Tag Archive | mom

Turning Slowly

I didn’t see Mom over the weekend because I was back-to-back-to-back with other commitments. Until recently, I felt so guilty if I couldn’t take her to church. But now half the time we (my niece or I) go to pick her up on a Sunday morning, she’s still in bed – even though we’ve given up on 9:30 Sunday school to give her an extra hour of sleep. So I  just called her caregivers and told them they could let her sleep in yesterday and I’d come by later.

After work today I dropped by with her rent check and the new lightweight “transfer” wheelchair. It’s going to be great. I sat in it for the hour that I visited with Mom, and it’s quite comfortable. It folds up nicely and is light enough that I can pick it up and carry it under one arm. (Well, maybe not under one arm with the footrests attached.) Mom looked great, bright-eyed and alert; and when I asked how her knees were doing, she said they’re not bothering her so much and showed me that she could bend the knees and stretch out her legs without pain.

I noticed a couple of things that tell me things are changing, though.

Her memory, which has been on a plateau for these last couple years, seems to have slipped a bit further. She asked how my day was, and I regaled her with a story of the ridiculousness of my Monday at work. A brief pause, while I rub her calves and she looks at the TV, then she looks back up at me. “So, how was your day?” I found an unopened envelope on the table next to her bed from her sister, Alice, and handed it to her. She opened it up and read the letter out loud to me, two sides of one sheet of paper, typed in large print. She finished the letter, turned the page over to the first side, and said “Oh, I haven’t read this. Should I read it out loud?”

Also, she seemed to be having a little trouble reading parts of the letter, and I couldn’t tell if it was her eyesight (she does have macular degeneration) or if she was getting confused. I’m going to ask her caregivers if she’s still actually reading the pile of books on her end table. It may be time to quietly remove most of them and replace them with large print books. And if anyone has suggestions for a device to play audio books that an 89-year-old dementia patient can manage, please let me know.

Christmas Trip, Part 1

Mom and I are in Ohio, staying with her sister for the next week. We arrived late Saturday night after a long travel day: flight from Burbank to Phoenix, rushing through PHX with a wheelchair attendant to just make our 3.5-hour flight to Cleveland, then a 90-minute drive in my cousin’s car. Mom was perky the whole way, unconcerned about the tight connection or the turbulence for the first hour of the second flight, chatting happily with her nephew as we drove. I was dead on my feet exhausted as I helped her brush her teeth and get into her pajamas, and asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Yesterday I woke up before my body or brain were ready to function, worried about Mom waking up in an unfamiliar room and not knowing how to find the bathroom or her clean Depends. To my surprise, she was already up and sitting in an easy chair by the Christmas tree, working a crossword puzzle, completely comfortable. As I helped her get dressed, I asked if it had been disconcerting waking up in a strange room. She shrugged that off and told me “I’ve stayed in this room lots of times. It’s very familiar.”2015-12-20 14.35.57

We had a busy Sunday with lots of family dropping in and out all afternoon – drank too many cups of coffee and ate too many sweets – and Mom enjoyed every minute of it.

For the second night in a row, I slept as if sedated and had to drag myself out of bed to get Mom up. Being alert to her every need all day long takes it out of me. We were having cereal and coffee in the dining room when she looked at me and asked “Whose house is this?” I told her we are at Alice’s house and today is December 21, and she smiled happily. “It’s almost Christmas!”

Her feet were very swollen yesterday, likely from the long flights, so this morning I checked with her nurse and gave her a full 20 mg Lasix tablet instead of her usual half. She also had some digestive distress, which wasn’t fun for either of us since she didn’t make it to the bathroom on time. Luckily we have easy access to a washer and dryer. And nothing got messy that couldn’t be easily cleaned. I count that as a win. Also, thankfully, it passed quickly and she was soon feeling better. I’m also counting it as a win that I’ve remembered all four of her daily medication dosages on time for three days now. Better put reminders on my calendar in case I just jinxed myself by saying that.

I went out to run some errands with my aunt this afternoon and picked up some diabetic socks for Mom. Hopefully those will help with the swelling. I also picked up a bottle of Tylenol and a back pain patch for myself. I seem to have strained a muscle in my lower back, probably from bending over to roll a suitcase through the airport after the extendable handle came apart. It hurts to bend down or sit too long, and I feel like we’re quite the pair of frail old ladies right now… and all of this gives me a new level of respect for all the family caregivers out there who are coping with their own health challenges while caring for an elderly parent.

But it’s worth every minute of stress and aggravation, every twinge of aching muscles, to see her so happy and content here. And we haven’t even gotten to Christmas yet!

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Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

It was three years ago this week that I started this journey with my mom, as Facebook helpfully reminded me – calling up in its Memories section those angst-ridden first posts about her car accident, the fear of a possible stroke, the irrefutable discovery of dementia symptoms. I remember how scared I was for her, how helpless I felt being far away, how much I worried about making the right choices on her behalf. I didn’t feel up to this new level of responsibility that had been thrust on me overnight.

Two years ago, Mom was recovering after another hospitalization and I didn’t know if she’d be out of skilled nursing in time to spend Thanksgiving with me. She entered my apartment in a wheelchair, my friend having thrown out his back helping me haul her and the chair up the seven or so steps into my building, spent much of the visit sleeping and only ate a few bites of the turkey dinner. I thought I’d have to move into an accessible building if I were ever to bring her to visit me again. When I drove her back to the assisted living hotel the next day, we found the roof leaking and she had to be moved into another room – and I fretted and stressed about leaving her there alone.

How thankful I am that this year she could climb the steps on her own (with me at her side, of course, holding her steady) and had the energy to enjoy a lively Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, even after a relatively late night at the Thanksgiving Eve service at her church. She ate heartily and said many times how much she enjoyed herself, though she did retreat to the sofa with a crossword puzzle as the evening wore on. (One of the advantages of old age, I suppose, is you don’t have to pretend to be engaged in a conversation that isn’t holding your interest. You can just go do something else!)

And I am thankful for my friends, who make a point to spend time talking to her and treat her kindly and don’t laugh when she talks or sings to herself while working her puzzles.

We got off to a shaky start today because she said she didn’t need to visit the bathroom and I didn’t insist, and then she had an accident. She seems so much like her old self these days, I sometimes forget just how much help she still needs. But I got her cleaned up and dressed in fresh clothes, and  after we had pumpkin pie and coffee for breakfast she insisted on helping me with the dishes. Then she took a nap on the couch while I got some work done on my computer.

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When I took her home this afternoon, it was to a place that has truly become her Home, a place I am thankful for every single day. Life is good, and we are truly blessed, both of us. So thankful.

 

 

 

Not how I expected to spend my Sunday

I’m writing this perched at the foot of my mom’s hospital bed. We were at church this morning and the service was just starting when she said she had to use the bathroom. She was sitting on the toilet and I was crouched on the floor in front of her, helping with her pants and shoes, when she suddenly grabbed the handrail and slumped sideways against the wall.

“Are you OK?” I asked. No response. “MOM, are you OK?!”

The third time I asked, she mumbled something unintelligible. It sounded like her mouth was full of marbles. She was leaning so far over, I was afraid she’d slide right off the toilet and hit her head. I stood in front of her, holding her arms, tried to get her to sit straight again but she kept slumping back against the wall.

I thought she might be having a stroke. I was terrified. I told her, as calmly as I could, that I needed to take her to the hospital. It was probably only a moment or two before she said, softly but clearly, “I’m OK.” It felt like hours. I asked if she thought she could stand so that I could pull her pants up. Holding onto me and the handrail, she managed to do that. I got her dressed, seated on the seat of her walker, where she slumped forward again, and rolled her out of the bathroom. Then I ducked into the sanctuary and saw the pastor’s wife standing just inside the door. “I need help!” I told her. “I have to get my mom to a hospital.”

The pastor’s wife brought two men to help, who between them were able to lift Mom’s walker down the two steps to street level. One of the men scooped Mom up like she was a little girl to put her into my car. I pulled out my phone to get directions to the nearest hospital, and my hands were shaking so much I could hardly type. I still didn’t know what had happened to my mom, and all I could think was that I was wasting valuable seconds.

Thankfully, the hospital was less than five minutes away. Miraculously, there was no line in the ER when we arrived. They took her back right away, took her vitals and history, got her into a room where she was seen by the doctor. Everything looked fine except her heart rhythm, which he described as “very slow and irregular with long pauses.” He said that would explain her fainting spell and also the periodic episodes of lightheadedness she’s been having for the last six months or so. She was admitted for observation. They are making some changes to her medication, which might correct the issue. If it doesn’t, the next step is a pacemaker.

By the time we got up to her room in the cardiac ward, she was feeling like her usual self. They brought her a lunch tray and she ate heartily. Same with dinner. She doesn’t remember anything that happened at church and keeps asking me why she’s in the hospital when she doesn’t feel sick, but she’s lucid and her voice is strong… and I am so SO thankful that it was not a stroke.

And even though she probably took five years off my life with that scare this morning, I am hopeful that getting this properly diagnosed and treated is going to improve the quality of her life – and, by extension, the quality of mine.

What a difference a year makes

One year ago my mom was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) as the cause of her dementia and balance/mobility issues. She was perpetually confused, couldn’t remember basic things like where she lived or what season of the year it was. At the time she was also recovering from a serious infection and had such severe edema that she couldn’t fit shoes on her swollen feet. She was not sleeping well at night and wanted to stay in bed all day. Walking farther than across the room tired her out. She had lost twenty pounds in three months, and I felt like she was wasting away in front of my eyes.

Yesterday Mom had her annual check-up with her primary care physician and the news was all good. Her weight has been stable (at about 134) for six months. Her heart function is good and the edema is long gone. In the mini mental exam, she correctly answered the year, the season and the day of the week. When asked what state she lives in, she automatically said “Arizona” (where she lived for 20+ years) but instantly caught herself and added “No, I live in California now.”

When the doctor asked her how she’s been feeling, she answered with a smile, “I feel great! For my age, I think I’m in remarkably good health.” Compared to this time last year, it really IS remarkable. You can see it here, comparing her birthday photo this year with the one we took last year.

Mom Then and Now

A year ago I was anxious about leaving her for a weekend to attend my niece’s graduation. At the end of this month, I’m taking a real vacation – nine days at a campground without internet connection or cell reception, truly unplugging from my job as caregiver for the first time in three years. I’ve made arrangements for someone to take her to church, for a friend to check on her mid-week and for another friend to be on call in case of any medical emergencies. But I’m not worried. She’s healthy and happy, and I know she’ll be just fine while I’m gone.

What a difference a year makes!

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By the light of a silvery moon

Driving home from work this evening, I saw the full moon and remembered…

While playing Scrabble one night with some cousins on the Ohio visit, Mom kept humming a tune she had stuck in her head. None of us could identify what the song was, though it sounded vaguely familiar, but Mom couldn’t stop humming it. To get it out of her head, my cousin Pinky started singing that old Doris Day song By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Mom chimed in, then Rob and I did too… and although it didn’t *quite* replace the whole family singing around a campfire at the Memorial Day picnic, it’s still one of my favorite little moments from the trip.

Last week I was driving Mom home after taking her out for dinner when she started humming in the car and, again, we couldn’t identify the song from the few bars that were stuck in her head. So I started humming By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and on the fourth line we both started to sing the lyrics — “Honey moon, keep a-shinin’ in June. Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams…” — coming in together perfectly in sync, almost as if we’d been practicing. We couldn’t remember the verse, so we just sang the chorus a second time and pulled into her driveway laughing.

We used to sing in the car together all the time when I was a girl, especially on road trips but sometimes even while just driving across town. I’m thinking we ought to revive that tradition while she still remembers the old songs.

Lucky

We are so very lucky, my mom and me. The family visit was everything either of us could have hoped for. Things went smoothly with all three flights – no delays, no major airport hassles, no lost luggage. Mom did just great with all of it, even waking up ridiculously early to catch our flight out of Denver.

We had wonderful quality time with too many family members to list, including some who we hadn’t been able to see on our last couple of visits. We broke bread together. We spent hours looking through boxes of old family photos (as far back as her grandparents) and sharing memories. We played Scrabble. We paid a visit to the cemetery where several generations of family are buried; holding my arm, since the ground is too uneven to push a walker, Mom walked through the cemetery to visit all of the family headstones. We saw beautiful fall colors, and I took lots of pictures for her digital picture frame.

Here’s Mom resting at the grave of her parents.

Mom at Cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a favorite of the family shots, a kiss from her grandson.

Josh and Grandma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I love you” was the refrain that echoed through this visit. I do believe that every single family member told her that they love her before they said goodbye. I think we were all (except for Mom) very conscious that this may be the last visit. I’m so glad that everyone got a chance to hug her and tell her that they love her, but I’m not dwelling on the “last visit” part. She may surprise us all! She is already, at 86, the longest-living member of her immediate family. And she’s showing no signs of being ready to quit!

Those relatives who saw her last spring all commented on how much better she seems now, and it truly is remarkable. Six months ago, she was going back to bed every chance she got, dozing the days away. Now she’s staying awake and alert all day and well into the evening, as long as she gets a nap around midday. She’s physically stronger and able to walk further without tiring, and her memory has definitely improved. Six months ago, she couldn’t keep track of where we were going for the space of a ten-minute car trip. She would ask me repeatedly where she lived or talk about visiting an apartment that doesn’t exist. As soon as something was out of sight, it was out of mind. But for the entire ten-day trip, she not only remembered that she lives in California now (and not Arizona) but was also able to answer in detail when asked about the home where she lives. Everyone cautioned me that once cognitive function is lost, it will never return – so this is an unlooked for, unexpected blessing.

Catching up on the dementia caregivers message board, I realize anew just how lucky I am that my mom’s personality is thus far mostly unchanged, despite her dementia. She’s not angry or paranoid or delusional. She’s not regressing to childlike behavior. She still knows all of us and retains the emotional connection of the relationships even if she’s lost some of the specific memories. Her essential nature is the same as it has always been – kind and loving and easygoing. For this, and for the gift of a loving family, I am truly grateful.