Not falling apart, but falling into place

We have FOOD again! The kind with which to cook responsible-type meals. I mean besides things like grilled cheese sandwiches, frozen pizza, and pancakes.

It’s been a while. I discovered the other day that the milk went sour. (Actually, Jake discovered it after taking a big swig. Poor Jake.) The only frozen vegetables were a couple of bags of brussels sprouts. There were no eggs, no bread. The cupboards (and refrigerator and freezer) were bare. I never thought I’d look so forward to grocery shopping. On a Friday night, no less. I actually planned some meals, made a list, clipped coupons even.

We’re getting back to a sort of normal. Not the old normal, but a new one. A friend told me there would be a new normal and we’d get used to it. I didn’t believe at the time that I’d get used to the constant panic about my dad’s physical, emotional and mental well-being. But she was right. There comes a point where you just don’t have the energy to keep freaking out anymore.

It has been five weeks since my dad fell and broke his hip. Life since then has been completely turned upside down. But I feel things starting to settle down ever so slightly and I’m grateful.

I’ve come to think of the past five weeks as what a work friend would refer to as AFGO. (Another Effing Growth Opportunity.) This has been a big one. Emotionally, I’ve seen every extreme. At times I’ve been sadder than I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ve been so angry sometimes that words I’m embarrassed to admit to have flown out of my mouth in multitudes. I’ve been scared, felt helpless because there’s not a thing I can do to change my dad’s helplessness, and have actually asked God to just take him instead of making him suffer so much.

But none of it works that way. I’ve learned that worrying changes nothing. Praying often doesn’t produce the answers I’m hoping for. I want to just know when everything will be okay, but we don’t get to know when – or even if – it ever will be okay.

I’ve realized that I had pretty much always expected that our tomorrows would be “normal” and that our parents’ older years would just be a time of slowly winding down until a peaceful end. But now I realize that not everyone gets to look forward to a quiet and peaceful end. Sometimes there’s no end in sight, but every moment moving in that direction feels like a battle. And “normal” is probably just an illusion anyway.

My dad is ever so slowly returning to something resembling his old self. He’s beginning to move his limbs and body more comfortably than he could the first couple of weeks. There have been a few setbacks, and too many nights when I’ve felt bad leaving him alone in that room while I get to go back to my own house and my own bed. His place is nice enough, and the staff is really good, but I feel bad for all the time he spends alone there, waiting for one of us to be free to come spend a couple of hours with him.

Progress is infinitely slower than I could have imagined, but we’ve learned to celebrate any kind of victory. Any day that Dad’s spirits are good, or when he eats more than a few bites of his food are good days. He’s a little bit more mobile now, but still not allowed to move around unsupervised. We’ve been given permission to walk with him. It’s a production. Put on the belt. Place the walker just so in front of him. Loop your finger in the back of the belt and wheel the wheel chair along behind with the other hand in case he needs to stop quickly and sit. One day this week we went down the hall, around the corner and eventually back again, all without needing the wheel chair. That was a BIG day! Last night we only got about fifteen feet and that was it. I had to wheel him back to his room in the wheel chair and then go back to collect the walker. He said he doesn’t like walking on the carpet. It makes it hard to move the walker and his feet. It’s a very flat industrial type of carpet and I reminded him that at home, there is carpet. And it’s a lot more plush than the stuff he’s dealing with now. He’s still got a way to go, but he’s getting there. He talked about being at home this winter, and I felt a sadness drift over me because I’m not sure I believe he’s going to go back home again. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong …

I talked to the doctor at the care center on Monday. My dad really likes this guy, and he was open and honest with me. He pretty much laid out Dad’s life expectancy in light of the hip surgery. He described my dad as a very fragile guy and confirmed that the amount of time he may have left is pretty much the same as what you’ll find if you seek medical advice online about hip fractures in elderly men with other acute medical conditions. I guess it was just a shock to have someone confirm it. Up until then, I could tell myself not to panic and to stop getting medical advice from the internet. But now I know. Time is running out. So that gives everything some real perspective.

My mom is wearing out too with all of this going on. Not being in good health to begin with, the frequent trips to the care center, my dad’s ups and downs, the paperwork, phone calls, and simply trying to manage a household by herself have all taken their toll. She’s so frail herself, and I think we all allowed ourselves to be fooled into thinking our parents were much more capable than they really were before this all happened.

I’m trying to stop thinking so much about the future. It can make a person crazy, trying to have a plan mapped out for every possibility. But the thing is, no one knows where this is all going to lead. If Dad doesn’t get to where he needs to be physically, he may not be allowed to go back home. He’s still battling a cough from his pneumonia and his blood sugars have seen too many extreme highs and lows. Who knows if he’ll get over the hump and recover well? But if he does, and if the choice is left to the family, then we kids want our parents to move out of the town house and get into a safer place. However, our parents are still capable of making those kinds of decisions and it’s clear they’re not interested in considering other living arrangements. Tensions are pretty high some days. How do you just sit back and agree to let your parents make decisions that don’t seem in their own best interest?

I’ve decided that at some point, we just have to accept what is, whether it seems right to us or not. Maybe we’ll just have to put on blinders at times. I mean, at some point, we kids have to go back to living our own lives, at least to a degree more than we’ve been able to lately. For the past five weeks, except for the rare occasion when another commitment prevents it, when I’m not at work or sleeping, I’m with one parent or the other, or both, or running errands for them. A lot of days, I just pick Mom up on the way home from work and bring her to my house for dinner before we head off to visit Dad until bedtime. At least that way, I know she’s eating something. She feels a little bit guilty about it and asked if it bothered Mark that I was always bringing her home with me. I told her that Mark and I probably wouldn’t even bother with dinner if it weren’t for her. So she’s helping us out by motivating us to sit down for a few minutes and eat together. It’s a good thing.

And this has brought us closer – most of us anyway. We say ‘I love you’ a LOT more than we did before. I used to always be really close with my brother, Jim. We seem to have drifted apart over the past few years, but this whole thing has brought us back together. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed him and it’s so good to be doing this side-by-side, Jim, Cori and me. The other brother? He’s even more removed than ever. I can count on one hand the number of times he’s visited Dad since his hip surgery. He’s refused assistance to Mom at a time she desperately needed him. I don’t know how he sleeps at night, staying away day after day like he does. I wonder if he gets that his time with our dad is likely very, very limited. For a couple of weeks I wanted to confront him and let him know just how hurt and angry we all feel. But it’s not worth the energy. I don’t understand him, and I guess I just don’t care anymore. When it’s all said and done, we will all have made our choices about how to cope with this, and I hope that we can all live with ourselves then.

Jim, Cori and I were all visiting Dad on Wednesday night. It was just a fluke that we were all there at the same time. We usually try to stagger our visits so as to make sure Dad has company every evening for a few hours. But Tuesday, my dad had a bad night, and so I ended up going back as soon as I could again on Wednesday. All three of us being there, we got goofy and the conversation was full of laughter. Dad didn’t have a lot to contribute, but he seemed to be enjoying our silliness. It was clearly good for him. For the first time in a while, when we left him before bedtime, he seemed really okay.

There are so many times that I wish to go back to the way it was before. I’d love to go back to believing my parents are strong and capable. I sometimes wish for a lazy evening sitting in the living room just reading, or watching something on t.v. I wish I could go back to being in charge of just my own life. It feels weird, taking charge where your parents are concerned, no matter how old you are. But nothing’s ever going to be exactly how it was before. And I have to keep reminding myself that this is likely a small window in time during which everything is really challenging and worrisome. Things like this help me understand how people do it … go on as if things were normal when there’s a big elephant in the room all the time. Things like this make you tougher. And ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ seems a helluva lot easier when you simply don’t have time or energy to think about the small stuff.

Things will probably get easier again. But they’ll definitely be different.

There’s no handbook for this

I think I’ve already said this recently but I’ll say it again. The aging process can be ugly.

It’s been three weeks now since my dad fractured his hip. And it’s been heartbreaking to to see him struggle and suffer in the aftermath. His body just won’t cooperate and I fear that with each passing day, he’s losing a step toward any real recovery.

On Wednesday last week, he was discharged from the hospital after leaving transitional care to spend a few days being treated for extreme low blood pressure and dehydration. The same day of his hospital discharge, he was admitted to a new transitional care facility. After a rocky experience in the previous facility, this place gave all of us some peace of mind. The staff at this new place is very attentive and extremely knowledgable. The surroundings are bright, spacious and beautiful. We feel Dad is in much better hands than the first time around.

I went to spend time with Dad this past Wednesday evening, on his one-week anniversary in his new digs. He had just had a shower when I arrived and was settled in his room in his wheelchair. He’s barely been able to eat in the past week, consistently complaining that his stomach is uncomfortable and he “just can’t get anything down.”  I’d been bribing him the past few days with ice cream shakes laced with protein powder and had mild success in getting something in his stomach. This time, I brought him a ham and cheese omelet from home in the hopes I could get some more protein into him. He politely declined. I was disappointed. He wasn’t even interested in a chocolate shake.

As we sat, he talked with me about his day. He seemed tired but otherwise relatively normal, except for a cough that I hadn’t noticed the day before. When a nurse and nurse-in-training came in to give him his nighttime meds and insulin, he slipped into what I can only describe as an episode. He grew confused and his speech became slurred. He seemed to be hallucinating, reaching out for things that didn’t exist. I tried to ask him what was wrong but got only nonsense in reply. Then his head dropped and he began to snore.

I told the nurse that I was worried, but she stated that he was probably just worn out from his shower. Did I want them to get him into bed? I said I wasn’t sure. Something wasn’t right. But again, she said that he was probably just really worn out. My dad had to be awake in order for the nurses to assist him into his bed. I really began to panic when we were unable to wake him. I began by gently shaking Dad’s shoulders and saying, “Dad… Dad…” to no avail.

The nurse commented again that he was really tired, and I told her, “No! This is not my dad ‘worn out.’ Something is wrong.”

She told me she’d go get the charge nurse while I continued trying to wake my dad. No amount of shaking or yelling could wake him up. The charge nurse came and was much more sympathetic to my fears. She said only my dad’s family knew him best, and if I wasn’t comfortable letting him ride this out, I could make the call to send him to the hospital. I was panicked, but questioning whether I was overreacting, especially because the nursing staff didn’t seem all that worried. I called my brother, Jim and described the situation. He agreed that Dad should go to the hospital and said he was on his way to join me.

While I waited for the charge nurse to make arrangements for the paramedics, I continued to sit next to my dad, rub his back and try to wake him. He only continued to snore and at times his breathing seemed very shallow. This went on for a good twenty minutes. Jim arrived before the paramedics and Dad was just finally coming to. The confusion and slurred speech remained.

This was one of those times I was grateful one of my kids still lives at home. Not wanting my mom to try to drive in the dark (and the rain,) we called on Jake to go get Mom at her house and meet us at the emergency room where we all met my dad after his ambulance ride. It was a long night while tests were performed and we continually tried to help Dad understand where he was and why. In his confused state, it just wasn’t sinking in. I’m sure it didn’t help that he had already been in two different hospitals and two different care centers since his fall and surgery.

Dad was finally formally admitted to the hospital at 3:30 Thursday morning. Jim, Mom and I went home exhausted. After three hours of sleep, I got up and went to work. My PTO time is slowly dwindling and I’m rationing it in fear of needing it for something more dire than my lack of sleep. I’ve got to get my FMLA paperwork completed!

So it turns out that Dad has pneumonia. Upon hearing that, I felt assured that I’d made the right decision in sending him to the hospital. And there’s the possibility that he’s had a series of mini strokes. Over the past couple of days in the hospital, he’s improved some. The confusion has passed for the most part, but he still has no appetite and all of this is wreaking havoc with his blood sugar levels. He’s experienced extreme highs and extreme lows. I wonder how much more his body can take, and how he will ever be strong enough to walk on his own again.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to handle this. I long for life to be normal again, but I can see that the normal to which I’d like to return is a thing of the past.

I heard a quote last weekend that has returned to mind time and again this past week. Mark and I attended his employer’s Career Achievement banquet, in honor of Mark’s thirty-year work anniversary. As the CEO spoke to the hundreds of guests of honor, he talked about why their company has been so successful for so many decades. “Make change your best friend,” he said.

He was talking about success in business, but it seemed to me that this could apply to life in general as well. Over the past week, I’ve tried to figure out how to make this kind of change my best friend, but I just don’t know how to do it consistently. It feels as if we’re living on a roller coaster these past few weeks. My dad improves and we have hope. He suffers a setback and our hearts break for him.

Lately, I can’t be in enough places at once. I’m trying to hold steady at work while fielding phone calls from Mom and text messages from my siblings and aunts about Dad’s current state of health. Mom has handed over the reins in many ways. She’s tired and weak, and I worry about her ability to hold up amidst all of this.

Home feels like a place where I simply stop by on occasion.

At times, I’m preparing my heart for the worst, then feeling guilty for even imagining it.

There’s so much to think about. Regardless of which direction Dad’s recovery goes, it’s become clear to my siblings and me that my parents cannot continue to live independently. It’s been a mere couple of months since we moved them into their town house. Will we be packing it all up again soon? Probably.

One sibling holds himself at arms length when it come to my parents needing any kind of help from their kids. It’s always been this way. His distance has become even more pronounced as we’re trying to navigate through such dark tunnels lately. And while I’m trying to remain sympathetic to the fact that not everyone has the strength to rise to such occasions, and that I don’t have to understand to accept it, I can’t help but feel he’s selfishly abandoned all of us. I worry that there will be no healing between us after all is said and done. But most of the time I don’t even care anymore. There’s been a history of the rest of us trying to take the high road where he is concerned. Might be best to just let him go. I have bigger fish to fry.

We’ve had to consider the possibility that Dad could end up in a nursing home. And Mom’s not ready to live all alone on a permanent basis. I have room for her here and we’ve talked about it, Mark and I, and Mom and I. She would come with a dog and the situation wouldn’t be ideal, but she’d be safer surrounded by others on a regular basis. She could live on the main level and not ever really have to go up and down the stairs. I’d like to think it’s not that big of a deal, but deep down, I know it would be far from easy.

The whole thing makes me sick at times and I often find myself fighting off a deep darkness inside my head. I’ve written in recent months about an upward shift in my faith this past year and a half. I realize now why that happened. A time was coming when I would need it. Sometimes it’s the only thing carrying me forward, the belief that God is watching over us and that He doesn’t waste our pain. If I didn’t believe there was something phenomenally better ahead for my dad and for all of us, it would be just too easy to fall into despair.

Not that things have been completely morbid and depressing throughout this whole ordeal. We’ve managed to find humor where we can. While in the ER Wednesday night/Thursday morning, my Dad, in his fog, was trying to tell us something about knowing I was the only one coming to visit on Wednesday. My sister had told him she’d be traveling to Florida for work for a few days, and so he said he knew only to expect me. He said that I was the only one “brave” enough to come visit. We weren’t sure why he thought it took bravery for me to visit, but he went on to say that I must have been even more brave because it was bath night. We put two and two together when he sleepily mentioned that it wouldn’t have been a big thing for Mom to come on bath night “because her ‘sniffer’s not so good.'”

I guess Dad feels that patients in transitional care should be provided more frequent opportunities for bathing!

Last night while Mom, Jim and I sat with Dad in his hospital room, the conversation turned to Dad’s frustrations with needing assistance using the restroom. A detailed discussion followed concerning everyone’s comfort levels with using public restrooms, and in particular, depending on whether it involved number one or number two.

We all looked at each other and just burst out laughing. Who’d have thought that would ever have been a topic of conversation among all of us. But when one of us is dealing with a routine loss of dignity, I guess nothing is too far off limits as a conversation topic.

Everything is day-by-day now. Upon picking up Mom after work one evening last week, and while preparing dinner for the two of us before going to see Dad, I realized I had nothing new to talk about with her. The hours in my days are divided between work, assisting Mom at home, and spending time with Dad. The dynamic at home has shifted and I’m grateful for the times Mark picks up the slack with the domestic stuff. I often find myself wishing I could just know the end result. If I knew which direction this was all really heading, we could make some solid decisions about many things. But it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve gained an appreciation for others who have traveled this road before me, and their ability to stay sane. I know this is just another chapter of life that many of us will have to experience. It’s strengthened my bond with family, and made me realize at times that I’m stronger than I ever knew. I’ve found an amazing support system at work for which I am so grateful. People show their true colors at times like this, and I am happy to say that most people have bigger hearts than I could ever have imagined.

We’ll get through this, and we’ll be changed. But we’ll be okay.

Highs and Lows … and Highs

Well … we never did get my Dad moved to another care facility. He had a really great day on Saturday. Ate well. His spirits were good. Smiled and talked all day. And then early Sunday morning, his blood pressure tanked. One of the nurses at the transitional facility called mom to let her know Dad was being taken by ambulance to the hospital.

When Mom, my sister and I caught up with Dad in the emergency room, he looked like death on a cracker. His face was ashen. He couldn’t keep his eyes open and he was so cold, they had him wrapped up in blankets from head to toe. His speech was thick and he could barely form words. I was pretty scared. The doctor mentioned concerns that there could be a clot in his lungs which may have caused the drop in blood pressure. Because of his kidney transplant, he couldn’t have the more reliable cat scan (because it uses a contrast dye) to confirm or deny the presence of a clot. So he received something called a VQ scan and we were relieved to learn it showed a low probability of a clot.

By evening, after IV fluids and some food, Dad had perked up some. Instead of his “usual” hospital, Dad had been brought to one that specializes in cardiac care. That was a good place for him to be. He doesn’t have a strong heart. The nurses and doctors were taking great care of Dad, as well as doing a tremendous job of keeping us informed and answering questions. He seemed to be in good hands and we were more confident than we’d been all the past week in leaving him for the night.

One of my brothers had agreed to bring Mom back to the hospital to be with Dad on Monday. I went to work and waited for updates, ready to leave again if I had to. But the news was all good. Dad was improving; So much so that my sister insisted I go to my first night of bowling and take a night off from Dad duty. She would go sit with Dad that evening. I was slightly hesitant, but decided to take her up on the offer.

I’m glad I went bowling. It was the first day since Dad’s fall eleven days earlier that I hadn’t spent some portion of my day hanging out with him. I felt a little bit guilty, but as the evening wore on, I knew I’d done the right thing. The ache that had settled in my chest over the past week began to ease. The dark haze over my thoughts cleared as well. It felt good to be doing something normal again.

This whole experience has been such a challenge. It has stretched my emotions to the limits. There have been heartbreaks and joys. There has been anger and deep sadness. And yet we’ve found opportunities to laugh. Most miraculously, because I felt such a need to stay by Dad’s side whenever possible – to help fend off his loneliness while he couldn’t be at home, or to ease his fears, or advocate for him when he wasn’t able – he and I have found a new and better place in our relationship.

If anyone were to look at my siblings and me when we were growing up, I would have been the last kid anyone would have expected to be by my parents’ side at a time like this. I was the difficult one, the black sheep. I was always bucking the family system, and mouthing off to my parents. That part of me faded and I mellowed when I became an adult, but my dad and I haven’t exactly been what anyone would consider close.

During the days when my dad was most vulnerable, I stayed by his side. I found myself being more open and honest with him than I’d ever dared to be. He allowed me to speak up for him when he was in that medicinal fog, when it was hard for him to translate his own thoughts into words, when his caregivers lacked the time or patience to wait for him to form a response. He’s a very proud man. He doesn’t like anyone speaking on his behalf. But he let me. When he would get discouraged and defeated by all of his pain and weakness, I would remind him that the only one who could get him back on his feet and home again was him. And he let me tell him so. There was a time or two during all of this when Mom would grow frustrated with his frustration. She’d say to me, “Go talk to Dad for me, would you?”

And he’d let me.

When I’ve hugged Dad goodbye these past few days, he’s held onto me longer and tighter than usual. He has so emphatically told me, “Thank you. I love you. I love you so much.”

My dad and I have found a really good place with each other. Neither of us is always easy to live with. But we’ve found our peace with each other. I love that.

2015-09-15Mark and I went to see Dad at the hospital tonight. I’m not kidding – He looked and sounded like a million bucks. We stayed to watch him take a little walk on his healing hip and I nearly cried. Just a few days ago, he could barely move his lower half without extreme pain and loads of assistance. Now he was walking – with the help of a walker – but he was doing it.

In another day or so, Dad will probably be released from the hospital and sent to transitional care again. He told the hospital social worker that he wants to go to the “new and better” place that my sister and I checked out on Saturday. He told me he won’t go back to the last place. I told him that I hope he gets a room at the good place. And I reminded him that no matter how great the place, he might still run into situations where his caregivers aren’t as attentive or compassionate as others. He knows. He’s ready. We’ve kind of figured out how this all works and we have more realistic expectations this time around. Most importantly, Dad’s ready this time.

Holy Hell

And here I thought I knew a little bit about caring for aging parents. Apparently what I knew was just the tip of the iceberg. The past week has been a roller coaster ride and I’ve cried so much! But today is a better day and I’m grateful for that.

Where to begin? I guess the move from the hospital to a transitional care facility is as good a place as any. (Sorry. This could be a long one.)

Just a few days after Dad’s hip surgery, he was informed he would soon be released from the hospital and needed to spend some time in transitional care. That was Monday. Labor Day. Dad’s birthday. I asked the doctor when this move was likely to happen.


Great. Thanks for all the advance warning.

On the spot, we were given a list of facilities and forced to select our top three options for transitional care. Without having opportunity to research or tour any of these places, we made our choices based on location, and the social worker’s recommendations. We picked three places that would be relatively convenient for family members to visit and where we knew a few friends or family members had spent time and seemed relatively satisfied. I asked the doctor how long Dad could expect to stay in transitional care. She said 7 to 21 days. I was shocked to hear how little time my 75 year-old father would be given to heal. The worst part of that conversation is that my dad was there to hear it. He locked in on the 7 to 21 days comment, and it was not an accurate statement. When we were later informed by a social worker that it would be more like 4 to 6 weeks or more, he wasn’t happy. Who can blame him?

I worked the next day, Tuesday, while Mark kept my parents company at the hospital and then drove my mom to the facility when it was time for Dad to be transported to transitional care. I left work to meet them at the facility and upon arrival in the lobby, was pleasantly surprised. The place was fairly new, bright and cheerful.

When Dad arrived we followed the guy pushing his wheelchair to the elevators and then to the third floor. Turns out the transitional care center is located in a wing that is an old hospital. (Mark tells us he was born there!) The rooms were tiny and dim. Dad’s bed was positioned against his roommate’s bed, the head of one bed coming up against the “shoulder” of the other bed creating an L shape. The only thing separating the beds was a curtain. We were all a little disheartened but remained determined to make the best of it for Dad’s sake.

Dad got an awesome roommate named Mike. Mike informed us that he is 65 years old and that he’s been in the care center since March. Mike looks and sounds pretty normal, except that his sense of reality appears to be slightly off. But he’s easy-going, friendly, is willing to converse about anything and everything. It matters not whether he’s got any knowledge of the topic. He chimes in as best he can. And he seems to want to help take care of my dad who is, for the time being, almost completely immobile on his own.

The first afternoon and evening went alright, considering Dad was still in a lot of pain, lacked any appetite, and seemed to still be in a medicinal fog. We sat with him through dinner and left just before he went to bed. When I came home, I called my sister. We talked about how hard things had been with Dad and how difficult it is to see your parent reduced to such helplessness. I was exhausted and went to bed.

Just after 11:00 on Tuesday night, I was pulling the covers up and closing my eyes when the phone rang. It was Mom. She was frantic. Dad had called her in a panic. He was freezing cold, in pain, and hadn’t been given any medications or insulin. He couldn’t seem to get anyone to ease his pain and fears. With Mom’s health so frail, she couldn’t drop everything and go. She needs one of us to take her to and from the care facility. She didn’t need that stress, so I told Mom I’d go back down to the care center and try to get Dad settled. Not having any clue how to handle this, I ended up calling my sister and picked her up on the way.

When we arrived at 11:30, a nurse was just giving Dad his evening insulin, which should have been given after dinner. He’d had no pain medication and was in pure distress. The nurse shrugged and told us the pharmacy order was supposed to have arrived around 7:00. She implied that it was late, and then added that there was an emergency on the floor that prevented her from administering Dad’s meds any sooner. So she was just getting to Dad’s medications now. She left the room to go get his pain meds and Dad informed us that in his earlier attempt to reach the phone on the bedside table to call mom, he had knocked a cup of water over into his bed. He was laying on wet pillows, on wet bedding, and wearing a wet hospital gown. The air conditioner was stuck on high, adding to his chill, and he said he had been informed that there was no one to adjust the vent until morning, so they tossed a blanket on top of it and told Dad he’d have to be patient. He said he’d asked several times for dry bedding and a gown, but no one seemed to be in a hurry to do anything.

When the nurse came back to give Dad his pain medications, we informed her that Dad was laying in a wet bed. She told us she would find an aide to change the bed and Dad’s gown. After she left, we waited, then had to go in search of her again to see if this was going to happen any time soon. Finally, Dad’s bedding and gown were changed and the staff got him settled back under his blankets. I went to hug and kiss him and found that his pillows were still soaking wet. Frustrated and exhausted, I went back to the nurses’ station to request dry pillow cases so I could change them myself. Another member of the staff sitting at the desk looked at me and explained, “We’re not even supposed to be here right now. Another shift is supposed to be taking over right now, so just so you know, we’re not being slackers.”

I shot her a look, took the pillow cases and walked away. I didn’t want to say anything I might regret and that might prompt the staff to neglect my dad in retaliation for anything ugly I might say.

Another nurse came to Dad’s room and informed him he would give him pain medication. I had to inform him that Dad had already had pain meds and should not be given any more. “Oops,” said his demeanor. Then he came back and said, “I’ve got one more pill for you!”

We asked what it was and he said it was a nutritional supplement. “For what?” we asked.

“It’s given along with pain meds,” he said. I’d had a conversation with a nurse during Dad’s hospital stay. “Is it Vistaril?” I asked?

“Yeah, that’s it,” he said.

NOT feeling very confident in Dad’s care at this point, but we could hardly pack him up with his fractured hip and take him home.

Finally, after getting Dad settled, my sister and I hung out in his room, hoping he’d fall asleep. He didn’t, but relaxed enough to urge us to go home and get some sleep.

The next morning, Wednesday, I knew I couldn’t just leave Dad alone there for the day after such a traumatic night. I went to work just long enough to attend a meeting I’d already rescheduled due to Dad’s accident. In the meantime, my aunt (Dad’s sister) and my cousin went to sit with him until I could get there. When I arrived around 10:30 am, I found my aunt and cousin holding Dad’s hands, patting them, and encouraging Dad to stay awake. Dad had been unresponsive when they’d arrived. The doctor had just left the room before my arrival. He said that Dad had a painful night and was given additional pain medication at 5:00 am and stated that my Dad had been “overdosed” on pain meds. It was up to us to keep him awake. We spent all day and evening trying to keep my groggy Dad alert. I also spent several hours attempting to reach Dad’s regular doctor and calling other care facilities to see what I could do to improve Dad’s situation. I spoke with the staff social worker and the nurse manager, explaining Dad’s unique health issues and expressing my unhappiness with the way he was treated the previous night. I was informed the “overdose” was an allowable dose, but they now knew it was too much for Dad.

Unfortunately, after several phone calls to medical facilities, and subsequent conversations with a couple of coworkers in similar situations with their parents, I soon understood that this is just sometimes how it goes. It takes the staff some time to get to know the patients, and it takes the patients some time to get used to how things go in this kind of setting. I heard that we as the family have to be my Dad’s advocates, and sometimes, his watch dogs. Somehow, I allowed myself to be convinced that Dad’s first night was the combination of first-day jitters and a rare kind of chaos with the night staff. And truthfully, his next couple of days went fairly well, and we met some absolutely wonderful, compassionate nurses and caregivers.

Then came yesterday. My aunt again spent the day with Dad. She kept me updated, letting me know his appetite was non-existent and that he was having some pain. I was hoping to go home after work and then go sit with Dad in the evening hours and stay at bedtime until he fell asleep. But knowing that he wasn’t doing so great, I decided to instead swing by on my way home from work in time for the dinner hour. Upon arrival, I found Dad wheeled up to a table that sat against a wall. Although there were several tables with openings and other patients, they had my dad sitting all alone and facing the wall. The same was true for another gentleman. It made me so sad to see my dad and that other man like that. I joined Dad quickly. He was happy to see me, but tired and not feeling well enough to care too much about sitting alone. Still, it bothered me and I found myself fighting tears for the umpteenth time in days.

I asked Dad how his day had gone, and he repeated what my aunt had told me. He also shared that when he pressed his call button for assistance, often no one came for a half hour or more. When an aide came to get him for dinner, he stated a particular need and she ignored his request and told him they had to hurry to dinner. I won’t elaborate except to say that it caused him significant humiliation. Can you just imagine being 75 years old and having to tell your own daughter of the kinds of personal indignities that can happen in these situations? Soon after Dad shared this with me, my youngest brother arrived with my mom. I was going to go home for a while since they were there to keep Dad company. I needed some dinner, then planned to come back later to see Dad through to bedtime. Before leaving, I discreetly told Mom of Dad’s dilemma and asked her to get someone on staff to assist Dad. When I came back two and a half hours later, though my mom had asked, he still had not been assisted. I wish my mom would have pushed harder to get this done, but even though she hadn’t, Dad’s aide should have done her job without having to be nagged about it.

My sister was there by then. Mom and my brother went home and my sister took charge. She found Dad’s aide and tried to maintain some patience and courtesy while requesting that she please do her job and assist our Dad with his needs. The little b*tch rolled her eyes at my sister but did finally do what was necessary. She took him to a large restroom where he could be assisted, then left him alone in there for long enough that we finally went in search of her to ask that she check on him and help him back out again.

We stayed to make sure Dad fell asleep. We prayed he would stay asleep and not need assistance from the aide who seemed incapable of performing her duties, then went home crying and vowing to get him out of there asap. I couldn’t sleep much. I was awake before 5:00 this morning. I puttered around the house for a bit, then finally went to see Dad at 7:30. He was looking better than he had in days. His morning caregivers were bubbly, friendly and full of kindness to the patients. I joined Dad and some of his new friends at the breakfast table and watched the goings-on for the rest of the morning. I could see a clear pattern. There are plenty of daytime caregivers and they do a good job. The night staff tends to be at a minimum, and some seem less experienced, and lacking in motivation and compassion.

I met a woman named Joanie who is staying at the care center as a returning patient. I learned about her injuries and all about her many stays at various transitional care centers. I also met Joanie’s husband and when Joanie left for physical therapy, I asked him if he minded me asking him some questions about their experiences. I shared my concerns about Dad and he told me, just as others had, that the care isn’t going to be phenomenal anywhere, and the patient and family have to be their own advocates. He said this place is just about as good as he and Joanie could expect. But he also encouraged me to look elsewhere. If Dad is going to spend the next several weeks away from home, he reminded me that we need to be comfortable and feel secure in the place where Dad is staying.

And so, my sister and I made a visit today to another facility this afternoon. It’s the farther-away place that Dad originally wanted to go, but which we discouraged because the current place was easier to get to for many of his potential visitors. When we arrived at the new place, we walked into what felt like the Taj Mahal. We were quickly offered an impromptu tour and found beautiful, spacious rooms with all the newest equipment. The rooms were bright and cheery, with many amenities meant for the comfort of both the patients and their families. There were staff members everywhere. Patients in common areas were well-attended and seemed happy. The dining rooms and food service were like 5-star restaurants in comparison to what Dad is getting at the current place. And the kicker? I asked what the additional cost was for the private rooms. Our tour guide told me that Medicare covers these rooms just the same as where my dad is staying with a roommate. Because this place doesn’t offer anything but private rooms, there’s no additional cost for a private room as there is in the place Dad is now. The exact same cost for facilities that are a million times better than where he is now.

I found myself crying again, thinking what we’d just made my dad endure for the past five days when he could have been here. Additionally, there’s a beautiful adjoining long-term care facility and assisted living complex. We checked these out too, in case we need to consider living accommodations for our parents beyond this transitional stay. We actually ran into a woman in the nursing home that we knew from the church our family had attended when we grew up. Her son was visiting her and invited us in. He proceeded to tell us how happy his family has been with his mom’s stay in this facility. SHE told us how much she loved it.

When we walked out, my sister and I looked at each other and said, “We’re moving him.” Screw the driving distance. We’ll make this work. We can’t request a transfer until Monday at the earliest, and I’m praying everything falls into place to make this happen.

I’ve learned a lot this week.

  • When someone hurts my dad, I feel ferocious! And I’m not afraid to speak up and do what it takes to protect him.
  • Aging can be very, very ugly.
  • Not every caregiver does the job because they feel called to it.
  • When it’s my time, I hope it’s quick and easy.

Monday can’t come soon enough. I want to get my dad out of there. Sadly, I’ve made friends with several of the patients there and I’m truly going to miss them when I no longer have the chance to see them again. But we need to do what’s best for my dad. I pray that we’re moving in the right direction.

Worst Fears

It’s never good when the phone rings before 7:00 am.

This past Thursday morning, I had been to the gym and was getting ready to go to an early dentist appointment before work when our home phone rang. It was my mom, sounding breathless, asking if I could come over.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, my heart sinking.

“Dad fell. I think he broke his hip. The paramedics are here now.”

As soon as I was able, I was out the door and on my way to my parents’ single-level town home, which they’d purchased and moved into earlier this summer in the hopes of preventing just such an accident. They’ve lived there for a grand total of seven weeks now. I guess it doesn’t matter how many or few levels are in your home. When you’re dizzy, you’re going to fall.

Mom and I spent the next fifteen hours of the day at the hospital, by Dad’s side. X-rays confirmed the hip was fractured. I tried not to panic at the news. I knew the biggest concern was whether or not my dad could survive hip surgery. Even some standard medical procedures are risky for my dad, and certain surgeries are simply out of the question. I found myself fighting tears and working hard to control myself. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, who seemed not to be grasping the magnitude of the situation. Dad’s been diabetic for sixty-seven years. He’s had a kidney transplant. He’s got an implanted defibrillator and normal heart function that is significantly less than a normal, healthy person. I envisioned the worst.

As the hours wore on, Dad had an echocardiogram done, and another set of X-rays. He had to lay flat on his back, which was painful in itself. He’s got a bad back. And each time he tried to adjust his body to relieve the discomfort in his back, he caused himself excruciating pain in his hip.

Mom called their priest and he came to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. He also provided my dad the Apostolic Pardon. To be honest, I’d never heard of it, but the name itself gave me an idea of what was happening. The priest understood that Dad’s situation was bad. I continued to fight my tears throughout the priest’s stay.

Sometime after noon, Dad was moved from the ER to his own room. I provided regular phone and text updates to my siblings and Dad’s oldest sister as each nurse, doctor and specialist came to visit and discuss concerns. It became a waiting game. His cardiologist needed to weigh in on Dad’s ability to handle the surgery. It seemed like hours before the cardiologist finally came to talk with us. He explained to Dad that the hip surgery would be extremely risky given Dad’s poor heart function. He said Dad needed to make the decision as to whether to have surgery, or not. Surgery meant relieving the pain as soon as possible, but included the very real chance of suffering heart failure in the process. Bypassing surgery meant letting the fracture heal on its own – with Dad on bed rest for about three months – and then lots of physical therapy.

The cardiologist gently told Dad that the decision was his, but electing not to have the surgery meant a strong likelihood of developing blood clots and/or pneumonia. “If you don’t have the surgery,” he told Dad, “you will die.”

I could see the compassion in his eyes as he waited for Dad to make his decision. And he elaborated that although the surgery was very risky, his gut told him that Dad’s heart would tolerate it. Yet he reminded us that he could offer no guarantees. What choice did Dad have? He agreed to the surgery.

As evening wore on, we were still waiting to hear if the surgery could be done yet that night. Dad hadn’t eaten since the previous evening, and he hadn’t taken any of the bunches of pills he takes each day to make sure his transplanted kidney remains in good health. Poor Dad was stuck flat on his back, with nothing in his stomach and only allowed small sips of water. If the surgery could be done that night, he needed to have an empty stomach.

Finally, around 10:00 pm, we received word that the surgeon was still in the midst of another surgery, and Dad’s couldn’t be done that evening. And because he would be scheduled for first thing Friday morning, he still couldn’t have anything to eat and could only have small sips of water. Thankfully, they kept him pretty mellow with steady doses of pain medication.

Fifteen hours after we’d arrived at the hospital, I was finally dropping Mom off at home and heading back to my own house.

I was back at the hospital at 6:00 am Friday morning. Besides Mom and me, my three siblings, a niece, an uncle and two aunts (Dad’s sisters) were there to see him off into surgery. Dad was scared. He asked us all to pray with him and the hospital chaplain came into to lead us in prayer.

All in all, the surgery went relatively quickly. A volunteer provided us regular updates and it seems that Dad did well throughout his surgery. We got to see him once he was out of recovery and back in his room. All things considered, he looked and sounded really good! Of course, he was numb from the waist down.

Now comes the long road ahead. We’ve yet to meet with the appropriate parties who will let us know what to expect for Dad’s recovery. We only know that he’ll need to spend some time in a rehab facility. I’m guessing they’ll tell us that Dad will need to spend several weeks, at minimum, and I’m worried it could be a couple of months. I’m guessing Dad has no idea of the length of time his recovery could take, and once he finds out how long it could take, he may feel very defeated.

Dad has already decided that he won’t go to the transitional care facility that’s near their home. He spent a few days there once after another hospital stay and for reasons I’m not sure of, decided he didn’t like it. He has it in mind to go to another place that’s an additional twenty minute or so drive. It may be a nicer place, (or not. None of us has been there and really knows for sure.) But the additional distance will put a strain on Mom. She’s very fragile as it is, and her health won’t tolerate daily drives of that distance. If Dad would go to the closer place, my sister could spend her lunch break each day with Dad. Not possible if he goes to the place he thinks he wants to go.

My biggest fear is that Dad won’t be able to recover to a point of going back home to independent living. Mom’s health is so poor that she was barely managing to help care for him on one of his “good” days. If my dad can’t get back to a state of health like he was in before, I’m afraid they won’t be able to stay in their town house. Mom has wondered out loud to me about getting some temporary or occasional in-home health care. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’m not convinced that would be nearly enough assistance for what lies ahead for my parents.

Mom was so worn out yesterday that she couldn’t even go visit Dad at the hospital. I stopped over to make an early dinner and eat with her, take the dog outside to do his business, and start a load of laundry. Then I headed to the hospital to spend a few hours last evening with Dad. He was sitting up in a chair when I arrived, which is promising. The hospital staff is already helping him move from bed to chair and back again. Soon he’ll have to start taking real steps. I’m praying he’ll stay persistent. Dad is not a strong man anymore on the best of days.

As I spent time with Dad last night, I noticed his speech was even slower than usual. He struggled to remember names or the specific words he was looking for. He would start a thought, then seemingly forget about it completely and begin talking about something else entirely.

At one point, he said he thought he was dreaming or hallucinating at various times throughout the day. As I was sitting across from him, he said he saw a young person next to me, holding a red and green ticket. I was the only one there, and at least Dad was lucid enough to recognize on his own that it wasn’t reality.

When his nurse and aide moved Dad back to bed, I took the opportunity to mention Dad’s confused demeanor and hallucinations. They assured me that it was likely just an effect of the pain meds. My fears weren’t completely relieved. Dad’s been on pain meds for days and I haven’t seen him in such a state, but I convinced myself to chalk it up to a combination of pain meds and being tired. He’d had several visitors throughout the afternoon and early evening, and my visit took him right into bed time. Still, I’m going back this morning and hope to see that his mind is refreshed after a night of sleep.

It’s Dad’s 75th birthday today.

I was feeling really sorry for all of us after last night’s visit with Dad. My sister and I already feel as if we’re juggling our own lives with the needs of our parents. But with the dawn of a new day, I was reminded that how I choose to view these circumstances is completely up to me. Rather than see all of this as yet another hurdle in my parents’ aging process, I need to face this as a challenge to be overcome. I just need to remember to stay positive. I can’t afford to let this suck me under.

Bayfield Thirteen

Another successful Bayfield vacation is in the books. Eight friends. Four couples. Six of us barely knew each other that first year, all of us only having one couple of friends in common. We never thought we’d make it an annual thing, but here we are, all these years later and always looking forward to doing it all over again. We remember how young our kids were when we first started vacationing together. We had to arrange for childcare while we were away back then. These days our kids are living their own lives and we talk about their college graduations, jobs and weddings. We joke about our gradually declining vision and physical ailments that come with being this age.

For the past several years, the question always seems to be, How many years have we been doing this?

We figured it out again this year. Two of us have boys whom we remember were just getting ready to start seventh grade the first year we went. I remember because Jake was leaving the Catholic school he’d attended since Kindergarten and transferring to the big, scary public middle school. He survived. I was probably more scared than he was. That was 2003. So this was our thirteenth annual trip.

We’ll ask the same question and have to figure it out again next year, I’m sure.

It’s been enough years that we now look forward to returning to familiar haunts. But we still manage to find new places to explore.

Saxon Harbor

Saxon Harbor

We still manage to find new restaurants at which to eat. We stopped on the way to Bayfield at the Anchor Bar in Superior, Wisconsin. It was dark, a bit claustrophobic, and jam-packed with old nautical decor. And the hamburgers were amazing. I tried an olive burger for the first time – a hamburger patty topped with a green olive and cream cheese spread. I’ve found my new favorite burger!

My favorite part of the vacation? I could say it was the food. All diets were off and the meals we cooked were better than anything we could have found in any old restaurant. But it wasn’t the food.

I could say it was having time to read an entire book, one that I couldn’t put down and which moved me to tears. But it wasn’t that.

It might have been the abundance of lake and beach scenery …

The lake and beaches were beautiful as usual, but they weren’t quite my most favorite part of the trip either.

There was plenty of time out on the boat, loads of time to relax, to talk and laugh together, to sit out on the deck and enjoy drinks. The ducks came to visit and we leaned over the deck railing to feed them endless bits of bread during the course of our days in Bayfield. We visited apple orchards, did a little shopping and played noisy, rambunctious card games at night. We went to Madeline Island, spent time at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe and listened to a pirate band play and laughed as they engaged with the crowd, even inserting themselves into our group photo.

But my favorite part, I think, were the morning hikes along the Brownstone Trail, which weaves its way along the Lake Superior shoreline. I needed some time away each day. I’m sure there’s a label for my kind of personality. I enjoy being social … for a while. But I also need my space. I found myself suffering from too-much-togetherness. I can’t be “on” all of the time. Those morning hikes? They saved me.


The benefit of having done this so many years together, is that we’ve established some routines. Mornings are for doing your own thing. Three of the guys go out every morning on the boat and do some serious fishing. Mark and two of the girls hit the local casino at the same time. Julie W and I? We hike the trail. Like me, Julie needs to take a daily breather from all of that structure and activity and busyness.

It’s funny. I’ve known Julie for as many years as we’ve been taking this vacation together. Outside of this vacation, I don’t see her but a handful of times during the rest of the year, and almost always only when the whole group is getting together. But she and I? We connect in Bayfield. She feels like the closest of friends, in spite of the fact that we spend time together merely a handful of times every year. I don’t know what it is about us, but we’ve discovered a connection with each other, a trust, a kindred-spirits kind of thing.

The trail is three miles, starting a few blocks away from the condos where we stay, and ending in the town of Bayfield. Every day, Julie and I would walk to town, take in the view, and walk the three miles back again. During that time, we talked. We talked about our jobs, our lives, our kids, our dreams and wishes… her new stand-up paddle board which she wants me to come try one of these days … and just everything. Some of our kids have had parallel experiences, such as the heartbreak of a broken engagement, or the struggle of being that sort-of lost middle child. We both have a somewhat creative side and I like her down-to-earth attitude. We’re both semi-serious about the way we eat and trying to stay fit. Somewhere within all of that hiking and talking, we’ve found that we encourage one another. Those morning walks? They refreshed us. Gave us the energy for a day filled with activity and for all that time we’d need to spend being “on.”

I think those hikes along those three miles of lakeshore, the stunning views, the fresh air and the chance to unwind with someone who just gets me … I think that was my favorite part. And it made everything else about the vacation so much easier to appreciate. I knew the same was true for Julie. As we hugged goodbye upon arriving back at home, she hugged me hard and thanked me for the “walks and talks.”

Year thirteen is over too soon. I’m already looking forward to fourteen.

Couch, Sofa, Davenport

My daughter’s summer is officially over. Kacey worked her last days at her two summer jobs last week. Yesterday she vacated her bedroom at home and made the road trip back to school. She’ll spend the next year with four roommates in a college rental house that has a lot of … let’s just say, character.

Her car was packed full with all of her belongings yesterday morning. And we might have waved goodbye from the driveway as Kacey left, were it not for the fact that she needed our help in hauling a couch. So we followed not far behind as she went.

The couch use to reside in my parents’ lower level family room and it was only gently used. When Mom and Dad downsized and moved to a town house last month, the couch was gifted to Kacey.

By the way, I can’t say the word “couch” without hearing my sister saying “sofa” or my mother-in-law saying “davenport.” What’s your preference?

2015-08-22Lucy rode in the back seat of Mark’s truck while we traveled to college town. She loves to go for rides, but we had other reasons for taking her along. Kacey will be taking care of Lucy for several days when Mark and I go on a little vacation in the near future and maybe again this winter. We want to be sure Lucy starts to get familiar with the new surroundings ahead of time. She recently spent a weekend there with Kacey and all went well, so I’m feeling good that all will be fine.

Lucy sat upright in the back seat for a while, watching the scenery go by outside the window. Eventually, she grew sleepy and stretched out on the blanket Mark had laid out for her. She happily snoozed while we drove.

When we arrived, Kacey brought Lucy inside where two of her roommates gushed over our dog while Mark and Kacey hauled the “new” couch inside. The previous couch had been purchased from the university. It formerly resided in a common area of one of the dorms for who knows how many years and who knows how many people sat there and … other things . According to Kacey, it was uncomfortable and disgusting. The roommates who lived at the house over the summer were supposed to figure out how and where to get rid of it. When we showed up with the “new” couch, the old one was sitting on the front porch.

There were some major rain storms last night. I don’t even want to think how much more disgusting that couch is this morning! And although the mom in me wishes the kids had responsibly disposed of it before now, I have to remember that it’s not my problem.

Anyway, for the short while we were at Kacey’s new residence, we got the couch positioned in the living room and Mark hung some brackets for shelving in our daughter’s bedroom. That was that, and we headed back home. A few quick hugs and I-love-yous and that was all. Definitely a different scene than the first couple of years of her college life. Our baby has definitely grown up. She’s matured. She’s confident. And we know she’s capable of managing on her own. That makes it a little easier to say goodbye, I guess.

Still, times like this remind me how much all of my kids have grown up. I think I’ll always miss them when they’re away from us, and goodbyes will always be a little bittersweet. But more and more, I realize this is the natural order of things. They’re supposed to grow up. They’re supposed to become independent. Our house is supposed to gradually become ours again. Guess we did something right.