Waiting on

Mar 23rd, 2013 | By | Category: Ministry

Beware of those big reclining chairs on wheels that they have in nursing homes    – it means you’re on the list for departure!

Sitting in a day room of a Dublin nursing home, a lady whose powers of observation were always sharp, and her inclination to speak as she saw even sharper, looked around at other residents. ‘Do you know, if you go down the corridor and look into the room opposite my doorway, you’ll see the ‘dead bed’.

‘What do you mean?’

‘When they think you’re on the way out, they move you to that room. I watch them come and go from my room. They have low light in there. If you’re in one of those big chairs, you are on the list’. She looked across the room at two residents seated in big chairs – ‘they’re OK for the time being’.

The rest of the conversation had been entirely lucid; I could only assume that in her time in the nursing home she had noticed a high correlation between needing one of the ‘big chairs’ and having only a short time left. I was going to object, ‘I have seen people for years in those chairs’, but there is nothing worse than someone objecting to a thesis to which you have devoted a great deal of time.

The afternoon tea was brought around, the carer knowing what the lady would want without needing to ask. As she lifted the teacup to her lips, a large chair holding a frail looking woman was wheeled through the lounge, ‘She’s next on the list’, the lady declared.

Was the ashen faced woman that had passed us really heading for the dead bed? Or was the comment just born from a sense of frustration at being enclosed in an environment where there was only one escape?

A nurse unlocked the door to allow me to return to the world from which I had come. Casting a glance back over my shoulder, I wondered what it might be like to be on the inside, to know that there would never again be a moment when you walked out, free to go and do as you wished.

It would not be possible to fault the nursing home – clean, bright, comfortable, full of smiling and friendly staff – there was nothing more they could have done for the comfort and welfare of the residents, but would I choose to be there? Visiting regularly an old farmer whose living conditions are dreadful, I think I can understand why he clings on – he doesn’t have to watch out for the big chairs.


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  1. When my time comes I hope its quick, I really dont relish having to languish in a home,

  2. A good few salient points here, Ian,Sorry l only caught the link bit on your post, so presumed it was something you had shared with someone else. I think most of us at some time or other have witnessed this ‘sitting in big chairs with wheels on’ !!! Not sure it is indicative of death per se. It must be dreadful for the patients/residents of these places which have somehow become ‘institutions’ in their own way. Having been a nurse in a former life, l have seen this all first hand. It seems very cruel in one respect, but l don’t envisage a different form of care for those in need. I worked on one ward where most of the patients had suffered from a stroke, some worse than others. Those that were not too badly affected were fed, washed, and put into one of those awful chairs, and remained there until it was time to go back to bed. It is hard for us to envisage ever being in that situation, but for those, especially with no family, they have no option. It is very hard to read their minds, and wonder what is going on in their heads. Yes, l have seen people die in chairs like that, they just ‘go’, and it is sadly very depressing. The lady you write of, who calls it the ‘dead room’ sounds a character, but for those who are mentally alert, they watch and see, and could give you chapter and verse of what goes on!! Enjoyed reading your article, something a little different, and also, something to make us think about our own old age, well, i’m almost there!!! you have a way to go yet, please God. Your friend Les, has the right approach, l think we all hope that when God calls us home it will be quick, none of us l believe would want to spend our last years sitting in a chair with wheels, but at the same time, for some, they do not have a choice.

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