Monday, September 28, 2009

What Are You Doing With the Rest of Your Day?

Last week my grandmother called on Wednesday afternoon, somewhere around 1:30, and asked in a really pitiful voice, "Can you take me to the dentist tomorrow? My teeth are killing me." I told her I wasn't sure... what time? "One o'clock," she answered. "No, Mam-ma," I replied... "I can't... I'll have the baby. Can't you go another time?" "No, that's when they can see me. They can't see me today and they don't work on Friday." She insisted there were no morning appointments open, and on such short notice, I was not surprised. I told her I was sorry, but I just couldn't take her - the baby would be coming at 12:30 for the afternoon. She said, "I thought you could just bring him with you." I told her that was not possible... first of all, I don't have a car seat, and I was not going to take a 4-month-old baby to sit in a cramped waiting room for who knows how long (sometimes we are there several hours). She did not like this answer and pointed out that my mom was going to be gone (Mom had a writer's workshop to attend that weekend). Again, I told her I was sorry, but I could not take her... and I wasn't sure if my sister might be available or not. She said, "I'll call her," and hung up.

I talked with my mom, and she said, "I know what you are going to say... Mam-ma called here around 1:00. I told her I would be gone, and you would have the baby, and she said she was going to call her friend Ruby." It's always the same thing - Mam-ma waits until her dentures are so loose that they are rubbing a terrible blister on her gums, and then it is an emergency of national proportions. I guess I am not sympathetic because I don't wear dentures, but Mom says it's really miserable pain. However, she agrees that Mam-ma waits too long to have something done... and the dentist even fusses that she should come more often for adjustments.

As luck would have it, my sister was able to take Mam-ma to the dentist. I say "lucky," because the baby ended up staying into the evening and being fussy. And, Mom's husband had also offered to take Mam-ma (and I'm sure my own husband would have taken her, had I asked.) My sister said they were in and out of the dentist's office in around 30 minutes - something I have never experienced! She also said that on the way home, Mam-ma said, "The dentist fussed because I don't come to see him about these teeth more often, and I told him, 'I would, but I don't have anybody to bring me. My friend Ruby would bring me, but she works.'" My sister couldn't believe Mam-ma said that... welcome to my world! My sister put Caladryl on Mam-ma's shingles, and she said they were all dried up except for a small patch under the breast. She thought Mam-ma looked well and was feeling well.

Friday afternoon, I took Mam-ma to get her hair done. She mentioned on the way home that she had taken an Ibuprofen before she went because, "I was hurting a little." I reminded her that shingles can hurt off and on for a long time, and I suggested that she take TWO Ibuprofen before bedtime and get a good night's rest. She replied... "Well, the thing of it is... they hurt my stomach." Now, I know this is possible. I also know that Mam-ma doesn't take her pain medication with food... AND... she has been terribly inconsistent about taking her Ibuprofen. Several medical professionals (and my mom and I) have recommended she take her Ibuprofen with some crackers or cookies or something EVERY THREE to FOUR HOURS, to keep a steady dose of pain medication in her system. Clearly she doesn't need as much as she implies, or she would be more diligent in doing this. She may be forgetful about some things, but I don't think pain medication is one of them.

Mam-ma also told me that her friend Ruby had said, "I will be so glad when you feel like going shopping with me at the grocery store again." I suggested that Mam-ma should be able to do this already, and she said, "Well, I'm just about there." Less than 30 minutes later, I asked her if she was going to church Sunday and she said, "I don't know... I went to that thing at church yesterday." I questioned her, and she said, "You know that thing at that little church - your doctor was there." I said, "Dr. XXXX?" "No... your kidney doctor." "Oh... Dr. C." "Yes, and he spoke and it was so low I couldn't hear any of it." "What did he talk about?" "Well, it was real interesting... he talked about the wars and such... I wish I could have heard it." "And where was this?" "Oh, at that church next to Alps - Grace Baptist." "Who did you go with?" "Ruby. And I tell you what... that was the prettiest singin' I ever heard. Cleta and Carolyn (two sisters she knows) and about four men... and then her husband got up and sang a couple of songs." I said, "Gospel music?" "YES!" "And you like that..." "I love it!" My sister was amazed to learn that Mam-ma had been somewhere Thursday morning... and this was on the heels of Mam-ma telling me how badly she hurt and how Ruby sure hoped she felt like going to the grocery store with her soon. For all I know, they went that day!

It turns out that Mam-ma went to the church service on WEDNESDAY morning... not Thursday. And... Mom said that a lunch was served. So in retrospect, Mam-ma barely got home from her church service and lunch before she was calling Mom and me in desperate need of a trip to the dentist! I have no doubt that she was the life of the party at the church function... a totally different picture than was painted for us a few minutes later.

At 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, our phone rang! My husband answered first, and when I got on the line, Mam-ma was already asking him, could she take "one of them red pills." I asked what was wrong and she said..."Would it be okay if I take one of them red pills? I haven't slept a pat all night." (She was sounded horrible, of course.) She added, "This under here is just a hurtin' me so bad." (I think she is talking about the little patch still under her breast... and I have no doubt that it hurts.) I asked her, did she plan to only take a half a tablet? She said, "Well, when I talked to him at the drug store the other day, he said it would be alright to take one." I don't know who him is... or when she talked to him, but I told her, "But you told me you have never taken more than a half a tablet at a time."

Then I asked if she took an Ativan Friday night before bedtime, and she said yes. I asked... "Did you take a half or a whole one?" She said, "Yes." I asked, "Which one, Mam-ma - did you take a half or a whole?" She said she took a half. So I told her "Then, yes, you can take a half a Darvocet - but ONLY a half a tablet, and you need to eat something with it - and then you get back into bed and see if you can sleep." Honestly, I have no clue whether she was really that bad - how much she had actually slept - or how much of her tone was for my benefit... but it sounded like she had worked herself into quite a lather, and I knew she would probably take the Darvocet either way, so I told her to go ahead.

I waited until about 10:00 a.m. to call, hoping Mam-ma had gone back to bed and was sleeping. She had not. She said she had company - church friends who visit nearly every day - so we didn't talk long. She was talking about taking the other half of the Darvocet and getting back into bed. I don't know what she did... I didn't call again. Her voice was strong, and she didn't sound like she was in pain... or even fatigued. Most likely she slept more through Friday night than she thought - or admitted.

I am trying to learn from all of this. My maternal grandmother was notorious for middle-of-the-night "emergency" phone calls to my mom for a myriad of concocted problems... sometimes demanding to be taken to the ER... so this phone call wasn't that big of a deal in the scheme of things. But I wonder, is it the first of many to come? I don't think my grandmother had a clue what time it was - and if she did, she didn't care. She had clearly worked herself into a state, and I know this can be hard on her heart and/or cause her to have a stroke.

I know that there are those who (with help and stories from Mam-ma) think that I am uncaring and unwilling to help her. And neither could be further from the truth. They don't see the happy, determined woman who goes to a community church service one hour and calls in a panic the next declaring she is "hurting so bad something has to be done." They don't know that the little woman who tells them she hasn't slept a wink and hurts so bad she is walking the floor probably did 2 loads of laundry, baked a pie, walked around the block, and made a batch of peanut brittle -- all before 9:00 a.m.! The little woman they see hobble across the floor on a walker is the same one who picks up limbs in her yard, sweeps her carport, and fertilizes her flowers (all against our better judgment - and mostly behind our backs!).

I recently went to the funeral visitation for an 80-year-old lady who suffered a heart attack, aneurysm, or something instantaneous as her husband helped her stand beside her bed to make a middle-of-the-night bathroom run. While the lady had been physically incapacitated and confined to a wheelchair and her bed most of the time, she was still mentally alert and well. Her husband, on the other hand, is fairly well physically but can't remember to take his medications and is failing mentally. Together, they sort of made a "whole person" - and this is often the case. I looked at the frail, teary-eyed widower and thought, "you are probably a good 15 years younger than my Mam-ma!"

I know age is relative, but I see so many people who are far younger than Mam-ma doing so much more poorly... and I marvel at how well she is. I wish she saw it! And then there is her friend Ruby - almost 91 and still working for another elderly lady two days per week, mowing her own yard, and driving herself and others to countless meetings, events, and the local grocery/discount stores... and I know she has health concerns, but I do not hear her complaining. Could it be that she complains to her children/grandchildren and paints a rosey picture to HER friends? I don't think so... but I can't say that for certain.

I try to learn from these experiences. So what are my lessons from this weekend?

  1. I am trying to do all I can to be self-sufficient... and to stay that way as I age. I am striving to remind myself often how strong I am... and to keep busy and focused on others more than myself. I firmly believe that a big key to helping yourself is to get busy helping others. And I see this confirmed in my grandmother... when she is busy attending a church service, cooking for someone, visiting with company, helping Ruby with a project, making baby quilts for her great-grandson and countless nieces and nephews, or even talking on the phone with her friends, she tends to forget herself - if only for a few minutes.
  2. My grandmother's laundry list of ailments and complaints is miniscule compared to the needs and ailments of many much younger than she. She continues to do remarkably well - and I have no doubt it is in large part due to her feistiness!
  3. It doesn't matter what others think... they are not in my shoes, don't know my situation, and they don't get the whole story from my grandmother. I reminded myself of this at Sunday lunch, when the daughter-in-law of Mam-ma's friend asked, "Have you talked to your grandmother today?"
  4. This is a process...and the best I can hope for is to meet needs, put out fires, and keep putting one foot in front of the other and doing what is necessary to keep my grandmother safe and able to live alone in her own home.

As our population on the whole ages, I wonder what lies ahead... for us AND those who care for us! And I wonder what this week will bring! I probably need to read some posts at on the Caregiving forum... the daily challenges others face always humble me. Or maybe I'll go make some burp pads for our great-niece who will arrive in November. Doing for others... yeah... I think that's the ticket!

1 comment:

Mark said...

A post like this always brings forth several emotions for me. Thoughts of my own and my parents' mortality, memories of my own grandfather who still walked without assistance and was mentally sharp until he died in his sleep at age 93. I wonder, too, whether folks who age near a big city (more air pollution, lower water quality) will do so as gracefully (or as long) as those in rural areas. It's a lot to think about, so it's a good thing my lunch hour is over and I can concentrate on work now.