Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Journey Through Dad's Heart

It was a wonderful privilege for my sister and I to sit in on Dad's echocardiogram this morning. An echo cardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart and is often done after someone has had a heart attack. Ever since Dad's mild heart attack on Good Friday, he's been concerned and curious about what the doctor will find. 
We sat down and watched as the technician put the leads on his chest and turned off the light to start the test. Gray, fuzzy images came on the screen. That was Dad's heart? I kept trying to understand what I was seeing. The darkness started to make me sleepy. Dad's arteries, valves, the atria, the ventricles; all were fading in out in grays, whites, blacks. Half asleep, pictures started forming from his heart images on the screen.
It was like seeing pictures in the clouds. What was that? It looked like a small gray man playing a clarinet. Funny... Dad played clarinet. A three leaf clover? An elf playing piano? A hippo eating biscuits? An exotic dancer? 
"Hey," said my sister, "was the dancer upside-down?"
Uh, yeah. I'm not sure whether to be relieved or worried that we both saw an upside-down exotic dancer in Dad's heart. We were both pretty sleepy. 
After the test, the technician was quiet for a minute and said, "Well, if he was a lot younger, the doctor would see all sorts of problems, but probably, he'll want to see your dad in a year." This was not surprising. Will he still be here in a year? I know there's a lot wrong with Dad's heart. I also know there's nothing wrong with his heart.
That's because there's a lot more to see as we take this journey through my father's heart:
such as a small sheet of paper with the names of all four of us kids and a space to mark when we came home from an evening out with friends. Theoretically, this was to make it easier for Dad to get some sleep and be assured he would know who is home. He still got up to check.. every time one of us walked in the door.
A paperback book with a $20 bill stuck inside, handed to one of us whenever we needed a little cash, with the words, "don't lose the bookmark" said quietly.
A brown paper bag containing peanut butter and butter sandwiches, which meant Dad had surprised one of us by making lunch for us.
His heart is a little sloppy now and it's getting crowded in the veins. If anyone ever grumbled about our house being sloppy or crowded, Dad would laugh and say, "you should've see the house I grew up in!"
There are stories and stories and stories - about his time in Africa, his time on board ship during World War II, about his imaginary friends, Mr. Brown and Andy, and about attempting to play his clarinet with false teeth.
And there is our mother. They've been married 62 years and he's been in love with her the whole time. Even through the most challenging time of their marriage, when side effects to her prescription drugs caused psychosis, Dad would say, "I just want to live one day longer than Mom, so I can take care of her." 
Dad and I share a few things. We've both been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Because of this, we've been able to have our DNA testing done through 23 and Me. I perused our reports to see what we have in common and found: we share 49.9% of our DNA, we both consume a lot of caffeine, we're both light sleepers (hmm), we both have dark eyes and detached earlobes, and we both have straight dark hair.
It doesn't say anything about our hearts, but regardless of how it's working now, I hope I inherited a heart like his; even if it comes with an upside-down exotic dancer, clarinet playing guy, hippo, piano, and three leaf clover.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Oh Hail

A lot has been happening lately.
Along with the challenge of getting Dad to his appointments, we also ran out of funds to keep renting their storage unit. During a moment of impulse (meaning – I didn’t ask permission of my sibs or my parents), my husband and I decided to clear everything out and close the account. The money was coming out of our bank account and, at this point, we were not being paid back by anyone. It’s time. The stuff has sat in there for nearly 3 years now. I’ve asked my sibs what they want to keep. Everything else is going, going, going.
One dilemma – despite knowing that our mother is a hoarder and gets super anxious about any item of her stuff that goes missing, my brothers are convinced that honesty is the best policy and we need to tell Mom that we are getting rid of her stuff in storage. Am I being unreasonable when I ask them not to tell her? I don’t know, but I do know my brothers don’t have to deal with the day to day fall-out from that kind of honesty. I am more inclined to just distract Mom if she asks about the stuff in storage. When she starts on this subject, I know she’s just anxious in general. When I’ve tried to talk to her about the stuff in storage, she has always said that my brother-in-charge-of-finances will take care of it when he comes to town. He always has good intentions to take care of everything when he flies in for a few days. And it doesn’t get done.
Brother finally relented and gave me permission to sell Mom’s car, too. Mom, whenever presented with the possibility, has said not yet, she’s not ready to part with it. My brothers said no way, we cannot sell it without her consent, even if we do have POA. So the car sat in our driveway with no registration, no insurance. We tried to start it and drive it up and down the driveway when we could, but it wasn’t enough. Our son wanted to buy the car. We were prepared to help him out by getting needed repairs done. We figured it wouldn’t take too much as it only has 47,000 miles on it (1985). We didn’t figure on the radiator being rusted out from sitting too long. The coolant system is shot, there are many oil leaks, a replacement radiator could only come from a junkyard. The mechanic at our shop was really nice. He ran a pressure test on the coolant system without charging us. However, because everyone has tiptoed around Mom and wouldn’t allow the car to be sold early on, it’s now not worth fixing. It would cost several thousand $$ to get it running. 
I was incredibly grouchy about this. My husband drove me to the shop and I picked up the car, which they left running for me so we wouldn’t have to jump it again to get it home. Just as I pulled up in front of our house, it started to hail. You might have seen us on the news last night. We had golf ball to tennis ball size hail. I was stuck in Mom’s car during the storm and got so scared, I wet my pants. The windshield shattered (stayed in place, thankfully) and the inside mirror fell off. It sounded like gun shots. I was sure the hailstones were going to start coming through the roof! So, if I wasn’t convinced by the mechanic, the powers that be let me know it was time to just let go of this car for good. Our car also lost its windshield, but at least we have insurance.
I’m done. I’m not going to tiptoe around Mom and ask her permission about her stuff any more. It’s not like it’s valuable stuff or family heirlooms or anything. They have an apartment which is overfull with stuff, too (including family heirlooms). If my brothers tell her I got rid of everything, fine. We’re expected to have another storm tonight and our garage is filled with everything from the storage unit.  We cannot get the car in. They will never need or use this stuff. My sibs don’t want it.
I’m not asking anyone’s permission anymore. Come what may, it’s going. I feel sick about having the car just waste away when it could have been used. While the boxes of clothes and old furniture and dishes won’t waste away like the car, why not let someone use them? They’ll go to a group in town who work with helping homeless families and refugee families find housing.
Enough is enough.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Three Ring Circus - I mean Clinic

by Goldie

I had Dad into Innovage this morning and talked with their doctor for a long time this evening. I am more and more impressed with their doctor.
Here’s what she said –
Dad’s heart is working at 49% – borderline, but at his age, anything above 50% is considered normal. His valves are a little sticky, but not that bad considering his age and that he recently had a mild heart attack. Heart beats are regular, also unusual considering his recent heart attack. So, all in all, he’s doing very well. He’s supposed to walk more – without fatiguing. Going down to the dining room should be about right. 
Regarding his cognitive/memory scores – they dipped a lot from November to February. Not a surprise. Mostly he’s having those little memory issues like, “what doctor are we seeing today?”

Recap of our morning –
Dad – “Do I look okay without teeth?”
Me – “Yes, Dad”

Dad got his teeth back, after some confusion and not a little frustration mixed with humor. I have to find the humor here.
They have a dentist filling in at Innovage. He usually works in Loveland and is only filling in till they get a new dentist in Denver.
They got out Dad’s dentures, back from the lab, and tried to fit them in Dad’s mouth. Not a good fit at all. Looked closely at the dentures and saw there was a different name on them. So we all assumed the lab had mixed up his teeth with someone else’s. Many calls to the lab…

Dad – “Do I look okay without teeth?”
Me – “You look great, Dad!”

Meanwhile, Dad and I went to therapy – PT checked Dad’s walking. He now has a new, upgraded, heavy duty rollator walker. He walked well and the pulse-ox test afterward showed his oxygen levels were still good. OT came to tell him she would see him at their apartment soon.

Went to clinic. Got Dad’s ears cleaned out. No more wax. He’ll see the audiologist a week from tomorrow (12th). Might provide new hearing aids or new mold for the newer hearing aid.

Dad has an appt with the cardiologist next Tuesday morning. Same cardiologist he saw at Lutheran, so we’ll go to his office on 19th and Ogden.

Back to teeth…
Dad – “Do I look okay without teeth?”
Me – “Dad, you look adorable”

Lab has precautions for the possibility of getting teeth mixed up. In this case, it seems only the names were mixed up. Those WERE his teeth. Didn’t look right to me. Dad’s still got a significant overbite. Seems the folks in the dental office (who have only seen Dad twice) took Dad seriously when he said, his teeth were fine – they fit fine – they were just the way he wanted them… (Dad’s way of saying don’t mess with me). So, they had the teeth adjusted WITH THE OVERBITE. And then kept telling me that’s the way his teeth have always been and that’s the way he said he wanted them.

By this time it was 11:30. I was on the verge of a migraine and I knew I needed to pick up Mattheus from school. I didn’t deal with it. But I told Dr. Kane and she will have the dentist schedule person call me. I am going to ask for new dentures for Dad. Completely new. He can wear the overbite till the new ones come in. He’s just so happy to have his teeth back, he doesn’t care about anything else. He may even balk at getting new ones – means taking impressions. But the dentist showed me how the teeth are getting very worn down on the ones he has.  That plus the overbite fiasco, I’m going to insist on new ones.

Got back to the apartment around noon. Mom was unhappy. I ran out of the apartment. Okay, only because I needed to use the bathroom and Dad had run into theirs. When I came back, I asked Mom what was up. She said she had fallen night before last. Scooted on her butt to their bed. Told several girls what happened, they all said they’d tell the nurse to come down and check on her. No one came. Nurse (LPN) was in for a moment yesterday, didn’t look at her knee, but told her to keep it elevated as much as she can. Maybe that would help. I asked at the desk for someone to come down and look at Mom’s knee. Don’t know if it’s happened yet. I reported this to their doctor and she said she’d send a note to St. E’s asking for Mom to be evaluated after the fall and ask them to report if Mom has continued or worsening pain/swelling, etc. I’ll check in with St. E’s tomorrow and see if someone has actually checked on Mom. I will also check to see if they are walking to meals again. And remind them to CALL ME WHEN EITHER OF THEM HAVE A FALL. Technically, they are supposed to report ALL falls to their doctor, too.

Hoping tomorrow is quiet.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Toothy Grins

by Goldie

We’re on to more mundane sorts of issues, now that Dad is recovering from his heart attack. The current complication involves dentures.
The Monday before Easter, both my parents went to the dentist to have their dentures adjusted. They weren’t fitting exactly right. Both of them needed their dentures relined. I don’t know what that involves, but their teeth had to go on to a lab and spend a few days getting this done. Mom and Dad were not thrilled to go home without teeth, but they resigned themselves to it because they wanted to be more comfortable. They got their teeth back on Thursday. The next day, we started Dad’s heart attack adventure.
Within 15 minutes after Dad got home from the hospital, Mom was complaining about her dentures. They (the lab) had obviously done something wrong because her dentures didn’t fit. She needed to go back to the dentist. Even so, she had little faith the dentist would ever get it right. My brother checked with the clinic and was told I would receive a phone call about an appointment. I tried to reassure my brother that it takes a little time to get used to dentures after a reline (I think) and Mom complains each time the dentist does anything with her dentures (I know). It wouldn’t matter how many times they were adjusted, Mom would be complaining by the following afternoon (she does).
The clinic scheduled their dentist visit for April 27, exactly two weeks after they had gotten their teeth back from the lab. The appointment was for both of them, which surprised me as Mom was the only one complaining. I didn’t argue because, well, the thing is, Dad seemed to be developing an overbite. In fact, the overbite was getting worse by the day. Dad didn’t complain, in fact, he said his teeth felt fine and he didn’t need to go in. Mom disagreed. Even with her poor vision, she could see Dad was turning into Bugs Bunny.
In the office, the dentist was confused. How could their dentures not fit so soon after she had adjusted them? A close look at them and the dentist shook her head. She told my dad, “You’ve been using too much Fixodent.” Dad looked at her blankly. The dentist sighed, took a deep breath and yelled, “YOU’VE BEEN USING TOO MUCH FIXODENT!”
“Really?” my Dad replied.
I know how much Fixodent they use. A lot. They keep a tube or two with them all the time. They put more in before meals. The dentist commented about how they must spend $10 per month on it. No, doc. They spend more like $25 per month on their Fix.
It seems Dad’s dentures had such a build-up of dental adhesive, it was pushing the dentures about 3/4 of an inch away from his gums on top. He had not remembered to clean out the old stuff, either, and so it had turned into a cement like substance which was almost impossible to remove. They put Dad’s teeth into the ultrasound cleaner in order to get the gunk off of them. The cement also took off the relining. The teeth would need to go back to the lab, this time to spend an entire week being put right.
Dad was not pleased. “But they feel fine!”
Fortunately, Mom’s dentures were not as bad. She had also been overusing the Fixodent, but not to the same degree. It had thrown off how they fit, which I now know to be the reason she has always complained so soon after they are readjusted. Dentures that fit well do not need any adhesive.
Dad went home without his teeth. We made sure to tell him how cute he looked. He laughed, but didn’t buy it. He won’t venture out of the apartment until he has his teeth back. I will make a trip up there to take out all tubes of Fixodent and Polygrip. Dad’s memory issues combined with habit would mean getting the dentures relined monthly, if we weren’t careful.