Category Archives: caregivers

Oh Fiddle!

Standard
Oh Fiddle!

It’s been a while since I posted about Rob & Laura, they’re doing fine. They’ve had lots of visits with their children. One daughter asked me to check on a cut that Rob mysteriously acquired last week. She really wants Rob to put a bandage on it. When I mentioned this to Rob he informed me that it had a bandage on it already, it’s called a scab. Alright then.

Last week Laura was a bit miffed about the laundromat. She muttered about getting there late and how bad it is if you don’t get there early. I took the bait and showed up 20 minutes earlier today to see if that would alleviate the problem. She was pleased that I was early then in her exuberance she forgot to bring the laundry detergent. That set us back a bit and I got concerned when I heard her say “oh fiddle” from the back seat. “Oh fiddle” is the 92 year old version of Code Red, I acted with extreme caution. If I heard “Fudge!” I would have considered turning around and calling it a day.

While Laura was doing laundry, Rob and I went to the grocery store. We only needed two things and I asked Rob if he wanted to use a cart or his cane, he went with the cane. As we were crossing the parking lot I stated “And they’re off!” in my most announcer like voice. Rob didn’t miss a beat and added “Like a herd of turtles!”

Upon entering the store we heard, “cleanup in produce”. We both chuckled at that because it happens 100% of the time and we go twice a week. Then we looked for Marty, the useless grocery store robot. As we were making our way toward the check out, Marty approached, it got a little weird. At one point Marty got stuck between an older man in a wheel chair and me. George was on my right, Marty on my left and the wheelchair guy was left of Marty.

I could tell Marty was confused as he went back and forth in incremental choppy movements because he didn’t have a clear path out. I was hoping the circumstances would cause Marty extreme frustration resulting in fried wires, a mechanical meltdown of some sort.  For a moment I imagined the encounter would render him incapable of fulfilling his duties (which seem to be limited to aggravating customers with a precision focus on geriatric clients), no such luck.

On the way out Rob commented that the cart with four wheels was easier to navigate than his cane. I remarked that he has a walker which also has 4 wheels and that got me some side eye. I replied with “oh fiddle”.

Advertisements

Because I Can

Standard
Because I Can

I am quietly sitting in the main level bedroom of a nicely appointed house that dates back to the 1890’s. It’s insulated well enough that air conditioning isn’t required despite the high summer temperatures outside. The windows are open and I can hear the chatter of cows from the farm that borders the back yard. I can hear those same cows from my own home which is within walking distance. Here though, I get to eavesdrop on the more nuanced conversations, beyond the distressed mooing that occasionally travels to my patio. The cows are conversing in more hushed tones.

Each room in this house has been lovingly filled with precious items.  Long ago gifts, remembrances and highly sought after antique flea market finds that probably took months, perhaps years, to procure. The individual pieces are meaningful, eclectic and likely filled with sentimental value. A lot of love went into decorating this home and perhaps a twinge of obsession, the result is a timeless casual elegance.

The items themselves are a bit worn around the edges. Faded like the lingering scent of fabulous meal after the dinner dishes have been cleared. It seems more poignant with some of the newness ebbed away by time, longevity has it’s own allure which, something shiny and new can’t quite grasp.

After several minutes Thelma, jumps down from the bed and visits me at my corner chair. A petite orange tabby, she sniffs my feet for a few minutes. I attempt to pet her which yields a do not touch look so I stop myself and decide to ignore her. After a few minutes she bites my knee because that’s what cats do. My involuntary jolt sent her scampering away for the remainder of my visit. Her sister, Louise, is out in the yard somewhere planning her next kill or rolling in the grass, sunny side up. I won’t hear from her unless she wants to come in which, she will announce by jumping 4 feet up, onto the screened porch door. Thelma & Louise keep things interesting around here.

During the olfactory interrogation, I can hear the Serena Williams match on the TV in the kitchen. A man’s voice is giving an unofficial commentary of the match…”Oh no, Geezus!” and “Come on Serena!” are on a repetitive loop. I’m happy that he has a distraction even if the end result isn’t what he wanted. He is passionate about something separate from the care-giving which likely consumes him. In this small way he is reclaiming something important for himself and I wish more caregivers would do that.

Before he leaves for the gym he stops by the bedroom. He tells me that they just got back from vacationing at the beach where they got married decades ago. I wonder if his wife has any recollection of that now as she lay snoring, midday, in the bed they still share. He gives her a long, gentle, emotional hug as he prepares to leave and I try to become invisible in that moment.

I see the hospital bed close by and I wonder which one of the two beds she will pass in. Probably the hospital bed, it will likely happen before the unofficial end of summer. I push against the inclination to imagine a similar scenario in my own life as I silently ask God for another 20 (pretty please make that 30) years of health and happiness with my husband. I am momentarily engulfed in the absolute knowledge that this is all temporary. I’ve seen this situation play out about 100 different ways in the ten plus years that I have been a hospice volunteer. It’s usually some diabolical form of cancer with the wife caring for the husband or the daughter caring for a parent. It always leaves a print of sadness on my soul which gets absorbed and gently tucked away.

When I prepare to leave, I notice the fireplace in the bedroom has writing on the header. “Fairy Tales Really Do Come True…” is painted in pretty cursive. A swirl of emotions courses through me. I don’t believe in fairy tales, I had to rescue myself and yet, my life is blessed beyond anything I could have imagined as a child. For the thousandth time I question why I do this…why do I place myself in the center of someone else’s heartbreak. The answer is always the same, because I can and those that can, should.

 

Miracle…..Whaaaat?

Standard
Miracle…..Whaaaat?

Some days I take my work home with me, not unusual most people do this on some level. I had an outing with Rob and Laura yesterday. We did our usual running around with a few add on stops to Miracle Ear and the Butcher. Only old people and Italians go to the butcher on a regular basis. As is the case wherever we go, my clients are greeted by name and with genuine smiles.

Miracle Ear was different because the appointment was for Laura. This is only the second time I’ve taken her to any type of medical appointment. Rob has an entire team of specialists that have him on their rotation – MD, Cardiologist, Podiatrist, Urologist and blood draws on the regular. I’ve taken him to the hospital for a chest x-ray and last minute doctor visits at least half a dozen times in as many months. Rob is 95, Laura is 92 so there isn’t a huge age difference. From my observation Laura is just a bit more stubborn and perhaps more resilient. I suspect if her arm fell off she’d scoop it up and be prepared to slug me with it if I suggested getting it checked out. She’s definitely the tougher of the two.

I almost felt bad for the technician at Miracle Ear, he was trying so hard to be endearing, telling us about his family weekend. After about 10 minutes and far too many details about his cousin’s two year old’s birthday party at Knoebels (details included the parking lot layout and traffic patterns) he got around to asking Laura how her hearing was doing.

Tech: Well Laura, how is your hearing?

Laura: Whaaaaat?

Tech: Your hearing can you hear me?

Laura (aggravated): Yes, and now it’s my turn. I’m returning this (tosses a hearing aid on the desk), I don’t want it!

Tech: This is a hearing aid for your left ear. Model IDK2017

Laura: Yes, I don’t want it. It gave me an infection. You keep it!

Tech (sensing the hostility, made a wise choice): Alright then.

The rest of the errands went on without much drama until we got back to their house. Halfway up the walkway to the front door, Rob’s legs quit working. He was reduced to incremental strides which could be measured in centimeters instead of inches. Rob is over six feet tall and weighs 190 pounds. I’m 5′ 4″ and weigh significantly less (that’s as close to my weight as you’ll get from me), it took a Herculean effort to get him over the threshold. Once we got into the house, Laura appeared with a walker to replace his cane. That helped and we were able to get him into his favorite chair.

Once Rob was seated, I got him some water and fetched him lunch. I stayed an additional forty minutes to observe him, it was quite a scare. As soon as I left I texted his children to let them know what happened and suggested that someone check on him later that night. I also called a few hours later to check in and he bragged to me about making it to the bathroom without his cane (I may have gasped).

And this is the hardest part of my job….I become attached to these people and I know our time is limited. I realize we all have limited time, it just seems more pronounced when you are dealing with people in their 90’s. I worry about them. I worry what will happen if one dies before the other which is, statistically likely to happen. I ponder which one would be better able to live without the other. They will be married 69 years in August. I wonder how much time we will have together before it all changes, their vulnerability is palpable.

 

Heaven Sent

Standard
Heaven Sent

I used to visit her on Tuesday mornings. I would make a cup of tea and fill up the pan with warm soapy water. Kelly would soak her feet a few minutes and we would chat about whatever caught our interest that day. Sipping tea, chatting like old friends though we didn’t know each other that long.

She created a Facebook page for people with cancer so they could pass along items they no longer needed – wigs, walkers, canes, commodes, anything. Kelly wanted to help anyone in need, she was keenly aware that there were many people in need. We also talked about her children – a daughter and two sons. The daughter was married, her youngest son was in middle school, the same age as my boy.

After about 10 minutes I would take one foot out and pat it dry. Then I would give her a pedicure, she always liked a good pedi. It isn’t something I excel at but that’s what she wanted, so I fumbled my way through. She was always grateful for my attempt, a genuine smile on her face. We did this for months before I left for vacation.

That summer my family spent 3 glorious weeks in Italy. Exploring as much as we could – Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lucca, Orvieto and Rome. My husband speaks fluent Italian and he got us some great rental properties to stay in. It was my all time favorite vacation. It was magical, the four of us in a place of beauty, enriched in history and the food, my God what a time we had.

When I got back home I was preparing to jump back into my schedule when I heard the news. Kelly had passed away just a few weeks after her 48th birthday. Today her birthday came up in my Facebook feed, she would have been 51 today. I turn 51 next week.

I think of her youngest son often. I didn’t know her that well, I was just a hospice volunteer that would visit once a week, make her tea and paint her toes. Sometimes I wonder why life is so hard for some people and seemingly so easy for others. Why did I get to go to Italy while she perished?

Life doesn’t make sense, there is nothing fair about it. So today Kelly reminded me how precious life is and how fleeting and unpredictable it can be…I feel like she would have wanted me to share that message, so I am. Happy Birthday in heaven Kelly.

HaPpY BiRtHdAy!!!

Standard
HaPpY BiRtHdAy!!!

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Rob and Laura, my spunky nonagenarian clients. Last week Rob turned 95 and I gave him these socks –

IMG_8097.JPGIMG_8096.JPG

 

The birthday card I selected had two Shih Tzus on the cover (featured photo). The inside read – If it were anyone else’s birthday I wouldn’t give two Shih Tzu. I had a twinge of concern that this card might be too racy but I gambled and won. I stopped by the afternoon of Rob’s birthday to drop off his gift and say hello in person. One of his daughters was there with her husband, they all approved. The socks were such a hit that Rob decided to wear them to his birthday dinner, truly an honor.

Last week I asked Rob if he only wore the white diabetic socks that I see him in. He confided that on Sundays he wears brown socks to attend meeting. Meeting is the Quaker version of a worship service. It is a quiet gathering unless a member has a desire to share something. I’ll be honest I don’t know much about it, they seem like a very chill group.

If you watch the show Catastrophe, the main character, Rob (coincidence?), becomes a Quaker for about 3 minutes and the portrayal seems fairly accurate to me. Rob & Laura have mentioned the firm wooden pews at meeting and how they are likely designed to discourage people from getting too long winded. They noted that all of the meetings they have attended feature firm uncomfortable seating except for England where they had fancy upholstered chairs. By the way Catastrophe is an excellent show if you’re in the market for viewing something with razor edge humor which embraces the messier aspects of modern parenting and couple-hood.

Happy Birthday Rob – 95 looks great on you!

 

Johnnie Walker Red

Standard
Johnnie Walker Red

There was a mouse in the house and no Johnnie Walker Red. I may need to back up a bit for this to make sense. Today featured an outing with Rob and Laura, my nonagenarian clients. We hit the usual spots including the grocery store where we were supposed to get three things and left with six.

The official list included bread, milk and peanut butter. The unofficial additions added frozen peas, cheddar cheese and white wine. The dairy aisle is approximately 2,789 miles from the packaged goods area (wine & beer). During our trek from one end of the store to the other, we passed a gentlemen wearing this shirt –

wine.jpg

We decided that was a sign from the Universe. Since I thought the Universe might be listening I quickly asked for world peace and anyone but Trump in 2020

i hope good luck GIF by GIPHY Studios Originals

Laura waited by the register while Rob and I went to fetch her wine. When we were checking out the cashier was interacting with Rob and I, Laura always provides the laugh track.

Cashier: OK, almost done you just need to respond to the questions….(jokes) your mother’s maiden name, blood type, name of your first kid.

Rob: OK, Wilbur (that is NOT the name of his oldest child)

Me: The name of the street you lived on when you were five.

Cashier: The fake name of your first dog.

Me: My first pet had an unusual name. When I was seven we had a cat named Johnnie Walker Red. Mom always told us it was because that was the box the cat picked out but I had my suspicions…

We all chuckled and went on our way. Rob interacts with everyone and we had a conversation about Marty, the useless robot that is usually summoned to produce when we frequent the store. Then we speculated about what Marty did on his/her/their time off.

Me: Rob, I didn’t hear an announcement for Marty to clean up in Produce today.

Rob: Me either, I wonder if Marty has the day off.

Me: What do you think Marty does on his day off? Perhaps the beach, a museum visit, the movies…

Rob: I don’t know maybe Marty likes to hang out around garbage, always cleaning something up. I see you have assigned a male gender to Marty. I think of Marty as female because there was a cute girl named Marty in one of my classes…

Laura: Clears throat.

After a few more errands we went back to the house. I went into the basement to get birdseed so I could fill the feeders. They use large old pretzel tins as bird seed containers. The tops are difficult to get off and I struggle with them. I noticed that one of the tins was running low so I lugged the large container toward the old refrigerator which is now dedicated to housing excess bird seed.

As I was getting ready to pour seed into the tin something caught my eye. At first I thought it was just a clump of gray seeds, perhaps black oil sunflower seeds, shifting.  When the gray “seeds” moved, I knew it was a mouse of some sort.

I quickly came up with a plan for capture which, involved a scoop funnel (with the funnel end closed) and a coffee tin. Several attempts were made with me jumping in unison with my new furry friend in a staccato rhythm. My plan was catch and release to the great outdoors. Perhaps I should have explained this to the mouse before attempting the catch end of it. The mouse managed to escape to corners of the 60 year old unfinished basement that I was not willing to attempt. Mouse: 1 Me: 0

I thought about suggesting that they get a cat and then I realized I would likely get stuck changing the litter box so I kept that idea to myself. I told my mouse tale to Rob and Laura when I got upstairs. They found it amusing and were not alarmed in any way. Rob explained that they worked out a deal with the rodents. They are welcome to stay as long as they confine their activities to the basement. His house, his rules. I filled the bird feeders and wished them a good afternoon.

 

Friend of the Family

Standard
Friend of the Family

The other day I was assisting clients at the grocery store. We are a slow moving parade when we navigate the aisles. The shopping cart transforms into a makeshift walker for Rob while Laura has her permanent downward head tilt and a cane. This does not go unnoticed by the fellow shoppers or staff. Rob greets each store employee by name with a genuine smile, he’s the real deal. I reach for the items that are too high, too low or too far away. Then I get out the way so they can do what they can, I am mindful of their need to participate as much as possible.

Shopper: It’s so nice that you help them. Are they your parents?

Me: No, I’m a friend of the family.

Laura will refer to me as their driver or nurse depending on who asks (psst…I’m not their nurse or a nurse of any kind, this has been mentioned). Rob refers to me by my name.

That’s really how I see myself. Yes, I get paid to help but I am so much more than paid help. I am an advocate at doctor appointments, a reminder to take medication and I bring yummy meals. I represent freedom with the prolonged ability to live home independently.  I am contact with the outside world when the walls feel like they are closing in. I am a listener, a friend, a caregiver. I am the triage between family members. It is so much more than errands and tasks around the house, it is mutual respect, genuine concern and affection. I am indeed, a friend of the family.

Winter View

Standard
Winter View

I can just barely make out her house from the window above my kitchen sink. Once the trees fill out for spring, I may just see a splash of color or a bit of rooftop. It’s a beautiful house, old and charming, lovingly decorated with authentic treasures and keepsakes. It isn’t large or small and there is nothing cookie cutter about it. Little nooks and crannies are filled with art and memories, photos line the hall going up to the main level. The kitchen is open with modern appliances that somehow work in this older space. There is an air of authenticity about the place. Ginger and Amber are two tiger striped cats and they fit right in.

I went to visit my neighbor today. It was the first time I had ever been inside her house. Years ago my kids and I stood in her driveway getting bags and reflective vests for a neighborhood roadside cleanup. Neighborhood sounds misleading, these houses are all independent of each other in construction and in life. This area is upscale and spread out sadly, I can only name a handful of my neighbors and we’ve lived here for ten years. This is not unusual as most people have busy lives that are headed in different directions.

Today’s visit was as a hospice volunteer, I relieved the caregiver so she could go food shopping. I’ve often wondered what that particular house looked like on the inside and now I know. Once again, I am reminded a lot of people have something difficult going on in their lives right now. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience or a wounded ego, other times it is facing an imminent final goodbye. I’m not sure if I will see my neighbor again. I am sure that I will think of her whenever I drive by her house and I’ll be reminded of what is truly important.

 

Lie To Me

Standard
Lie To Me

Yesterday I went to work for Rob & Laura, my nonagenarian clients. If you follow my blog you already know that I adore them and we have fun doing mundane errands. Yesterday did not disappoint. Laura was getting a hair cut at a nearby salon while Rob and I did some food shopping.

We were in the frozen food aisle at the intersection of peas and dried beef (in Pennsylvania you must be age 75 or greater to purchase dried beef) when we bumped into Marty. You might think, how lovely is Marty a personal friend, acquaintance or helpful employee? Those are all really good guesses so don’t berate yourself for being wrong. Nay, nay friends, Marty is a robot who wanders the grocery store scaring the sh*t out of small children, robophobics (robophobia is real, I Googled it) and customers with a touch of dementia.

In fairness to Rob, Marty showed up out of nowhere. Just appeared at the end of an aisle. Marty and Rob starred at each other for a solid two minutes. Rob watched in a trance as Marty did that awkward oh-shit-where-do-I-go-now robot dance. I’ve only ever seen it before when the Roomba ricochets down the hallway like some modern day version of pinball or drunk staggering down an alley after last call. The worst part is that Marty doesn’t seem overly useful. He’s supposed to clean up spills or something but he’s no Rosie from the Jetsons that’s for sure.

After the grocery store we collected Laura and made our way to Miracle Ear and then a meat store. Rob has a special fondness for the meat store and he purchased several items. When we got back to the house I noticed that the meat drawer in their fridge was overflowing. I date everything and I noticed somethings from mid February. I pointed this out to Laura who assured me that an exhaustive sniff test would be performed before they consumed anything. Then I emailed their adult children to alert them of the rotting meat in the fridge.

After my outing with Rob and Laura I went home. I got home early and offered to make lunch for my husband. I made him a sandwich, it was a fine sandwich by any standard. Later I asked him how he liked it and he replied with a “meh, needed more seasoning”. Then I threw a heavy object in his general direction. Through keen observation he was able to recognize that this response did not please me. Then he said (in a heavy Brooklyn accent) “whadda ya want me to lie?” To which I replied, “yes, yes I do….unless it is in regard to fidelity or finances, lie to me.”

I Get To…

Standard
I Get To…

Every so often the Gods of social media send a pearl of wisdom my way. This morning I was browsing Facebook when I saw a photo that caught my eye. The original post was from Kristen Hampton of WBTV Good News, it featured a handwritten sign which stated: I get to…

According to the original post, Kristen saw that note at a friend’s house. A friend who is currently undergoing chemo for what is described as an awful cancer. Kristen’s friend explained that “I get to” is a substitute for “I have to” and the simplicity and sheer gratitude of that suggestion is inspiring.

I get to is a gentle reminder that all of this is temporary. Whatever problems we have individually and collectively, it’s all so transient.  The kids we wait on will leave the nest (eventually), the aging parents we care for, they’ll also move on to a more permanent place, that boss you can’t stand likely won’t be in your life in five years and on it goes. The list of daily chores and obstacles can seem impossibly long and arduous. I get to is a beautiful, gentle reminder that this is all temporary, so enjoy the ride.

I get to recognizes that it is a gift to be able to tick off the list of things to do for ourselves and others. A reminder that we can control the narrative of our own inner voice.  It reminds us that we are fortunate to have the physical and mental capacity to do the things that need to be done. A suggestion that we have the ability to choose a more positive frame of mind, one grounded in gratitude.