Thursday, May 25, 2006

First visit to Old age home

Deepak (a good friend & part of the senior citizens club project) and I decided to go to an old age home to provide our services as volunteers. When we entered the office, there were 3 elderly people who looked at us questioningly. I just blurted out "We have come to volunteer in the old age home". One of them responded to us and the others looked totally dazed and lost. He told us to pull 2 stools in front of his desk. We introduced ourselves. He asked what we do and I told him where I am working. It was tough for Deepak as he had to tell I was working but currently looking for another job. Deepak made a brave decision of leaving his job so that he can search the job of his choice. When we had settled down then he asked us what we had in mind and how we can offer our services. We asked if he had any need for volunteers. He wasn’t sure if he can really list out what we could do but felt we can certainly start meeting the members. He felt maybe the old age home occupants could give ideas what they would need to make things better for them. I asked his name, he told he was Prabhu and the in charge of the place. We would need to get permission for volunteering from the chairman who was not available right now and he wasn’t sure when he would be available. He suggested we could write a letter which he could get approved from the Chairman.

So Mr. Prabhu led us from his office to old age home which was a 2 min walk. We chatted with him about his family, what he has been doing and about the old age home. Mr. Prabhu had retired from his job and settled down in Bangalore for his children’s education. He mentioned that the occupants had to pay for the rent and services at the old age home. Mr. Prabhu seemed a very nice relaxed person. He showed us the facilities they had, a kitchen and entertainment area. The place was neat and well kept. Then there were series of rooms with 11 occupants in all in the Old Age home. He took us directly to a couple's room. There was a maid attending to them. Both of them were lying on beds but were wide awake. The room was brightly lit as it had a big window. Prabhu told hello to the man lying down. The man replied that he wasn’t keeping well and wouldn’t get up. When we took chairs and settled down. He suddenly got up to chat with us. His speech was slurred and initially it was really difficult to catch what he would say. I asked his name and he told he was R Radhagopalan. I asked him another question as how long he was here. He told it’s been 3 years. Then he asked me if I have come here to ask questions and I laughed & told him if he wants he can ask us questions. He asked me “Why are you here? What will you do?” I told I really don’t know how I can help but want to begin my awareness and then can get some ideas of helping or bringing in help. He asked if I can answer a simple question. I told yes. He asked me if I knew "how many months are there in the year?” I answered "12". He then asked how many months have 30 days. I loudly ran my favorite poem "30 days hath September, April, June and November...” I answered 5...he told “are you sure?”...I realized I counted wrong and I answered 4. He told again "Are you sure?” I told yes. Then he asked how many days have Jan. I told him 31 he told don’t that have 30 days. I said yes indeed it has. I got the trick and I told “oh all months have 30”...”that’s cool” He then corrected “except Feb”. I said yeah. I laughed and requested him not to ask any puzzles any more for sometime :-)

He then told us that he was around 63 and just waiting to die. He has Parkinson disease and has been paralyzed in the back, legs and fingers because of being knocked down by a Bus. He was in the Indian Air Force and few months of his retirement this accident occurred and it has changed his life. Some months later his wife got hit by an auto as she was in coma for 2 days as she didn’t get immediate medical attention. She has lost her memory and cannot move at all. He felt bad that he can’t do his duties towards his wife because of his state. Even though he was suffering physically, he was fine mentally unlike his wife who had lost sense of memory. He then narrated more details about his family. He has 3 daughters and had lost a son in a truck accident who died after 3 days after the accident. He felt that it was good his son didn’t survive else he would have to suffer all life. His daughter also had met with a road accident but she survived and is perfectly fine. When he narrated this Deepak almost let out a laugh. It didn’t feel real, it felt he was senile and kept telling that everyone in his family met with an accident though later we realized it was all true. He then added with black humor, we got hit by all kind of vehicles, if there was any vehicle left to hit someone else in his family, its the matador.

He told me to talk to his wife who understands Hindi and Kannada other than Tamil her mother tongue. I went next to her and sat on the bed and started talking to her. She spoke a mix of some languages and I got totally confused. I called Deepak for help. She asked Deepak if he understood Kannada to which replied in the positive. She spoke in Hindi and Tamil and again asked what language he spoke. He confirmed 3-4 times that he spoke Kannada and then she spoke to him. She narrated how the accident happened. Then Mr Radhagopalan called us and told me to get a match box from the Pooja place. I got it and he told me to get 6 match sticks. He asked me to arrange the sticks in such a way that it forms 4 triangles. I tried and gave up in a few tries. He then solved the puzzle and showed us.

He played another game where one can test their concentration. It goes like he would say "hello" then I should reply "hello". He says "Where are you from?" then I should say the name of a place, e.g. "Bangalore". Then the next question "Did you take bath?" and we should say "yes". Did you have food? And the reply should be "yes". The last question "what did you eat?" and the reply should be some food item e.g. "Idli Sambar". The rule was that the name and food item changes every time this set was repeated. All other answers were the same. If we could do 5 sets successfully without hesitating (no aah, hmm etc) it was a PASS else a FAIL. I failed miserably. I suggested him to shoot this to Deepak too. Deepak was not getting any puzzles till now I was handling all of them ;-). Deepak too failed miserably :-)

Prabhu then ordered some coffee for us from the kitchen. The maid got coffee for Prabhu, Deepak and I. She got hot milk for Mr Radhagopalan. His wife told she would have it later. The coffee was good we really enjoyed it. Mr Prabhu asked Mr. Radhagopalan to let us know what areas he would need help from us. He told the main area is medication, he is not getting the kind of treatment he should get and also that the medicines are very expensive. He felt the main problem was money. He told that he is spending Rupees 13,500 per month out of which 3500 goes to the maid, 4000 for medicines and the rest for occupying the old age home. After that we asked permission to leave. Mr Radhagopalan had lots to say though and he started narrating a story of his life and Mr Prabhu realized that this conversation will go long, so he interrupted him and we told our good byes and came out from the room. Outside we met 2 more occupants. They looked healthy unlike the couple we met. We told them we would come again and talk to them in detail.
We asked Mr Prabhu as we walked back to his office if the doctor who comes is a specialist. He told that he is a GP and cannot help much. We then told our byes to Mr Prabhu and thanked him for his support and efforts.

We came out of the Ashram and were discussing what all we need to do to help out. After this we had planned to go to another Old age place in Banashankari. I checked with Deepak if he wanted to go there. He told he cannot deal with too much in a day. I too agreed, the whole experience left us very heavy to deal with anything more. Also that gave us a good reality check on what we are heading to. It has made our determination stronger, there is lot of learning to be done in order to deal with situations and help the senior citizens.

This experience doesn’t end here. We will be going back to the Ashram every 2-3 days to volunteer and coordinate activities. We are planning to conduct some cultural activities, create bonding among occupants (which Mr Prabhu felt was one key issue) and arrange medical camps.