Only two things in life are certain: death and family baggage (taxes only matter after you’re arrested for evasion). What happens when you find yourself staring down the barrel of both at the same time?
Eight years ago, Elice Smith’s mother suffered a massive stroke at the age of 56. There was no retirement plan — who plans to be mentally and physically disabled at 60? If you believe the investment company commercials, your 60s are when you say screw the kids, hop in your RV, and go cruise on Cialis. Instead, Elice’s mother, Terry, found herself waking up in a hospital bed after having lost her short-term memory, peripheral vision on the right side, her ability to read, and two-thirds of her mind.
So, if you’re Elice — 24 years old at the time and with a 3-year-old son and no college degree — what do you do in that situation? Put mom in a nursing home? Hire somebody to look after her? Well, Elice made the choice lots of people do: to do the job herself with the meager reimbursement the government provides for that sort of thing. To say it was an eye-opening experience would be a ridiculous understatement.
#5. Abuse, Fraud, And Theft Are Everywhere
After spending the minimum amount of time required for a stroke patient in the hospital, Elice’s mom was sent home, and Elice was faced with a tough decision. “I could let her go to a nursing home, or I could take care of her.” Elice went with door #2, and the hospital just went along with it. Apparently, you don’t need a degree certificate to care for a disabled loved one. Hell, you don’t even need a CPR class. Gumption, moxie, and just the right amount of crazy are all it takes to become medically responsible for an entire human being.
“We’ve identified you as having zaz, pep, and gusto. As far as
we care, that’s as good as a licensed nurse.”
“No training, no lessons, no resources to learn more,” says Elice. “It was, ‘Here’s the 15 medications she needs to take and the times she needs to take them.'” And her situation isn’t exactly unusual. “I have a friend [who] gave birth to a child with a very severe genetic anomaly. This genetic disorder is so rare that most babies who develop it miscarry … the hospital sent them home with equipment, two days of training, and a list of medications. Imagine the terror. You do it because you don’t trust anyone else to do it.”
Which brings us to the crux of the situation: Roughly one-third of all nursing homes were cited for violations in 2001. Surveys show an astounding 44 percent of the residents say they have been abused, while a terrifying 95 percent say they have been subjected to or have witnessed neglect. This is why Elice put her entire life on hold to make sure her mother wouldn’t be put in the same position. Keep in mind that compromising by bringing somebody into the home to take care of them isn’t without risk, either — you still wind up with plenty of tales of neglect, medication theft, and plain old fraud, via billing for work they didn’t do.
Still, Elice doesn’t judge anyone who may decide not to take this all on themselves. “[Y]ou choose the lesser of the evils. If you can’t take a bloody nose from your parent or [having to] restrain your mother, [or] if you are not willing to look wiping your father’s ass in the face, don’t do it — [even if] society says you have to. If you can’t, it’s OK. It doesn’t say anything terrible about you … there will be a day when they are lying in the hospital bed, and you will hate them. You will remember every slight, every broken promise, [and] you will stand there with someone’s life in your hands and remember everything they’ve ever done to you and make the decision to take care for them or decide that you can’t do this. And that’s OK.”