Friday, November 15, 2013

Writer's Block

Kristi here.  And this is my third attempt to tell you about the toughest two weeks I have been through as an adult.  But I feel a need to mark this time on the blog, because it has been a very significant time in my life, and I use the blog as a bit of a diary.

My parents are both 88.  And they have been having increasingly more troubles with their health over the last few years.  Mom began having some seizures that are mostly controlled by medication, but she needs some help to make sure she gets those medicines correctly, and that she doesn't become overtired or overheated.  Dad has been experiencing congestive heart failure, struggling with fluid retention and shortness of breath.

Then came the message that one of Dad's swollen legs had 'sprung a leak' and he needed to go into the hospital for a few days.  Within hours my travel agent Al had everything arranged to get me to Minnesota to care from my Mom while Dad was in the hospital.

My younger brother and his wife own and operate the family farm, and they were still in the middle of corn harvest.  My older brother and his wife live three hours away and have some of their own health issues, and my surviving sister and her husband are stationed in Germany.

I naively thought that my help would 'make everything better'.  I'll take care of Mom, clean the house, cook, and dispense meds, then take care of Dad too when he gets out and he will bounce back quickly and everything will be hunky-dory.

I was very surprised by the flood of emotions.

We have never been a very demonstrative family, but the love was always present.  And now I was seeing it up close. The way both their eyes lit up when they saw each other, and the sadness of the little finger waves goodbye at the end of a visit.  The hand clasps and smiles.  And Dad's tears when Mom brought him chocolate and said 'Trick or Treat!'

Dad lost 16 pounds, all fluid, during his 4 days in the hospital.  I said, 'That's like tying a gallon of milk to each of your ankles!'  He was very weak, and tired.  No-one sleeps well in a hospital, but especially those who are on meds to make you pee away all of that fluid.  On the first night he said he was up every 15 minutes.  On a 'good' night, he could wait an hour and a half between runs to the toilet.  AND he was dependant on nurses to come and assist him.

That became my job when he came home.  That first night was a bit rough.  I skipped MY sleepy medicine (fibromyalgia), afraid I would not hear him calling.  But we found a ceramic bell that worked very well to wake me.  He was only up three times that first night -- THREE hours between.

A Home Health nurse came on Sunday morning, the day after his discharge.  It took her an hour to decipher Dad's meds and fill his pill boxes for the week.  I worked alongside her doing Mom's.  Then the nurse burst my bubble by noting that I was doing a LOT for Dad, and what would he do when I needed to go (that Friday).  She felt that Dad would need care 24/7 for weeks before he would be able to care for himself, not to mention Mom and the household.  She recommended he go into a nursing home.  And we knew that Mom could not be home alone, so we needed to resolve the situation for both of them.

That afternoon, while Mom napped in her chair, he and I had a very nice talk.  I rubbed the stubble on his cheeks and chin and recalled when he would rub them on my face as a child.  And he talked of money, and what he and Mom had done to protect what they wanted to leave behind for us.  And I told him how we kids would much rather see them taken care of now, than have money later.  We talked about options for the nursing care they both needed, and he said, "I can stand to go most anyplace, as long as we are together."

Then Monday morning, he woke up, we got him dressed, and sat in his chair.  But he couldn't get comfortable, his chest was 'tight'.  That was concerning, but he said he wasn't having pain.  I got the aspirin out of his pill box and had him take it immediately.  Mom and Dad had appointments at the clinic that afternoon, so I called the clinic to tell them what was going on, and they agreed Dad should come in (we wondered if he NEEDED to go, since he was just released from the hospital.  However, when I went back to Dad with this news, he said "I wonder if a guy should call 911."  And if HE wonders enough to say something, you call!

So the First Responders and the ambulance came to take him back to the hospital.  (I was a bit embarrassed to see men that I knew as children, while I was wearing my pajamas.)  Mom and I followed as soon as we could -- she needed breakfast and her meds, and we both needed to get dressed.

Dad was experiencing atrial fibrillation.  They theorized that it was brought on by dehydration.  He was improving with fluids pumped back in.  If he did not return to sinus rhythm on his own, the would try medicine to regulate his heart rate, or possibly shock his heart to 'convert' it.  He was re-admitted to the hospital, and got a room right next to the nurses station in the Cardiac Care Unit.  The doctor called for the family to attend rounds on Tuesday morning, where we learned that Dad had actually had a little heart attack.

Now we began to scramble to find somewhere for Mom and Dad to go.  Al offered for me to just stay, but how long would that last?  It could be a month, or several, and winter was coming.  Wouldn't it be better to find a facility for them for the winter?  The number one priority was that Mom and Dad be together.  It took all of Tuesday and Wednesday to work out the details, but on Thursday afternoon we moved them into a nursing home in Windom -- the town where the family does business, and my nephew goes to school, and where Dad's brother lives.

And the next day I travelled back to Al and Friday Harbor.  Al IS my home.  This was the longest we had been apart since we got married.  And I told him that I hoped he loved me as much as my Dad loves my Mom.  And I know that if we are married for 60 years, like Mom and Dad have been, we might get that close.


  1. That certainly is tough. Be thankful for the time you got to spend with them when you went home to care for them. My Grandmother (who was 85) passed very suddenly and a lot of the family didn't get that chance to spend some quality time with her in the end. I hope they both do well!

  2. How great for them that you were able to be there for them and help get them settled where they will be well cared for.

  3. Its very hard watching your parents decline Christi. I feel for what you are going through. While you feel responsibility for them you also have a duty to yourself and to Al. Your parents understand that responsibility even if they can't or don't articulate it.

    Something we found very helpful early on in my parents' decline was to engage a non-medical caregiver. There are franchises that provide this service but we were able to find a private business. Initially mother resisted the idea of having a stranger come into her house but she gradually became accustomed to calling on Diane to take father on a doctor visit or maybe do a little grocery shopping for her. After mother died father descended into dementia and at that point Diane's visit became a valuable contact for me and my sister. She lives in Toronto and, as you know, we spend a lot of time on the left coast but Diane's daily emails gave us a regular update on father's condition. More importantly because she was visiting him every other day his paid caregivers gave him better attention. Its a sad fact that a lot of elderly people get severely neglected by care homes simply because they can get away with it. In our case we had some exceptionally good and some incredibly bad caregivers but all of them knew that they were being watched so I'm confident we got as good as they were capable of giving. Good luck with the tough journey you are embarking on.