Los Angeles Times OpEd Sept. 1, 2015
by Marcy Cottrell Houle
The nation's healthcare system is endangering the elderly. But few outside the geriatric medical community seem to notice.
I learned about this problem the hard way — when caring for an aging parent. My father, a highly regarded orthopedic surgeon, developed Alzheimer's when he turned 78. As his disease worsened, so did the stress of trying to navigate the healthcare system.
After my mother and I moved him to a memory care facility for his increasing needs, he fell and broke his hip. He had surgery, which he tolerated remarkably well, and was transferred to a skilled nursing facility to recover. But within two days he'd lost the ability to speak. He grew rapidly weaker. When we visited, he made frantic circles with his arms and picked incessantly at his gums.
The staff told us he was going into renal failure and to say our goodbyes.
Thankfully, an astute pharmacist figured out what no one else did. My father was dying — not from his kidneys shutting down after the surgery but from dehydration. Now on high alert, our family observed that none of the trays delivered to his room included any fluids.
In desperation, we took turns supplementing every meal with water. My father's speech and strength returned. There was no more talk of renal failure. The staff at the nursing home referred to the matter as a "communication breakdown somewhere."