“It hurts!” – An appeal

August 26th, 2013 → 4:37 pm @ // No Comments

Illustration by Jeanne A. Benas


The need for a hospice impressed itself on Mother Teresa when she came upon the body of a man under a tree. Mike Nicol writes in LOVE: The Words and Inspiration of Mother Teresa: “She had noticed him earlier while passing in a tram and he had been alive, although sodden by the monsoon rains. An hour later he was dead. The pity welled up in Mother Teresa. How tragic to die alone.”

This is what happened to someone who could be you or me, if we live long enough to survive a late evening fall in a nursing home, and are taken by ambulance to the local emergency room: An elderly woman was pushed into the hallway of the Emergency Room on a stretcher. No one was with her. She had on very little except her earrings. She had taken a fall; there was an obvious red bump on her left temple.

This woman didn’t disturb anyone by calling out or demanding attention. (She couldn’t.) Neither did she tremble or cry, or beg for mercy.

Her eyes penetrated the passers-by as she half-raised herself resting on elbows like a beached seal trying to get up and back to the water. But she was caged by bed rails and so “safe” in the emergency room. She had a stoic look on her face that I can’t forget — a  look that was carved in stone by the long hours of being made captive by her dependence on institutional care. But the way she was treated lacked respect for dementia friendly care.

The doctor visited asking the standard questions:

“Do you know where you are? No.” He made a note.

“Do you remember what happened?”

She did seem to know she was hurt as she tried to gently move her arm and touch her forehead.

“No,” he jotted a note and turned leaving her alone again.

There must have been negative results on her x-rays because she was told that she was waiting for an ambulance to take her “home”. (If she could survive the cold ER alone, I thought. Is this where deadly pneumonia begins that can spread so rapidly in nursing homes?)

When we left several hours later after mid night, she was still wide awake. As I tried to cover her with the white sheets, she pointed to her arm and spoke words: “It hurts.”

How often does this event repeat itself – nursing home to ER and back home again alone? The way she was treated without respect for dementia friendly care?

People sometimes think that my book is about treating old people like children. My book is about the need to rebirth the nurturing and respectful care of people suffering with dementia in all settings. I know that emergency care is a complex situation in which to address special care and ethics. How can we overcome this challenge? What is the difference between a person in the emergency room suffering from dementia and a person caught in monsoon rain in the middle of India? The need for a special care facility in the emergency room in a highly developed country that is supposed to have all the technology, should be our highest priority.

Please comment.

Julia Soto Lebentritt, Author of As Long as You Sing, I’ll Dance


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