Sunday, May 13, 2012

Here is another thing about El Salvador - and I imagine many other places where elder care has not been institutionalized.

Maria Elena Coreas - November 2010

An aunt of Cecilia, Idalia and Blanca has been ill. Her name is María Elena Coreas and she is 73.  She has not been healthy for a very long time.  She has always been very thin – she smokes a lot and has for years.  She has had spells of weakness off and on since I’ve known her.  But this past month and a half she has been basically bed-ridden.  She hardly eats – maybe a half a tortilla a day or half a tamale … they buy her Gatorade and juices but she doesn’t consume much of those either. 
For the past month and a half, she has not been able to get out of her bed, hammock or chair without assistance.  She has had a couple of days where she could at least ‘help’ herself get out.  But for about 3 weeks now, she has not even been able to even help her helpers.  So if she needs to use the bathroom (which of course, is outside a ways) she has needed someone to basically carry her.  And the ladies say she is HEAVY.  They wonder how someone so thin can weigh so much. 

She won’t go to a doctor but my guess is she either has cancer or emphysema.   It’s a ‘logical’ assumption but certainly not based on any real knowledge I possess.

So someone is with her 24 hours out of the day.  During the day, it is mostly Cecilia’s father who spends time with her.  Alejandro has spent many days with her.  Blanca’s sisters from San Salvador come.  Other people bring food - which she doesn’t eat for the most part – but the food suppliers make sure whoever is watching over her is fed. 

During the night, it has been Cecilia, Blanca and Idalia taking turns spending the nights: vigilantly watching over her.  This means, that every 3rd night, one of these women does not sleep because María Elena does not sleep.  She cat naps during the day and dozes occasionally at night.  And she talks.  She sometimes talks to people who are not there. 

You might ask if Cecilia, Blanca and Idalia catch up on their sleep during the day.  Short answer: no.  They go about their work as usual: laundry, cooking, doing the books, going out to the communities for whatever task needs to be done on whatever given day. 

I can see it is taking its toll on them.  They have a constant ‘cold’ – bags under their eyes.  They drag a little. 

But no one complains.  They might comment how tired they are.  But it isn’t a complaint.  If María Elena lives in this condition for the next 10 years – they will continue watching over her as they are. 

They talk about her a lot and worry.  As Cecilia said this morning because it seems she is getting worse: “we’ll have to see what God has to say about this.” 

I saw María Elena 3 days ago.  Blanca’s sister from San Salvador was with her.  And she is as thin as anything.  She was in bed – covered up to the neck with several blankets in spite of the heat of the afternoon.  But she did not feel warm to the touch.  She recognized me and we chatted a bit.  I crawled under her mosquito net to sit on the edge of her bed for a bit.  It’s hard to talk through netting.   Mostly I asked her how she was feeling: do you have pain? Are you able to eat? I tried to acknowledge what she was feeling – to try to understand –

She was worried about her own mother’s gravesite.  Did someone go out and put flowers up for Mother’s Day?   We assured her it was done.  And the next day I took a photo and printed it for the family to show her.

Family is a treasure. 

I don’t think I would have it in me to do what Cecilia, Blanca and Idalia are doing.  For that matter, what the rest of the family is doing also.    

But even if there was a nursing home facility anywhere near – I don’t think María Elena would be there.  Family takes on that responsibility. 

God bless them and all care-takers of the elderly and ill.  Whether they are family care-takers or hired care-takers or the loving care-takers in our own elder care facilities.  A special blessing to those at Spurgeon Manor in Dallas Center where my own mother is receiving such good round the clock care. 

And God bless those who are in need of care. 

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