A Story of Two Floods, One of Water, One of Change

Shay Jacobson, RN, MA, NMG, LNCC, CNLCP
Martha Kern


“There may be a little water in the basement,” confided Roger, en route to the hospital for a long overdue review of his psychiatric medications.

A little water, indeed.

What we discovered in Roger’s basement was three feet of water, much of which was gushing from a dysfunctional water heater. An influx of rain water had rusted out the water heater’s base, causing the unit to desperately try to refill its empty tank.

Furniture and other household items bobbed in the water like ice cubes in a punch bowl. Sewage swirled through the water, too.

A Home is Also a Household
Managing a household is seldom simple, particularly if the sole occupant is mentally ill and on his own for the first time. Roger grew up in this sturdy old house, and was comforted by its familiarity and its many reminders of his parents, both deceased. His parents always took care of things until the day came when they could not take care of even themselves.

We met Roger through his trust officer. She had been unable to reach him and feared for his safety. His father had passed away just a few months earlier and his mother had been gone for some time. At this critical intersection in Roger’s life, his lack of life skills and coping mechanisms burst forth like weeds in a garden.

Initial visits to the house were brief. Roger was frightened to be alone and frightened to open himself to new people. Dish towels covered every window. The house was dark, even at midday, and pervaded by the smell of urine. We had to go slow and earn Roger’s trust little by little.

A New Landscape
By the time the basement flood occurred, Roger had grown to love our visits. We brought groceries and encouragement. Over time, we were able to convince him that a short hospitalization would permit a thorough review of his medication needs, and it was then that the waters came.

While Roger was in the hospital, and with the trust officer’s full support, we went to work on the house Roger was clearly unable to manage. The water was suctioned out of the basement. The urine soaked carpet was removed, revealing hard wood floors. Mounds of hoarded mail were carefully sorted. At Roger’s request, his mother’s draperies were cleaned and left in place. His parents’ bedroom, closed off and precisely as they had left it, was also untouched. It served as a makeshift memorial to his parents, and it was important that it remain just as it was.

Roger’s hospitalization was followed by some therapeutic time in a facility as we worked on the house. His new medication regimen and the company of others transformed him. He was happy, charming, and engaged with new friends.

Still, home was where Roger wanted to be. His homecoming was emotional. The house looked to him as it had when his mother was there, and he was overcome by sentiment. A caregiver was placed with Roger and the two men fell into a productive relationship and routine. We continued to bring Roger’s medication, take him to the doctor, supervise the caregiver relationship, and equip him with life skills.

Roger sometimes baked corn bread for our visits and kept a dish towel over his shoulder instead of over the window. He let the light in, quite literally, and out of Roger poured appreciation, insight, and a rediscovered interest in the world around him.

There truly was a flood of welcome change in his life….and the basement remained dry.

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