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For Some Elderly, Heaven’s Just a Hot Bath Away

I’d been diving for attractive artifacts on the ocean floor of my mind. As I rested in the shallow, warm waters off the coast of my bathroom tub, I mused on the absurdity ‑‑ indeed criminality ‑-of the elderly in nursing homes being denied the pleasures of a long soak in hot, steamy water.

For the most part, skilled nursing facilities have common showers where they wheel more than‑slightly embarrassed men and women on “shower chairs” ‑‑ which look like they’re made from PVC pipe ‑­through the hall to be hosed off, in a perfunctory ritual that usually happens twice a week.

That’s right: No tubs.

Well, one place I worked there was something like a tub, which was called a “whirlpool.” There was just one for over 60 people, and you had to have a special doctor’s order to use it. Using something akin to a small cherry picker, they hoisted them up and dropped them in and then fetched them back out again.

Flying through air at the end of a crane is not usually an 84‑year‑old’s idea of a good time.

Recently, while attending to a woman in an Alzheimer’s facility, I saw she had a severe problem with “neurogenic dermatitis,” a skin irritation of psychological origin. We found a cortisone injection that helped tremendously, but she was still terribly uncomfortable and kept scratching and tearing at her skin until it bled. I searched the facility for a tub so I could relieve her misery. I simply could not believe there was no tub on the premises. We improvised and eventually her she could live comfortably in her own skin again.

In my estimation, the absence of such amenities is inhumane. When you are old and aching with arthritis, frantic with dermatitis or have feet and hands numb with cold from poor circulation, a hot bath can be next to nirvana.

At very least it can be a reprieve from hell.

Instead of spending the money to install some bathtubs and hire the extra staff it would take to stay with the patients for a few minutes while they steamed away their pain and weariness, corporate marketing spends lavishly on things they consider essential ‑‑ new wallpaper and carpet, tacky furniture and cheap art. When will those CEO’s care more about how their patients feel than looking good on paper? When will those marketing and PR types figure out that their residents don’t give a flying, furry fig if the place looks like an Ethan Allen showroom?

All they want is a few precious moments of being unworried and pain‑free.

Is a bath once in a while too much to ask for when you are paying so much for care? In most nursing homes in this country, apparently it is.

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