Archive | September 2013


I just left my mom’s place, feeling much better about everything than I did the last couple of times I posted here. Shower assistance went more smoothly tonight and, more importantly, Mom agreed that it would be a good idea to get the staff at her facility on board for this going forward. This is progress.

We’re also making progress with her teeth, albeit slowly. I took her to a dentist on Monday, someone recommended by a friend of mine whose family has been seeing him for years. Even though she had asked me twice after her tooth broke to find her a dentist, when we got there she acted like everything was fine and she didn’t know why I’d brought her. To give Dr. K credit, he was very patient and understanding – and he listened to her, as the patient, rather than just talking to me. From the x-rays and her cries of “ouch!” when he examined her mouth, he determined that the tooth that broke was abscessed.  So the first order of business is to get the root extracted so that it doesn’t continue to leak infection into her bloodstream. We made an appointment to do that next Wednesday, the earliest slot that the oral surgeon had available. (Thankfully, it isn’t causing her pain unless someone presses on her jaw.) But that won’t solve the problem of the upper partial having nothing to fasten to on the right side.

When she was at the dentist’s office, Mom was completely resistant to the idea of replacing her current partials – even though she can hardly chew at all right now and the upper partial keeps falling down. She kept saying that she wasn’t “going to spend a fortune on teeth I may only use for a couple of years” and that she’s getting along fine. Dr. K told me he wasn’t going to try to talk her into dentures unless she really wants them because it’s a long, difficult adjustment for most people. He did mention that he could make her a different kind of bridge for her top teeth that would be more stable than what she has now, but he didn’t push it. We left with no plan beyond the extractions next Wednesday.

When I visited tonight, she asked me “What did we decide about my teeth?” I reminded her that she has an appointment to get the extraction done on Wednesday afternoon, adding that we hadn’t decided anything beyond that. I then mentioned that he had talked about a different kind of bridge that might work better, and I asked if she would like me to find out more about that – how much it would cost, how many appointments it would take, etc. “Yes,” she said. “Would you do that for me? Thank you.”

I need to remember that this is how Mom operates when it comes to big decisions. Her first reaction is ALWAYS resistance to change, but if you give her time to sit with it and pray about it, she comes around.

I guess a lot of people will come around if you’re patient and you meet them on their own terms. The other lady at her table in the dining room, the one who seemed so sour and constantly complaining at first, is very friendly with me now. Even her husband (who really is a Grinch a lot of the time) smiles at me when I approach, and when I asked after his wife’s health and told her I hoped she was feeling better, he blew me a kiss. I’ve started thinking about what little gifts or treats I might bring for her tablemates at the holidays, just a little something to brighten their day.


Playing Nursemaid

I found out over the weekend that my mom hasn’t had a shower since she moved (three weeks ago), because she’s been refusing shower assistance. She’s been making do with sponge baths from the sink, which is what she was doing before we moved her into assisted living last November. I dropped by tonight after dinner, brought her some Ensure shakes for the mornings when she doesn’t feel like going down to breakfast, and talked her into taking a shower.

She said she only wanted someone to be standing by “in case I lose my balance,” but she needed help with everything – how to turn on the shower, holding the handheld shower while she washed, scrubbing her back. She didn’t seem to be at all uncomfortable or concerned about modesty. I guess better the daughter that you used to bathe when she was a baby than a total stranger standing by while you lather up.

Tomorrow after work I’ll take her to get her hair done. That was the “carrot” I used to convince her to take a shower, that she has to take one before the hair salon since I know she won’t want to risk ruining her hair for a few days after she gets it done.

First on my “to do” list tomorrow, though, is researching dentists. When we went into the bathroom, mom showed me a tooth that had broken off her bottom partial – which was already missing two teeth. It’s even looser now, and the need to find a dentist has been upgraded to Urgent. It’s always something…

Sad realities of old folks homes

I’m feeling sad and anxious right now. I’m saddened by what I’ve witnessed at my mom’s assisted living community in the last 24 hours – let’s start there.

I dropped by to spend some time with her yesterday and joined her in the dining room for the evening meal. They have, as I’ve previously mentioned, assigned seating in the dining room. Last night one of the male residents wanted to sit at a different table, since everyone at his table had their heads behind newspapers and he wanted some companionship. There was an empty seat at the table beside us and the two ladies sitting at that table were amenable to him joining them. The server, a young man who often times seems abrupt and impatient, kept insisting that the old man return to his assigned seat. His tone was imperious and condescending at best. He did not say “please”. The old man became querulous and other diners became upset; some were scolding the man to return to his seat and stop causing problems, while others were imploring the server to let him sit where he chose. The server refused to bring him dinner until he returned to his assigned place, which he eventually did… under duress.

I was dismayed by the utter lack of respect and dignity afforded to that gentleman. From where I sat if the server had simply taken two minutes to listen to this resident and speak to him kindly instead of ordering him around the whole scene might have been avoided. I made up my mind to voice my concerns to the administrator at the earliest opportunity.

Today I again joined my mom for a meal. And today the administrator was on hand, helping to serve the Sunday brunch. The resident who had disrupted dinner last night was a few places ahead of me in line, and I heard the administrator admonish him. “You have to be respectful in the dining room. I got five complaints about last night.” The old man tried to make his case and it fell on deaf ears. The administrator is not unkind and he used a gentler tone than the server had last night, but it was crystal clear that his priority is keeping the facility running like a well-oiled machine and not the concerns or preferences of individual residents. I understand why that HAS to be his priority, but it hurts my heart to see any elderly person talked down to and bossed around. It’s evident that this gentleman gets confused and easily agitated, but that’s part of the reality of working with an elderly population. Doesn’t he deserve to be treated with as much dignity and respect as any other human being? Would a little compassion and kindness have been that much extra effort?

At my mom’s previous community in Arizona, while I had some issues with the management I was unfailingly impressed by the attitudes of the caregivers, servers and housekeepers – always smiling, friendly and patient with the residents. They behaved like they CARED, not like people who were punching the clock at a barely above minimum wage job. Maybe it’s harder to find people to do these jobs in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s just a less friendly environment at any assisted living here. I toured several and I know that my mom is in the best one we can afford in my immediate area. But I find myself wishing today that I could win the lottery and move her into a better place, something top of the line, the very best in accommodations and care. Not because she needs or even desires luxury, but because I love her so much and I want to have 100% confidence that she’s being treated with kindness, compassion and dignity when I’m not there.

That’s another thing that is making me sad today: how few family members I’ve seen visiting. I’ve been there 2-3 times a week since she moved in and have eaten several meals with my mom, and to date I’ve observed only two other family members in the dining room. During lunch today a woman at a nearby table told the administrator that her TV isn’t working, and he told her to have her family call Time Warner Cable. “But I don’t see my family!” she exclaimed, sounding distressed. He assured her that he will have staff call the family and she seemed mollified. Meanwhile I sat there beside my mom, eating mediocre cafeteria style food just to be with her, and had to blink back tears. “But I don’t see my family”… Is there anything sadder?

Forecast: Chance of Burnout

Mom is settling right in at her new place. She smiles a lot and is making a real effort to learn people’s names. Besides the three people at her assigned table in the dining room (a Muslim married couple from New York and a friendly Italian gentleman who used to be a news cameraman), she’s gotten acquainted with a couple other folks who attended the sing-a-long music performance on Friday evening. As is her way, she’s unfailingly cheerful even with people who are grumpy and complaining. She even likes the food at her new place, which to me is a major disappointment. It doesn’t take a lot to make Mom happy.

I’ve suspected that her perky enthusiasm has more to do with being near me than anything else. That was confirmed tonight when I was getting ready to leave. I promised that we’ll get the last of the boxes unpacked and all the clutter cleared away before I go back to work on Tuesday, and her face fell. “I won’t be seeing so much of you once you go back to work,” she said. I assured her that we can still see each other often – it just won’t be every day. “As often as possible, please!” she said, with an eager smile. I left, carrying a basket of her laundry that needs special attention, and came home to a messy apartment and two cats who twined around my legs and cried for food and attention after being left alone most of the day.

One of the cats (and a lot of the mess) will go back up north with my brother in a few days. Then it will just be Mom, two miles away and expecting to see me “as often as possible”. My therapist suggested that I set an expectation for visiting only once a week, so that additional visits are a treat and not an obligation. I was thinking more along the lines of two extended visits/outings per week with occasional quick drop-ins between. Because there was so much to do upon move-in, I’ve been with her 8-12 hours a day for the past four days. I’m afraid I’ve inadvertently set an expectation that could lead to massive burnout and resentment if I’m not careful. I can’t leave her alone for a week at a time, but I do need some days to myself – entire days, not just a stolen hour or two here and there.

I can already feel the burnout setting in. I genuinely enjoy spending time with my mom. I get a lot of satisfaction from taking care of her, smoothing out her difficulties and doing things to make her smile. But I don’t want my whole life to become about taking care of others, just when I’ve finally learned to take care of myself.