Saturday, November 12, 2005

Burning Toast

Mom walked to the bathroom and back easily today, the best ever.
She was tired afterward, so I settled her in the recliner and told Jona that I was leaving. I had come at 8:30 am and taken her to have photos taken at church by a professional photographer; now at 10:30 am I was returning home.
But then the fire alarm went off--first a siren noise, then an automated speaker in the wall saying, "Go to a fire exit immediately."
"Is it real or just a fire drill?" I asked Jona. She ran off to find out.
"Go to a fire exit immediately," the voice repeated.
"I'm not going anywhere," Mom answered. She was tired and did not like this voice ordering her around.
"Well, Mom, if it really is an emergency, we should leave," I began.
Jona returned saying no one knew if it was a fire drill or not. None had been scheduled.
I decided we were leaving.
"But she can't get down the fire exit," Jona pointed out.
"I know--it's crazy to have these Rem people on the third floor. They should be on the first floor," I said. "We'll go to the elevator."
Another "private," employed by the same agency that sends Mom's caregivers, came into our room to help Jona with Mom.
"No, I'm here. Go help Ruth," I said.
"I can't take Ruth anywhere," she said. "She's in a Hoyer lift. My orders are to just take any resident and escort them out."
"Oh dear!" I said. "Ruth has to be left behind?" I was thinking about the elderly people who died in nursing homes in New Orleans.
Meanwhile Jona and I had helped Mom get into her wheelchair, and we were pushing her out, past the aluminum walls that had automatically descended from the ceiling when the alarm sounded, stopping any possible fire in the kitchen and lounge areas from entering the hall.
We got to the elevator and found that all the Rem residents were being herded into Ralph's room near the elevator. What good that would do, I didn't know. The director of the floor didn't know whether it was a real alarm; she had not been notified of any drill.
"You shouldn't go in the elevator in a fire," someone scolded me, but we went anyway and soon assembled with others near the front desk on the main floor. A strong smell of burnt toast permeated the area.
"It's someone on the second floor--she was making toast in her microwave," explained Lorraine, the receptionist, enjoying the emergency. It appeared that no fire had started though the smoke alarms had been activated.
We waited a few minutes, and I outlined to Jona my recommendations should a real fire occur: take Mom to the stairwell marked Fire Exit, get her out of her wheelchair so she is sitting on the top step, and make her go down the steps on her seat, one step at a time. "That should be fun," I said sarcastically, and we laughed, imagining the scene.
We agreed that the residence had been designed wrong--the least able residents should have been on the first floor so they could leave easily in an emergency. But that plan would not have permitted such a pretty first-floor lobby leading into the dining area for the assisted-living residents who did not have dementia.
The ideal residence is on a slight hill so the entryway can be elegant, while the Rem residents are safe on the floor below, set into the hillside with a wide patio for easy escape access. Mom was in a residence like this two years ago in Mission Viejo.
After deciding there was no real danger, I went home, leaving Jona with the job of returning Mom to the Reminiscence Neighborhood.
My sister and I have Mom's name on a waiting list for a private room in a skilled nursing facility that has just one floor with ground access for exit in case of emergency. Rooms with two and three beds are available, but we're not moving her just yet because the place looks a lot like a hospital. It would be a big step down from where she currently lives.
For now, we will wait for a private room and hope that no serious fire occurs at Ocean View.
As for the lady who burned the toast, she will probably arrive on the third floor soon. Or maybe she gets three strikes before she joins the Reminiscence Neighborhood.


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