living at a senior care center

Do you remember birds singing loudly and persistently at the beginning of the pandemic when traffic disappeared from the streets and skies? At the time, I wondered if I were hearing birdsong that would normally have been background noise, or if the birds were actually singing differently.

Then I heard an ornithologist say that birds are known to respond to human activity. So, the birds actually were celebrating a reprieve from human interference.

But Some Interference Is Good

Here at my CCRC we’re trying mightily to interfere with Mother Nature by keeping old and infirm people going long after they would normally have expired. That’s a good thing, from my point of view. But the birds might not think so.

I am one of the youngest residents – I will soon be 75 – and in fine shape. When people meet me for the first time without my husband present, they look me up and down and ask, “Why are you here?” I tell them it’s because my husband has Parkinson’s, and they nod their heads in instant understanding.

Almost everyone has come here in response to a natural process gone askew. Couples come because one of them has a chronic illness. After a number of years, a widow or widower is left behind, and she or he no longer has the stamina to move away.

Frail people come to live closer to adult children without burdening them. Others come because they have no adult children on whom to rely for life-extending services.

It Takes a Village

This place is a village in which paid staff substitute for clansmen who, in earlier eras, would have cared for their elders.

Staff members give my husband physical therapy without his needing to travel for it. They organize ways for him to enjoy society, at dinner or after exercise classes, that he could not otherwise access, either physically or cognitively.

Staff members help me with caregiving, a relentless drain of energy and good humor. (60 percent of caregivers die before the loved one for whom they are caring.)

Because someone is always around, I can go about my business – and even spend a night out of town – without worrying about Tom taking his meds on time or slipping in the shower. I am granted a precious, extra degree of freedom.

It’s Not About Illness

The odd thing is that neither staff nor residents focus on the infirmities that make us congregate. When you meet people in a walkway, you proceed to discuss campus activities, your family, the news, whatever, but never your aches and pains or serious medical or psychological challenges. It’s assumed that everybody has his or her share of them, and they’re boring.

I confess I’m curious about how some of my fellow residents manage to cope with the problems inherent in long life. But I can’t pry. Unless new friends volunteer to share their stories, I’ll just have to stick around long enough to find out for myself, assuming I can. 

Then There’s Covid-19

That brings me to the current threat looming over our community of vulnerable individuals. So far, among the 400 souls on this campus, only one staff member has come down with Covid-19.

We‘re told the person had little direct contact with residents – someone from buildings and grounds, perhaps? – and is resting at home.

Why have we been spared? The director jumped into protective mode, closing the campus to visitors and ending communal dining as soon as public health officials recommended doing so.

Some residents grumbled about being cut off from family, but when asked last week whether the dining room should re-open in July, most said no.

Mother Nature issued a challenge, and this CCRC responded with science. We may not talk about illness here, but we know when we’re beating the odds.

How have you and yours fared in the pandemic? Have you been able to visit a loved one in a retirement community? What were the restrictions? Let’s have a conversation.