Let's talk about seniors' mental health

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day, the day when we can all talk about mental health.

Here's what I want to talk about.

I was at the Queensway Carleton Hospital yesterday to bring Jennette, my little cancer warrior, to find her 88-year-old father who was sent there because he had chest pains. We got to the hospital, and we were told he wasn't there.

"Of course he's here," I said, seeing the worry in poor Jennette's face. "The home said they sent him here."

I looked around and there were at least 200 souls sitting in the waiting room in various states of distress. One woman was hobbling around on her cane crying.

We were escorted into the intake room where there were more than 30 people, mostly seniors, laying on gurneys. There was no sign of Jim so we waited in the hallway where we were constantly jostled so that the orderlies could add more gurneys.

It was like a scene out of Code Black, the series about a Los Angeles hospital that is in a constant state of overcrowding.

Aside from the patients, the place was over-run by paramedics, about a dozen of them who were hanging around, checking their phones or half lying on gurneys.

I have been to many hospitals in my 60 years, and I've never seen anything like it. The intake room was a virtual litter box filled with little old men and women languishing, crying, staring into space.

Scott, Jennette and I stood by a doorway across from a woman in her 80s sporting a sutured eye with blackness running down her cheek. She looked at me with pleading eyes.

"Can you help me?" she asked. "I need the nurse. I want to get out of this bed."

Being the helpful type, I buttonholed the volunteer who just shrugged.

"She's been doing that all afternoon."

Then the volunteer walked away. Every medical person who walked by ignored the woman who was obviously suffering from some sort of dementia.

"Stay in that bed," ordered an overwhelmed nurse. "You hit your head."

"No I didn't," the woman said, turning to me.

"I scraped it yesterday; now they won't let me out of this bed."

I tried my best to humor the woman, but she got louder and louder.

"Get me outta here," she said trying to negotiate the barrier on the side of the bed.

I smiled at her, and Scott started talking to her. Her mood seemed to pick up.Then we were ordered out of the intake room because there were too many people.

As I was leaving, I waved to the lady who was now spread-eagled and exposing her vagina to the whole room. Nobody even noticed.

How could this happen, I wondered. Didn't the staff see that the woman was confused and in distress? Why couldn't they at least have taken her to a more private place, and allowed her to keep her dignity?

Just because she had dementia and was there all alone, didn't mean she should be treated worse than an animal. If that were my mother, I would have screamed bloody murder.

I should have done something, or said something. Frankly I didn't know what to do.

So I did nothing -- until now.

I think about what I would have done if I'd seen an animal in distress, or a child wandering around asking for help. I would have endangered myself to help a dog. I would have spent all day helping the child in distress.

Heck, I would have done the same for a senior who fell on the ice. And so would you.

Why are we so quick to turn our back on our elders who have mental health issues? Don't they deserve our respect? Don't they deserve support and kindness?

That's what I want to talk about.


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