Archive | February 2013

Caretaker anxiety

My last night in Prescott, I woke in the wee hours from a most disconcerting dream. I was driving with my mom along the side of a lake and somehow I ran the car off the road and into the lake. (It wasn’t like I was speeding or spun out of control, just cruising along and then suddenly I’m over the edge.) I heard the loud splash as we hit the water and my heart started pounding. “No!” I said, in shock and denial, “That did not just happen!” The part of me that was aware I was dreaming tried to undo it, just will the car back onto the pavement, but it didn’t work. I watched the water rising up past my window as we sank and had a horrifying realization that we were about to die and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I don’t think I even tried to break the glass, just sat there in shock watching the water rise. Then I woke up, heart racing and gasping for air.

Although it was very brief, it was beyond disturbing. Everything about the dream has stuck with me. I can still vividly recall the sound of the splash and the weird, hazy underwater light as the car sank.

It doesn’t take a genius to interpret this one. I’m the one responsible for keeping my mom safe and I’m terrified that I’ll make a wrong move and cause (or fail to protect her from) harm. I’m also the one who “drove” her into this assisted living community, over the objections of our family friend who had heard some negative things about the care residents receive. That’s at the heart of my anxiety, I think. I observed a couple of issues with medication management during my visit and now I’m second guessing myself, fearing that I’ve sent her into harm’s way instead of to safety. It just gets so overwhelming at times. I do feel like I’m in over my head. Glub, glub, glub…

Positive changes

Mom is already much better, to my profound relief. She’s up and dressed, going down for meals, alert and talkative, and we’ve been able to enjoy our visit for the past two days. I can fly home tonight without worrying.

I enjoy going down to the dining room with her; it’s great people watching and sometimes downright comical. A typical example: The server comes around to take our orders. Less than two minutes after she moves on to the next table, the woman sitting across from me is asking “When are they going to come take our order?” I gently reply that they already have. “They did?” Mom asks. “What did I order?” I overhear an old man at the table behind ask for a grilled cheese sandwich because he doesn’t like either of the two entrée choices today. When they bring the food, he sees that his tablemates are eating chicken and asks the server why he doesn’t have any meat. She explains that she brought him what he ordered. “I don’t want this,” he tells her. I hear her patiently explaining at least six times that he can have chicken or veal instead, but he needs to tell her what he wants to eat. He won’t give an answer except to keep repeating that he doesn’t want the grilled cheese sandwich. She’s sweet and patient through the entire exchange, and I wonder how she does it day in and day out (probably for minimum wage).

Speaking of sweet people… We learned this weekend that my mom’s lovely roommate, Margie, is moving out. She is going to a different facility where she can get a higher level of nursing care. Mom will miss her; they’ve really bonded and become good friends in these last six weeks. There is good news in this change, though. Margie has the larger bedroom with the walk-in closet, which will become Mom’s room after she moves out. So the next time I come back, we can get the rest of her clothes and furniture out of storage and get her fully set up here. Eventually she’ll have a new roommate, but that could take a few months. In the long run, I think this is a good thing.

Urgent Care

All our plans for the weekend have been scrapped. When I arrived this morning (I’m sleeping at a friend’s house nearby), it was immediately obvious that she is very sick. Overnight her eyes had swollen grotesquely and were very red. She sounds like she’s hacking up a lung and was too weak to even get out of bed for more than a few minutes. I called for the nurse right away; she listened to Mom’s lungs with a stethoscope, asked a couple of questions about her symptoms and said that she needs to see a doctor right away to get antibiotics.

We spent the better part of the afternoon at Urgent Care, where the PA expressed concern about her low oxygen levels and high blood pressure. (Interestingly, he told her to lay off the Mucinex because it could be pushing the BP up.) The diagnosis was bronchopneumonia, bronchitis and conjunctivitis (yep, pinkeye – just as I thought). The doctor said “it’s not pneumonia YET” and told us that her lungs didn’t sound too bad, but because of her previous history of pneumonia he recommended treating it aggressively. They got her started with a nebulizer steroid treatment and an injection of antibiotics, then sent us home with four prescriptions – antibiotics, steroid, an inhaler and drops for her eyes.

I brought Mom home and put her to bed, then ran out to fill the prescriptions and get the meds handed off to the med techs at her facility and set up the humidifier in her bedroom. Her roommate has gone down to dinner but they’re sending a tray up for us – chicken soup for Mom and the rest of tonight’s meal (popcorn shrimp and fries) for me. Mom is sleeping but it doesn’t seem to be restful. She’s been mumbling and whimpering in her sleep; I keep getting up to check on her, thinking she’s calling for me. She seems so fragile, so vulnerable.

It’s very quiet in here. I brought a book to read, a novel called Dad by William Wharton, but I don’t want to read it. It’s about a middle aged man dealing with his mother’s heart attack and father’s subsequent descent into dementia, and it’s just too close to home right now.

I’m fighting a head cold myself and want more than anything to take a nap, but there’s no room to get comfortable on the tiny love seat… and besides, they’ll be coming around to give Mom her meds any minute now.

Another wake-up call

I flew out this morning to spend a long weekend with my mom. I arrived just after lunchtime to find her in bed, asleep. She’s been fighting a cold for the last few days and I guess it’s just beating her down. I had stopped at Walmart on my way into town to get her Mucinex and Alka Seltzer Plus cold medicine, since she told me on the phone Wednesday that she’d run out of the cold medicine we got her last time. I also picked up a heart shaped tin of Dove chocolates at half price. When I showed it to her, she propped herself up on one elbow and held out her hand, her expression as eager as a child’s. Mom always did have a sweet tooth. We each had a chocolate and then I got her a glass of water and gave her a Mucinex. She’s got a hacking cough that sounds painful and a lot of chest congestion. Her hair looked awful, like it hadn’t been washed or even combed in days. I asked her when her next appointment is with the hairstylist who comes to the assisted living, and she said “I don’t think I made one.”

Oh dear. Unbeknownst to Mom, a group of her friends from the old apartment complex have been planning a special luncheon in her honor and they scheduled it for this Monday so that I could join them. A dozen ladies at a fancy restaurant and Mom without her hair done? This will never do. I got right on the phone and made her an appointment for a wash and set tomorrow morning. Now I just hope she’ll be feeling up to it – or, for that matter, for the luncheon on Monday.

She barely touched her dinner. Before they’d even come around with dessert, she told me she wanted to go back to her room and lie down. Skipping dessert is a sure sign that she’s not feeling well. When we got back to the apartment, though, she settled into her easy chair and turned on the TV. I think she did doze a bit in the chair during Andy Griffith reruns on TV Land. Andy Griffith was followed by M*A*S*H, which I’ve always enjoyed.

In the middle of an episode, Mom shouted over the blaring TV something about her eye. I turned down the volume and asked her to repeat it. Her eye felt sticky, she said, and a little sore. Would I take a look? I crouched down by the chair and had her remove her glasses. Her eyelids looked red and there was a little mucus in the corner of her right eye. Oh crap, is that pinkeye? Anxious, I pulled out my iPhone to consult WebMD, which suggested washing the eyes with water (or a natural tears solution, which we didn’t have) and using warm compresses every few hours. I read that to her and she got up, forgetting her walker, and headed into the kitchen where she started banging around in the cupboards. What are you looking for, Mom? Something to rinse my eyes with, she answered. In the kitchen?? I gently redirected her to the bathroom, where we checked the medicine cabinet. No eye drops, but half a box of Mucinex and an unopened bottle of cough syrup. She didn’t run out, she just forgot where it was. I helped her bathe her eyes with warm water and then prepared a warm washcloth for a compress. Before I left for the night, we repeated the process and I gave her some cough medicine.

It’s a fresh wake-up call every time I see her. She needs so much. She’s rapidly losing the ability to take care of even simple things for herself. The one piece of good news today is that we met with a kind, wonderful woman who works for a company that provides personal care services. They offer what they call “concierge service” at my mom’s facility, which you can purchase in half hour increments for only ten dollars. She was warm and friendly and gave Mom a hug when she left. So the next time Mom needs someone to run to the drugstore for cough syrup or whatever and our friend is out of town, I have someone I can call.

First thing in the morning, I’m tracking down the nurse and asking her to check on Mom. I’m worried. But I’m sure glad I’m here.