Monday, December 22, 2008

The Continuing Struggle to Parent a Parent

I am grateful that our experience with a Manor Care facility was so different from that which our North Carolina neighbor is experiencing. When my mother was getting ready to be transferred from Ocean Beach Hospital (where I was unhappy with her care) to Manor Care, Gig Harbor, the nurses emphasized the importance of my going to the facility on a regular basis which is one of the reasons we chose Manor Care in the first place. It was closer to us. Her ambulance ride the 150 miles from Ocean Beach hospital to Manor Care in Gig Harbor ended up being more than $2,000, but would have been worth every penny even if Medicare and insurance had not largely paid for it.

As an only child I don’t have siblings to help shoulder the responsibilities of my aging mother and can feel helpless at times witness our current weather situation and the fact that my mother fell twice on Saturday. My husband has enough brothers that they have committees! If you have an aging parent who doesn’t live nearby getting support for both of you is extremely important. I have had to ask questions and mine out the little services that make my mother’s life and therefore my life easier.

If you live at long distance with a parent in a care facility it is best if there is a sibling or cousin who can look in on your parent on a regular basis. Patients with family, or friends acting as family, who pay attention to the care they are receiving get better care no matter how good or bad the facility is. I was at Manor Care everyday, sometimes oftener, and my kids visited, too. I took my mother’s laundry home to wash so things would not go missing. This level of attention was exhausting when tacked onto what I do each day as a working mother of an adult daughter with special needs, but it was worth it since it was only for six weeks and not forever. That level of attention would have been difficult to maintain long term and would have required me leaning more heavily on my children. Lastly, if you have concerns about the care a loved one is receiving; contact the facility’s social worker. We found the folks in that office at Manor Care to be extremely helpful in creating a plan to get my mother ready to return to her normal life. A phone call is clearly not the same thing as being on scene, but it will demonstrate that someone is paying attention to how things are going for the patient.

I felt that the staff at Manor Care, Gig Harbor was wonderful. I met no one who did not seem concerned and committed to helping my mother be able to return to living as independently as possible since she’s resistant to assisted living at this time. As a Special Education educator and parent I know the importance of least restrictive environment, but I also know how difficult it is to look after a parent from far away. We are constantly finding bumps in the road that have to be dealt with. Just this weekend my mother fell twice in one day. We are in the midst of a snow storm here in the NW and it is impossible for me to get there or I would have already brought her here for Christmas. Fortunately, in the Spring I got her a Senior Security System and it has been invaluable as she’s gone through two serious infections that she had not reported to anyone until too sick to walk properly and a few simple falls from which she could not get up.

Before I committed to Senior Security I did a little investigating on the Internet. We’ve all seen the Life Alert commercials (“I’ve fallen and can’t get up.”) on television, but I read some poor reviews of that company and warnings to find one that would not lock you into a long term contract. Although we hope our loved one will need the service for years and years the fact is that if you’re looking for a medical security system it is possible that you will lose that family member and don’t want to be left paying on a contract for a system no longer needed.

When my mother returned to her apartment from her hospitalization in June she came with more medications than she was accustomed to taking. She also seemed a little more frail and confused as a result of the staph infection she’d survived. Because it was summer and I was off from work and staying at our nearby summer home I was able to dole out her medications and get her back on her feet. I knew that if she were to stay in her own apartment that we needed a way for her to take medications without getting confused so I purchased enough pill strips to fill and do her between my visits which generally speaking are every two weeks during the school year.

In September my mother felt fit enough and competent enough to fill her own pill strips and was very proud of this accomplishment. This points out how difficult it is for people to lose control over their lives. This small achievement made her so happy and pleased me because I believed it to be proof that she was returning to her old self. Shortly after this my mother developed a serious urinary infection which resulted in a high temperature and confusion. Fortunately, because I have a cousin nearby whom Senior Security contacted when I could not be reached at school, who went over and realized that my mother’s falling was something more than clumsiness. We got her to consent to going to the hospital where she spent another week and then needed the rehabilitation at Manor Care.

When my mother’s rehabilitation at Manor Care was over and I returned her to her apartment in Ilwaco I discovered that the medications in her pill strips were not correct. Bump in the road. She had not achieved all that she thought. Knowing that my visits are sometimes less regular during the Winter due to storms and ice, I became concerned about her taking medications. That is when I learned that the pharmacy in her community will blister pack medications for the elderly for a mere $4 per month! I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders and I realized that neither my mother nor I would have to be responsible for making sure she took the correct dosage.

Equipment for the elderly has been another bump in the road to independence. I am still learning what is and what is not paid for by Medicare. My mother came home from Manor Care with a lovely walker, much better than one a neighbor had given her and paid for by Medicare, but they don’t pay for shower chairs. The social worker at Manor Care had suggested checking Goodwill before spending large amounts of money at Costco or a pharmacy. I’ve found Goodwill to be a wonderful resource for such equipment. In addition there are organizations that recycle equipment at no cost in some communities. If you have a senior assistance center (another invaluable resource for learning about prescription insurance) in your parent’s community contact them. They will know who does that sort of thing as well as where to get home-health services and a assistance in getting around the community. My most important piece of equipment in caring for my mother is my cell phone. Being able to call her at least once a day is my best way of keeping on top of what is happening with her.

Lastly, to paraphrase Blanche DuBois in Street Car Named Desire, ask for the help of strangers. It is not in my nature to ask for help, but my concern for my mother has crumbled my pride and opened me to blessings I could not have imagined. I still rely largely on myself, but have discovered that the corner grocer will take my mother groceries when the roads are too bad for her to go out or me to get to her. There is an organization in my mother’s community who will shop for her or take her shopping, but if you don’t qualify for Medicaid (which thanks to eight years of poor social services my mother does not) you have to pay $19 per hour, more than my mother can afford on a regular basis. Be creative. Ask questions. If you’re at a long distance contact a senior center or senior assistance office in your parent’s community.

There are still things I don't understand such as why I can receive Care Provider money to care for my special needs child, but my friend in Oregon cannot get the same thing for caring for her father and cannot find a competent provider. The struggle continues on a daily basis.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Voluntary Simplicity

Confessions of a Packrat
The notion of “voluntary simplicity” in connection with me seems crazy. Simplicity is not one of my characteristics. Packrat is. I come from a long line of packrats. My mother has a T-shirt that says “I’m not a packrat, I’m a collector.” We have to be forgiven. My mother was raised in a house that not only contained her parents’ trumpery, but her grandmother’s as well.

Many afternoons were spent by my cousin and me exploring our grandmother’s basement and the trunks that contained generations of interesting clothing and artifacts. Grandma Mills gave us leave to poke around all we liked except for the trunk which contained the belongings of our mothers’ brother. The uncle we would never know in this life had been thrown from a horse in front of a truck and killed at age thirteen and obtained instant sainthood in the minds of our grandparents and to the confusion of his preschool age sisters. I am now the keeper of many of Austin’s things, including a cigar box almost identical even to the contents to the one in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’m not about to get rid of them, but I do consider myself a recovering packrat.

I’m not as bad as some family members who could probably benefit from medication. One relative sobbed over lunch one day, “My neighbor died and her husband had a dumpster in front of the house before I knew what was happening. I just know Pat will do that if I die first.” You think? This woman has trails through her house of stuff. Not only do I not want to be her, I want to create a life that is less cluttered physically and emotionally. We hang on to things for a variety of reasons. I’m trying to let go.

Before the lazy days of Summer were abruptly ended by the realization that we were free falling into an economic recession, I had obtained a copy of Dominguez & Robin’s Your Money or Your Life. Reading it and getting serious about creating new patterns of living became imperative. The philosophy behind the book and what has become the voluntary simplicity movement is not a budget, but a different way of consuming and living and seems to be the perfect reading material for a season generally given up to conspicuous consumption and perfect for making New Year’s resolutions.

Your Money or Your Life is about figuring out what “enough” looks like. I’m working on that. I have already figured out what “too much” looks like. It is about living simply so that other may simply live and walking gently through this life and Earth.

With snow and ice slowing down the pace of life I have been able to focus on organizing some things with an eye to paring down my entirely too large pile and beginning afresh with a New Year. It is a mighty task I’ve set upon for I’ve been collecting for more years than I would like to admit to. It may well take me all of 2009 to get to where I’d like to be, but it’s the journey that counts so I keep plugging away at eliminating things and accounting for every penny of my money. This time next year I hope to have less stuff and more financial independence.

You’ll have to excuse me now. I’ve got to get back to creating the life I want to have.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Your Money or Your Life

I know I have enough. Despite the fact that my husband’s job will end sometime between now and the end of next year I know we can make it and if I didn’t buy one more “thing” I’d be fine. My Christmas wish list says specifically nothing that requires dusting or feeding, but includes time with my children and only consumable things like candles and incense.

So for my continuing process of discovering what is “enough” and working the Your Money or Your Life program I’ve sent for a copy of my earnings statement from Social Security. I know our financial advisor has one and I could call and ask him how much I’ve earned in my lifetime, but I want one of my own. They come each year as a birthday gift from the government and since I’ve never had a high paying job I find them depressing to look at, but in the spirit of working the program I will truly examine it when it comes in an effort to see my financial worth although I realize that this is not my worth as a human being.

I know that between us, my husband and I have assets enough that we ought not to become a burden to the children although we will never live in luxury, but I think we can do better which will include in divesting ourselves of a lot of stuff that we’ve collected along the way. I am planning a big trip to Goodwill. This morning I pulled more Amy-never-wears-clothes out of her room. When shopping for her last weekend my husband had said, “Amy, you have to get rid of an item for each one you are getting.” We have probably eliminated five for each item she got.

Paring down our pile will probably take the three years we’ve set for ourselves in which to get ready to relocate to the coast. We spent a collective 114 years acquiring it, but each bag that goes out the door is a step closer to our goal of living simply and reaching financial security.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Literally weeks before the stock market beginning its downward free fall this year I had ordered a used copy of Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Voluntary Simplicity is something I had a rudimentary knowledge of and thrift and I are old friends, but I have entirely too much stuff even if most of it was acquired from thrift stores and garage sales. My New Year’s resolution will be not only to see how little money I can spend and how much debt we can pay off, but to pare down our pile. We could not sell our house and move to the coast right now if the economy was great. There’s no way that all our junk that fills a five bedroom suburban house will fit into a three bedroom country Victoria. Besides, I do not want to leave a mountain of things for my children to dispose of someday. Instead of having them get a dumpster, I am making trips to Goodwill. Figuring out what “enough” looks like is a central theme in Your Money.

So I’m beginning my journey already. Because my daughter recently got some new clothing this morning I began going through her dresser and closets, pulling out things she hasn’t worn in ages and bagged them up for Goodwill. We are planning a chicken coop and a vegetable garden for Spring which should add to our table and entertainment.

I will be reporting on my successes and failures and I invite your stories about what you’re doing to save money and simplify your life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Do You Know What's in Your Parents' Safety Deposit Box?

Recently, Chicago Public Radio’s “This American Life” aired an act about a woman whose job it is to dispose of the “estates” of Chicago citizens who die alone with no family to even claim the body. What would it be like to spend your days going through the possession of strangers, people who lived and died alone, and dispose of their things? The program examined what we leave behind for others to deal with. If we are lucky we have loved ones to whom we will things.
Recently I had cause to go through my 86 year old mother’s papers. I didn’t find any million dollar life insurance policies or stocks or bonds, but I did find things that in their own way were amazing. Good thing she was still around to ask questions, but even she was baffled by some of it.

We found letters from insurance companies about policies that had been purchased years ago. Most of them she couldn’t remember; didn’t even know what I was talking about when I asked her. Mutual of Oregon? CNA? Academy Life? Safeco? There was only one actual policy and it was for $700, not $200.

I found an ad for an opthamologist who Mother can't remember and the pin number for Mother's ATM card, just in case she forgot the number.

“Mother,” I said as I was going through the huge stack, “do you do your monthly breast exam at the bank?”

She frowned. “No, why?”

“Well,” I said, beginning to titter. “Care to venture a guess about how this got into the safety deposit box.” I held up my finger from which dangled a card similar to the cards with the keyhole one hangs on a motel door requesting privacy or cleaning only this one contained a diagram for doing a self breast exams. Jo and my mother began to laugh, too, and we laughed until tears ran down our faces.

Nearly the last item I came across was an agreement with the University of Oregon for my mother’s body to go to their medical school. “They will give you ashes when they’re done,” my mother said. “All you have to do is get me to Portland.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?” I asked.

“Just throw me in the back of a van and drive me.”

“If they want you, they can come get you. I’m not driving you around when you're dead.”

“I don’t think you can drive a body around without some sort of special license,” Jo said.

“Oh, pooh,” said Mother. “Just throw me in a van.”

“I don’t have a van. I’d have to rent one. Do you think Hertz would approve? Besides, wouldn’t it involve taking a body across state lines?” I asked laughing again.

My mother still insists that we can just prop her in the backseat. After I had taken my mother home for the night with her honey-do list of phone calls to make regarding insurance policies and Jo & I were getting ready for bed I said, “You’d do it with me, wouldn’t you?” I said.

“Yes, I would,” she smiled.

“Well, it’s nice to know someone who’d help you move a body,” I said and we laughed.

So, when’s the last time you looked in your parents safety deposit box or talked about what’s going to happen when they pass on? I don’t suggest it for a Thanksgiving celebration, but better to get surprised now than wait until it’s too late for clarification.

I had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. The one that surprised me is that I’m thankful to have a friend who would help me drive a body 120 miles. Everyone should have at least one friend who would do that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In June I sent my father’s 16 mm home movies to Florida Home Movies, to have them transferred to DVD. After visiting Kits Camera and emailing several transfer businesses, this was the one which told me that they could add the sound of an old 16 mm projector to the DVD. Other outfits said they simply couldn’t do it or thought it was nuts. Lured by seeming enthusiasm from a Jean Marcott I carefully packaged my reels of film and sent them UPS to Florida. The job was to take a month.

My summer was dominated by home repairs and an ill mother. It was easy to let the days slip into weeks and not inquire after my movies. When I did I would get an email reassuring me that the job was proceeding with every attempt to make it wonderful. Like a bovine that had been tossed an armful of hay, I would go on as happy as a cow for a while.

In September replies to emails turned abrupt and then stopped altogether and I panicked. Those home movies were pretty much the sum total of my inheritance and more precious than gold to me. And they were 3,000 miles away with people who were disinclined to communicate with me. I emailed, “Please, just send the movies back. “ I left a comment on their website and contacted the Boca Raton Better Business Bureau. Finally, someone I had never heard of called.
“Mark,” if that was his name, had plenty of excuses for why a job slated to take one month had so far taken three. The projector broke down. The bulb burned out. The replacement bulb was costly and a long time coming. Any of this I would have sympathized with if along the way someone would have emailed or called and explained. They were prepared to go forward with the project and it would be done in a few days. Did I want them to simply box up the movies, “Which by-the-way, were 8 inch reels, not 7 inch.” We had a massive failure to communicate.
I was torn. I wanted to smack the freckles off the face of this “Mark” person, but he was a long ways away and had my movies. They could easily get lost or destroyed. I told him that I still wanted the movies transferred, that it was Christmas for my children, that if he would have called occasionally over the months I might not have gotten BBB involved.

It was not as quickly as a week. Actually it was more like two when Mark called to say the movies were ready and what address did I want them shipped to. He would send them out the next day. Even at that it was another two weeks and a message left on his cell phone before I received the package.

Had the economy gone south a few months earlier I might not have embarked on this adventure. Despite the inconvenience of dealing with uncommunicative people I am glad that I did it when I did or I might not have ever done it. Who knows what the future will bring and with a husband who will sooner or later be out of a job I am glad that I bit the bullet and got it done. I’ve paid off the credit card and the children will have my memories, my father’s memories, for Christmas.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Poverty Unit

Most of my adult life I have had to struggle financially. After having and paying for a place for my family to live, putting food on the table while stretching dollars has been the most important skill I acquired. More times than I can count I’ve stood in my kitchen and blessed Mrs. McLean who was my home economics teacher my senior year at Sammamish High School in Bellevue.

Home Ec was not my favorite subject in school. Art was. But in those days a certain number of Home Ec credits were required for graduation and while sewing was torture, cooking was more appealing so I signed up for Creative Cooking with Mrs. McLean. She was young, hip--a bit of a beatnik--and fun. Dressed in sweaters and straight skirts, she claimed that if she ever had children she'd name them "boy" or "girl" and let them choose their own names. Despite the fact that Home Ec was generally the realm of the girls, we had two boys break the gender barrier at Sammamish that year and sign up for Creative Cooking.

Whether or not Mrs. McLean looked into her crystal ball and foresaw the decade we were graduating into or if her own life experience was the source of her curriculum in the form of the Poverty Unit I do not know. Certainly there was nothing about our own suburban Baby Boom childhoods in Bellevue that would have led her to believe that we had our would have need of the lessons we learned in the Poverty Unit, but the gift she gave us was to be able to create a meal, more or less palatable, from what we could scrape up.

Mrs. McLean’s method was simple. She started us out with the fewest ingredients possible. What can you do with just flour and water and a little fat? We looked at each other puzzled. Surely she wasn’t serious. We came up with something akin to a cracker. That was the first day. Over the course of the unit, Mrs. McLean added basic ingredients to our supply list and our creations took on the qualities of recognizable food.

For most of us it took a stretch of imagination to envision ourselves needing the skills we were learning. Certainly for the daughter of a Boeing engineer it seemed like the last lesson I would be in need of, but in two short years I would be a wife and mother with a low enough income to qualify for food stamps for the first time, but not the last, and the confidence that Mrs. McLean instilled in me helped me not be afraid when I stood in a kitchen with little food in the cupboard, praying the mailman would bring the child support check.

Many of today’s youngsters in my community are used to eating out or buying processed foods which will quickly drain a wallet. Getting the most out of my food money is as much of a job as the one I go to five days a week and I’ve brought out Mrs. McLean’s Poverty Unit and dusted it off at some point during nearly every decade of my adult life. She’s with me again in this economic crisis. I just hope that there are other Mrs. McLeans, preparing other young people to feed themselves and their families.

Now I have to climb down off my broom and have our family squish into my little Neon like circus clowns so we can tool down I-5 to a family wedding in Portland. Thank the goddess gas prices have taken a momentary dip to make the trip possible, but then, when family is there, so am I! Thanks to Mrs. McLean I can stretch our food budget far enough to get gas to Portland.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Have Yourself a Thrifty Little Christmas

Benjamin Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Apparently Franklin was un-American. I’ve been accused of being un-American and hell-bent on destroying the American economy by shopping locally, making gifts, and giving experiences rather than stuff and--OMG--conserving gas. I think we’ve recently had ample evidence that large amounts of debt is not working for America and Americans. Maybe my critics will shut up as they scramble to create Christmas in the midst of a recession brought on by the greed of all of us.
Each New Year, my resolution is to buy throughout the year and be ready for the holidays. I am happy to report that 2008 was finally the year that I did not put off all of my shopping until the traditional shopping season between Thanksgiving and the Winter Solstice. I haven’t done purposeful shopping, simply kept my eye out for things that reminded me of people I love and then stored them in a big plastic tub in our bedroom. The tub is full and I’ve even started wrapping! I’m having fun discovering what all I’ve stashed away and hoping that by getting a jump on the holidays I will get a jump on the stress because holidays are supposed to be fun, right?

To date my best purchase was a big box of Legos from Craig’s List. My four-year-old grandson Gabriel has had a large box of the chunky Legos for toddlers for several years. This summer he became enchanted with the little Legos I’d saved from his Uncle Nadir and stashed at our summer home to the point of not wanting to go out and play on the beach. A trip to Target horrified me that you cannot buy just plain old Legos. You buy sets that create specific things instead of letting a child’s imagination (which Gabriel is blessed with in large quantity) run wild. And the price? To get any amount of Legos you can spend $80 or $90 to get a fancy box and directions for making a pirate ship, a castle or the Millennium Falcon.

I would not have driven to Mercer Island just to buy a box of Legos, but since my husband works in Seattle anyway, and loves a bargain as much as the next guy, he was willing to leave a little early one day and “score” the Legos. He actually sent me that in a text message. So now Gabriel will have a large unfancy box of gently used Legos and we spent $45—still a lot by our family’s standards, but the entertainment value will be worth it since Gabriel is creative and we so enjoy watching him create.

In February, while having a little holiday on Whidbey Island, I purchased a shaker can of lavender scented kitty litter sweetening. To keep it out of the reach of grandbabies, our kitty’s box was moved to our master bathroom so we get up close and personal with Zeke on a daily basis. I clean the box regularly because…well, it’s right there by my foot, but sometimes it needs a quick freshening. A few shakes of the can and voila, problem solved. All was well until we came to the end of the can. I’m here to tell you that the folks at the Lavender Wind Farm near Coupeville impressed me when I read the back of the can and discovered that they’d included instruction for creating more of their product yourself instead of sending them money! Using the can as a measuring cup I put baking soda in a bowl, added a few drops of lavender essential oil, stirred it like a sweet smelling cauldron, scooped it back into the shaker and we were good to go. Hey, if it’s that easy why not make some of my own to give to kitty loving friends? I found the proper shakers at Cash & Carry on Tacoma Mall Blvd., but I’m holding out for Goodwill since $4.69 for the can seemed a little steep. That’s how much of a tightwad I am.

And we are headed into the Bazaar Season. I have a friend who goes to a gazillion bazaars which sometimes I am able to tag along to, sometimes not. This year I am striking out on my own by going to my mother’s church’s bazaar at the Peninsula Church Center in Seaview, WA. As bazaars go, it’s not much, but the Presbyterians, with whom the Lutherans share the building and event, make awesome chowder and I just might score a little something for the new granddaughter while we’re at it. At the very least we’ll be sure to find watermelon pickles!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Is Sarah McPalin the Best of Us?

I'm "on a broom" as a friend says when she's mad. Sarah Palin has shown herself to be uneducated, xenophobic, fear mongering racist. She’s charismatic for a certain segment of society, but so was Hitler and the cries of “kill him!” in reference to Obama and coming from her audiences cannot help but remind me of another era which I had believed was passed. Are economic circumstances going to collide with unfounded fears being whispered, nay shouted, into the ears of the Right as they were in Germany 75 years ago?

Shame on you, John McCain. Shame on you for not picking a running mate actually capable of assuming the office of President, should you be unable to complete your term. Stop calling us your friends. I want no friend who would allow such behavior as your running mate demonstrates. Shame on you for not having more control over your “pitbull with lipstick.” And shame on you, Sarah Palin. Shame on you for purporting to be a Christian while attempting to whip up a lynch mob.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Starry, Starry Night

Amy and I missed the sunset tonight. My daughter and I’d intended to be on the beach approach to watch the sun go down, but too many errands and a slow waitress for our last-night-at-the-beach-dinner meant that it was nearly full dark by the time we left the Chen’s Chinese Restaurant in Long Beach. We still had three stops to make, but between buildings on the ridge I saw that we hadn’t missed the afterglow of the sunset so we zipped down the beach approach where the sky was the color of ripe watermelon along the horizon and the sea was that icy blue it gets just before it disappears into the dark. Lights from three fishing boats twinkled like jewels against the velvet sea and the evening star hung above and to the south.

The day was warm and the evening remained so. I left Amy listening to Willie Nelson on the radio and got out to walk the dog across the warm sand. It did not feel like an Autumn Sunday. It seemed that Summer, who was so long in arriving, wanted to say “sorry” with the gift of a beautiful day meant, as my mother would say, to be tucked away in our memories. Far down the beach I could see a bonfire indicating that there were others as reluctant as we to let go of such a beautiful day. I was sorry that my mother missed this sight. It is exactly the sort of thing she loves and for which I hope she works hard to see again.

When we pulled into the barn at home Amy’s breath caught, “Look at the stars!” Here on the Long Beach Peninsula, so far from large cities and their ambient light, a clear night means a starry night the likes of which we don’t get even in Gig Harbor. On cue Willie swung into “Starry, Starry Night.”

Sewing Labels and Smuggling Pie

This morning I sat in my mother’s hospital room sewing name tags on a bag of her socks. “You sewed?” my husband asked incredulously. “I never told you I couldn’t sew, just that I don’t like it and used to smuggle my home ec projects home for my mother to finish,” I told him. “Besides, a few little hand stitches on the ends of name tags hardly constitutes sewing.”

My mother’s bags are packed and in the car, ready to head for Gig Harbor and Manor Care tomorrow. As Lorraine has observed it’s all rather surreal despite the fact that as an only child I’ve had to do more for my mother than those lucky Baby Boomers who have siblings. My husband will tell you that I’m not a particularly organized person so the pressure’s been on to think of everything I needed to choose, mark and pack for her and everyone I needed to touch base with before the ambulance comes to get her tomorrow.

I was hoping that they could be off right after breakfast tomorrow so as to arrive in Gig Harbor in time for lunch. It isn’t looking like that will happen. The doctor has yet to sign the orders for my mother to be transferred for rehabilitation at Manor Care and since his schedule for doing rounds is somewhat…well, random…they are likely to be on the road at lunch time. At least I won’t have to listen to the “I’m hungry.” Knowing my mother, she will suggest that they go through the drive-through at Dairy Queen in Raymond. In the movie version of this episode, not only will she suggest it, they will actually drive the ambulance through the drive-through and get Classic Grillburgers and milkshakes for all of them.

In the movie version they will also get lost. It is very possible that they will in real life. When my cousin was sent from Ocean Beach hospital to Vancouver Hospital in an ambulance that is exactly what happened. She had to sit up and tell them how to get to the hospital.

My last task before I can turn my thoughts to Amy’s and my things is to smuggle one more piece of pumpkin pie into the hospital. Fortunately she’s only a borderline diabetic and she said that she needed pumpkin pie.

Packing My Mother for Camp

Once I’d gotten my mother to agree to rehabilitation following a brief, but serious illness, I started making a mental list of things to do—get rid of the fresh food, notify her apartment manager, get her mail forwarded—and what to pack for her. It reminds me of getting my daughter packed to go to Camp Easter Seal in Vaughn, but without the sleeping bag. I called Manor Care to find out what I should bring for her. “Nothing too nice,” a nurse told me. “Comfortable things like sweats or moo moos.”

From her “Fibber McGee Closet” downstairs in the storage room I pried loose her suitcases without sending the stack of stuff in there cascading down on me. Back in her apartment I started going through her closet and drawers looking for clothes that were comfortable but not things we’d be upset over should they become, well, misplaced. Just like with my daughter I began marking things with her last name, all the while thinking about what would make her comfortable and what she was likely to want. I can make my list and check it twice, but undoubtedly there will be things I’ve forgotten, but hopefully nothing that cannot be purchased in Gig Harbor.

As I worked, other items kept popping into my mind, distracting me like shinny objects. I got the major things organized as well as some of the smaller things like the mittens she likes to wear to bed to keep her hands warm and stationary so that she can write letters if she feels like it. She’s not even watching much television, normally her constant companion. She did read the Chinook Observer, her little local weekly newspaper, but magazines that had come in her mail don’t interest her. My mother seems content to lie in her hospital bed staring off into space and thinking what?

Dealing with the aging and end of life issues of parents makes those of us of the generation behind examine what our own mortality and how we will deal with it. How can we make our own transitions through life as gentle as possible for our own children? Will we be able to remain active or give up as my mother-in-law has and sit in a darkened living room watching Judge Judy? “Just shoot me,” I told my husband once.

I called and left the housekeeper a message that she needn’t come next week. When I’d poured out my mother’s two week old milk and gathered up her fruit to take to my cousin and aunt, I quit for the day. There’s still another day to tie up any loose ends. For now. She’s had two illnesses in three months. Is her relative good health taking a turn? Will she work hard at rehabilitation and be able to return to her apartment or is she, even as I pack her bag for “camp,” packing her mental bag with no intention of returning? Is she planning her own escape?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Taking Care of Mother

The City of Ilwaco where my mother lives has a volunteer fire department made up of awesome men and women. For whatever reason in 2007 the city made the decision to hire Medix, an ambulance company based in Warrenton, Oregon, to serve Ilwaco. Having dealt with both, I prefer the volunteers. On Monday my mother fell and activated the medical security system I installed this spring. Getting it had eased both my mother’s and my mind knowing that she could get help easily. We didn’t allow for her being out of her mind with a temperature or for unobservant ambulance attendants.

Medix arrived at my mother’s apartment and hoisted her back into the recliner that is where she likes to spend most of her time—waking and sleeping. To be fair, they offered to take her across the street to Ocean Beach Hospital to get checked out. “No,” she told them, she just needed to get up and would be fine. They did not take her vital signs. If they had they might have realized that she was running a 103 degree temperature.

A little while later my mother fell again and again activated her medical alert system and again Medix arrived. Once again they got her up into her chair. This time my cousin and aunt had arrived and realized that my mother was acting peculiarly. They and my mother’s neighbors attempted to get the attendants to take my mother across the street to the hospital, but they said they could not force her to get help.

My cousin called me to say that she thought my mother had had a stroke since she couldn’t walk and was having difficulty processing what was said to her. She, my aunt, and the little old ladies that live in my mother’s building were very upset with the Medix people. I got my mother on the phone and realized even from 150 miles away that my mother was not okay. I persuaded her to have the Medix people return and take her to the hospital. It turns out that it wasn’t a moment too soon.

My aunt and cousin stayed with my mother while my husband, daughter and I packed and made the three hour drive to Ilwaco. My mother’s condition was shocking. She was able to tell us who is the president—okay, that was unfair because who CAN forget that. She knew everyone, but answering questions took more processing than normal and we were informed that she had a terrible infection that was causing the confusion. Her speech was odd, as though she had lock-jaw. It turned out that he was dehydrated from the fever and having spent the day in her chair unable to get up. We will never know how long my mother had sat in her chair because she remembers none of it. I spoke with her on Sunday and she seemed fine then. Whether the infection had struck in the night or sometime after she woke Monday we don’t know. What we do know is that the doctor says that had she arrived at the hospital any later than she did she would have died.

Okay, she was at the hospital. Now they’d take good care of her and get her straightened around. Many tests were made and she was hooked up to a bag of antibiotics—but no fluids to replace those that she’d lost. The nurses were telling her to drink, but if you didn’t stand next to her with the cup to her lips she just lay there, staring blankly. I couldn’t understand why no fluids and stayed until 11:30 that night after the nurse told me that she’d see if they couldn’t do that. A urinary infection meant the need to hydrate the body to flush out the infection and bring down the temperature. A no brainer, right?

The nurse had advised me to return to the hospital at 8 AM in order to get to see the doctor. I gave her my mother’s medical history including list of medications and went to our beach house to try to sleep. I was at the hospital the next day before 8 AM. My mother was more lucid and her temperature was down, but she was cold and clammy. She was still not hooked up to fluids. I sat and chatted for two hours with her. At 10 she told me that her housekeeper would be coming at 10:30 so I went across the street to let her in. I did her dishes and straightened up and laughed at myself for cleaning up for the housekeeper.

At 11 AM a neighbor reminded me that the previous week had been the housekeeper’s week to clean so I went home for breakfast. It was Tuesday and Tuesday is my Special Needs daughter’s day to rent movies and get a Subway sandwich. We stopped by the hospital to see my mother. We found her eating lunch, sort of. Her temperature and confusion had returned. We also spied the doctor, a huge man and difficult to miss, down the hall going into a door with a plate of food and a stack of charts. I asked if I could see him and was told that he was reviewing my mother’s chart and would be in to see us soon. So we sat down and carried on conversation with my mother the best we could, punctuated by long silences.

At one point my mother’s large cup with straw became empty and I went to the door to ask for some more. A nearby nurse snapped, “We’ll get there as soon as we can!” They expected my mother to drink lots of water, but seemed loath to make that happen and she still was not hooked up to fluids. A bottle of water from her lunch sat on her bedside table so I poured the water into the cup since she was having difficulty drinking from the bottle. About 45 minutes later a nurse came into the room and asked if my mother had drunk the bottle of water. “No,” I told her. “She spilled some so I put it in the cup so she could use the straw.”

“What! You put it in the cup? You can’t do that. We measure that water.”

“Look,” I said. “The cup was empty. She was given the bottle of water for lunch. You want her to drink but she can’t manage the bottle. I put it in the cup so that she could drink the water.”

“Well, all you have to do is ask us for more water. We measure the water in the cut carefully,” she replied.

“I tried that,” I said. “All I got was snapped at. My mother is dehydrated and I want her to drink any water she’s given.”

“Oh,” said the nurse, dumping out the cup into the sink unnecessarily. “I’m sorry if someone was rude. We are short staffed today. I’ll get your mother more water.”

Two hours from the time he was informed that I was waiting for him the doctor finally came in and informed us how near to dying my mother had come. I asked about one knee that she’d been complaining of pain in for a couple of weeks, but he brushed aside my query and told me that my mother’s inability to walk was because she’d sat in her chair to such an extent that she could no longer walk. Puzzled, I told him that although a certain amount of that was no doubt true, how had she been able to bake biscuits and attend the coffee hour at her building two days before the onset of the infection? “Oh,” was all I got in reply. All my questions were answered with condescension. As doctors are want to do, he turned and walked out of the room without a “goodbye” or a “nice to have met you.” I took Amy off to get her movies and lunch which was now heading toward dinner.

After dinner my husband and I went to the hospital to visit my mother. Her temperature was up and she seemed confused. The nurses were still encouraging her to drink, but she seemed to not know what to do with the straw when it was put to her lips. This time the snapping nurse was more solicitous whether because my husband was present or because she knew I’d complained didn’t matter. We asked why a woman who didn’t understand the concept of drinking wasn’t hooked up to an IV. She shrugged and said that it was up to the doctor to order an IV. Sometime in the night, after we had left at 7 in the evening, they hooked her up to IV fluids and she began to improve for real with no more yo-yoing of her temperature.

The next two days went fairly well, but my mother did not seem to be bouncing back as quickly as she had in June and a certain amount of fog seemed to over at the edges of her mind keeping her in that state one is briefly upon waking. She was not cooperating with the staff about getting out of bed and she was lying to me about why she hadn’t been up. Clearly her mind was foggy if she thought I wasn’t going to be asking questions. Those were not the only lies she told. She told the doctor that she would be coming home with me so the doctor thought he’d release her on Saturday. A conversation with the physical therapists confirmed my suspicion that my mother going home, even with support, was out of the question since her apartment is too small for even me to stay with her, never mind my daughter and dog. At home in Gig Harbor she would be alone during the day and has already fallen once in our bathroom trying to bathe.

It was with fear and trepidation that I went to the hospital Saturday morning, wondering how I could persuade her of the wisdom of going to Gig Harbor for rehabilitation. My mother, particularly when she’s tired or unwell, can unleash an acid tongue that cuts deep. I’ve heard all of it before and did not look forward to a tongue lashing and I resented that Dave had escaped. She behaves differently when he’s around.

The wonder of my prayer and a good night’s sleep for my mother. After getting up for breakfast with great difficulty she was able to see for herself the wisdom of getting some rehab and was delighted about going to Gig Harbor to be nearer to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. For all the frustrations of her care at Ocean Beach the last few days, the staff was helpful organizing her transfer to Manor Care. But guess who’s taking her there? Medix. Stay tuned.