Stress is a Killer

Let me begin by thanking all of you readers and your thoughtful comments and suggestions when it came to my mom and her care. As of 5 days ago, she is finally in a safe place. Unfortunately, it was after an incident where “Jack” had to be asked, by the police, to leave Mom’s house.  This was followed by two weeks of me stopping by every other day, checking on Mom, giving her meds, watching to make sure she ate, and horrible conversations with her about moving somewhere where she could be safe and taken care of.  You can imagine how those went, right? Not good.

After talking with Mom’s nurse and social worker, and having them tell me that it was really ok to lie to Mom and tell her she had an appointment when, in fact, she was moving, I ended up doing just that. The facility Mom has moved to also knew what was happening and they’ve had to do this type of thing before. The move is for the safety of the person. My emotional health was irrelevant but Mom’s safety was the most important thing I had to keep focusing on. And I did.

Once we were inside the facility and the director told Mom she was staying there for a while, Mom first got angry and headed for the door. Eventually she followed us to her room, sat on a bed, put her head in her hands and sobbed.

It was absolutely fucking awful.

In many ways this was worse than in January, when Mom moved to a different facility. Maybe because I was by myself this time? But in other ways I knew in my heart and soul that this was the best we could do. She would be safe from herself and at least one other. She would be eating 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. She would have other people around to talk with and to. And she’s only 25 minutes from where I live and much closer to other members of the family.

After driving back to her home that day and getting many of her things, then visiting a bit with her after placing family photos around her room, I left her in a good space. She was listening to music with other residents and was enjoying herself.  Then on the ride home, I had a sudden pain in my pancreas.

I’ve had pancreatitis twice now and I know what it feels like. I wondered if last year’s bout was stress-induced, and now, I really think it was and is. I didn’t think I internalized my stress. I talk about it, commiserate with those in similar situations, and attempt to exercise most days to relieve my stress. Obviously I’m doing something awful to my body and I have no idea how to handle my stress. So, to avoid going into the hospital, I’ve drastically reduced my food intake. I’ve lost 4 pounds in 4 days. As much as I’d like to lose a little weight, this isn’t the way I wanted to do it.  But it’s worked so far in keeping me out of the hospital. (I really think this might be some bad karma coming into play. I’ve tried to keep my weight down for my entire adulthood, obsessed over it for too many days to count, and now, here I am, losing weight and not really wanting to. It’s like the Gypsy from Stephen King’s Thinner is after me!) Not sure I can keep up with it for many more days, so I’m slowly increasing my food and testing how I feel. This doesn’t mean I’ll stay out of the hospital, but I have hope. I’m also running a mile a day thanks to Runner’s World “Summer Run Streak” challenge and my friend, Sonya. It might not be the wisest thing to do on such little food, but it gets me outside and out of my head for those few minutes. (Make that 12 minutes since I am definitely running slowly.) I’ve also attempted meditating (that helps get me to sleep) and have tried to take LOTS of deep breaths.

 

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Stressed much?

One of the most difficult things about Mom being where she is are the phone calls. Yesterday Mom had such a great day and told me she was “happy” to be there. That was pretty amazing and something I never heard when she was at the other place. And yet at 8:30 this morning I got a phone call from Mom, asking me to pick her up. I told her she needed to stay there. When she asked why, I told her because of her dementia. She then denied she had it. I should have known better. I never should have brought that up and just said she needed to stay for her health for a few days. Today I learned that this is called a “fiblet”. It is a “necessary white lie to redirect loved ones or discourage them from detrimental behavior.” The term “geriatric fiblet” was created at the 2000 World Alzheimer’s Conference. Who knew?

I went back to see Mom this afternoon since she asked me to visit during that awful phone call. I said I would. My husband told me I didn’t need to go. We had already had an eventful day, going to Mom’s house and taking care of a few things there, as well as dealing with the stress of having to meet “Jack” and hand over the cat. But since Mom is only 25 minutes away, I decided that I needed to do it for me. So I did and it was a brief but lovely visit. So tonight I can sleep well (barring no pancreas pain) and not worry.

That is the hope anyway.

 

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Lessons to Learn

I’ve contemplated writing this post for over a month. I didn’t want to write it because it was no one’s business but mine and my family’s, but isn’t everything I write? Then I didn’t want to write it because the rage I felt prevented me from coming up with any words at all. Just today I decided that yes, I would indeed write about this latest shit storm, if only to help someone else down the road.

Let me begin with saying that if you have Power of Attorney for a family member, even for a person with dementia, that power only goes so far. We live in a country where everyone has rights. This is a good thing. It is. But is that person with dementia able to make good decisions, particularly about their health? Maybe, maybe not. Is a 7 year-old able to make good decisions, particularly about their health? We’re dealing with something very similar here. Just because a person wants to do something and is able to verbalize their want, does not mean that they should be allowed to do said want. Do we let 7-year-olds drive because they want to? Nope. Do we let people with dementia go back to their home with no one capable enough to give them medicine or feed them or remind them to bathe or clean up after them? Apparently yes.

My mother’s “friend”, let’s call him Jack, as in Ass, goes to the residential care facility where my mother is living, and packs up her things. He is going to take her back to her home where she’s happiest. Because my mother has rights, resident rights, she can tell the facility that she’s leaving. I can do absolutely nothing. I try to call her and tell her not to do this. No answer. I call Jack and tell him to stop. He doesn’t answer. I call my sister and we rage but we are helpless. Then I leave nasty voicemail messages on Jack’s phone, ripping him a new one. I have no idea what I said. I just know I was furious and frustrated and couldn’t believe this was happening.

I talked to my mother over the next few days. She, of course, was happy as a pig in shit. And you know, it was nice having her happy, but I also knew she wasn’t safe. During one of these conversations, I could hear Jack in the background, mumbling and freaking about something, but didn’t know what at the time. Apparently Mom’s blood sugar was so high that he was trying to make her a doctor’s appointment. He eventually took her to the ER where they gave her insulin.

I sent Jack a text telling him to take my mother back to the facility or he would need to start taking care of my mother. I sent him a list of things that needed to be done, things I discovered she needed when I tried to care for her in my home. “I’m not a caregiver,” he replied. “I just want to hold my friend’s hand as we go through hell.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake, GROW UP! You better do more than hold her hand, you asshole!

Two days later, Jack calls me sobbing. He “overestimated” himself, he said. He couldn’t take care of my mother. He said more, but honestly I have no idea what he said. He was blubbering. He was hysterical. But, as I discovered when I went to Mom’s house, she was NOT going back to the facility. She refused. She wasn’t going anywhere.

And that’s where we still are.

So what does all of this mean? It means, that in order for my mother to be safe and in a place that I know will give her meds and feed her nutritious meals and be there to help her bathe and remind her to change clothes and provide things for her to do besides stare at the television, I must become her guardian. I must fill out applications for other facilities and make phone calls to Adult Protection Services (again) and make appointments to visit facilities and do more paperwork for financial assistance. I must go to court and officially become her parent.

And you know what?

I really don’t want to.

I’ve been dragging my feet with the court piece. I have essentially been my mother’s parent for a few years now–paying her bills, taking her to appointments, and while she lived with us, making sure she ate and giving her meds and cleaning up after her. But once she moved to the residential care facility, I didn’t have to do any of that. I knew she was safe. I knew she was being taken care of. Whenever I visited or called, she was doing well. She really liked a few residents, she occasionally partook in activities, she was ok. I knew she wanted to be home with her cat. I completely understood. But things weren’t good at her home. Things ARE NOT good at her home. So for two months, I didn’t have to be my mother’s parent. I got to be my son’s parent instead. And now that the tide has turned once again, I’m not ready for it. Well…no. It’s not that I’m not ready. I just don’t want it.

I’m angry. I did what I was supposed to do. I tried to help my mom by taking care of her, then when that wasn’t working, I found people to take care of her better than I could. Then this Jack goes and does what I suppose he thought was the right thing, but all it’s done is hurt everyone involved. I have never in my life, felt such rage. I had never fantasized about killing someone before, but Jack changed all of that.

I’m frustrated. The amount of paperwork I have to fill out seems to have doubled. I peck away at it occasionally, but I know the end result of all of this is not going to be enjoyable. Once I become my mother’s guardian, if she still refuses to leave her home, she’ll have to be physically removed. I don’t know what that will entail and I really, REALLY hope I don’t have to find out.  And through all of this, I really, really just want to talk to my mom. I’m trying to do what’s best for her. Is this it? I have no idea. It’s either safe or happy. It apparently cannot be both. At least not for her.

This is the reality of taking care of a parent. It’s fucking awful. Now, not everyone will have this kind of horrible story. Some will have parents who have already planned everything beforehand. Some will have parents that willing go to facilities (which my mother did, then changed her mind). And some of you, like me, may have a parent who has hooked up with an incredible loser that will destroy any good thing you’ve done for your parent.

If that latter example is you, then just know that you’re not alone. Know that others have traveled or are traveling the journey and although it’s worse than riding a crowded Greyhound bus cross-county with a backed up toilet, there is help. Not a lot of help, and the process is extremely slow, but eventually things will change. I can’t say for the better because I’m not on the other side yet. I’m hoping for better, especially for my mom. And if we get there, I’ll be sure to let you know.

alzsucks

 

In the midst of things…

My family and I are in the middle of the 5th month of our spending moratorium. After cancelling our vacation,  we seem to always search for that silver lining. We have our days that we feel sorry for ourselves and mope around the house, whining that we’ll never go on a nice vacation….ok, I’m the one that really does that….but other days we try to look on the bright side of things.

For instance, with our tax refund this year, we were able to not only pay off the credit card but one of our loans that had some old debt on it. We paid it off a year early! And with that bit of extra money, we’re hoping to pay off this new car loan by January.  So what does that mean for us? Does it mean we can ease up on the moratorium and try to have a little fun? Well…not really.

Since we paid off the loan, we were able to loan two of our family members a little money (just $20 or $25) when they needed it and it didn’t hurt us too bad. That was a good feeling, and they both paid us back which is even better! But for the past few weeks, I’ve spend more on groceries than normal. I haven’t been as diligent. I kept saying, “Oh, we’re good! Look at all we’ve done!” And then I felt the squeeze. My husband didn’t work 40 hours one week, we both had doctors’ appointments the next week, two of our cats were due for the their shots…you get the picture.  That’s when Holly started freaking out.

I started getting grumpier than my normal. I started interrogating my husband on what he bought and where. I ate cereal for supper more than once, trying to spread the meals out a little more for the rest of the family. Of course, then I gorged myself on chocolate chips on those nights because it felt good and I needed to feel good. Which made me depressed about my weight, my lack of running and the fact that we were low on chocolate chips.  See that nasty downward spiral?

But then little things started to pop up that made me happy.  Little things that were really big things. Like my mom taking my son and myself to McDonald’s for lunch. We went INSIDE the building. We sat INSIDE! Last week Mom went grocery shopping with me. She actually went INTO THE GROCERY STORE. This is really big. I haven’t been inside a public building with my mother in over a year, except for hospitals and doctor’s offices. When we went into the store, she folded up her walker, put it in a cart, and started pushing it all through the store. And I mean all through the store! It was awesome! Really, really awesome. She recognized a few people, she remembered what was on her grocery list, she knew what was going on. It was FANTASTIC!  True, she was wearing the sweat suit she seems to want to wear all the time and she didn’t have her teeth in, her teeth that were never found, but who cares? She was aware and coherent and cruising along. It was a good day.

Other little things that have made me happy? Watching the Oscars with my brother. It may have been in the hospital, but he made me laugh hysterically, like he always does. And right now, at least this week, he’s feeling better and he’s home. So that makes me happy. Hanging out with some of my family this weekend, just having lunch, chatting, watching The Love Boat–all made me happy. Listening to my child spell words for his father–that not only made me happy but amused the hell out of me. Watching comedians on Netflix, laughing at a joke my husband told, talking with some of my favorite people via email and Facebook–all of that made and makes me happy.

There really are silver linings out there, somewhere. Not for everything for sure, and certainly not all of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all sunshiney and farting rainbows, people! I’m not always happy when friends they tell me about their fantastic vacations they’re planning or what incredible (and incredibly expensive) outings they’re going on with their children. I can get downright pissy. But when I come back to myself, I remember that this debt business isn’t their fault. That’s all mine (and my husband’s). And although I might think snarky thoughts and hope they get into debt because of their fabulous vacation, I usually snap out of it and wish them well and try not to be such a bitch.

Then I go off and start looking and searching and hoping for the bright side, the silver lining, the good stuff.

It’s usually out there.

So let’s go find it.

 

Just Awful

Yesterday morning, as I sobbed and hiccupped on my couch, I told my husband I was a horrible caregiver. “I’m too selfish to do this,” I cried.

Just when I think things are ok, they’re really not.

My mother has Type 2 Diabetes, and before she had dementia, it wasn’t a huge problem. She didn’t eat very well, but she took her medication and it was manageable. Then we realized that she hadn’t been taking any medication for nearly 5 months, things were bad. So my caregiving duties were upped a bit and I started religiously visiting my mother at least once a week to fill her pill container and to chat and just see her. Yet in the past month, the situation started to decline. Mom just hasn’t been taking her medication. Maybe twice a week, but that’s all. I don’t know why, but something changed. The first week it happened, I hoped it was just a bad week. And the next week she did take all of her meds, so I thought indeed it had been a snafu. But then for the next 3 weeks, she only sporadically took everything she needed to. And only once did I say, “Mom, you really need to take your medicine, ok?” But why? Why did I only ask her once? Because although I am 43 years old, I still don’t want my mother mad at me.

I am very rarely the recipient of my mother’s wrath. My sister has been the unfortunate one in that scenario and it can be awful. You can practically eat the silence that invades the room when she’s angry. It’s thick and dark like molasses. Or the look she gives you. Christ, a person could burst into flames if they get that look.

But I mean, really, who wants their mother mad at them? No matter what age? But….I know I need to ask my mother if she’s taken her pills…and I need to ask every day….which, in my opinion, is completely awful.

This all came up at Mom’s doctor’s appointment a few days ago. Her glucose levels were off the charts and Mom’s healthcare provider asked my mother if it was ok if I asked her to take her pills. “I know you care about me. I know why that’s the reason you’re asking, so it’s ok,” Mom said. So that’s what I’ll do.

And then I get a late night phone call from the on-call doctor at Mom’s doctor’s office. He tells me Mom’s glucose levels are in fact over 600 and she should go to the ER and get insulin. So…here I am, 35 minutes from where my mother lives. I know that if I call her and wake her up, she’ll be confused and probably hang up on me. If she’s still awake, more than likely she will refuse to go anywhere because it’s late at night and she’s not going to wake her friend and have him take her. So…I don’t call my mother. I wait until the next morning and explain the situation. She says she’ll go to the ER. She then calls me back 10 minutes later, asking what she’s supposed to do at the hospital, what to say, what will they do. Then calls back one more time to say she’s leaving for the ER, but says, “But I’m not staying!” I reassure her that they’ll probably only give her an IV for fluids and some insulin then she can go back home. Which is what they did. They brought her levels down significantly and she’s ok.

But I burst into tears after that last phone call. The self-doubt and guilt completely overwhelmed me. Should I have called her the night before? I could have driven over there and taken her, right? Why didn’t I at least give her the option the night before? I want to say it’s because I knew she wouldn’t go. But I don’t really know that, do I? I was tired, I was on my way to bed, and I didn’t want to deal with one more thing.

Do other caregivers go through this? Do they do stupid, awful things and continuously wonder what the hell they’re doing? This is so much like being a parent, but not. I feel like I have the same amount of responsibility as with my child, but yet more urgency and less power. I am still my mother’s child. I don’t want to make her angry or upset and yet I don’t want to fail her, either. And if I don’t step up my game, I think I’m going to do just that.

 

The Right Stuff

Taking Mom to her neurology appointments are emotionally exhausting affairs. They make me feel very uncomfortable. It is obvious that in this particular office, I am my mother’s parent. I am asked questions about her health, her memory and the level of her confusion.  Don’t get me wrong, this is done in a very respectful way. The doctor asks my mother if it’s ok to ask me questions, and so far, my mother has always replied very happily, “Absolutely!” I think she likes that I’m in the hot seat before she is.

Then the doctor turns to my mother and asks her a few general questions about her health or her habits before getting into more serious memory testing. Meanwhile, I sit diagonal from my mom and stare at the floor. I look up occasionally to see the reactions of both the doctor and my mother, but mostly I just try to shrink into myself and disappear. This seems like such a private encounter to have to witness. It feels like I’m watching my mother be interrogated and she appears very vulnerable during these interviews. Sometimes tears run down her face while she answers the questions. I desperately want to leave the room while this is going on, but I have to stay. I give the doctor clues when Mom’s answers are not true or just a bit off. Like today. The doctor asked Mom if she ever goes to the library to get reading material. She book-mobilereplied that she didn’t, but the bookmobile comes around once a month.

Ummm…..what the? We haven’t had bookmobiles in this area for about 40 years. No joke. It was such a random thing to say. I was surprised she didn’t mention the library where I work. But something about that bookmobile memory was just floating around in her brain and it popped out. So bizarre.

Yet most of Mom’s other answers to the variety of questions? FANTASTIC!  At the end of the doctor’s interview, she told my mother how impressed she was with how she did. At this point in the year, Mom should have been on this Alzheimer’s medication for 6 months. But due to the snafu we had this summer, she’s only been on it for a month. The doctor knew about this and yet Mom’s memory and level of confusion had improved tremendously since January when she initially saw the doctor. Let me say that I love this neurologist. She’s always brutally honest, there’s no sugar coating for this lady, and yet she conveys empathy and compassion.  She told us that she realized that last January’s appointment could have been a particularly bad day for Mom and today could have been a particularly good day. But even with that, Mom was more than keeping her own. She was actually improving. The Aricept that Mom is taking typically just maintains people’s memory loss, or delays the advancement of the loss, but in 10% of the patients who take it the medication improves the patients’ cognition. The doctor said that Mom may actually be one of those 10%.  YES!!

*big smiles and clapping hands*

I know that everything can change very quickly. I know that most likely, there will be a day that my mother will not know who I am. But that day isn’t here. Not yet. And it might be just a little further off than it was before. And that, my friends, is reason to celebrate.

Three cheers for a good day!

 

Duped

What do you do when you feel betrayed by someone you love? Do you get angry and lash out at that person? Do you stop talking to them? Or do you try and discuss the situation and attempt to forgive?

How about if that person has dementia? Then how would you react?

Today I took my mom to an appointment with her doctor. This was no big deal, just a quick check up to see how everything is going. The doc decided to check Mom’s blood sugar since it had been a while, as well as her A1c number. (If you’re not diabetic or don’t know one, the A1c number is basically a test to show how your blood sugar levels have been for the past few months. The test should be done every 6 months, but possibly every 3 if things are not great.) First the nurse did a quick test of Mom’s blood sugar–it was over 300.  For an average person, 100 or below is good. Then she tested Mom’s A1c. A 6 or 7 is good, and Mom’s was above 13.  In other words, it’s a shit storm.

After a little investigating and questioning both Mom and myself, the doctor discovered that Mom’s meds should have needed a refill at least 8 months ago. EIGHT MONTHS. The doctor turned from her nurse to look at both Mom and me. She tilted her head and had this smug yet pitying look on her face. I wanted to smack that look right off her face. Was I defensive? You bet I was. I fucked up, but I wasn’t going down alone. “So…how often are you supposed to check Mom’s A1c?” It had been nearly a year since they checked it, so we all fucked up.

Now the question was, why was her blood sugar so bad? Was she eating well? Probably not, but that’s a given. Was she taking her medication? Mom certainly thought she was, as did I. That’s the one thing Mom had always been so good about was taking her meds. Or was she? Did I just believe her because she’s my mom and she’s so damn convincing? Or because I didn’t want to take on any more responsibility?

JACKPOT! Finger on the nose!  You got it, Holly!

I wasn’t ready.

So. After this visit, I took Mom home and we went through her medications. She actually did have some of her diabetic medication left from over a year ago, which means she only took it sporadically. But her other meds? Oh my god, her other meds. Like the pills she takes for dementia?

Not one pill had been taken. Not one. In 5 months. Not one.

I am an idiot. I am not a good caregiver. It’s obvious to me now, in fact, that I suck at it.

wrong

I’ve wanted my mom back for so long and kept hoping things would just stay at this even keel for years and I could keep pretending that things were good and I was just her daughter and not her housekeeper or nurse or parent.

I have to stop thinking that way now. It’s all a bunch of damned excuses!! I have to suck it up and help her.

I don’t blame my mother for this. Not at all. For just a moment I felt duped. Like she had stopped taking her medications on purpose. But that feeling only lasted a moment. I knew it wasn’t true. I knew the true deceiver in this situation was me. I felt a betrayal, but it was on my mother’s behalf. I didn’t keep her safe like I was supposed to.

You know, I realize how selfish I’ve been and still am. Even today after all this. I know I need to go over to Mom’s place once a week and make sure her meds are all set and ready to go for the week. It’s not a huge deal. It means either I need to take my son over on the weekend after his soccer game or skip a morning exercise routine during the week. When I say it out loud, it’s so little I’m giving up to help her…but why does it feel so big?

I feel like I’ve taken one more step closer to….I’m not sure to what or to where. Maybe just feeling like I’m more of a parent now? Like before I was parenting a teenager and now we’ve gone backwards and it’s closer to parenting a Kindergartner?  Or maybe it’s because it is another step.

It’s one more step towards the day my mother won’t know who I am.

 

 

 

Becoming My Mother

motherdaughterThere’s no doubt I am a lot like my mother. We look alike in some ways, have many of the same mannerisms, same obsession about making things neat, same love of vanilla ice cream. As I watch my mother’s mind deteriorate, I can’t help but wonder if we will also share the same fate.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly in the last month when my husband found my vitamins in the refrigerator. I’ve also had more of those moments when I just cannot grasp that one word I’m looking for. Do you know what I mean? You’re having a conversation with someone and all of a sudden you draw a blank on that one specific word. You haven’t lost the thread of the conversation (yet) but you can’t think of that one friggin’ word.

I often find myself in this situation when it comes to naming actors. I’ll be talking with a library patron about a particular movie and if I can’t remember the actor’s name, I start googling the other film titles I can remember just to narrow down the possible name. It drives me bananas!

And then on Friday, I got this weird vision impairment thing for a few minutes and it made me stop and think, “Shit. Do I need to go to a neurologist, too, and find out if my brain is already going wacky?” Maybe. Maybe I need to be a little cautious and make sure I’m ok. And maybe I’m just freaking out about my mom and worried that I’m following down the same exact path she did.

My sister and I often talk about how doomed we are. On nearly every branch of our family tree, a female member had dementia or Alzheimer’s disease–both of our grandmothers, at least one of our great grandmothers, and all three of our aunts. This past weekend there was an incident with my mom, and I asked my sister, “Is this what will happen to us?”

Not only is it frightening to watch my mother go through this horrible decline of her mental and physical health, but to think that my sister and I may have to go through it, too. Will my son be on the other end of the phone line, listening to me cry in confusion and frustration, just like I listened to my mother? Will he have to take me to my doctor’s appointments and tell them what is really going on in my life, because I have no memory of what happened the day before?  The thought of putting him through all of that gives me a belly ache. And yet, I am already turning to my 8-year-old son and saying, “Bri, what’s the name of that song? You know, the one with the guy that loves the girl?”

I can only hope that in the future, I’ll realize my decline, realize that I could harm myself or someone else. Having someone tell you that your memory is getting worse, doesn’t always do the trick. It makes you want to prove them wrong. Admitting that your mind isn’t what it used to be is a *very* difficult thing to do, and when you fear losing your independence, it’s nearly impossible. I can only hope that I’ll have the courage to admit to myself and to others when my mind is failing, and get help before I lose my chance to make my own choices.

This is what I fear for my mother. I want her to still be able to make whatever choices she wants to, to make her life her own. But things are getting more and more difficult and I feel like her time is running out to make those choices. We had several conversations in the past and papers have been signed, but not everything has been said. There are still things to be done and decisions to be made.

But…not yet.

Right now it’s just time to take deep breaths, to stay calm.

And to hope.

I no longer know what to hope for, but hoping for something good seems like the way to go.

So let’s do it. Let’s hope for good and see what happens.