Thursday, November 5, 2009

If I Don't Do It, Who Will? Transitioning From Daughter to Caregiver


In 2006, at 93 years of age, mom was fragile and strong, smart and at times fuzzy. She had a great sense of humor and a twinkle in her blue eyes. If she got mad, she could give you such a whop, if she wanted to...which she didn't.

We had been looking after mom for quite a few years already. Living next door made that pretty easy to do. Each year we had been taking on more and more of her responsibilities, laundry, shopping, bill paying and eventually preparing meals for her. She continued doing some simple cooking, fixing microwave meals, and of course she had to have a dish of frozen yogurt before bed, her fix! I started having meals on wheels delivered to her when the cooking became to dangerous for her to manage. Popping that meal in the mic was manageable for her for awhile yet.

Mom was still able to toilet herself yet, she had a potty in her room to use while in there, or she could use the regular bathroom if she was in the front room. Bathing, however was being eliminated more and more, so I needed to step in and assist with that, as well as doing her nails and hair. Not really a problem as I was just next door. You do what you need to do.

On November 17, 2005, our home had a fire. We moved in with mom that day, thank God we had a place to go. We slept in the front room on the hide-a-bed. Since we were living with mom, we could tend to her even better. She was still able to look after herself during the day while we were working. But that would not continue very much longer.

Mom had been living alone for many years and as a result had established very bad habits and routines. As she got older, her once very routine day turned into a do whatever, whenever or not at all day! That included sleeping, eating, bathing and so on. She would get up at all hours of the night, sometimes getting dressed and having breakfast at midnight! Well, needless to say we lost a lot of sleep for awhile until we could get her into a good routine, for all of our sakes! I got her on a schedule of when to get up, eat, take a nap and go to bed. She still would rebel against the routine, "I will go to bed when I want to!" she would protest. Having a schedule and sticking to it as best as we could was not only necessary for us but also beneficial for her, even though she didn't think so!

We made sure mom had got a good breakfast, at breakfast time, not midnight! I had discovered she was starting to make mistakes at taking her medicines to forgetting them, so I made sure she was taking them. One of the big sources of contention between her and us had been our enforcing of her drinking fluids, especially water! This was something she had fallen far short of all her life, so she was not very willing to be cooperative about it now at this stage of life! She would usually take 2 to 3 hours just to eat her breakfast, so most of the time she wouldn't have lunch, or maybe just something light. I would fix supper for the 3 of us, which would often be a challenge. Mom got to the point where she could not chew many foods, and she hadn't been able to smell or taste for years. So the challenge each day became finding which foods she could chew, foods that were colorful, had the right texture for her and of course nutritious. I usually ended up making our dinner and her dinner separately.

Since we were living here with mom, it was easier to help her with her personal care needs. I'd run her bath for her, put her special seat in the tub, and assist her as she needed. I would then let her have her privacy to get herself washed, dried and dressed for bed. One particular bath night, I had to come to the realization that she could not take baths this way anymore. It was getting to difficult for her, and she was washing maybe two body parts! So, the next bath night, I had her sit on the end of the seat and do a sponge bath using the sink. I was still trying to allow her some independence and privacy, I told myself. Truth is, if water never touched her body again, she would be just fine with that! It was all too much work for her. The reality of it all was, I was postponing or ignoring the inevitable fact...I needed to give her her baths, start to finish. I had been doing her hair at the kitchen sink, and that had worked OK, but it too would have to change. But this bath thing, I knew she was barely washing at all, but what do I do? I knew what I had to do, I just had a hard time coming to grips with it...moving into the full time role of caregiver. If I don't do it, who will?



On Easter of 2006, mom had fallen and broken her ankle. That same week she passed out from a TIA. For the non-medical person, which includes me, a TIA is a little clot that makes a nuisance of itself then disappears, my medical description. She was admitted for observation and given new meds, one to slow her heart rate down and one to thin her blood, as well as changing her blood pressure meds. The side effects of these new meds put her in a stupor the likes of which I had never seen. Being in a strange place, and not having someone around her all the time, not being handled in a way that made her feel secure, combined with the side effects, I really thought I was losing her at that point.

The day I was to bring her home, I took charge, got her dressed gave her instructions as to how to move while I was transferring her, and gave her the security she had not gotten since she was in the hospital. She responded so well with understanding and strength, I was just hollering! I had my mom back! I couldn't wait to get her home and give her the care I knew she needed.

Her broken ankle would require a cast on it, which went all the way to her knee! The first time I moved her I thought she had gained 50 pounds! But I quickly got used to the added weight. She coped remarkably well with the cast on! When she was in bed she would just flip that leg back and forth like nothing, there was no pain that's why! It had actually been over two weeks before they discovered that mom's ankle was broken. When she was in the ER, xrays were taken, and no one saw the break! A therapist had come to work with mom, and she was concerned that the foot was still hurting so much, she really thought there was a fracture. She arranged an appointment, new xrays were taken, oh look, a fracture!! We had been told it was a sprain and all those days she was in pain, it was fractured! So, a lovely blue cast was put on.

She was in the cast for about a month, and then another month of getting used to putting her weight on her foot and ankle. At the end of that month, I stood her up and asked her to put some weight on her foot, and asked her how it felt. She said it felt like she wanted to walk! I said let's go out to the front room! She walked through the whole house as strong as can be! I told her she was off and running! She said, "Well,I'm off, but I'm not running anywhere!"

During the weeks that she was in a cast, then rehab, she needed help with getting dressed, getting on and off the bed, the potty, getting in and out of a wheel chair and on and off the couch. I'd put my arms around her in a big bear hug, and she would do the same to me. Then I would pivot her to whatever spot she was going to. One day as I was hugging her up off the bed, I told her we have never hugged this much in all our lives, we're making up for lost time! She laughed and agreed with me!

I continued to move mom form place to place even after she was able to stand and walk herself. I had become fearful that if I didn't help her, she may fall and get hurt again. But, with increasing frequency, she was getting up and moving about by herself, much to my distress! But the day I realized she needed to get back to doing more for herself, I let her have at it, but kept an eye on her, and assisted when needed.

I was going to sum this up, but in care giving, there is no summing up. It is a job that continues 36 hours a day, day after day, month after month and so on. However long you must where the 'caregiver coat'.

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