Monday, January 16, 2017

Cross Country Skiing

Mom's driveway

Even with all of the elder shenanigans we're embroiled in, Carl and I have been taking time to get in some much needed cross-country skiing.  We took advantage of temperatures in the twenties yesterday to ski the mile to Carl's folks and visit for a little while.

FIL was seated in his Lazy Boy, all ready for the Packer game.  The visiting nurses and physical therapists will still be coming to their house this week.  I can tell he's made a lot of progress in regaining his strength.  He asked if I would take him to his next doctor's appointment this week, so we made a date.

We left the in-law's house around 4PM and skied off into the sunset.  The snowmobile trails haven't been opened in our area yet due to poor snow conditions, but a few sleds were out nonetheless.  We used their tracks for our trail which made for easy going.

Long shadows on the farm
 The weather is supposed to change again, with temperatures in the 40's and rain predicted.  I am sorry to see our snow go so soon.  But, it is only mid-January, there's still hope for a bunch more white stuff.

  For Christmas, Carl treated me to a brand new pair of Salomon skis and boots. I had to buy new skis this year because my old ski boots cracked across the sole, and of course as technology advances, bindings are all different again.  I hope these last me for at least a few years.  They are the most expensive skis I've ever owned, and for once, I guess the old saying 'you get what you pay for' truly applies.  They are also the fastest skis I've ever owned.  I shudder to think what will happen when we ski on some of the hillier ski trails, I'm going to need a parachute to stop me on the downhill runs.

Home in the distance
 Instead of walking to Mom's, I've been skiing instead, taking the long way around the farm to make the trip last.  I've been in a bit of a funk lately and there's nothing like fresh air and the land to revive my spirits.  

I'm blessed to have this old farm to roam.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

What's Next Part 5

Thank you all for your kind comments on this series of unfortunate events; it means so much.  I haven't had time to reply individually as things here are topsy-turvier than ever.  One day at a time, one minute at a time and most of all, don't forget to breathe.

The struggles with our elders continues, though things have slowed down a little bit.  I can't believe it's Sunday already, however.  One thing is for certain, there's never a dull moment.

On Monday I had to go along with my FIL for his doctor appointment at 12:30PM.  First I had to get the washing done for Mom and us.  I've been putting the task off far too long with all of this hospital/doctor visiting.  I thought I'd be able to finish the job but things went screwy right off the bat.  The faucet I use to fill my Maytag wringer with failed and I could not close the valve.  With water running everywhere, I managed to locate the main water line from the well and shut the entire house down until Carl could come home and fix the problem.  I was about halfway done with the laundry when it was time to leave for Mom's house and her meds, so I pulled the plug on the Maytag and vowed to hang the wet laundry later.

I visited with Mom for a very short time; her foot wasn't feeling much better and her ears are plugged up.  The GP looked at her ears last Friday when we went in for her x-rays and said she's got a wax problem.  We were told to get some over the counter ear drops and put them in twice a day for two weeks and then return for ear flushing.  So far it's been a week and all it's done is make Mom more miserable than ever since the ear drops rob her of whatever hearing she has left.  She is being cooperative, but it seems so cruel; now while she paints, she cannot hear her TV at all.  Ugh.  I hope this works for her, one more week of torture.

I had to hustle to meet my sister-in-law and brother-in-law who came the twenty miles to my in-law's house and while BIL waited with MIL, SIL and I took FIL to the doctor.  (I'm sorry for all the acronyms, but I'm short on time here.)

We'd never met this doctor before, a new general practitioner to the clinic since the abrupt absence of the doctor who had originally been tending MIL's cellulitis.  None of the staff will say what happened to the original GP; I'm sad she's gone because she had a good idea of what we were up against with MIL's dementia.

Anyway, the new GP was ok, but not very helpful since all he did was the usual doctory stuff and said FIL looks pretty good for someone who was in the hospital for five days.  His cough was still rough though.  The main reason we were supposed to see this doctor was to find out the results of the bone marrow biopsy.

"Oh, well, let's see," and he turned to his computer and stared at it intently as the three of us waited.  The exam room was very small and there were only three chairs so I was seated on FIL's walker.  Try as I might I couldn't read the screen the doctor was perusing.  I could see he was looking at various test results, but he seemed confused.

"The test results have a lot of big words listed here that I'm not familiar with as I am not an oncologist or would say your best bet would be to make an appointment with the oncologist to hear what these results are."

A lot of big words that he doesn't know the meaning of?  Huh.  

I said, "There must have been some reason for the hospital to run a bone marrow biopsy?  Do you have any idea what the reason could have been?"

"No....well.....I suppose they could have seen something they didn't like when they drew labs," the doctor said.  "It could be multiple myeloma or leukemia, or it could be nothing, but again, I'm not an oncologist.  If you want I can have one of the nurses make an appointment with the ordering physician so you can have your questions answered."  

Okey dokey.  The appointment is set up for next week Wednesday. My SIL and I both felt this appointment was a waste of time.   By the time we arrived back home at my FIL's, the physical therapist was at his house for his first therapy session.  I watched the proceedings with great interest, and for all intents and purposes, FIL did fairly with all the balance and walking the PT put him through.

After the PT left, SIL and I asked some more hard questions about POA matters and FIL was able to help steer us in the right direction, thankfully.   I finally arrived back home at 3PM and returned to my soggy laundry, already in progress.

Overnight Monday into Tuesday we had a very wet, heavy snowfall.  My plan was to do the snow plowing for my FIL as he is not to go outside until his pneumonia has cleared up.  I was hoping I could get my snow plowing done at Mom's after medication time, but just as I was leaving the house at 9AM, the visiting nurse called to see if she could come early to see my FIL, as in a half hour or so?  

Oh boy, would she be able to get in the long driveway over at the in-law's?  I told her I'd meet her over there and suited up for plowing snow.  Luckily it wasn't very cold out, in fact by the time I arrived at my FIL's, it was drizzling.  And I was greatly puzzled by the fact his driveway had a small trail cleared, huh, I wonder if one of the granddaughters had been here before me?  

My question was soon answered when I heard the lawnmower/snowblower combo running around the corner of FIL's shed.  I followed the engine noise and found my FIL stuck in the wet snow, trying to push himself out.  He was soaking wet which is no good for someone recovering from pneumonia. 

When he spotted me standing there gawking at him, he looked very surprised, but was even more surprised when I told him the visiting nurse would be arriving in less than fifteen minutes.  

"You know you promised not to go outside, right?" I hollered over the racing lawn mower engine, but I also knew it wouldn't work, he'll never give up his independence if he can help it.  In a way, you have to admire his gumption, but just like my mom falling on the driveway, if they'd only listen when I nag.  Sadly, they do not.  (And I don't think it's because they can't hear me, either.) 

"I was going to call you and tell you not to come," FIL yelled over the lawn mower.  "I've got this under control."

"I can see that," I said, shaking my head, "How were you going to get the lawn mower out if I didn't show up?" 

He frowned at me, but there was a hint of a smile.  With FIL driving the lawn mower and me pushing, we managed to get it unstuck and he drove off for the house to get ready for his appointment. 

With him safely in the house, I set about getting FIL's tractor out to plow the driveway.  There was just enough room for the visiting nurse who arrived before I started the tractor, so at least she kept him busy in the house.

I haven't driven my FIL's tractor in over a decade and it took some getting used to.  The first thing I did wrong was a doozy; I didn't realize his garage door doesn't go up high enough to clear the cab on his tractor.  I was carefully creeping out of the garage when BAM! the cab hit the door.  Oh, great, now look what I've done.  Luckily I stopped immediately, and judging by the way the door looks, FIL has done the same thing numerous times.  I just added my dent to the damage already done.  I climbed up on the tractor tire and pushed with all my might to raise the door high enough which made my unhappy back just a little bit unhappier.

FIL has a cab on his tractor which is nice, but by now the drizzle was mixing with snow and sticking to the windshield.  There is a windshield wiper but it doesn't work so I was leaning out of the side of the cab trying to see where I was going.  His tractor has a bucket for pushing snow which is something I'm not familiar with either.   Since I couldn't see in front of me, I wasn't sure how much snow I was getting in the bucket.  At times I had a respectable amount and at other times I was barely grazing the surface.  

Once I got the hang of the tractor and the bucket's joystick operation, I was feeling more confident and set out to get this job done.  Unfortunately, my bravado was short-lived; when I went to dump the next load of snow, I thought I'd deposit it farther off the driveway and drove onto the lawn.  Big mistake.  FIL's tractor has turf tires with no lugs and when I tried to back up after tipping the bucket, I was stuck.  The tires spun helplessly and the lawn mower deck settled into place in the hard crust.  Oh, no.

I went to my car, fetched my shovel and started to dig, hoping to free up the wheels, but when I saw how deeply embedded the lawn mower deck was in the icy snow, I knew I'd have to get help.  I thought about trying to pull the tractor out with my car, but I'd need two people.  

Thank goodness for cellphones.  I dialed my farm renter/neighbor first, but realized it was barn chore time for him and when he didn't answer, I dialed my friend Gloria's number.  She and her husband Warren live about two miles from my FIL and are also farmers.  (You may recall, Gloria is the leader of the exercise class I used to go to before my life became so complicated. This is the second time in two weeks I've asked them for help.  I'm going to have to think of something special as a thank you.)

"Hello," Gloria answered.  "What can I do for you?"  

I sheepishly explained my problem and Gloria said, "Warren is plowing snow here, too.   I'll tell him to come over and pull you out.  We've got a funeral to attend this morning, but he'll be right there."

Though I felt worse than ever about putting them out, I was very happy to hear help was on the way.  Luckily, FIL had a light chain hanging on the back of his tractor, so I hooked the chain to my tractor and laid the chain out in anticipation of Warren's arrival ten minutes later.  All it took was a tug from his tractor and mine was free.  I felt so stupid; good grief, after all of these years driving tractors I should have known better.  

Warren leaned out of his cab, "Where do you want me to push the snow?"  

I pointed to an open area on the lawn and got back on FIL's tractor as I was now in the way of the much larger backhoe (and the operator who knew what he was doing.)  As long as Warren was handling FIL's driveway, I headed off to Carl's late brother's driveway to start plowing next door.  The two houses are about an eighth of a mile apart, but my in-law's live on a busy highway, so the short trip was fraught with anxiety; if I were to get too far over to the shoulder of the road, I'd probably get stuck again with the turf tires, so I had to stay slightly in the lane of traffic.  A semi went roaring by and my heart was in my throat.  

When I arrived at BIL's house, the snow plow had deposited a tall bank of wet, heavy slush at the entrance to the driveway.  I knew I couldn't drive through it, so I had no choice but to stop on the highway, put the bucket down and try to shove the snow into the yard.  Luckily I had enough distance off the highway before the tractor was unable to push the snow any farther in.  Once again, the tires were spinning and my heart was sinking, oh, boy, now I'm getting stuck over here, too?  I was able to back up a little and tip the bucket, phew, free at last.  In a few minutes, Warren arrived with his backhoe and asked me if I needed any more help.  I thanked him profusely and he was on his way back home.

After about a half hour, I'd finished late BIL's driveway and switched the engine off.  I placed a call to Carl's sister and brother-in-law, outlining the day's events so far.  They were stunned to hear about FIL's disobedience, but we all decided there's not much we can do about any of this.  We'll just have to do our best to keep one step ahead of them.

The rain changed back to snow and I decided to get the tractor back to my FIL's before visibility on the highway got any worse.  FIL insists on plowing both driveways, but his back is stiff and he cannot turn around to look behind him.  The highway is very treacherous; I'm afraid he'll be hit in transit as traffic doesn't slow down much for slow-moving vehicles.  I was supremely grateful to be back in the driveway myself.  

The nurse had already come and gone and FIL was already back outside again.  (At least he had dry clothes on.)  He motioned for me to get off his tractor and said, "Why was Warren here plowing snow?"

I explained myself and he was still mystified, but took me at my word.  

"I'm going to put the tractor away now," he said and ever so slowly climbed up on top of the lawn mower deck and onto the two steps into the cab.  The garage is chock full of stuff; Carl and his father are definitely related, but amazingly FIL was able to maneuver the tractor back into its stall with two inches to spare on either side.  Watching him get off the tractor was another hair-raising experience; just like my late father, I'm fearing a fall will be next.  But again, what can I do?

Once he was safely back on the ground, I was hoping he'd go back in the house, but no such luck, he was going to do a little snowblowing with the lawn mower.  By now it was 11 AM and I still hadn't been to my mother's for her medication yet.  I had no choice, it was time to go.

I drove the mile around the block past our driveway which had been also been plowed shut by the snowplow.  I had Mom's meds with me, so I drove the quarter mile to her house and parked on the side of the road.  Mom took her pills, hopped up on the scale, sat for her blood pressure reading, and allowed me to instill more ear drops.  I was glad of the oil furnace for once; it felt great to be warm again.  

I didn't spend as much time with Mom as I wanted but it was getting late and I still had our two driveways to plow.  The snow had now changed back to a steady drizzle as I plodded down the driveway to the tractor shed.  I fought to open the sliding shed doors which were frozen down to the ground and managed to get them open just enough to back the tractor out.  (I didn't want a repeat of my earlier performance.) 

I went to the side of the tractor, pulled the oil dipstick, was satisfied with the level and stepped up onto the tractor seat.  Pushing down the choke lever, once the key was turned, the tractor sputtered to life.  I sat and waited for the engine to warm up, adjusting the choke ever so slightly until it leveled off.  Opening the throttle to almost wide-open PTO range, I engaged the snowblower and backed out into my mother's yard, throwing wet snow up into the air.  

What a difference being familiar with equipment makes, I was completely at ease now.  Well, except for the water running down my neck; that I could have done without.  As I worked on Mom's driveway, the drizzle turned to rain.  My tractor doesn't have a cab, so in no time I was soaking wet.  But in for a penny, in for a pound; when I finished Mom's driveway, I drove the tractor back down to our house and cleared our driveway, too.  

I finally put the tractor away at 1PM and soggily squished my way back into Mom's to check on her one more time.  She looked at me in astonishment and admonished me to go home and change my clothes.  I put a plastic bag down on the car seat and went home to a nice hot shower.  

What a day.  

 Winter is flying by faster than ever this year...I'm not sure if we'll be able to even start any more stained glass projects.  I have a Clematis lamp pattern almost ready for laying out but my heart isn't in it at the moment.  My IV treatments for Lyme disease have begun again, so every Thursday for the next seven weeks we have to drive forty-something miles to the doctor's office for me.  I'm hoping I'll be feeling better soon.  

I don't have any delusions about elder care, however.  I know things aren't going to improve as time goes on, every day we all lose a little more ground, sadly.  Do you ever notice how fast babies and young children grow up?  When I haven't seen our granddaughter, Audrey, for even a few weeks, the changes are stunning; how much she's grown, how her personality is evolving.  

Sadly, we are all aging at the same rate, though I know I deny it.  When I look in the mirror lately, I'm stunned by the new wrinkles, age spots, and general exhaustion looking back at me.  When I was a new mother, I used to think the sleepless nights and worry would do me in, but as every day passed, things got a little bit better. 

With elder care, you can count on every day becoming a little bit worse.  I realize that sounds pessimistic, but it's the truth.  Just as little Audrey is gaining ground in strength and independence, our elders are losing ground.  At almost 59, I'm on the cusp of the downhill slide and find myself frantically looking for something to hang on to.  Writing is my pressure relief valve.  Oh, and whining to my dear friends, too.  

I started this post with a thank you and I'm ending it the same way.  My sincere thanks to all of my friends, near and far.   

 One Day at a Time

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What's Next? Part 4

I should preface this post with a warning.  This is a Long we go.

The holidays have come and gone.  The Christmas tree is now stripped of its ornaments and is sitting forlornly waiting for transport to the backyard where it will become shelter for the wild birds.  We've been in a cold snap for the last few days; the temperatures have been struggling to rise above 5F in the daytime and plummeting to well below zero every night.

 The pictures in this post were taken almost a month ago when we had our first accumulative snowfall. Since these pictures, we've had warm weather and rain, and now last week's deep freeze.  Today we're expecting a high of 10F (if we're lucky) but tomorrow a possible 35F.  The thermometer is all over the place.  Just like my moods.
The holidays were very stressful.  Everything is stressful right now, but while Carl is taking my morning shift at Mom's for me this morning,  I decided to take the time to write.

Carl's mom's (I'll refer to her as MIL for mother-in-law) situation wasn't improving much after the wound care doctor expelled her from treatment due to non-compliance.  Try as we might, none of us can get her to wear a bandage on her leg or her compression stockings on a regular basis.  

Carl's dad (FIL) caught a bad cold the week before Christmas and started sleeping in his chair in their living room as it was the only place he could get some rest.  We stopped in on Christmas Eve and were both shocked by how sick he was.   MIL protested they were fine, after all MIL's leg is healing since the doctor told her she doesn't need to come back (no, that's not why) and FIL is a little tired (but he mostly wants to get out of housework).  Carl's side was scheduled to celebrate Christmas on New Year's Eve at Carl's niece's home which should have worked well, because by then, maybe FIL would be feeling better. 

We celebrated Christmas here on December 26 with our immediate family and Ann.  Mom was in fine form and played Sheepshead with us like a champ, at the end of the night, she needed help carrying her pennies home. 

On December 28, MIL had an appointment with a vascular surgeon to see if surgery would improve the circulation in her legs.  FIL opted to stay home from the appointment which is highly unusual.  He was not in good shape.  Both Carl and I urged him to let us take him to the doctor, but MIL insisted he was getting better and there's no need.  FIL was also adamant (and angry) at our insistence and since he's not suffering from dementia, we backed off.  Carl's sister and her husband and the grandchildren were all urging him to see a doctor, but the stubbornness won out.  No, he's not going.

Anyway, we loaded MIL and her walker into her car and into the doctor's office. MIL repeats herself continually, asking the same questions over and over.  I'm used to the drill since my mother often forgets things, too, but MIL is much worse.  And she's ten years younger than my mother.....this doesn't bode well.

The doctor looked at her chart, took a portable ultrasound unit to her feet, looked at her weeping leg ulcer (wrapped in Saran wrap, ugh) stood up, shrugged and said, "She does have some limited circulation but not enough to warrant surgery.  I want her to wear some prescription custom-fitted compression stockings to improve her leg swelling and keep the ulcer bandaged and sterile.  Hopefully, the leg will heal in a year or two.  But if it gets infected, well, that will be a problem."

MIL was sitting in her wheelchair, picking at her leg.  The doctor slapped her hand away and repeated the orders she's heard since this all started, but sadly, she disregards the advice at every turn.  He gave us a prescription for the stockings and we were on our way to the pharmacy.

MIL didn't want to go get the new compression socks, "Dad and I will go some other time.  Let's go home,  I don't need the socks anyway, he said my legs look good."

Carl said, "We're on our way to the pharmacy, let's go in and get them so you can get better."

"OH, I don't want to!  Just take me home, I'll have your dad take me later."

But we turned into the parking lot of the pharmacy and in we went. MIL's legs were measured and the appropriate size stocking was selected, the clerk helped me pick out bandages and wound cleansing medication for the ulcer and with her new stockings on her legs, we were on our way home.

We had to stop for gas for their car and while Carl was outside, MIL was rummaging around in her purse, trying to find money to pay the bill.  We'd both told her not to worry, we'd put it on our credit card, you can repay us when you get home.  But dementia has a strong hold on MIL and she was fretting all the way home.

"How much did the gas cost?  I can pay you.  OH, I don't have any money, shall I write you a check?  I can't find my checkbook!  I think I lost it!  How much did the gas cost?  I'll pay you.  I can't find my checkbook, and I don't have any money!  How much did the gas cost?"  

It was a long ride home.

We were back to the in-law's house by six pm and though FIL was on his feet, he still didn't look good.  I brought up the fact he should see a doctor and he cut me off in mid-sentence, he'll be fine!  He is also in need of new hearing aids, we now have to almost yell at him to be heard.  It's really pathetic.  The hearing aids he has are worthless, he might as well have a paper towel tube held up to his ear for all the good they do.  We've been trying to take him to another hearing aid place, but he won't hear of it.  (Ha, get it?)

After explaining to FIL what happened with MIL's appointment, we went home.  The grandchildren stopped in to see them the next day and Carl's sister called every day, too.  Everyone was concerned about FIL's cold.  Carl and I cross-country skied over on December thirtieth in the afternoon and I was losing patience in FIL's logic.  The cold was not getting any better.  MIL said he was sleeping a great deal but she kept waking him up because she thought he should get up and do something.

I took a seat on the couch near his chair and watched him sleep, his breathing was very shallow and fast and every now and then he'd be wracked with deep coughing fits.  He woke up and wasn't too surprised to see me sitting next to him, but went right back to sleep.

Carl's mom was talking to Carl in the other room and I heard her approaching in her walker.  She constantly complains about her sore feet, why can't she get a foot transplant?  All the women in the family suffer from sore feet.  The doctors won't help her.  All he does is sleep.  He wants to get out of housework.  She keeps waking him up because he can't sleep all day long.  He's not sick!  Why do you think he's sick?  My feet hurt.  I need a foot transplant. All the women in my family suffer from sore feet.  Doctors don't help her.  He sleeps all day.  She never wanted to live this long.  She has sore feet.  

Before we could stop her, MIL woke FIL up.  "Wake up!  You can't sleep all day, you won't sleep at night!"

I looked at my miserable FIL and hollered, "If you were my parent, I'd be hauling you into the doctor!"  (I only hollered because he cannot hear me.  And because he's stubborn.  And because I'm frustrated and worried.)

"I almost went in this morning," FIL said, "But MIL talked me out of it, she says I'll get better."

Ah, yes.  What happened to the Wisdom of the Elders?  Sadly stolen by the Dementia Demon, apparently.  

We hung around trying to talk some sense into him, but ended up skiing back home again because it was time for my mother's medication.  Thank God and our sons for the cameras at Mom's house, without the cameras, I'd be a wreck.  

 I told Carl we were going to let FIL stay home one more day and if he was no better, that's it, he's going in if we have to carry him to the car or call an ambulance.

As you may recall from my earlier rant, Carl's niece was planning a big Christmas/New Year's meal for the family the next day, New Year's Eve.  That morning we went over to see MIL and FIL after giving my mother her morning medication.  FIL was not any better and I put my foot down, he's going in whether he likes it or not.  I called Carl's sister and she and my BIL were coming to stay with MIL while we were gone.

Thankfully, FIL complied and started getting ready.  But if you've ever seen the old Carol Burnett show and Tim Conway portraying an old guy shuffling around, well, that's the fastest speed FIL was able to achieve.  He wanted to shave and then had to find the checkbook and then wanted to change his clothes again and then had to have us feed the cats and then the razor wouldn't work and then we needed to open a new razor but the clamshell packaging was being difficult but he didn't want help with it and where are his hearing aids and should he comb his hair and where is the checkbook again?

Just like the paragraph above, this is the way our life has been; one long-drawn out, slow-motion Stubborn Fest. 
Trying to run this circus is like herding cats.

While FIL was getting ready, MIL was cruising around in her walker going on about her sore feet and protesting that he's not sick, he's just tired, and do we know how old he is?  And oh, yes, her feet hurt.  But all the women in her family have bad feet.  She just needs a foot transplant. 

 Finally, after almost an hour of getting ready, we were able to get FIL in his car.  He has a handle on the ceiling of his car which we don't have.  Luckily he could help lift his upper body while Carl got his feet in the car.  BIL and SIL arrived just as we were leaving.  I called Carl's niece and told her we were sorry but we hoped to make it later for a visit.  She understood; she was happy we finally were getting FIL some help.

While FIL had been getting ready, I made a phone call to the Urgent Care clinic and asked if they could handle this situation or should we go to the emergency room?  They assured me they had all the facilities needed, so that was where I opted to go.  In hindsight, it was the wrong choice.

When we arrived at the clinic in Green Bay (about 15 miles from home) the receptionist told us there would be an hour wait; the waiting room was full of sick people; but if we wanted, we could go to the downtown location another six miles away.  Ok, we helped poor, weak FIL back into the car and went to the next clinic.  Luckily, we were taken in right away and FIL had a chest x-ray taken which came back as we suspected, with suspicion of pneumonia.  There was some lab work done in case congestive heart failure was the culprit, but we were sent to the pharmacy to pick up antibiotics and an inhaler.

After filling the prescriptions, we drove the half hour home and helped FIL back into the house, out of his outer garments and back into his chair to sleep. I no more than had the blanket tucked in around him when my phone rang.  The bloodwork came back suspicious for a heart issue, please bring him to the hospital ER.

Oh, was so hard to wake FIL and tell him it's time to go back to the hospital again, but we had no choice.  Back in the car, and now, weaker than ever, off to the emergency room.  By now it was 3PM and neither of us had eaten a thing all day.  We had been intending to feast on Carl's niece's excellent cooking, so in an effort to conserve calories, we'd skipped breakfast.  Bad idea.

We arrived at the ER by 3:30PM and a bunch of preliminary tests were run.  FIL's oxygen level was down to 88, so he was put on oxygen.  Then we sat and waited while FIL dozed on the gurney; thankfully he was able to rest more easily with oxygen.
 While we sat and waited I was able to update family back home.  The ER doctor came in finally and said FIL would have to be admitted to the hospital, it was indeed pneumonia and there were some other troubling numbers on the bloodwork they didn't like, too.  

FIL protested he could leave; he has a welding shop and a large tank of oxygen at home, he could figure out a way to hook it up for breathing, but not surprisingly, the doctor wasn't having it.  No, you are now our guest.

He was wheeled up to the ninth floor of the hospital and put into bed by 7PM.  Carl and I stayed until 8PM and then had to leave because it was time for Mom's meds again.  By the time we arrived back at the in-law's house to put FIL's car away and retrieve our own, it was almost 8:45PM. And we still hadn't eaten. (I know, poor us!)  Carl's sister and her husband had been sitting with MIL all day, and they were ready to go home.  We had to leave to take care of my mother so this left MIL home alone. 

Carl went to Mom's house while I went home to make supper.  We finally ate at 11PM.  We checked on MIL by phone and though she was confused about her husband's situation, she seemed to understand he was in the hospital for his own good and promised to go to bed.  

We were both exhausted; it had been such a long day.  My back issues are getting better provided I keep up with my stretching.  My hormone issues are not getting better, however and I'm feeling rather wretched.  Sleep is elusive and I often wake up with mini-panic attacks and a racing heart.  I know it's stress coupled with the removal of my hormone replacement treatment.  The timing really sucks.

The next day, New Year's Day, was spent with the usual giving Mom her meds, checking on MIL and then going to the hospital to visit FIL.  He wasn't doing much better but was seemingly more content to rest up and get well.  He didn't want MIL to come up to see him because he didn't want her to get sick, too.  The family all came up at various times which was very nice.  Thankfully, we are all pitching in to help with both in-law's care.  

I know I sound like a martyr, but I made it known I cannot handle all three elders at once.  I am the closest one in proximity and I also do not work outside the home, but this is too much for me.  Carl and I handle my mother as there is no one else to do it, and that's fine for now; we have a system in place.  But toss two more in the mix and it would be impossible.  And if our health fails, we cannot help anyone.  Caring for the elderly is an extremely stressful job.  

We were asked if FIL had an advanced care directive in place?  No.  Neither MIL or FIL have any health care power of attorney paperwork in place, either.  Oh, boy.  The staff urged FIL to fill one out, he was semi-against it.  He always said they should have gotten around to making one out but there was never any time since they led busy lives and he was still working in the ornamental railing business.  But now he wasn't interested in making one out because he was so sick.  
Two days later, FIL was not much improved and the doctor suggested possibly going to rehabilitation or at the very least, having in-home nursing/physical therapy come to the house. The caseworker called me at home and said she tried to reason with him but he asked her to leave.  He did not want any help, he just wanted to go home.  He didn't want to have nurses come to the house and he sure as hell wasn't going to rehab.  

The family was thrown into turmoil; now what?  He can't come home to MIL because she can't care for him.  FIL was threatening to call a taxi and check himself out of the hospital.  The caseworker said since he didn't have any paperwork signed 'he is his own person and capable of making his own decisions' so sadly, all they can do is 'send him home to fail'.  

 FIL's granddaughters, Carl's nieces, have been very helpful, so overnight FIL had gotten into his head that the 'girls' were going to take care of him and MIL and he wouldn't need any more help.  The caseworker called me and told me of the situation and I said, yes, the 'girls' are very good to their grandparents, but they have young children and full-time jobs, so no, they are not capable of doing everything.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, FIL called me from the hospital.  I could barely understand him, but he wanted me to call the family together (except for MIL) and meet at the hospital.  Lab work had shown elevated calcium levels which prompted a bone marrow biopsy and he was scared. Understandably.

In the meantime, the nurse called me and told me we should try one more time to talk some sense into him because the caseworker wasn't able to speak with him anymore due to his stubbornness.  The staff gave us the POA paperwork to fill out and I stood by the head of his bed and read/yelled the form to him.  I felt like such a cruel jerk hollering out the contents of the paperwork to him, but what else could we do?   

Sadly, he became angry and refused to speak to us, simply shutting his eyes to block us from his sight.  Of course the fact everyone has to yell to be heard makes it sound even worse; it was an awful time.  He finally started talking again, but simply changed the subject.  Ugh.

   The caseworker said they would try another counselor the next day; and luckily, the chaplain had some luck getting through.  FIL signed the POA for health care, hallelujah!  Of course, he can still make his own decisions, but at least we have some paperwork in order.  Luckily the chaplain and nurse were able to convince him to allow in-home nursing visits for a few weeks, but that was the extent of the care he would accept.  And let us not discuss an Assisted Living Facility!

I was at Mom's on Wednesday when the hospital called me; FIL was being discharged today, when are you coming to get him? 

 Oh, boy, now what? 

 I called Carl's sister and her husband, and we met at MIL's house and rode together into the hospital one more time.  After much grumpiness on FIL's part, he had reluctantly agreed to Meals on Wheels (which hasn't started yet, but now they've already called to cancel but which BIL reinstated, sound like fun??) we had him in the car.

The doctor said FIL needs a 4-wheeled walker.  FIL said no, he doesn't want one.  BIL and I drove to the home medical equipment store and bought him one.  The doctor also said he'd need a chair for the shower.  FIL said no, he'd take his walker (he didn't have one at the time) in the shower with him.  So BIL and I also bought a shower chair for him, too.  This was met with all sorts of protests, but no matter, we have to be thick-skinned again and let the chips fall where they may.

Finally, we had FIL back home.  Despite missing him all the days he was gone, now that he was home MIL met us at the door and wanted to know why we brought him back home.  Because, remember after all, her feet hurt and she can't take care of him.  Somewhere along the line, she thought he'd had a heart attack instead of pneumonia, and all manner of silliness ensued.  
On Thursday, the home health care nurse showed up for her first visit. I arrived at 7:45AM to run interference if need be, but luckily she was not sent packing.  I thought the visit went well.  At 9:30 AM I left my in-law's and went to Mom's for her morning meds.  Carl had been taking the holiday med visits for me while he was home on vacation, so once again, I dropped the ball on Mom's situation. 

While we were visiting, I noticed she was favoring her foot, wincing.  After questioning her, she admitted she'd fallen in her driveway on the ice going to get her mail.  Of course, the mail thing has been a no-no for her for the past few winters, especially when it is icy, but while the cat is away, the mice will play.  I asked to see her foot...
 Oh, dear!  I immediately called the doctor's office and her set up for an 11AM appointment.  I then went directly to the post office and tried to have her mail delivered to my house but forgot my power of attorney papers at home, so back I went to retrieve Mom and the POA. We were early for her appointment, so I ran into the post office and straightened out the mail forwarding issue.  Now, if she remembers, which she probably won't, all of Mom's mail will be sent to me.

Next stop was Mom's doctor's office.  Her foot was x-rayed and they couldn't see any broken bones, thank goodness, but she's still having some issues with her feet, so I am taking her to see a podiatrist on Wednesday.  Mom wasn't happy about any of this, but I told her we have to stay on top of these things so they don't get worse.  I hugged her and told her I appreciated the fact she doesn't fight me as much as she could.  This job is hard enough without temper tantrums thrown in.  

We'll find out how Monday's appointment for FIL goes; the blood test results will be back in and we'll know more.  I've been very lucky it hasn't snowed much lately; I'll have to take care of snow plowing at Mom's, our house, my in-law's house and my late brother-in-law's house, too.  That's a lot of snow removal. 

We had a rather quiet Saturday and Sunday so far, I shouldn't talk too loud, the day isn't over.  There have been numerous visits to the in-law's house from grandchildren and everyone is communicating which is great.  

 This is a cautionary tale for Carl and I, too.  A wake up call.  Life is short and getting shorter.  We've got some of our plans in order but there are many more we need to make.  Don't wait until everything hits the fan before taking appropriate measures.  

Review your wills, power of attorney paperwork, and estate planning.  

And how does that old joke go?  'Treat your children well, they are the ones who will be picking out your nursing home.'  







Friday, December 23, 2016

December 23

Christmas preparations have been going on here at a snail's pace which is unfortunate since Christmas is two days away. But then, what else is new; call it a character defect or just plain procrastination, but I've never really been entirely ready for much of anything in my life.  Apparently I don't know how to function without a mini-crisis.  

 Look it's an undecorated Christmas tree!  In the dining room!

We had a tree from the septic tank renovations at least, a large Black Hills spruce had to be cut down to make room for the mound in November.  Carl plopped the tree in the Quarry to keep it watered until last week when I fished it out before the pond froze solid.  We finally moved it into the customary place by the upstairs staircase and it's three-quarters decorated.  Good enough.  It will do. 

Every year I vow this will be the Christmas I'm going to change my slacking ways but then something always seems to come up.  My hat is off to the Organized People of the world.   

This holiday season I have a legitimate excuse(s) of sorts; I've been wrangling with my health issues and the elders in my care.

I had to take Mom in for a doctor appointment last week; she says she feels fine, but her weight continues to go down.  She's at 94 pounds now.  I told her she can gladly have as much of my weight as she wants, but sadly it doesn't work that way.  Luckily, a friend of ours dropped off an array of garden statuary for Mom to paint.  She's been working on the projects for a few weeks now and almost has the first batch done.

 Mom is still as camera-shy at 96 as ever.  She doesn't realize my cellphone also takes pictures so I sneak photos during my daily visits with her.

 She doesn't want me to cook for her, but I've been bringing Christmas cookies and random assorted meals for her to eat.  She told the doctor she's not hungry but she assures us all she'll keep on eating to make us happy.

The picture below is her painting station setup in her kitchen.  She sits by the east kitchen window for light and has her TV and remote right by her side so she can watch her shows.
A few weeks ago she was painting a park bench for our garden.  For some reason, she decided to add glitter to the design which makes for a shiny park bench and I'm sure some shiny visitors next summer until the glitter wears off. 

 (Joel, our family glitter-phobe, will not be sitting on that park bench any time soon.  David is not fond of glitter either and has often jokingly referred to it as 'the  herpes of the art world.') 

 The glitter is a new interest and all my fault; a few months ago I found her cutting up various shiny candy toffee wrappers with a scissors in an attempt to make her own glitter.  She was having a difficult time making the pieces tiny enough to her liking.  When we took her to Wal-Mart a few months ago, we had her pick out new paint colors and silver and gold glitter, too.  Now that Mom has an abundant supply of glitter at her disposal, everything is sparkly and beautiful.  That's fine, she's having a ball.

On the other hand, Carl's mom is still struggling. 

I took the picture above of my MIL when we were at the hospital waiting for her last wound care appointment for her leg.  She's resigned herself to using a wheelchair because her legs hurt so much.  She has an appointment next Wednesday to see another surgeon.  Her dementia is advancing and we're not sure what the outcome will be yet.  I don't know how we will handle her care; I guess time will tell.

I've been feeling a little better as the days go by; I'd say about forty percent so far.  I still don't know what brought on the bleeding and the extreme low back and pelvic pain, but whatever is, I hope the saying 'this too shall pass' applies.  There were a few days I wore both a back and abdominal brace at the same time.  Ah, the joys of industrial strength elastic and velcro.

I'd made an appointment for this past Tuesday with a surgeon for a consult on a possible hernia but ended up cancelling because the pain migrated away from the site I wanted him to check.  Sad to say, we can't afford to go to the doctor if the pain isn't where it had been.  I have a follow-up appointment in late January with the gynecologist; maybe things will be better by then.  If not, well, our $10K deductible resets January 1.  We'll get a jumpstart on 2017 bills.  

I bought a book 'Heal Pelvic Pain' which contains exercises which seem to be helping quite a bit if I can force myself to do them.  The stretches are quite intense and I'm also quite inflexible, so I find almost all of them to be painful. I think I somehow shrunk my hamstrings, too.  Nothing wants to bend the way its supposed to.  Marble statues are likely more limber than I am, especially since this last bout of mystery pain.  

The book lists eleven different stretches, and each one is meant to be done three times for 30-60 seconds at a time.  In other words, a stretching session takes well over a half hour.  And the instructions also state to do them 2-4 times a day, along with at least a half hour of cardiovascular exercise.  I don't have a job and I'm finding it hard to fit this commitment into my schedule, but I'm doing my best.  I'll do anything to put this pain behind me.

 Carl and I went shopping tonight for some last minute gifts; apparently we're not the only ones who are unprepared, several of the clerks we spoke with were also running around trying to tie up last minute details of their own, too.  See, I'm not the only one.

I had to buy a new ergonomic keyboard for my computer as I've worn out the backspace key on my old one.  (Apparently I make far too many typing mistakes?)  

Anyway, while standing in line at a very crowded Best Buy waiting for Carl to be checked out, I spotted the Perfect Christmas Gift for Joel:   

 I sent Joel the picture and a text:  'Merry Christmas, Joel!  Love, Mom'

A few hours later, his response:

"I hope you got a gift receipt for that phone case."

Aww, phooey.  Maybe David will like it.



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rock, Really?

I'm sitting here tonight writing and alternately watching a Guns 'n Roses concert from 1992.  Axl Rose was all of 29 or 30 then.   (In other words oh-so-young.)    I often wonder how he could belt out tune after tune in concert and still have any kind of voice left by the end of the night.   

And to think he's doing it all over again now at age 54 with back-to-back concerts with GNR and fronting for AC/DC as lead vocalist is truly amazing.  Most of the rock legends have lost their edge after thirty years, but apparently Axl gets better with age.  He's four years younger than me; that fact alone is stunning.  I can't imagine how tired he must be afterward.

I don't really know how I ended up being a heavy metal fan.  Growing up with older parents; Mom was 38 and Dad 45 when I came along, let's just say their music was definitely not rock and roll.  They listened to a lot of talk radio and polkas, with a bit of Eddy Arnold, Dean Martin, and Tennessee Ernie Ford, especially hymns.  

My parents couldn't stand Elvis 'the pelvis' as my father derisively called him, and absolutely detested The Beatles, too.  Truth be told, Elvis was a little old for my taste in the '60's and '70's and since my parents didn't like the Fab Four, I went along with their sentiments.  

"Look at those stupid idiots screaming," my dad commented one night when Ed Sullivan had the Beatles on his show.  "What the hell's wrong with them?  Look at their haircuts!  I've never seen anything so damn dumb."  (Yes, my father was a harsh music critic.)  The Rolling Stones were another Non-Dad Approved Band.

 Being a shy kid enduring a lonely, semi-abused childhood, I spent a lot of time with a tiny AM transistor radio my mother gave me for my thirteenth birthday.  I still have it, even the box it came in; bright pink with one 9 volt battery required.  I would hold the radio while riding my bicycle no-handed up and down the road at night after chores.  I still remember the day I broke the antenna by accident when pushing it back down.  Even though I could still get a signal, I was devastated, I loved that radio; it was my lifeline.  I used to feel so bereft when the stations would sign off at night.  

Does anyone remember the sign off?  

"WXYZ Channel 6 now concludes it's broadcast day. With 50,000 watts of power, WXYZ is owned and operated by........" and then nothing but dead air.  

Doesn't it seem like a lifetime ago?  I guess it was.

I have always loved the night.  In the cover of darkness I could do whatever I wanted and there would be no one to criticize or poke fun of me.  If Dad was home I spent a lot of time outside as I disliked the tension in the house.  I've never feared the darkness, it always felt like an old friend, a cloak for my misery and true self.  I suppose that's why I never shook the nightowl habit even though it's not great for my health.  

But back to rock and roll, the sheer audacity of the music and the anger and misery in the lyrics spoke to me.  I didn't exactly want to  rebel but I was too afraid to let my alter-ego show;  too invested in trying to get good grades and please everyone.  Everyone but me.

But let the chores be done and the sun sink out of sight and I was gone.  Gone on my bike with The Eagles, Bread, Kansas, Van Halen, Aerosmith, AC/DC, KISS, Foreigner, Kansas, Styx, Whitesnake, and Motley Crue singing songs of disobedience and all about life in the fast lane.  As the years rolled by, angry rock stars howled out the rage I dared not express.

I lost touch with music of all kinds when I was raising our sons for about a decade, from 1986 to 1996.   We'd had a very nice stereo system but the woofers (the bass) went out on our JBL speakers.  (Apparently I'd been a bit too zealous with the volume in my earlier years. ) With the advent of raising infants, heavy metal didn't mesh with bedtime, I couldn't hear a baby wail over Steve Perry and Journey or Bon Jovi.  So the stereo was silenced.  

I remember the first time I heard of the band Guns 'n Roses.   Joel was just over a year old and strapped in his car seat in the back.  We were driving home from Christmas shopping and had the radio tuned into a 'cutting edge rock station' at the time.  At the ripe old age of 29, I thought the new rock and roll was 'for the kids'.  I was too old for such nonsense.

 But then the opening guitar strains of 'Sweet Child o' Mine' started up on the car stereo.  And I was hooked.  To this day I listen to GNR every chance I get.   Sometimes I hate when a song replays in my mind, over and over, but I often fall asleep with 'Welcome to the Jungle' or 'Sweet Child' playing in my head.  

My sons introduced me to Metallica, Alice in Chains, Drowning Pool, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed, System of a Down, and Slipknot, among many others, oh, and Rammstein.  I don't speak German, but the music speaks to me.

A few years ago, Joel took me to my first live concert.   My second all-time favorite band, Van Halen, was playing in a hayfield.  It was surreal.  I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that night.  Eddie Van Halen plays the guitar like none other.  I'll never forget hearing 'Eruption' played by the master of all guitarists in person.

 I do listen to other artists, too;  but I've never cultivated a taste for country at all.  I know, how un-American.  

'Sweet Child 'o Mine' never fails to bring me comfort.

"She's got a smile it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
It takes me away to that special place
And if I'd stare too long
I'd probably break down and cry."

I'm older now, so much older, but heavy metal is still my music of choice.  Gray-haired grannies aren't supposed to like to head bang, but this one does.

I just wait until the sun goes down, no one is the wiser.  

The darkness is still my friend.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What's Next? Part Three

One thing I wish I could change is the tendency to have my weird health issues appear on holidays and weekends.  Of course, my main wish would be to quit having weird health issues altogether, but if that's impossible to grant, could whoever is in charge please schedule them around doctor's office hours?  The past weekend of waiting to hear results was a long one.

At last I have some positive news; late Monday my new gynecologist's office called to tell me the results of the biopsy were benign.  The ultrasound results were not back yet.  I now have an appointment in six weeks to see the doctor for a follow-up though I can call sooner if need be.  What a relief it was to hear the results were normal, at least for now.  We still have no answers for why this happened in the first place, though the pieces of the puzzle may come together yet at some point down the road.  We'll see what January brings.

Carl's mom is still holding her own.  My father-in-law insisted he could change the bandage on her leg wound after we did it together the first time, and I reluctantly stood down.  I do not want to become the Dictator Daughter-in-law.  This is all new territory and when the roles change, it's very hard.  

You'd think since I've been through this with my mother I'd have better insight into the best way to broach difficult topics, wouldn't you?  But the truth is, I don't.  Every situation is different and with the onset of dementia, the situation can change every minute.  No one ever said this was going to be easy.

But along with my good news yesterday, I received a call from my mother-in-law shortly afterward; her new doctor's office called and asked them to come in for an appointment yesterday afternoon.  According to my MIL, her blood pressure was much better and her leg is healing well.  Thank God for that; I was really worried about her blood pressure and whether or not the wound care was being done on a daily basis.  I was very glad the office called them to make an appointment and another big plus is the new doctor's office is in our little hometown.

My MIL was scheduled to have some circulatory testing done this coming Thursday, and I asked about the appointment.  

"No, I don't have to go back in for anything.  I'm getting better," MIL said.  "My blood pressure was very good, I don't need to see the doctor anymore."

"That's good," I said, but I thought differently, and asked her if I might speak to my FIL.

After talking to him, I found out the circulatory testing is still going to be done and that she will have to go once a week for wound care to the hospital, which was the original plan.   My FIL understands what's going on, which is a blessing.

Dealing with dementia is very difficult.  At times the fog lifts and they can remember everything with stunning clarity, but at other times, events are muddled and confusion abounds on the part of both caregiver and care receiver.   In the midst of all the upset and role-changing, there needs to be respect.  After all, my in-laws have lived eighty-six years of their lives without me telling them what to do.  So who am I to waltz in and turn their world upside down?  No one wants to lose the ability to make their own decisions.  I know I won't either when my time comes.

 As a caregiver, you have to develop a thick skin because at times (ok, most of the time) you're seen as the Bad Guy.  Having a good support system in place is a necessity for your own mental health.  And a sense of humor and irony is also a must.

Sadly, if we live long enough, we will all need help of some kind.    My late uncle always joked, "Treat your kids well because they'll end up picking out your nursing home." 

 My mother had a very hard time adjusting to my taking her car keys when she turned 93.  And she still protests turning over her laundry and other chores, but I think she's come to grudgingly accept it now. At one point we were all helpless infants and our parents cared for us.  Now we have the duty and the honor to repay the favor, though the time may come when I will also have to hand over the reins to someone more qualified.  Until then, we keep on keeping on, one day at a time.  

I want to send a sincere thank you to all of my dear friends, near and far, who have and continue to support me as I stumble around in these uncharted territories.  

Without all of you, I would be lost.

Thank You! 




Monday, December 5, 2016

The Telephone of the Wind

 The Tardig is our silly, irreverent rendition of Dr. Who's TARDIS  (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) phone booth which is a time machine for travel.  When Carl had finished welding the railings together, the similarity to Dr. Who's time machine struck me and off we went for cans of blue paint.   

I'm not a Dr. Who fan, but the idea of a structure which could transport me to another place captivated me. The Tardig is our 'Time and Relative Dimension in Gardening' space.  I often find myself lingering inside the filigreed oak leaf structure, sometimes in tears, sometimes in anger, always in prayer and eventually in peace. With all the worry swirling around me this season, I spent some time there today.

I did not know there was a similar place in another garden far away until this past September when I heard about The Phone of the WindI was washing clothes with my Maytag wringer washer and happened to have tuned into 'This American Life' on my cellphone,  old technology merged with the new.  The podcast was entitled 'One Last Thing Before I Go'  .  

This is an incredibly touching story about a gardener in Japan who has an abandoned phone booth in his garden complete with a telephone which is not connected to anything.  He refers to the structure in Japanese by a lovely name which translates as the 'Phone of the Wind'. 
People come from all over the country to use the Telephone of the Wind.  The audio is heart-breaking.   Even though I do not speak Japanese, the sound of grief, longing and anguish is universal and needs no translation.  

  "Hello?  Mom?  Where are you?  It's so cold, but you're not getting cold, are you?  Come back soon, everyone is waiting for you, OK?  Eat something, anything, just be alive, somewhere, anywhere.  I'll build a house for us.  I'm so lonely."

As I hauled my laundry out of the basement and hung it on the line to dry in the sun, I was wiping away my tears with the back of my hand.  Eventually I had to sit down and sob.  I could picture each and every one of the mourners reaching out for one last word with those they loved and tragically lost in the tsunami over five years ago.  
"Sometimes I don't know what I'm living for.....without all of you, it is meaningless.  I want to hear your reply, but I can't hear anything.  I'm sorry, I'm so sorry I couldn't save you."

The  holidays come and go and the group gathered around the table ebbs and flows as our loved ones leave us and new ones join the family. 

How often I take for granted the time I have left with loved ones.   Carl has a voicemail on his phone from his late brother, Larry.  He cannot bring himself to erase it.   My mother is a little more confused as each day dawns, but I can still reach her, touch her, kiss her, embrace her.  Someday soon we will part.

 May I cherish each day.