keenchick

Stories and thoughts about family and life

I’m not a caretaker

on January 22, 2016

 

The trips to the nursing home usually have some degree of interesting activity along with them.  Seldom is it simply a drop off of supplies or a check-in.  It might start out that way, but it seldom ends with simply that.  With each passing year I realize how woefully ill-equipped I am for caretaking of my elders.

My mother-in-law has advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.  This makes conversations around and involving her take on a new level of complexity.  She upsets easily and she fixates on details which are hard to overcome.  Add to that a roommate in her room who is bedridden and demonstrating her needs as we try to visit and you’ve got the makings for quite an eventful visit.

My father-in-law accompanied my husband and me to my mother-in-law’s room.  They no longer room together, and we have to change floors to find my mother-in-law has just finished lunch.  My father-in-law unceremoniously removes her from the dining facility and wheels her back to her room.  She looks at my husband and me as she passes by and says hello.  When dealing with someone with such an advanced disease, you want to believe that it’s recognition in her eyes, but it’s honestly just politeness.  She never knows me anymore, and she seldom recognizes my husband (which breaks my heart for him).

We follow them into her room and he helps her transfer from the wheelchair to the chair. She had been mumbling something to Louis just before us entering the room.  As she was moving into the chair, she said it again “I’m going to have to find some place to live.  I can’t stay here.”  My sweet husband, unlike me, has the patience of Job in situations like this.  He is amazing with our Boy Scouts and can talk them through things long after I would have had to leave the room and catch my breath.  He has been enormously patient with his parents and their questions, needs, and demands.  He and his sister are a united front on their cause and it’s a site to behold, especially after so many stories I’ve heard about other siblings.

He thoughtfully considers his response and says “you are living here.  You need to be here to get the help you need.”  Now, I should mention as well that my mother-in-law cannot hear and no longer has a functioning hearing aid.  She’s destroyed each one she has because she can’t remember having them in her ear and ends up pulling them out, stepping on and crushing them.   She cannot hear much at all, which I’m sure adds to the almost sickeningly comical tones our conversations must take on.  He has to repeat this sentence a couple of times, as does my father-in-law.  She continues to persist, “I can live with you,” motioning toward Louis, “or I can live with my sister and her husband but I can’t stay here, and I can’t live with him” as she gestures toward my father-in-law.   Again they try to reason with her.  We can see she’s getting upset, which is a key that it’s time to change the subject.  I pull up my phone and show her a picture from Brennan’s most recent 7th grade basketball game.  “Oh, my he’s grown!” she exclaims.  My husband and I beam that she seems to recognize him.  “Is he enjoying college?”

My husband tries to gently, although very loudly, explain that Brennan is in high school, and has a way to go before college.  She remarks about the cost of college and how we’ll pay for that and then she’s moved on to something else.  “I need to go to the bathroom,” she says.  I decide this is an excellent job for me: “I’ll go get the nurse.”  I run out to the nurses station and bring back her nurse.  My husband and I decide we should step into the hall to be polite and give her some privacy.

As we stand in the hall, one of the residents comes walking down the hall, with a big smile on her face.  “You’ve lost your hall pass, huh?” I chuckled, thinking that was pretty clever.  We’re in the hall, and we’re not moving.  Hall pass–yeah, that’s pretty funny.  Like how we used to have hall passes in school.  “Yes,” I remark.  “I don’t know what on Earth we did with them!”   I laugh at my wit, and she responds “I’ve lost mine too.  The nurses won’t give me another.”  I search her face for a second to determine if this is a continuation of the joke.  Sadly, it is not.  Now I feel like a heel for laughing.

Thankfully, the restroom break is over and we can return to the room.  My mother-in-law never missed a beat, asking about various financials, and remarking that she needs a place to live, but now that she won’t live with him (gesturing toward Louis).  “Where are my credit cards?”  she inquires.  “I used to have credit cards in my wallet.  Where is my wallet?”  I announce that I have her wallet, but that there are no credit cards left.  My father-in-law tries to explain that we had to close all their accounts and destroy their cards when they came to the nursing home.  She’s not having that.  She keeps asking and he finally makes a ripping gesture to demonstrate the cards have been destroyed.

She escalates the conversation and announces that she should have social security money (which she does), but she knows she doesn’t.  She knows that my father-in-law is getting his money and her money too.  Louis tries to explain.  She’s not hearing it.  She wants someone to take her to the social security office and fix this.  She reiterates, pointing a finger at my father-in-law, that she knows he’s getting her social security AND his, and then proclaims “you’re a BAD BOY.”

It’s almost like when your toddler has done something which really shouldn’t be funny, but at the same time is almost adorable and sweet and innocent.   I was watching my husband’s reaction, unsure what to do.   My mother-in-law now changed the subject a bit and said that she knew she had HIM (pointing at Louis) to blame for not being able to leave, and not being able to ride the elevator, and not having anything.  He was staring at my father-in-law, who finally shrugged, and tried to change the subject again.   I was grateful in that moment that she didn’t recognize me.  There’s no telling what thing I would have done to her.

Meanwhile, in the next bed is her new roommate, who is bedridden.  She is having quite the conversation with herself, although we can’t quite make out what she says until she yells across the room “I need help.  I need to go to the bathroom.”  I jump up and announce that I’ll get the nurse (remember the part where I don’t need to take care of people?), and I march out to the nurses station.  The nurse says she’ll be right in, but that the patient has a Foley, so she doesn’t need to get up.  I decide I can handle this, and I tell the nurse (who is right in the middle of something) that I’ve got this.

I go back into room, feeling confident that I’m going to solve this lady’s issue, even if I can’t make my mother-in-law feel any better or be any more settled.  I walk over to the bed and say to the lady that she has a catheter and she can just go.  She doesn’t have to actually get up and go to the bathroom.  I’m about to turn and walk away, exceptionally proud that I’ve handled this, when she holds up two bony fingers and says “but. . .”  Oh, no!  I am NOT the one to deal with this!   Nothing beyond number 1 for me!

Another trip to the nurses station and an announcement to the nurse that she’s going to have to come and handle this.  I’m not equipped for this kind of assistance.  She and her coworker half-giggled at me as she thanked me for trying.

There’s no telling what those people see day in and day out.  I tell her nurse every time we’re there that I have such a great appreciation for them.  Being a nurse is hard enough, but having a patient who can’t remember what you told them two minutes ago has to be ridiculously difficult.  I know it is for the family.  Her nurse keeps telling me that it’s no big deal, and that she’s called to do this.  She says that it’s okay for us to be unsure what to do, and not know how to respond.  I’m glad to hear this every time she says it, because I seriously don’t know what to say or do most of the time.

We try to simply find a little humor in each visit.  I think that’s the only thing that gets us through sometimes.  Like my Daddy says “just as soon laugh as cry about it.”  So I’ll choose to laugh, until it’s time to cry.

 

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