Melissa Carter

Melissa Carter: Investing in Millie Pete

What would you do if you had all the pink dollars in the world? Buy a new car or home, make those long-sought improvements to your existing home, or take that exotic vacation you’ve dreamed of for years? I’ve considered all those things too, but a recent experience with my mother made me realize I’d invest in a whole lot of paint.

My mother, Millie Pete, recently had a minor fall in her apartment and the unfortunate way she landed broke some small bones in her wrist. This caused her to spend some more time in the medical rehab facility where she stayed in December with pneumonia. In this phase of when-it-rains-it-pours for mom, she had time to see what it’s like to be an elderly patient in a strange place.

First, she realized everyone assumes she has dementia. Either by the way they talk to her, or attempt to avoid her, mom says she found it hard to connect with the staff if the assumption was there, since no one would pay particular attention to what they assumed were disconnected thoughts.

Secondly, she was left alone a lot. Unless she had to be escorted to the gym for her exercise or was brought a meal, there was very little interaction with the staff. Spending too much time alone can be monotonous, and can add a large amount of stress if you feel detached from the world around you.

Third, she was scared. My mother is pretty tough and can handle most situations. That doesn’t mean she isn’t nervous, and she needs to feel protected and appreciated. The more anxious she became, the harder it was for her to express herself effectively, which further convinced others she had mental issues.

This is certainly not criticism of the staff and fellow patients at her rehab center, nor is it a commentary on the mentally ill, since this is not an isolated incident but a societal issue. During the experience, I realized that the elderly and children have a lot in common when it comes to battling any illness. Both groups have a harder time expressing their true feelings and are seen as lesser than those of a different age, and this can hinder their healing in a hospital situation. Yet a children’s hospital is filled with color and entertainment, while places geared toward the elderly rarely offer anything similar.

What would I do with my money? Just as I have spent a lifetime trying to feel included and safe, I would try to do the same for people like my mom when life isn’t going their way. Her hospital room would be adorned in bright, hopeful hues, and the clowns, musicians, and storytellers I hired would wander the halls to make sure no one is alone for too long. The life of my mother and her peers isn’t over yet, and regardless of how much longer she or they may have on this earth, everyone should be treated as if they belong, especially when they’re sick.