As We Are Now

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The book As We Are Now, written by May Sarton, targets those concerned with the care of elderly individuals in nursing homes. In the book, Sarton artistically highlights the plethora of ongoing issues social workers face in their work as they attempt to provide quality care to the elderly population. The book is written as the memoirs of a very thoughtful elderly woman, Caroline Spenser, as she spent part of her life in a nursing home; and brings to light the lack of quality of care that elderly individuals received when living in such a facility in the 1970’s. The story is a work of fiction focusing on the life of Caroline Spenser, a 76 year old woman who, after suffering from a heart attack, is taken to Twin Elms Nursing Home to live by her elder brother. It is made known by Caroline that she understood the decision her brother made because living with him was causing stress on her brother relationship with his wife. Caroline was a former teacher, never married, who enjoyed scenic views, poetry and music. She never really felt she fit in anywhere and so spent her life enveloping herself in the things she loved; such as traveling, teaching and giving her heart to a married man. Caroline’s life changed, however, when she had her heart attack. Caroline was forced to sell her home, she had to depend on others, and she had to give up many freedoms. These were some of the things that kept Caroline “lively” while at the nursing home, but she often had difficulties accepting her fate. Along with Caroline’s sadness for her new found losses, she eventually developed a deep hatred for the owner of the nursing home, Harriet, whom she reports had never treated her or any other clients with respect or dignity. Many times Caroline has overheard Harriet discuss the clients of the nursing homes in demeaning ways, once reporting “we are talked about always as ‘them’ as if we were abandoned animals thrown out of a car” (Sarton, 1973). In addition, Caroline felt alone by being the only female in the residence which further isolated her. It was not until she befriended a man by the name of Standish Flint that she was able to open up and feel somewhat comfortable in her surroundings. Caroline also described the inhumane treatment of clients when staff felt they were “acting out”. Caroline reported having been locked up in a dark isolative room when she yelled at Harriet for her disrespectful and threatening behavior towards Standish. This further strengthened Caroline’s already increasing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Caroline did attempt to better her situation through engaging in peaceful and enjoyable activities such as playing with the nursing homes cat and taking an occasional walk outside. She also befriended Harriet’s temporary replacement, Anna, and began to develop strong feelings for her. However, despite Caroline’s ongoing attempts to come to terms with her situation and to enjoy the few things she has in life, she was always beat back down by the treatment, and lack of respect she received from the staff and Harriet. For instance, upon Anne’s departure, Harriet belittled Caroline through questioning her sexuality after reading the letter she wrote to Anne and telling Caroline that she was not worthy of such relationship. This made Caroline also start questioning her sexuality and insanity and her entire existence. She isolate from people and things she loves the most and she went to her depressive states which she was preventing from happening. The nursing home highlighted in the book is an example of an ageist environment. The author focuses on the plight of the elderly from these nursing homes by exposing their homes emotionally and spiritually depressive nature. This involves an array of issues such as lack of sanitation, lack of coordination of care, and the deplorable treatment of clients. Twin Elms was described to reside in a rural setting which represented the isolation of nursing homes...
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