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Leaving home and heading for 'the home'

How dreadful. My husband and I are going to the home sometime this summer or fall, assuming that we sell our apartment for enough money.

"The home," of course, is assisted living — a nice, bland euphemism. What it means is that we'll be leaving our lovely apartment on the first floor of a condo looking over an Olmsted garden for an apartment on the seventh floor of the retirement home, which is half the size for lots of money. Yes, I know that we're lucky to be able to do this.

My husband, 82, had a stroke 41/2 years ago, which left him with all his buttons but with a weak left hand and left leg. I was diagnosed with relapse-remitting MS in 1993. Life was fairly normal but has segued in the last three or four years into something neurologists call chronic progressive MS. We're both on canes, and I, now 71, have begun to use a walker as the day goes on.

We got rid of our golf clubs. We go out less, because it's too much trouble, especially at night. I stumble; after one fall, I had 13 staples in the back of my head. Fear of falling is always with me. Life is diminished.

We watch too much television. I've belonged to a wonderful book club for 26 years. We both read a lot. If I go to the movies, it's best if two friends go with me. You bet I'm timid. I realize that we'll never travel again.

One thinks of the seven stages of life in Shakespeare's "As You Like It," as we start on all fours, then walk, or, I dimly remember, run. Then, as we age, many deteriorate to "three legs," with a cane. I suppose we're in the sixth stage, the one with "shrunk shank." MS has diminished me faster. Shakespeare never mentioned walkers, my new companion.

The medicine I take, which I'm afraid not to take, costs $8,000 a year out of pocket, so I'm diminishing in other ways too. If I wasn't on Medicare, it would cost nearly $30,000. I went to a fine physical therapy place for about a year and a half. I quit, but I do the exercises they taught me, every day. (Honest.) MS impedes one's moving; therapy stimulates movement. I don't know whether my exercise helps or not, but it makes me feel a little more limber. I lift weights too, just to keep what's left strong.

We're beginning to clean things out as we prepare for our departure. A few days ago, my husband, a retired head and neck surgeon, had someone clean out our storage room in the basement. The records of his 40-year career went out the door. Slides and photographs of throats, noses, ears, vocal cords and mouths: all gone. Today, our bookshelves were rearranged and more stuff sent to the shredder. So many photographs and mementos have been removed by our realtor's assistants. The idea is for prospective buyers to imagine themselves here.

One positive aspect of this move is that we'll be less dependent on our children. My stepsons live in California and New York state, but my son and daughter-in law and daughter live here, and I call on them for toting and other errands at least once a week, which I think is too much. Because of my poor balance, I no longer feel safe going to the store by myself. My son prunes and weeds what's left of my last garden. My daughter takes 80 books a week to a nearby used book center. I feel guilty about imposing on them.

In this country, slightly more than the 5 percent of the population who are 65 and over are on assisted living or in nursing homes. The level of care depends on the amount of care that is necessary.

No matter what you call it, going to the home is the end of the road.

Ann Egerton lives in Baltimore. Her email is

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