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Archive for May, 2011

Well, Uncle C did not pass the eye exam at the DMV.  The state employee promptly handed him two forms and told him that if he could get his ophthalmologist and his physician to sign that his health and sight were adequate to drive then he could get his driver’s license renewed.  “No hurry,” she said.  He took it surprisingly well.  I think it was a relief to get it behind him even though he only left the DMV with a state id.  Uncle C later told me he could see the letters, but couldn’t really read any of them and he thought it was because of the medicine he was taking.  “Which one?” I asked.  He’s on lots.  “The Vicodin, I noticed that it makes my eyes do funny things when I take it.”  he replied.  Uncle C loves his Vicodin.  He has been taking it for years.  I’m pretty sure he’s addicted, but who’s gonna tell a 93-year-old he can’t have his pain meds.  I suggested to him that I thought a person was not supposed to drive while taking Vicodin and his response was, “Oh, they say that, but I’ve been driving on it for years.”  Scary huh?  A 93-year-old man driving while taking hydrocodone.  He still talks about getting the doctors to sign the forms, but that’s all it’s been so far, just talk.  He hasn’t tried to pursue it or have us call any doctors.  I think just knowing there is “no hurry” as the DMV employee suggested is comforting to him.  It makes him feel like there’s still a chance.  But at least for now I have quit stressing about the driver’s license issue.  Yea!

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Uncle C has a birthday this week.  He will be 93.  His main topic of conversation for the past two weeks is getting his driver’s license renewed as it is expiring on his birthday.  His biggest concern is passing the eye exam.  In our state there are no requirements for getting your driver’s license renewed other than passing the eye exam.  He shows no concern for the fact that he cannot care for himself – cannot bathe himself, prepare his own meals, get his own medication or walk without his three-wheeled walker.   He also cannot get himself in or out of a vehicle without assistance.  If my husband and I are not home a sitter stays with him and tends to his needs.  But, for some reason, he thinks he can still drive.  Uncle C just keeps saying, “What the hell am I gonna do if I can’t get my driver’s license?  I’ll probably drive anyway.”   Not my car you won’t!  Ever since things sort of went crazy with my mom there has been only one time that she wanted to drive.  I suggested that dad hide the keys and he did.  She never asked again.  I think she simply forgot about driving.  That was easy.  My mom’s sister who is 87 decided that she should no longer drive because it was no longer safe for her to get behind the wheel.  That was easy.  But Uncle C insists on having his license renewed. 

A year ago Uncle C had a detached retina and still sees a grey bar across one eye.  His vision isn’t much better in the other.  The last eye doctor that we took him to told him that he may be able to pass because “in Louisiana you only need one good eye.”  What??  You really tell people that?  Apparently he has also been told by “3 different doctors” that if he doesn’t pass the test he can ask for a form and they will sign it saying he has one good eye and he will be able to get his license.   Are you kidding??  I realize that no one wants to dash his hopes and maybe that’s what’s keeping him going, but let’s be practical.  At what point do you very gently suggest that maybe it’s no longer safe for someone to drive.  Really, this is not a hypothetical question.   I really need some feedback here.  I’ve already told my husband that I would not take Uncle C to the DMV.  My husband has agreed to do it.  But what happens if he actually passes?  Uncle C has dreams of driving himself to Colorado this summer for a vacation in his VW camper.  I don’t want to tell him that probably won’t happen but …damn!  I also don’t want to break his spirit, he doesn’t have a lot to live for these days.  But I can’t sit back and watch him get behind the wheel of a car and possibly kill someone.  I’m really not sure how to handle this. I guess about all I can do for now is just pray that he doesn’t pass the eye test and the State of Louisiana is wise enough to refuse to renew his license.  We’ll soon see, my husband is taking him today.

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Part of my husband’s job involves hosting large events.  The largest event is always held in the spring and this year over 620 people participated.  It involves lots of planning and work, but is loads of fun.  For the first time we had friends from Portland, Oregon, flying in to take part.   They were excited to be here and we were excited to have them.  Since we now have Uncle C staying with us and our other guest bedroom only has a single bed, my dad offered to bring over his motor home so that our friends could have their own little private haven for the weekend.  Dad was thrilled about bringing it over, setting it up and showing our friends all of the amenities.  It was a welcome change for him.  These days mom speaks very little and no longer wants to camp or socialize with their friends.  He really misses the interaction with other people.  And being mom’s primary caregiver is taking its toll on him.  I can see it in his eyes.  The event begins on Friday and continues through the weekend.  Saturday night is the big night with a band, crawfish boil and everyone dancing and having fun.  It was great!  No problems at all.

Then came the call.  At around 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning the phone rang and it was dad.  “I hate to do this to you, but I think I need to go to the hospital.”  He had been up all night in pain and when he could take it no longer he called me.  “My shoulder is hurting and I haven’t slept all night.”  Last summer dad began having shoulder pain that eventually moved to his chin.  He remembered a friend telling him that when he had had a heart attack he never had chest pain, just pain in his chin.  Dad had wisely gone to the hospital and he was indeed having a heart attack.  He had blockage and ended up with a stint.  Now, almost a year later, he was again having shoulder pain and was scared.  “I’m calling an ambulance and I’m on my way,” I told him.  By the time I arrived at his house the ambulance was already there.  I could see the fear in his eyes, but I think he was more afraid for mom than himself.  Mom was up, but had no idea what was happening.  She just looked lost.  My sister arrived to stay with mom and I followed the ambulance to the hospital.  Once there dad kept apologizing for spoiling my weekend.  An EKG and blood work was done and it was determined that the shoulder pain was not related to his heart.  What a relief!  Dad was given medication for pain and the ER doctor told us that dad could go home.  Dad looked at me and said, “Well that’s a good and bad thing.  It’s good that it isn’t my heart, it’s bad because the next time I have shoulder pain I won’t want to go to the hospital.”   As we waited for his release things in the ER heated up.  First there was a Code Blue called and most of the staff disappeared.  Then we heard someone urgently say “The baby is here,” and medical personnel came running from every which way.  A stretcher arrived, surrounded by nurses, doctors, ambulance attendants and on the stretcher was a tiny lifeless body.  Someone was performing CPR as they rushed him into the room next to us.  It was a two-year old drowning victim.  They were unable to save him.  I did not know him or his family, yet I wept.  It was a very emotional day. 

The shoulder pain brought dad to the hospital, but now a higher power was keeping him there longer than expected for a reason, we just didn’t know it yet.  As we awaited his release we started hearing a strange beep, one every few minutes.  Then the beeps became more frequent. We finally realized that the beep was coming from the heart monitor still connected to dad.  Watching the monitor I could tell that it was no longer a nice steady beat.  The nurse appeared and asked it he was having  heart palpitations or if he had ever had an irregular heart beat.  “No.”  Another EKG was done and the doctor reappeared and informed dad that there was a problem and he would be staying the night at the hospital.  Dad was visibly shaken.  I asked the ER doctor if this could have been caused by stress and his response was no.  Not sure I agree.   Eventually it was determined that dad had atrial fibrillation and he was required to stay in the hospital for two nights.  Apparently this had been going on for some time but had not been detected.  Luckily it happened while dad was still in the ER. 

My sister stayed with mom the first night, I the second.  I arrived for my turn with mom and she informed me that she could stay alone.  I knew differently.  I told her that I was there to have a “girls night out”, and she became very excited, like a child.  Mom scurried around setting plates out on the table and getting food out. It was good to see her excited and interested in doing something – anything. We ate supper and then sat in the living room watching Great American Country (GAC).  That is pretty much her entire life now, sitting in front of the television, watching GAC and dozing.   I’m not quite sure she understood the scope of why I was actually there, but we had a very nice evening together and that I’m thankful for.  Although dad would never admit it, I think he actually enjoyed his stay in the hospital, it was the most rest he’d gotten in months.  Dad was released the next day and I thank God that he is doing well and appreciate him even more.  This tiny glimpse into a future without dad was quite frightening.  Just the thought of me being the primary caregiver for both mom and Uncle C at the same time makes me want to jump off a cliff or at least have a wine bottle permanently attached to my lips 🙂

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I’m trying to work through this funk I’m in.  The practical side of me (yes, I am a practical person) just says to get over it, my situation won’t be changing for a while.  My emotional side still looms in darkness.  But it’s getting better.  My inspiration actually comes from my father.  He is the one caring for my mother, day in and day out, yet never gets discouraged. He sees positive in everything when it comes to mom.  If she says one word more than she did the day before he brags to me on how much better she is today.   Dr. L told me when she put mom on the antidepressant that it would take four to six weeks to begin working and for us to see an improvement.  Yet the day after mom’s first dose dad called to tell me that he thought the pill was working because mom folded some clothes that day.  Whenever mom goes to the beauty shop or has her nails done dad repeatedly compliments her and playfully teases her about how worried he is that some other man is going to come by and snatch her away.  Mom just smiles and gives him a little wink.  It’s really sweet.  And he still looks at her adoringly with such love.  They have been through so much, yet he never gives up hope that all will be better and mom will be back to normal.

One day last week I noticed that mom was a bit more talkative.  By the third day there was a definite change.  Mom actually initiated a little conversation.  Granted, it mostly revolved around how blue and cloudless the sky was, but it was an improvement.  I mentioned this to dad and he readily agreed that she was improving.  “It’s ever since the beatification of Pope John Paul II,”  he said.  Huh??  I didn’t understand what one had to do with the other.  Dad went on to explain that ever since the beatification of Pope John Paul II he had been praying to him for a miracle, praying that Pope John Paul would heal mom.  “I think he’s listening.  I’d like for you to pray to him also.”  “I think it’s working too, dad.  I will definitely start praying for Pope John Paul to heal mom,” I assured him.  And I have.  On Sunday evening at our family night, sitting with my husband and son in our outdoor kitchen as mom sat mute with the rest of us on the patio, I heard dad explain how he had been praying for Pope John Paul to heal mom.   “I think he’s answering my prayers.  I think it’s working,” he said.  “Please pray too.”  I will keep praying, dad.  I promise.

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I feel like I have fallen into a dark hole and can’t find my way out.  I’ve never been here before.  I don’t like it, but I’m not sure where the exit is.  Nothing appeals to me.  I’m just so tired.  Crying comes easily, but there’s no time for that nor a place I can go without eyes watching.  I’m so afraid I won’t ever see light again.

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I’m having a feel sorry for yourself day.  Sooo, here’s a list of things I miss about my old life.

I miss having time to myself.  I miss privacy.  I miss spontaneity.  I miss evenings alone with my husband.  I miss spending a couple of hours alone in bed on a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee, the newspaper and the Food Channel on.   I miss conversations with my mom.   I miss having my daughter and granddaughter come over and just hang out for the day.  I miss being able to come home and have no one else there.  I miss silence.  I miss conversations that don’t include health issues.  I miss putting on my favorite music and dancing around my kitchen.  I miss not having to cook every night.  I miss my hall bathroom.  I miss not having extra money to spend on nothing special.  I miss my kids who don’t come around as much.  I miss lunch and shopping with my mother.  I miss our friends.  I miss having a day off from work with nothing to do.  I miss naps.  I miss me.

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My oldest daughter and I were on our way to Houston when we got the call that Aunt J had passed away.  My daughter was very upset that we had not made it there before her passing.  I, on the other hand, was at peace with it.  I thought it best that Uncle C have the last minutes with his beloved wife without having to share her with others.  We spent the next two days going through mail that had not been opened since they entered the hospital, gathering documents that we would need and readying Uncle C for the trip.  For all we knew, this could be the last time he would ever see his home.  Aunt J was very specific about how she wanted things handled after her death.  She had everything organized and written down.  She wanted to be cremated and her ashes buried next to her parents in Shreveport.  We quickly found out that in Texas it takes forever to have a body cremated.  It was two weeks before we could have the memorial service to bury her ashes.  It was very difficult for Uncle C as he could find no closure.  In the meantime, my husband was scrambling around trying to organize a memorial service, secure hotel rooms, order flowers, all from 200 miles away.  Although there is family in the area, no one offered to help.

The first few weeks was a big adjustment for all of us.  Uncle C was very concerned that he was imposing and we did our best to make him feel welcomed and loved.  He is the easiest, most accommodating person I’ve ever met, but moving a 92-year-old into our home came with many challenges.  I didn’t always handle them well.  One huge challenge was trying to juggle caring for an elderly man in my home without neglecting my parents’ needs.  At times I felt like I was being torn in many directions and running, running, running – all the time.  I was exhausted.  My life had become one big monotonous day after another – wake up, go to work, go to grocery, go to parents’ house, help them, go home, relieve sitter, become caregiver, cook supper, clean up, wash clothes – then throw in the many doctors’ appointments – augh!  I often felt like I couldn’t stand another day of this.   And my husband was working double time trying to stop me from getting overloaded.  Too late!

The other issue that I really struggled with was having no time to myself – ever.  I dreaded going home because once home I either had a sitter hanging around, which was just weird, or I would release her for the day which made me the caregiver.  Gone were the days when I could just come home, relax, read a book, sit on the patio with a glass of wine and enjoy life.  On one rare occasion when we were able to go out alone I tried to explain my feelings to my husband, but he just didn’t get it.  I ended up crying through the entire meal at my favorite restaurant.  The next day he asked if I still wanted to kick Uncle C out.  Really!  That’s what he got from our conversation??  I felt like I had poured my soul out to him and he didn’t understand a word.  Why oh why, God, did you make men and women so different?!

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