Another Total Institution

Realizing that, as they became frailer, they would have to leave the retirement home and enter a convalescent home providing more intensive care, my aunts asked me, their closest relative among the next generation, to come and survey the convalescent homes so they might choose the best care they could afford. ...

I set out again on Sunday to "bag" two more convalescent homes nearby, hoping to see six in all before I had to fly back. That morning I began, as on Saturday, talking to the staff and then to the residents. On the floor nearest the reception area, there appeared to be only one nurse, who then took me around the facility, explaining things as she went. When she had finished, I said I would like to talk to a few residents, and she, knowing I was looking on behalf of my two aunts, took me first to a room shared by sisters who had arrived together the year before.

After introducing myself and explaining why I wanted to hear about their experience, I listened as they praised their care with animation and some enthusiasm. "Another suitable place," I began to think. Just then, the phone could be heard ringing faintly in the distance at the nurses' station. The nurse excused herself, explaining that they were always a bit shorthanded on Sunday, and sped down the hall to answer the phone. The moment she was well out of hearing distance, one of the sisters put her finger to her lips and with great feeling said, "Whatever you do, don't send your aunts here!" "They treat us terribly." "If we complain about anything or ask for extra help, they shout at us and tell us to shut up." They explained how some of the staff would delay bathing them or bringing their food or personal effects if they displeased them in any way. At this point, as the nurse's footsteps could be heard approaching the room, one of the sisters put her finger to her mouth again and we resumed an innocuous conversation as the nurse entered.