My sister-in-law, Lois Hunt, is planning a trip from Perth to Launceston to spend Christmas with one of her sons, her daughter-in-law and three grandsons. She’s just come back from a week’s holiday at the beach in Busselton.
‘I’m ready to go,’ she says. ‘My plane fare is booked. I’ve bought and wrapped Christmas presents for my four sons and their wives, twelve grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.’
Nothing remarkable about that, you may ask?
Nothing, except that Lois is eighty-four and has impaired vision. As well as that, a cerebro-vascular accident (stroke) seven years ago left her almost completely paralysed on her left side. Oh, and she lives in an aged care facility – in a place we used to call a nursing home.
In all my years as an aged-care nurse and later as an advocate for residents in aged care facilities, I never encountered anyone like this woman. She is a model of ageing gracefully, and sometimes not so gracefully, in extremely adverse circumstances.
Enjoying her retirement and holidaying in Sydney, Lois was unconscious when she was found, slumped across the bed in her hotel room. Had her plight been discovered earlier so that she could have received more urgent treatment, she may have made a better recovery. (See below for signs of a stroke.)
Although initially devastated,, when she was sufficiently recovered, she decided not to let a stroke beat her. Always a determined, woman, she made up her mind to live fully, in spite of her disability. Fortunately, she has retained her mental acumen and her speech is unaffected.
A large circle of friends and family (including her grandchildren who adore her) take her to dinner in restaurants and their homes; to the theatre; on shopping excursions and to football games. She organises holidays at the beach and has become an inveterate phone shopper.
Every week Lois attends a church service in the chapel of the facility; another day she has her hair done by a visiting hairdresser. When she’s home, she joins the other residents in the dining room for meals and the activities room for whatever is planned by the occupational therapist for the day.
Our visits to the facility are interrupted. Women in wheelchairs stop by Lois’s room to exchange local neighbourly gossip. Other people, visiting relatives, come to say hello and greet Lois and her visitors like friends. Staff members on errands stop to chat.
Seated in a wheelchair, this remarkable woman presides over a pleasant, homely room full of family photos, mementos and flowers. Residents of aged care facilities have tenure over their room for life. In practice there are restraints relating to housekeeping and safety which dictate what furnishings and belongings are acceptable. But Lois cheerfully ignores requests to tidy her room.
‘This is my home,’ she says. ‘This is where I live.’
SIGNS OF A STROKE REQURE URGENT ACTION
|Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is their smile uneven?|
|Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?|
|Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask them to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?|
|Time to call 000 – If someone shows any of these signs, even if the symptoms go away, call 000 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.|