Thursday, September 16, 2010

The "Voice" of Reason

My mother-in-law is gradually improving.  She gave us a good scare while on the heavy medication.  Her thinking grew very fuzzy, and she was wobbly and unsteady on her feet.  Then she just felt "blah" and had no enthusiasm or energy.  The doctor attributed it all to the medicine - particularly the steroid dosepak - and assured us it would clear... and it has/is.  And he told her she could gradually and gently resume her former activities - two words she is not hearing, apparently.  She is presently dog-sitting - for three dogs!  Thankfully two of these dogs are from the same household and get along with the third.  She has not mentioned swimming yet, and as long as the dogs are visiting, she probably won't leave the house.  But the doctor did say she could swim again - just gently and not every day!

My husband Greg spent every night (and most of the days) with his mother for a solid week.  I "spelled" him for a few hours here and there to do things like mow our yard and tend to things on the home front, handle business affairs - and just get away and rest.  Each day, I went to my mother-in-law's house and fixed lunch and dinner and in-between snacks to be eaten with the scheduled medications.  I also did some housekeeping and laundry, and changed the beds. Greg vacuumed his mother's house.  When she began to feel better, my mother-in-law dismissed her son - told him he needed to go home and sleep in his own bed.  So we complied, although Greg returned daily for a little while longer.

One of the first mornings Greg was back at home, he got up early and went to a fast-food place and picked up a breakfast burrito for himself and his mom.  They shared breakfast, and she announced that she thought she would take a shower and dress for the day.  Greg came home, and about noon, he telephoned his mother - and got no answer.  Panicked, he drove to her house, where he discovered all was well with my mother-in-law, but there was a problem with the telephone.  In fact, nearly all of the people on her end of town were without phone service - including my grandmother.

My husband reported the outage, and the phone company recording said it might be two days before service was restored.  Meanwhile, my grandmother's neighbor, Merrellyn, e-mailed my mom and said that she had reported the outage for herself and my grandmother, and she was told the same thing ... but she was hoping they were mistaken and service would be back that Tuesday afternoon.  Sometime around 4:30, my phone rang, and it was my grandmother, calling on her housekeeper's cell phone.  She said, "Debbie, I don't have any phone."   I told her I knew that, and it had been reported.  She said, "Well, Mary came by and I told her, 'Let's call Debbie and tell her my phone is out.'"  I found that funny - like I am the all-powerful telephone repair wizard! 

I realized that this meant my grandmother's "life alert" didn't work, because it's tied to the phone service, but I hoped service would come back quickly.  I told Mam-ma that I knew the phone was out, but there was nothing else to do but wait, since it HAD been reported.

Concerned for both ladies, Greg and I got in the car around 5:30 p.m. and set out to check on each of them.  We ended up at my grandmother's house around 6:00 p.m., and her friend Ruby was visiting.  She lives one street over from my grandmother, and her phone service was out, too!  This didn't seem to faze my mother-in-law, but the other two little ladies were all in a tizzy without their phones!

As we drove home, we passed telephone service trucks in the neighborhood alongside an enormous hole in the ground, and one of the repairman was holding a huge fistful of cables.  Greg said, "That doesn't look good."  Later in the evening, other neighbors in the area reported on Facebook that someone digging a water line cut through 600 phone cables, and it would indeed take days to reconnect them.

But that was not the case for my mother-in-law and grandmother.  Both had service sometime the next morning.  For some reason, my grandmother's next-door neighbor, Merrellyn, was without service a few more days.  We still don't know what happened there.  But she did tell my mother that my grandmother walked over to her house immediately after the phone lines went down to report the outage. Merrellyn said her housekeeper heard my grandmother outside.  It was raining - but just a sprinkle at that time - and Mam-ma was all bundled up.  She was standing on Merrellyn's porch under the eave.  She wanted to tell her know that her phone was out, and Merrellyn said she would report it. Later Mam-ma told me that she had walked to Merrellyn's and told her that the phone wasn't working.

Of course, none of us was thrilled to hear that my grandmother had gotten out in any rain - sprinkle or downpour - and walked on wet, slick streets to a neighbor's to tell her the phone wasn't working!  But what happened the next day was even more bothersome, and Mam-ma has yet to tell me about it herself.

Mam-ma's friend Ruby called to ask her for a recipe for chili.  Mam-ma said she would have to look up the recipe and call her back.  When I telephoned Mam-ma that evening about 5:30, she said, "I'm really worried about Ruby.  She's not answering her phone.  I told her I would call her with that recipe, but she's not answering.  I know what happened ... I bet you anything she went to the grocery store!"  And she said this rather disgustedly - obviously miffed that Ruby would go anywhere without her!  I said, "Maybe she went to get the things to make your chili," and Mam-ma replied, "No... that chili is for church!"  The First Baptist Church has a fall festival sometime in October that includes a chili cook-off.  I didn't know these 90-somethings were participating, but I guess they are!

Anyway, we talked about other things, and I told Mam-ma that Ruby would show up soon.  What I didn't know was that Mam-ma had already been to Merrellyn's house and asked Merrellyn's son, Sean, who was visiting, to drive her over to Ruby's.  Sean knows my grandmother, but he and his mom really didn't understand her request.  Merrellyn told my mom later, "We thought she was bored and just wanting to get out of the house."  They drove to more than one house, and Sean thought Mam-ma was a little confused.  But she directed him to Ruby's house, and I guess he stopped and Mam-ma got out.  From the reports of others, my grandmother barrelled into the house, calling, "Ruby!  Ruby!  Ruby!"  A man was lying on the couch watching TV - his wife was in the bathroom.  This was not Ruby's house!  Mam-ma was off by one house, I think.

The lady came out of her bathroom and told Mam-ma she was in the wrong house.  It turns out, Ruby was at work - caring for another 90-something friend a few streets over.  She had talked to Mam-ma on her lunch hour and told her "I'm going back to work at Gladys'." But I guess Mam-ma forgot or didn't hear or understand what Ruby said, and when she wasn't home, Mam-ma panicked.  She told my mom about it the next day and said, "Oh, I really flubbed up."  But she has not told me about it still... except to say one evening, "I really got upset over that little episode," as if I knew what she meant.  Of course, I do - from other sources.  I am assuming that after she barged into the wrong house, she had Sean drive her home.

On Friday when I picked up my grandmother for the beauty shop, she knew that we had kept our nephew overnight.  In fact, my sister took Timmy to visit Mam-ma on Wednesday.  Mam-ma asked me, "How is Timmy?"  I told her, "Timmy has a bad cough.  We were up for several hours in the night because he had trouble breathing."  She replied, "Well, I've got a terrible cough.  I've about coughed my head off."  That was the last she asked about her great-great-grandson, and she began to cough for me... and I have to say, it sounded fairly contrived.  But she had Tussin DM on her grocery list, and I bought her a bottle.

I ran Mam-ma's errands while she was getting her hair done and quickly deposited her at her house and put her groceries away.  I told her that I had left Timmy with my mom, because Greg was busy taking his mother for a follow-up visit at the doctor, and Timmy's dad was supposed to be coming to get him as soon as I got home.  So I needed to hurry back.  Mam-ma seemed fine with all of that.

By Friday night, I had a sore, scratchy throat.  By Saturday morning, I had a deep cough and felt lousy.  Sunday, my voice was GONE.   I felt better on Monday, but the voice is still not back.  So my mother has been doing double duty phoning morning and night to make sure my grandmother takes her medicine.  On Wednesday, Mam-ma phoned my mom and asked her if she would go to the pharmacy and pick up some medications that the doctor had ordered for her via the Home Health nurse.  The nurse happened by to give my grandmother a vitamin B-12 shot, and I don't know what all transpired, but my grandmother told Mom that the nurse called her doctor and "talked a long time." 

The bottom line was that the doctor prescribed "cough pearls" and an antibiotic dosepak that the pharmacist told Mom "might make her sick at her stomach."  Not good news.  Mom took the meds to my grandmother and insisted she eat some crackers and drink buttermilk before she took them.  Hopefully this will do the trick ... whether she needed it or not ... and prevent a visit to the clinic - or a truly serious illness.

It's been a long time since we went to the family physician for any type of visit, so I am not surprised that all of this transpired.  Mam-ma will sometimes tell me, "My doctor needs to see me ever once in awhile."  My mom has gone with her husband to visit his children and grandchildren in Tennessee, so my husband is going to go with me tomorrow for beauty shop day to serve as my "interpreter," since I still have no voice.

So things are adding up ... and not in a good way.  When you consider the mental confusion, at least two times recently that my grandmother has left a gas stove burner on with no flame, her refusal to stay out of her yard and do such things as rake pine needles, and then barging into someone's home ... it's not good.  While she dismissed me a few weeks ago when I mentioned the assisted living facility again, I think we may have to talk about it more seriously.  I simply feel like the time may have come when she can no longer safely live alone in her own home.

This is National Assisted Living Week.  I heard a staff member from an area assisted living facility say we caregivers should not feel guilty about choosing such a facility for our senior when the time comes.  We are offering them a chance to live as independently as possible while having all of their needs met by a trained, professional staff in a safe environment.  My social worker friend thinks my grandmother would be the "belle of the ball" in assisted living.  It may be time to find out.  I am hoping that my grandmother - and my mother-in-law - will listen to the voices of reason that surround them.  For the moment, my  "voice" of reason is silent.  I may learn that they prefer me this way!

1 comment:

Don said...

Wow! What a great blog. I have added this to my list of blogs I will be following regularly.

It is always a gut-wrenching experience to tell a loved one they can't continue to do something safely - whether it's driving, making peanut brittle - whatever. Your posts show the compassion of your decisions, but also the difficulty.

Don Gibbons
The SASH Program