Extending Life, Waiting for Death at Nursing Home in Florida
Review by Dave Shiflett
Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) — Growing old isn’t for sissies. Anyone who doubts that should tune into “Andrew Jenks, Room 335,” which airs on Cinemax tomorrow at 7 p.m. New York time.
The 90-minute film about life and death at a Florida assisted-living facility is depressing and inspiring. It provides a peek into the likely futures of millions of baby boomers, who may want to ditch all those life-stretching diets and exercise regimens when they see what awaits them.
Jenks was 19 when he spent a month at the posh Harbor Place near Port St. Lucie. From the outside, it looks like a fancy hotel. Inside, time has stripped many residents to the bone.
The opening shots show faces familiar to anyone who has ever visited a nursing home: residents snoozing in wing chairs, heads tilted back, eyes closed tight and mouths wide open. The smartest fashion accessory may be a drool bib.
“All your friends die on you,” a resident says. “You miss the people you had so much fun with all your life. They go one by one.”
“My bones are like lace,” says another.
Yet many residents still have some fire in their bellies, even if their eyes, ears and bladders aren’t fully dependable.
Bill, a gruff 80-year-old Army vet, is fond of Hawaiian shirts, twisting arms and playing the tough guy. Yet he walks over a mile each day to buy chocolate bars that he shares with his less-mobile companions.
Then there’s Tammy, a spry and chirpy 95-year-old who is scared of elevators and wields a sharp tongue. “I can’t understand that pig Latin you use,” she tells one pal. Tammy keeps her spirits up even after a bum heart lands her in the hospital.
A sense of resignation seems to prevail, though Jenks does find an undercurrent of resentment. When he asks Tammy why there are no blacks or Hispanics at the facility, she insists those ethnic groups take care of their elderly members at home.
“Years ago, nobody ever got sent to a place like this,” she says. “This generation can’t be bothered.”
The long days are punctuated by bingo games and watching “Jeopardy.” One resident tries to play “Edelweiss” on the piano, but her efforts are doomed by all the sour notes.
Death is never far away. We see a shriveled woman named Dotty, who has no immediate family, gasping for air in a hospital bed with a few friends and a priest hovering nearby.
At one point, Jenks tells Dotty he would like to say a prayer. Suddenly, she lifts her ancient hands and clasps them. Dotty died soon thereafter.
Jenks was clearly moved by his month at Harbor Place.
“We’re all going to grow old at some point,” he notes. “Does this mean we’re going to be neglected, too?”
Here’s the lesson I learned: Longevity, like most other things, should be taken in moderation.
(Dave Shiflett is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)