme costumed shipboard paparazzi with endless roles of film? Nursing home photographers may be amateurs but they are persistent. The good news is in a nursing home your picture goes in the front of your chart, on the med cart, and in a book kept at the nurse's station incase you jump ship. If you were cruising on the briny you would have to pay a king's ransom to keep your pictures from appearing everywhere; on the SS Long-term photos are free and displays discreet

My favorite nursing homes have dining rooms complete with linen table clothes, freshly cut flowers and soothing classical music soft enough to encourage conversations and bonding. And of course there's assigned seating. My all time favorite home had a chef, a master ice carver, whose summer patio parties involved lobster and prime rib. But, that was years ago and, come to think of it, the lobster was pureed.

All right, so the buffets aren't sumptuous events, Lorna Doones, Saltines, apple juice or ginger ale, but they're available throughout the day and served with a smile. If you prefer something stronger you can go the route my friend Harriet took. Instead of Ambien she got a doctor's order, a Dixie cup and a friend to get her a mega bottle of Jack Daniels that was kept at the nurse's station and doled out to induce sleep by fending off anxiety.

Speaking of anxiety, what cruise would be complete without fire drills? Nursing home fire drills involve slamming doors and blaring alarms but at least you're spared the bulky orange vests (does orange make a fashion statement for anyone?) and the bumping and jostling while being herded up steps like cattle on the way to slaughter.

Last, but not least consider the amenities. Soak in the whirlpool tubs, have your hair done in the salon and while you're at it, don't forget to have a manicure and schedule your pedicure.

I was looking out the window when Sue, the nurse manager on one of the units came in to collect the care plans. "What are you doin'?" she asked, crossing to the window and squinting up at the gulls that had returned to spiral up the air current once more.

"Thinking."

"About what?"

"Did it ever occur to you that nursing homes are a lot like cruise ships?"

She wrinkled her nose and twisted her index fingers against her temples. "I think you're nuts," she said.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Think about it.


If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Grace Rudolphs' newest novel, click here.


   

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