When a Nursing Home Falls Short: One Man's Decision to Care for His Mother-In-Law at Home

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A senior with a home caregiver. (Alexander Raths/Shutterstock)

As part of caregivers series this week, we asked you to share your stories of caregiving with us. Today we bring you one of the true listener stories that we found particularly moving.

Frank Medina cares for his mother-in-law, who suffered a stroke in 2010. Medina and his family decided to put his mother-in-law into a nursing home, but found that she wasn't getting the care she needed in the facility. His wife decided to bring her mother home, putting everyone into the role of caregivers. 

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Frank Medina

Produced by:

Megan Quellhorst


T.J. Raphael

Comments [11]

Clare Whitbeck from Maryland

You should meet my friend F****. He is wheel chair bound and lived in a series of nursing homes for eight years. Now he lives at home, works as a peer counselor for Money Follows the Person, and spends one day a week as a caregiver for his aunt.

Jul. 27 2013 11:43 AM
Julia from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I became a caregiver to my two elderly grandparents when I was a freshman in high school. None of them spoke English. My grandmother was losing her eyesight, memory, and has liver disease. My grandfather is wheel chair bound due to a fracture hip and is paralyzed at one side due to stroke. Now, I am 28 I am happy that they are still with me. It could be tough at times but I am happy that I would be the one to hear their poetry and laughter. I am really happy to hear this story because I now know that I am not alone. While growing up I couldn't really relate to my peers or friends because none of them had experienced what I was going through. Let alone, when it came to dating. I would often cry because my boyfriend at the time could not handle the responsibilities that I have. So it gives me great comfort to know that there are people out there like Frank that take good care of his mother in law. I was surprised about the comment on nursing homes. I was hoping to hear more because I also had run into many problems with the nursing homes. This is a great story, thank you for sharing!

Jul. 25 2013 10:42 AM
Nelda Lopez

This is incredible! The response of "Caregiving" Without Frank's support I could have not survived........The isolation, commuting with someone that has experienced what another person has for over 2 yrs. I applaud all the caregivers that have given up many years of caring for a loved one. I can not imagine all the dedication, care, sanity, and well being after so many years. One thing I will always remember when I was sitting in the critical unit after hours with my mother "Mary" and prayed to God to help her survive and I will care for her. So when I become frustrated of exhaustion I recall the day I prayed for that wish. Strength, patience, to continue overcomes my weakness. Message to all, if you have the opportunity and strength to care for a loved one, please consider the options and do not isolate them from family and they will live longer than anticipated. Frank's support has made it possible to succeed each challenging day. I love you Mom, Frank, Nicole and all the "Care" giving supporters and their families. Without you it would not be possible.
Nelda Lopez
San Antonio Texas

Jul. 25 2013 12:27 AM
Marilyn Lowe from Eugene, Oregon, KLCC

I became a caregiver for my mother when I was 12. She was diagnosed with colon cancer, and over the next year and a half she got sicker and sicker and her pain kept getting worse and worse. A lady took care of her while I was at school, and I took over as caregiver each day when I got home from school until my dad came home from work. I was taught how to give Mommy pain shots and other medicine to keep her as comfortable as possible. It was a very dark time in my life. It was the 60's, and I was never told what was going to happen to her; I just had to guess, and it was not good. I was an only child, and I was very close to her. She died three days before my 14th birthday while I was taking my geometry final, and I never got to say goodbye to her.

Mommy's sickness and death was the single event that had the most impact on my life. Later as an adult Daddy said to me, "It probably wasn't good for you to have taken care of your mother and administer pain shots."

"No, Daddy, it wasn't," I replied. That scared little 13 year old girl still lives right below the surface of my being. But now as a 60 year old woman with three children of my own, I cherish and nurture her, and most of the time, she keeps me highly amused.

Marilyn Lowe
Eugene, Oregon
541-349-0382 (home)
541-731-7947 (cell)

Jul. 24 2013 05:59 PM
RT from Santa Clara

I'm impressed with the forbearance of Mr. Medina and his family and wish them well. It's an illustration of their determination that they decided to move their household to an accessible location and I'm sure that they have made many other accommodations as well, in order to keep his wife's mother with them n their home.

My mother had a right hemisphere stroke at age 61 and became completely paralyzed on her left side. She lived another fourteen years, until age 75. My father's own physical frailty kept him from being able to care for her at home.

As Mr, Medina correctly notes, there's no book you can read to tell you how to cope with such a situation. In fact, there *ara* helpful books and other publications but none of these will seem to reflect your family's circumstances. You'll find yourselves inventing your own way. Our way, we naively thought, was for my oldest sister, my brother-in-law and two nephews to care for our mother in their home. For over two years, my brother-in-law held up well under this but he spent the day away from home while my sister acted as full-time care giver as well as mother. Ultimately, this was unsustainable. We were forced to find a nearby group home for my mom where experienced care givers share their time among three to five residents. Shortly after this move, my father's illness worsened and he died.

This tumult, however, allowed us the time to find a nearby independent living facility for my mother to live in well suited to her ability. This was *not* cheap but we were very lucky that my working-class father's benefits could finance it. My mom was brave and resourceful and pretty happily independent for the last ten years of her life, because we finally found this alternative. But it took several years to figure it out, and it nearly exploded our family before we did so.

Jul. 24 2013 04:37 PM
Nina from Manhattan, NY

I have been so grateful for your program--and right now, I'm listening to Mary's son-in-law Frank Medina talking about caring for Mary . . . How touching! He is lucky, in a way. I wish I had a home to keep my elderly mother in, and I wish I had the support that he has (though I realize he hasn't as much as he needs, and I recognize his description of having to "start all over again" each time a caregiver leaves, and also his description of watching out for his mother-in-law in the nursing home. These are very familiar accounts to me. No one should age alone. Everyone needs--at minimum--a loving advocate.). Here in New York City, I have been caring for my mother for the last eleven years, trying to honor and protect her desire to live out her life in her own home, and I have found myself increasingly isolated. At work, people act almost as if I have a disease or a weakness because I've been caring for her. Casual remarks from otherwise thoughtful colleagues have been stunningly distancing. I recognize the burnedout mark of other caregivers, who keep their situations quiet, and there's a support group that helps. Still, I had to give up much of a career that I loved and through which I felt so valued, and I had to give up extra earnings, so I'm in scary shape for my own retirement now . . . Finally, I got my mother into assisted living, and that's pretty good. I can begin to rebuild my own life, but I pray that the money I set a side for her will last, and I wish I could guarantee her the kind of tender care she deserves: someone who cleans her teeth each night, who listens to her and can talk with her and go places with her . . . It's not right, giving our elderly over to strangers, but most of our lives don't allow for the kind of flexibility we would need to do so . . . Thank you for this program.

Jul. 24 2013 04:14 PM
Christine from Westchester

He said "nothing against nursing homes." There's plenty wrong with nursing homes. Why on earth they can't handle the basics of care and be trusted to CARE for their patients is amazing to me and very sad. You can see from other responders here and most of us have stories: they don't do the job they are tasked to do.

Jul. 24 2013 03:54 PM
Jessica Brown from DeKalb, IL

I'd like to reply to Frank's story about his mother-in-law. It warms my heart to hear this story, and hear how your family has paid such close attention to Mary's well-being. The part that hit closest to home for me was when you mentioned your 16 year old daughter who has volunteered to assist her grandmother here and there. My dad is a quadriplegic with multiple sclerosis, and has been in a wheelchair since I was born 26 years ago. Growing up, I always had an eagerness to be there for my dad, and help him with whatever he needed. Because he hasn't been able to walk since before I was born, I was really born into a care-giving situation. I am an only child, and when I was 14, my mom had gotten completely warn out. To the point that she completely shut herself off from being able to help my dad anymore. She moved her bedroom down to the basement, and so when my dad woke up in the middle of the night needing something (as he did every night), I started waking up to help him. That's when it felt like my care-giving career went into full swing. After that, my dad eventually moved out. My parents didn't talk for about 4 years, and when he needed an advocate, I was the only one around. In that 4 years, he went back and forth between nursing homes, hospitals, brief stays at my apartment, back to nursing homes and so on, until I finally said I'd find a place big enough for him, my boyfriend and I. The story is a lot longer than that, but to try to sum it up, he now has his own apartment with assistants who come in every day to help him. I have learned a lot from my experiences with my dad, and I don't regret any of it. But I think it is important for your daughter to keep a safe distance from becoming a caregiver at such a young age, though her attitude towards the situation is completely admirable, and she must be a really wonderful person. With that said, I wish your family the best of luck, and it was really nice to listen to your story and how compassionate your family is. Take care.

Jul. 24 2013 03:24 PM
Clarke from Charlotte, NC

Happened to be listening to NPR and caught Frank's tale. As fulltime caregiver for my mother who has MS I always seek out other male caregivers. I once searched for other son's who were taking caring care of their mother and did not find another person on my path. My mother got MS when I was ten now am 53. I have been her daily, as in 7 days a week, caregiver for over two decades now. Check my Linked In page and my career is CEO of Life Sentence Caregiving. My facebook occupation says..Depends. 20 years of incontinence is a odd way to spend your life. I am lucky because it could be much worse and before it is over it will.

Jul. 24 2013 03:19 PM
Kay Merkel Boruff from Dallas

On wings of an eagle: I removed my older brother Frederic from a facility in Wichita Falls after finding him soaking in his own urine. His catheter was removed prior to deflating. Taking care of him the last 3 years was challenging [4 operations, 2 for an abscess on C1-5; 2 for an aorta aneurysm] but the greatest joy of my life. He was a Viet-Nam 101st Airborne/Special Ops-Rhodesia Veteran who suffered from PTSD, Hep C, post polio, & arthritis from a 40 ft fall hanging iron. Sept, 2010, I disconnected him from the IV in the hospital, against doctor's wishes, to take him to the airport to fly with his daughter to Israel, on a trip we had planned for a year. He was a recovering heroin addict who had not been able to see his 30-yr-old daughter but once at our mother’s funeral. My prayers were answered, that his daughter know her father, that he loved her, that he was a brilliant student of history & the Bible, that he had a delightful sense of irony. He died 10 days on returning from our holiday & his daughter helped me plan his funeral. Thanks for discussing caregiving, John.

Jul. 24 2013 12:58 PM

Frank tells a lovely story. It is wonderful when families can get together and share the caring and the frustrations. In this society not all are so lucky. My family is entirely on the west coast so when I cared for my grandmother for 3 years when she had colon cancer and my husband for 8 years who had young onset Alzheimer's I was entirely alone for the day to day. When Frank mentioned how complicated it was to take his mother-in-law out to eat I could really relate.

Jul. 24 2013 10:48 AM

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