Residents, staff and winter illness

With 16 years living in nursing homes, I have seen many residents and staff become ill. I feel the best defense is to stay out of everyone’s coughing range. Sometimes, more drastic measures must be taken: At a previous facility where I lived, almost every winter residents had to eat in their rooms for one or two weeks until an illness declined in the building.

This year the flu is peaking in February, and every day it seems a staff person calls in sick. This past week, two staff members called off. The remaining staff and we residents who understand what is going on feel a bit jumpy. With fewer staff it takes longer to get care—and those workers who do show up have shorter tempers.

This winter has not been like last year's, which was cold and snowy. Though it has seemed warmer and rainier, the weatherman says we are 10 inches or so away from another record winter snowfall.

Yesterday my aide had a bad headache. She left early, and I felt as though I had caught that headache by hearing her mention it and watching her struggle to work. That reminded me of a childhood lesson that illness is more pervasive when it is talked about.

Illness runs through this facility in waves. Usually it is an intestinal bug that does not last very long. But while it is here it makes the residents quite miserable.

Unlike some other facilities, this dining room is not closed. Residents go to meals no matter how ill others might be. I have seen residents there who looked incredibly sick trying to eat, but staff usually notice and assist them to leave.

Two weeks ago the resident across the hall had to get an IV for dehydration while recovering from an intestinal bug. It was remarkable how that IV helped his appetite to return and he avoided a trip to the hospital.

It looks like the winter blues of February have set in. I am sure both residents and staff will be glad when the bacteria and viruses of the winter of 2012 are gone.

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