Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ohhh no. It's a Moral Conundrum

(title for my XM: Ron & Fez friends who visit)

For the past few months, really years since I moved into my new house, I've been doing my part to be a good neighbor and help take care of an elderly woman who lives across the street from me but I have finally reached a cross-roads of sorts.

I'm no medical doctor, although I do try the home remedy for everything first, but I believe that my neighbor is suffering from dementia. Based on what she knows or says, depending on the day, her name is Ruth Lawson and she is 94 years old with four children. In addition to all of the signs of dementia, I also suspect that she is severely malnourished and dehydrated despite my best efforts to bring her food and drinks. Generally she'll refuse any kind of food I bring her but she'll always take a diet coke. If that isn't enough, she appears to have some problem(s) with her leg(s), which being the non-doctor I am I'd guess is just age, so she can barely walk.

What makes this woman's story most sad to me is that she claims to have 4 children (although two other neighbors, who also do their parts to help her, have told me one of them died many years ago) who never visit her or check up on her. I do not know the age and/or health conditions of her children. There is a nurse of sorts, Joy, who stops by Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a few hours in the morning and is supposed to somehow get the house cleaned, take care of Ruth's needs, bring her to the bank and food store, etc, however I don't believe that the nurse is an RN or any kind of "official" nurse with any kind of corporation/organization, it seems like she might just be some woman who works privately. The nurse stopped by my house one day a few months back to ask if her children every stopped by, to which I said "not that I know or see", and we chatted about her conditions.

Background set, I've been noting over the past few weeks that Ruth's condition has deteriorated rather rapidly. She no longer knows the month, day or year, she doesn't think she is in her house, she believes there are two men living in her car (which is 10 ft away in front of her house, on the public street - luckily her license was revoked a year or so ago and her car keys taken by her son), depending on the day she may or may not recognize me or the other neighbors, yesterday she insisted that some man was sleeping on her couch so she couldn't go inside - I checked it out, as expected, no one in the house, she also insisted someone made her move and this wasn't her house and they didn't move her stuff so she couldn't find her cane - which had fallen on the ground behind her chair.

Taking a step back, another notable recent incident on Saturday night - after watching the UFC fight with some friends, I went to put my trash out and heard her yelling "help", again, at nearly 1am. Odd. She apparently had been out all night, couldn't get up from the chair because of some pain in her leg(s) and was freezing. My girlfriend and I helped her inside and I noted her "address book" was on a coffee table, so I hijacked her book for a minute to take down one of her children's telephone numbers that I could find and I noted down her nurse's telephone number.

Today when I arrived home from lunch, Ruth was, again, screaming "help me, help me" just as she's been yelling for the past 2 days, so being the lousy neighbor I am, I politely ignored her as it's been this same deal everyday and really all she wants is to tell me that her husband, Kenneth, is dead and all she needs is to get to her mother's house, at the address she lives at and is sitting at.

About 20 minutes later, my doorbell rings and another neighbor points to Ruth who has somehow made it about 150ft or so from her front door, down her sidewalk, over the curb, across the street, up the other curb and to the end of my driveway, but couldn't seem to make it up the incline of my driveway so she was yelling for more help and stuck just clinging to the back of my car.

When I got outside, Ruth told me that the police were coming for her and she needed to run away so they can't find her and take her to a nursing home. Since I have a sense of humor, I told her it was a good thing that she ran over here so quickly and that the police would never find her. Meanwhile, I was still trying to figure out how she managed to cross the street and get up/down the curbs. My guess is that the nurse, Joy, must have told her that she was going to call the police to take her away to a nursing home because this nursing home claim is new for Ruth and hasn't been raised before.

I walked Ruth home, tried to call the numbers I had and received a spanish voice mail on the number for Joy and a "Pam" who doesn't know Ruth at her son's phone number. The other neighbor called the car dealership where Ruth claims her son works, and aside from Ruth telling us the wrong VW dealer, we figured it out and oddly enough, Ruth was right on the money with a VW dealer at the least, just in the wrong town. Unfortunately, the receptionist informed us that her son, Keith, was not in today. Hrm, he also wasn't at his mother's house on his day off.

Running short on time, I brought her another diet coke and had to come back to work. At this point I suspect that when I get home from work, Ruth will be yelling for help, again.

I'm very tempted to call the Department of Health and Senior Services and report the issues/problem as part of me believes that this would be the "right" thing to do. However, another part of me also sees the woman as close to the end of her life and at least she is in her own home (regardless of is she knows it or not) where even if she has a dirty diaper, she's the only one who knows. Not to mention, I wouldn't want some nosey neighbor telling me how to care for my mother and I'd like to think that her children understand that there is nothing anyone can do for her, so at least at home, no minimum wage orderly is going to abuse her or treat her like an old piece of meat rather than a human being. Then again, seeing as her children never stop to check on her for whatever reason(s), maybe they wouldn't care if I made such a call.

I'll continue to do my best to at least bring her food and water a few times a day as it doesn't appear that there is a Meals on Wheels in the area. In the meantime, I'll try to get a hold of her son(s) and/or nurse and find out why she doesn't seem to have at least the basic care (food/water/basic sanitation) and if the situation repeats itself tonight and/or tomorrow with no contact from her family/caregivers, I have to guess the "best" and "right" thing to do as a neighbor would be to call Senior Services?

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