I knew it wouldn’t take long for the Facebook comments to come: Shame on you, TFH! Treat elders with respect, TFH. With a headline that pulls at your heartstrings, Dementia Discharge: Tahoe Forest Hospital continues to separate couple married for 55 years despite state rulings that they be reunited, you’d have to be cold-hearted to not be moved by the story of Bill and Beverly Borden.
The Bordens have been separated from one another since April, when Bill, who has dementia, had physical altercations with two separate individuals at the facility and it was declared Borden’s welfare and needs couldn’t be met at the facility, citing concern for the safety of individuals on site.
I’m not here to weigh in on this particular situation. I just know that people will read a single headline and make an instant judgment without even reading the story. The article makes it clear the Bordens’ situation stems from the higher administrative levels, not from the employees who care for residents on a daily basis, but I want to reiterate that by sharing the depths of compassion I experienced at the ECC.
As a Moonshine editor, I recused myself from this story. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t read through it without bawling my eyes out, my mother was a resident of the ECC for nearly two years. I lost her on Jan. 21.
My mother had advanced multiple sclerosis and in January 2018 entered a nursing facility in New Jersey. We got her into a “top-rated” facility, but every day I could hear her losing the will to live as through tears she relayed stories about not being changed for 14 hours, waiting an hour and a half after pushing her call button just for it to be acknowledged, and being treated roughly during physical therapy.
Six weeks later, I was notified there was a bed for her at TFH. We moved her to Truckee on March 24, 2018 and I was blessed to have her with me here for nearly two years.
Early last November, my mother took a turn for the worse and for seven weeks lived only on small sips of water. No one expected her to last more than three weeks with no food. All along, everyone at the ECC — the administrator, nurses, aides, food service, cleaning, and maintenance people — treated her with the utmost respect and dignity. Former employees came from an hour away to say goodbye.
As the end neared, compassion came in the simplest, most genuine gestures. Many times, I waited outside the door and heard how they treated her as they tended to her. Night nurses did computer work in her room to help her feel at ease as she faced awful effects of morphine like hallucinations and feeling like her skin was crawling. On Christmas Eve, a nurse offered to help wrap gifts, cook, and clean because I had nothing done. One aide, despite working and going to nursing school, turned several poems my mom wrote into songs and sang them for my mom and family. The night before my mom’s passing, another nurse — after working 12 hours and with a baby at home — went to get my sister at the airport so I didn’t have to leave my mom’s side. As my mother took her final breaths, the nursing head spoke softly to her, gently brushing back her hair, and telling her it was okay to let go, while others stood close by and held her hand or rubbed her leg. I’ll never forget these genuine acts of compassion.
It takes a special person to do this job; to go through the experience of death and dying day in and day out, only to just go back to work and carry on with their day. I’ve seen first-hand the mistreatment workers sometimes endure from residents, yet they keep doing their job because they truly care about them. Though my heart breaks for the Bordens and I pray their situation is resolved, I still know that there truly is selfless compassion to be found within the walls of the ECC.
~ Before marrying a farmer and giving up farm life for a better quality of life in Tahoe, Juliana Demarest spent seven years as a founding editor of a weekly newspaper in North Jersey. She didn’t realize how much she missed journalism until she joined Moonshine Ink two years ago as a copy editor. She is now the culture editor.