Friday, January 6, 2017

Almost a Crisis


Years ago, when I was teaching kindergarten, I had an almost crisis. I was so sure it was a real crisis, I went into panic mode. The situation was this: every week we baked bread. When it was ready to be baked, we took it into another room and put it in the shared oven. Each class had it’s assigned day for baking. This particular day, I got distracted and forgot about the bread. After school, I was in a hurry to leave and take our son to his Irish dance lesson. While there, I remembered the bread. It was 4 p.m. and the bread had been in the oven since 11 a.m. This being in the days before cell phones, I was only able to leave a message on a pager via pay phone. I had no way of knowing whether or not the message had been received or whether the oven had caught fire and the entire school was engulfed in flames. After the dance class was over, I drove back to the school and parked in front of the building.
Suddenly, the sound of sirens surrounded me (say that five times fast!) and three emergency vehicles pulled up in back, in front, and alongside of me. I was blocked in by the large fire engine. Now I was SURE I had burned down the school. Funny, though, I didn’t see any smoke or flames. I know that now, but at the time it didn’t really register enough to help me calm down. When they left soon after, I went in and learned there had been a false alarm. The timing of it was magnificent! The payment for my negligence was so wonderfully karmic, I didn’t stress about it afterward. And the bread? The aftercare staff had gotten my message, turned off the oven and took out the bread, which was cooked to hockey puck perfection.
Same sort of thing happened this week.
The last time my dad had his hearing aids checked, we were told he had a lot of wax build up in his ears. Now, I’m the ear cleaning champion of the family. I learned how to correctly irrigate ears a long time ago and have provided my services to my kids, husband, and dad for years. No problem. I went over on Wednesday and got everything set up. The water was just warm enough, just enough peroxide, and a clean bulb syringe. I was going to be gentle, Dad is 92 after all. First two squirts, everything was fine. On the third try, Dad suddenly yelled out in pain. I took everything away and dried his ear as best I good. After a minute or so, Dad said it didn’t hurt anymore and he was fine. I should have known better. He also said he could hear so much better, he didn’t need to wear his hearing aid. Considering he was speaking much louder than he needed to, I should have been very suspicious.
I called that evening and talked with him. He said he was fine, his ear didn’t hurt at all and he could hear much better. Talked with Mom. She said he had taken out his hearing aid because there was some blood on it.
Panic button pressed.
I got back to Dad and asked him about the bleeding. He said it bled a little, but was okay now. I was not to worry. (right)
I didn’t sleep well. Amazing how our brains can be so imaginative at 4 am, isn’t it? Half asleep, I was picturing a perforated ear drum getting infected immediately and going right into his brain and me being accused of neglect or worse and possibly being hauled off by the police and meanwhile Dad is dying of an infected brain because of an infected ear because of a perforated eardrum because I had tried to clean the wax out of his ear and I had probably killed him. And all the while, Dad saying, “It’s okay, I’m fine, and I can hear SO MUCH BETTER” and laughing.
At 6 am, I finally got up, stressed around the house, decided I would call Dad after breakfast. No news is good news and he was obviously okay.
Then the phone rang. It was the nurse at the facility.
“Do you know what is going on with your dad’s left ear?” she exclaimed in a panic more suited to me than to a professional medical person. I admitted my guilt and told her what had happened. By then I had already emailed his doctor and asked if there was anything I should do or be worried about. The nurse went on to say Dad had blood and other stuff coming out of his ear. I said it was probably ear wax. She said, no, it wasn’t wax, it looked like flesh. FLESH?
Okay, now the alarm is going off in my head along with the red lights flashing. I’ve killed my dad. My mind still functioned enough to suggest that the nurse call the doctor’s office because they are more likely to get him in quickly if she calls. She made an appointment for him to be seen for trauma — TRAUMA. I killed my dad and I’m going to be hauled off, I know it. We got a 2 p.m. appointment on the coldest snowiest day of the year so far. Temps in the single digits, schools closed, streets icy. I left my house at noon to go pick him up. Got there and went to the dining room where they were happily eating lunch. Dad didn’t look like he was in distress, in fact he argued with me and said he really didn’t need to go in. He was fine. Right. Got him bundled up, into the heated car, and we slowly made our way across town to the doc’s office.
No perforated eardrum. What he had was “swimmer’s ear”, not something I would have thought of considering the amount of swimming he does not do. The gunk in his ear was ear wax combined with debris and it had hardened and had adhered to the skin in his ear canal. And it was infected. So, when I tried to irrigate it, it loosened like a scab being pried up. That’s what caused the pain. So, in a way, irrigating his ear helped to discover the infection. Dad has some ear drops to help it heal and has to keep it protected while he showers, but he’ll be fine. I went from panic to relief in seconds.
This ended up being something very minor, but it illustrates something we caregivers have to deal with a lot.  A lot of caregivers are having to give medicine through IV ports, deal with issues surrounding ostomy bags, gastric tube feeding, catheters, oxygen, and pressure sores. Even getting Dad in and out of the car can be worrisome. What if I do something wrong and hurt him?
Mom told me Dad still isn’t hearing well, “He can’t hear at all!” She said and went on to say he had taken his hearing aid out. I explained (tried) that Dad’s ear needed to heal and, of course he wouldn’t hear anything without his hearing aid in. I suggested a notebook and pen. Dad can see and read just fine. I also found out something else, which may explain some of the issues he’s had with hearing aids. When the batteries die, he was putting them back in the case where he keeps his hearing aids. When he would run out of new batteries, he’d simply try one of the old ones.
He’s been running on dead batteries for weeks now.

Adding on to this a couple days later.. I did some research and found that hearing aids can cause infections in the ear canal if they are not cleaned well and if the ear is not kept very clean and dry. Now, to go to the hearing clinic with Dad on Tuesday and find out what we are to do.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Finding what is real

by Goldie

Over the last seven years, my parents have lost a lot in their lives. They’ve had to give up their house, their cars, their neighbors (though not many of the old ones were left), their routines, their mountains of stuff, and their independence. Dad is losing his hearing, Mom is slowly losing her eyesight in one eye. For Dad, the most difficult loss was the ability to go off to the grocery store, the bank, or the hardware store. For Mom, the most difficult loss was her stuff, the clothes, knickknacks, and furniture that overfilled the house for so many years.
They have been sad, angry, depressed, and ultimately, resigned. They reminded me constantly they wanted to go home.
What they have gained is starting to be apparent, too. Dad has the ability to rest now, something he could only do at home when I came over. He looks relaxed instead of tense and on edge all the time. Though they both complain about the food at the facility, Dad doesn’t have to cook anymore.
They’ve gained doctors who understand elder care. Their current doctor with Kaiser has taken Mom almost completely off the benzodiazapenes, substituting a much safer drug for anxiety in its place. Though she complains about her anxiety, she seems happier than she has in decades. She is more aware of the people around her and a little less focused on herself.
They’ve gained a community. There are activities and a shared dining room. The dining room is where they make friends and we are learning that Mom is very good at making friends. Dad says she often stays behind after lunch to chat with the other women. She urges Dad to make friends with the other men, but I don’t think he has the same need to be social at this point. Throughout his life, Dad has always enjoyed people. He loves to joke and tease, and he’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. He still loves to joke with the aides and off them a treat from his stash of candy and cookies.
The other day, Mom told me about a woman who had not been living there very long. She had moved in with her sister, but within weeks, her sister had become ill and passed away. Mom felt badly for this woman and said she was trying to sit with her when she could and let her talk.
Wow. I couldn’t have imagined this seven years ago. During these years, I’ve often felt guilty about my part in all they have lost. I’ve had to be the enforcer. No, you can’t take three couches to the apartment. No, I’m not buying cold medicine for you to keep in your apartment. That’s not allowed. Sorry, but no, I’m not taking you to the storage unit to pick up all your stuff.
Now I wonder.. could it be that in giving up all these things that were so important to them, they have found a new freedom? Maybe what we are seeing now is who they really are — without all the stuff (though there’s plenty of stuff still there), without the drugs, without all the familiar routine.
Now when they talk about going home, they mean their apartment.

Care Jam

by Goldie

All the paths converged yesterday, bringing all my caregiving tasks together in one needy and very untidy household.
5:30 am – got up. Emma had had the night shift with the puppies. My “mom” radar had been overactive all night and I finally decided to get up and help with the early morning feeding, already in progress. Puppies have been constipated from the formula so we had tried adding corn syrup and olive oil, then some goat’s milk. Fingers crossed.
6:30 am – Cleaned all the feeding syringes and nipples.
7:00 am – Chris got up. The grandkids are due to arrive at 9:00 or 9:30. It’s our usual Friday.
7:45 am – Another feeding already? Three hours goes by quickly. Rubbing tummies to stimulate them to pee and poop.
8:00 am – Grandkids are here.  Early. Their mom was sick all night, so our son got them all up, fed, dressed, and dropped them off on his way to school. There had been no time to call with the change of plans.
8:00 am – Grandma came out of the puppy room with a loud yip, “HE’S POOPING!”
8:00 am – Our son and grandkids gave me one of those “oh, Grandma” looks.
8:10 am – Son left. Grandkids started fighting. A hard morning for their parents had made them grumpy. Great Grampa (my dad) called and said, “I think Mom would like to get out shopping today”, which meant, “She driving me nuts. Please take her away for awhile.” I gave my excuses to my dad. Then whispered loudly to Chris, “We need a baking project!” He agreed to read a story while I figured out what we were going to do.
8:20 am – Chris was on the couch reading to Opal and Lucien. The oldest, Mattheus, was in with Emma and the puppies. I peeked in to see Mattheus lying on the futon with a puppy curled up next to him. His smile was pure magic.
9:30 am – Kids were fighting again. I told them we were going outside for a walk. Shoes on, we went down to the park near the Senior Center and played on exercise equipment meant for seniors. We ate our snack and I sent a text message to Chris with a grocery list: chocolate, cooking oil, whiskey. He texted back, yep!
11:00 am – We came back home and made the dough for doughnuts. Lucien stirred and told us how he was going to have his own restaurant when he’s older and the sign on it would say BACON. After all this, they played quietly together while I cleaned up and prepared their lunch. Opal said, “I’m three. Now I can have bacon.”
11:30 am – Ate lunch
12:30 pm – The nurse at Mom and Dad’s facility called to ask where Dad’s painkillers were. She had reminded me to bring them and they were all out. I sent Chris.
12:30 pm – Kids resting. Opal was in the puppy room and I was feeding a puppy. She fell asleep while she watched. I finished feeding the pups and washed their feeding stuff. Took an hour.
1:30 pm – Six year olds don’t take naps. Mattheus helped roll out the doughnut dough and cut doughnuts. I don’t have a doughnut cutter, so they came out kind of funny looking. Finished at 2:30 then Mattheus drew pictures in the flour on the table.
3:15 pm – Kids up from rests, ate donuts, and asked Grandpa to read them a story. Emma did the puppy feeding.
3:40 pm – Kids started fighting again. Grandpa gave me a look that said clearly, Do something now before WWIII starts in our living room.
On with the coats and shoes and outside in time to see Mama drive up. She brought us flowers.
5:30 pm – Pot pies for dinner.
6:30 pm – Feed puppies
7:00 pm – Decide not to run errands tonight.
It was snowing. Still is on Saturday evening and it’s not supposed to let up until sometime tomorrow afternoon. Springtime in Colorado.
Despite the extra work, I was grateful for those wee puppies. They were there when one of the kids needed some unconditional licking and loving.
I’m on night duty again tonight.

More Caregiving? I must be crazy.

by Goldie

My plate is full. I know that. I take care of my parents and grandkids. I’m on call for both generations because of their needs and medical issues. I have my own health challenges with my Parkinson’s. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to keep up with housework.
So why, oh why did I agree to… no, I take that back, I didn’t just agree to, I volunteered to foster four newborn abandoned chihuahua puppies. This means bottle feeding every two to three hours round the clock. This means stimulating them to pee and poop. This means watching them closely as they root around and try to find a nipple to suck on and, since there is no mom, the closest thing they emmapuppiesfind is their brother’s penis. They are all boys.
As usual, I jumped in feet first with both eyes closed. Of course, if one stopped to think about the consequences of taking on any caregiving job, would we do it or think we’d be crazy to agree to it.
I dozed off for a few minutes last night with a puppy curled up under my chin. Not for long. As soon as the last puppy is fed and washed, it’s almost time to start over again. As I got up to make some formula and detach a puppy from his brother’s private parts before permanent damage is done, I reminded myself this is just a two week commitment. Others will take their turns, too.
Still… I must be crazy.
Looking down at this little 5.3 ounce fistful of puppy guzzling his midnight snack with a milk mustache, I knew why I did it. I was charmed, completely and totally under their spell. Sometimes giving up a little time and sleep is worth it.
And my lovely daughter is helping, too.... as is our granddaughter!

From Caregiver to Caree in just a few hours

by Goldie

Yesterday, I ran errands for my parents all morning. I picked up their prescriptions at Kaiser, over the counter meds at another store, made phone calls, delivered all their meds to the nurse at their facility, and visited with my folks for awhile. I knew I was on the edge because my Parkinson’s meds hadn’t been working well for me for a couple of days and I had woken up with a bit of a headache. But, the medicines needed to be picked up and delivered.
By the time I got home at 2 p.m., my head was pounding and I was a little queasy. So, no lunch for me. I made some chamomile tea and sipped it. It just made me more queasy. I went to bed but couldn’t get comfortable. There was no way I could take my Parkinson’s meds when I was having to trot back and forth between bathroom and bedroom all day. About 5 p.m., my dystonia took over and by 8, the pain of the headache and queasiness combined with total body dystonia was more than I could handle. We were off to the ER. By the time we got there, my arms were twisted and pinned to my chest with muscle spasms and my legs were twisted and crossed and my feet were curled up with painful cramping. I was hyperventilating and dehydrated and in full dystonic storm. It took two men to pick me up and put me on the bed.
Long story, much shortened (8 hours in ER), I was pumped full of various drugs, the combination of which caused me to suddenly have severe restless, jumpy legs. More drugs. Finally started to settle down and we got home at 3:30 a.m. By then I could walk, though I was very shaky and dizzy from the meds and from my involuntary triathlon — headache, diarrhea, and dystonia. At least I got a fairly decent involuntary abs workout.
I’m still shaky today and so, so grateful for my husband, who put on his caregiver hat and took care of me all night.
As a funny side note, the medical report must have been transcribed by some automatic voice to text program. It told me to “follow up with irregular doctor injured neurologist”. It took me a few minutes to figure out what it meant!

More Shopping and a Fly-by

by Goldie

Okay, you’ve heard my stories about shopping with my parents, but this one was priceless. Sort of. I felt awful about it when I got home because they spent wa-a-a-y too much money. They are spending down again after being on Medicaid, then selling their house, and now they have about eight months before they run out of money again. We (my brother and I) are gathering all the paperwork for Medicaid now.
I know better. Both my parents are compulsive shoppers — in different ways.
It was one of those beautiful winter days we get in Colorado, 70 degrees and sunny. Dad called. They wanted to go shopping. Okey-dokey. Well, so much for my plans. Okay, I didn’t have plans because I know better, but maybe I could have had plans. But I digress. Dad wanted to go to the grocery store and Mom wanted to go to Walgreens. I was prepared. We brought the wheelchair for Mom and my mobility scooter for Dad. Neither of them can walk far.
First stop: Walgreens. Dad decided he didn’t need the scooter in a small store and he would be just fine pushing the cart. Got Mom in the wheelchair and with Dad hanging on to my arm, we went in at a snail’s pace. Mom wanted to go faster. Inside the store, she immediately spied the make-up section with a friendly clerk right there to suggest various sale products. I had to stick with her because she can’t push the chair herself.
Dad asked the clerk where the candy aisle was and took off by himself. My dad. Unsupervised in the candy aisle. God knows what could happen. It’s amazing how much faster he can walk when he’s heading to the candy aisle. I tried to watch out for him…and, obviously my attention was not on my Mom and her make-up…except when she asked me my opinion. I told her that I came of age in the 70’s when one didn’t have to wear make-up. I know nothing about it. She said she only needed help with colors. She can’t see well at all. I couldn’t really tell the difference between them but I did my best. She chose fingernail polish that she could see. I suspect she could be seen in the dark with the fluorescent colors she bought.
And where was Dad? He was talking to another clerk, asking for directions. Forty minutes later, we got to the check-out counter and Dad kept taking out bag after bag of candy and chocolates. I asked if he really needed all that. He responded with a firm “YES”, then turned his face and started giggling. Mom had her make-up and, well, having never bought it, I had no idea how expensive it could be. She obviously didn’t trust that I would bring her back so she loaded up.
Over $230 worth of candy and make-up. And we hadn’t even gone to the grocery store.
I emailed my brother as soon as I got home. He handles their finances long distance because he offered to do it and he’s the only one in our family who actually has money. I apologized for not being able to put the brakes on their spree. He generously said it was okay. They should splurge now and then. (For our budget, that was almost a month’s worth of groceries.)
My brother is coming to town in April. Mom is thrilled because she thinks he’ll take her shopping and take her to the storage unit. As much as I appreciate all that my sibs do for me, I know this will be a fly by. He’ll be in town for a day or two. He’ll spend a few hours with Mom and Dad. He’ll suggest I get them out more. Then he’ll fly back home and to his high paid job that takes him to southern France, China, and Denmark.
I was feeling a bit stressed by the time I got them home and found places to put all the food. Mom wouldn’t let me touch her make-up. I cleaned the rotten food out of the fridge, did their dishes, rearranged a few things… then a lot of things… then squashed bags of candy in the drawers and cabinets. Dad gave me one of the giant Hershey bars he had bought.
I ate the whole damn thing before I got home.

Grandma Duty - My other caregiver hat

by Goldie

I’ve been away for awhile. Our son and daughter-in-law went on a holiday and asked us to help out with the kids. No worry, they said, we’d have help. Nanna would spend the nights with them and they had a couple of other friends who could give us a break if need be. As Grampa tends to have limited stamina and patience for little ones, I was on caregiver duty again…a different kind of caregiving, but just as tiring!
Here’s the journal:
Two days into the holiday:IMG1949
A number of us are taking shifts looking after the children. Mostly, during the day, they’ve been with me. The conversations remind me of my days in the kindergarten — everyone talks at once:
“Lucien and I like jelly on our bread, but Opal likes butter. Unless you have cream cheese.” “Gamma, will you read me this story right now” “Don’t forget to make sure Felix comes in for the night” “I HAD THE FIRE ENGINE FIRST” “Can we watch Curious George tonight?” “When’s Mama and Papa gonna call on the computer?” “Is there noodles in the soup? I only like soup if there’s noodles in it.” “I got more soup all by myself” “Grandma, look what Opal’s doing. She’s not allowed to do that.” “Now will you read me a story?” “I get the first bath!” “No, Lucien, you can’t come in. This is my bath. But you can sit here and dabble your toes in the water.” “STOP PUTTING YOUR FEET ON ME!” “I wanna go to bed.” “Tucktucktucktucktuck me in!” “Read the story about the bear’s birthday suit” “And the mermaid” “I not going to sleep there. I not Opal. I’m a birdie. I’m making my nest” “I got you Gamma. I’m not gonna let go and you are gonna have to stay here. I want you to stay here forever.”
Two more days to go. I’m so glad John and Coco could get away by themselves. I’ll be exhausted by Friday but that’s okay. I wouldn’t miss this for anything!
“Grandma, I have another story to tell you.”
Day three with the grandkids:
Mattheus has a slight fever. Lucien has a higher fever. Opal was beeboppin’ around the house with the combined energy of all three.
Time to remember all those Mom things from years ago. How high can a fever go before I need to be concerned? How do I keep the kids quiet and resting? How do I prevent Opal from dancing into Mattheus’ carefully placed fire engine with its many small tools? And Mattheus from describing in gory detail what he was going to do if she knocked it over again?
Lucien got up and ate a little at dinner. He’s drinking enough. I don’t need to worry too much. Mattheus only ate applesauce and Opal cleaned her plate and had seconds. After dinner I saw the noble knight in our 6-year-old Mattheus as he gently made a place for Lucien to lie down on the couch and covered him with the blanket, then went in with Opal to brush teeth and get ready for bed. I was too tired to look for a book so I pulled something out from the dusty files in the brain and told them the story of the little fox who stole the old woman’s loaf of bread.
When they settled and their Nanna came to stay for the night, I did dishes and picked up toys. It was nice to be able to do something I was sure of.
Opal’s godmother stayed with them most of today! I’ll be at the house again early in the morning and will stay until their Mama and Papa arrive home around dinner time. Then I’ll be off duty and back to being just Gramma.
Last day:
The kids got back from their holiday last evening and Lucien was gracious enough to greet them and wait a whole five minutes before throwing up.
I was pretty beat last night and didn’t do much of anything. Emma made me a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner and afterward, I took a hot bath.
I learned a lot this week:
I can keep three small children busy without turning on the TV.
I can still remember a few kindergarten stories to tell by heart.
I can go long stretches without bathroom breaks.
It’s possible to take care of the grandkids for most of four days and not crash afterward.
I also learned that one of the scariest things to hear from an active grandchild, when I’m sitting in a chair, is “Close your eyes Gramma!” I tried to peek out of one eye, but was caught. “CLOSE YOUR EYES, GRAMMA!” I knew what would happen. Any second now she would land on me with her full weight with one arm or one knee on a most sensitive spot on my body. Breasts are not hard to miss and probably looked upon as a soft place to land.
And I learned that I’d do this again anytime. Not the chair thing, but being with the grandkids for an extended time.