Sunday, October 24, 2010

Apparently We Still Don't Understand!

Last Monday, my grandmother called my mother and asked, "Do you want some turnip greens?"  Mom told her no, and asked, "Where did you get greens?"  Mam-ma replied that a church member had left them on her doorstep.  Mom told her to leave them there, and she (Mom) would get them later.  Mam-ma replied, "I've already got them in the sink, and I'm washing them. Mom sorta lost it and said, "I'll be right there."  She called me and told me about this and said, "I'm going right now to get those greens.  I may put them down the disposal."  I somehow knew she would not do this.

There are two versions of this story - Mom's and my grandmother's.  And amazingly, in most spots, the stories parallel!  Mam-ma's version is that "Your momma chewed my butt but good.  She talked awful to me."  Mom's version is that "I did talk pretty strongly to her, but she screamed at me... 'Just what am I supposed to do?'"  Mom told her she was supposed to cooperate.  To make a long story short, Mam-ma had started to wash and de-stem the greens, which she says she "loves to do."  Mom says nobody in their right mind likes to wash turnip greens, which is a long, tedious process in cold water.

This really is not good for my grandmother - she has to stand hunched over the sink, and she has problems with her neck and shoulders as it is.  This is not the best posture for her.  But she absolutely loves turnip greens.  They are like gold to her, and she assumes everyone else feels the same.  Never mind that her deacon has brought them to her recently - fully cooked and seasoned and ready to eat.  She was doing these for us, she said.  She told me on the phone, "I aimed for you to have some of those greens."  Mom said she even telephoned later and gave Mom's husband the message to "save some of those greens for Debbie." 

Mom finished washing the greens and sorting them - and some did indeed go in the disposal - and then she cooked them.  She said, "I will probably gag trying to eat them."  Now she feels badly that she let something as seemingly insignificant as a bag full of green leaves cause such an argument between her and her mother-in-law, but as she put it, "Your Mam-ma just knows how to push my buttons."  And I understand that... she pushes mine, too!  But Mom says that next time - and there probably will be a next time - she will just go get the greens and keep her mouth shut.

I think another thing that upset Mom is that this is the one man in her church who she knew took raw produce to my grandmother - and Mom had not found time to contact him and let him know we're not allowing Mam-ma to use her stove any more.  So she was mad at herself... and upset with Mam-ma... and it just was not pretty in the end.

It has now been about 10 days since the infamous car wreck, and and other than being upset that she can no longer ride with her friend Ruby, and her "life is over," Mam-ma has seemed to do fine.  In fact, by mid-week, she was not even mentioning her chest when we spoke.

All of this changed on Thursday.  Apparently Ruby mentioned that she was changing her closet and removing the summer clothing and putting in the winter clothing.  While she was at it, she was going to do some cleaning, and she would be taking some discarded things to the thrift store.  Mam-ma decided she had some closets that needed cleaning, too.  Ruby said that she told Mam-ma to place her things on the spare bed, and she (Ruby) would fold them and put them into plastic bags and take them to the thrift store for her when she went.

First of all, Ruby is recovering from broken ribs as the result of a fall last month, as well as her own jarring from the car wreck.  She really doesn't need to be hauling my grandmother's things to the thrift store for her. And secondly, Mam-ma doesn't need to try to clean her closets by herself.  Nonetheless, when Ruby went to get the clothing, it was already sacked and in my grandmother's garage.

I took Timothy to get a hair cut on Thursday morning, and while we were out, we went by Mam-ma's for a visit. She was so glad to see Timothy, but she said she had worked hard all morning cleaning closets, and that Ruby had taken "a ton" of things to the thrift store.  Ruby's story is that it was three very small shopping sacks of clothing.  Mam-ma asked me if I thought my mother-in-law would like to have some feather pillows.  I told her I did not think so... why was she getting rid of feather pillows?  "Well," she replied, "I don't need them, and I'm a gettin' rid of things." She also called my mom and asked her if she would like to have a lamp she was no longer using.

Thursday evening, Mam-ma called me about 8:30 and said, "I am going to take two Tylenol and go to bed.  My chest is killing me.  I hurt so bad."  And she sounded awful.  I asked her... was it her heart?  No, it was her chest... that breast bone above her breasts.  I told her it sounded like she over-did it with the cleaning. She agreed.  She indicated she had worked cleaning closets all afternoon.  I asked if she planned to take her anti-anxiety medication, too, and she said, "Not now... maybe later in the night."  I deduced that she must not be that bad, or she would have taken it, too.  She seldom hesitates to take one if she is feeling anxious. 

She also said to me, "You know, when Ruby fell, they didn't find her broken ribs on the x-rays at the hospital."  I knew where this was going.  The broken ribs were determined four days later in the clinic of Ruby's primary care physician.  I told Mam-ma, "If your ribs were broken, we would already have been to the doctor.  You were not even complaining until you over-did things today.  You've strained something."  She replied, "Well, you just don't know how bad I hurt!"

I told Mam-ma, "I have the baby tonight - I cannot come stay with you."  She said, "I know... I'll just have to tough it out.  I'll make it somehow."  I phoned my mom to alert her that Mam-ma was not having a good night and she might be calling.  But she didn't.  And the next morning, she indicated she was better, though not by much.

When I arrived to get Mam-ma for the beauty shop, she seemed a little slower and more confused than usual.  We looked at her grocery list, which was mostly household things like laundry detergent and Lysol for the housekeeper to use for cleaning.  She did need candy bars and milk.  She didn't have that much to say on the way to the beauty shop, but on the way home, she told me, "Ruby just can't understand WHY I hurt so in my chest. I told her, 'Ruby, you have no idea how bad I hurt.'"  I know that she told Ruby, "I hurt like HELL!" 

I did not comment.  I really didn't know what to say.  We got out of the car at Mam-ma's house, and she said, "If I'd a thought last night, I'd a taken that pill the doctor give me instead of them two Tylenol.  And I may just take it tonight."  She was referring to the one Flexeril (which is a muscle relaxer) that the doctor handed her in the ER to take when she got home the night of the wreck.  When we got home, she said, "Now I'm not taking that... I'll just take two Tylenol."  However, she made me leave it with her, and I knew it was only a matter of time before she took it.  I reviewed all of this medication's side effects with her on the discharge papers, and I told her, "Greg's mother had virtually every single one of these when she took the same drug for her back trouble a few weeks ago."  She said, "I know all about that!" Again, I just dropped it.

But I knew that at some point, she would not be able to resist the temptation to take this muscle relaxer.  So when we she said she might take it Friday night, I reminded her, "It will make you woozy."  She retorted, "Well, I'll just take it and go to bed."  And apparently she did.  My mother's husband was there to repair something the next morning, and he said she was weak and wobbly, and Mom said she probably had a hangover.  This morning she overslept and was unable to go to church.  But she did go to lunch with my mom and her husband, and she went to church with them this evening, so the fog is apparently clearing somewhat.

Friday, I refilled all of Mam-ma's medicine compartments, and the noontime medication for two consecutive days of the previous week was still in the boxes.  I showed it to her, and she said, "I know about that... that was for last week."  I said, "Yes, but you still didn't take it."  She said, "I know, and I said, 'Debbie is going to chew me out good over that."  I didn't say anything, but then I opened up the current week's compartments, and there was noontime medicine for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  I said, "Mam-ma... look here.  You have not taken your medicine at noon today."  "No, I haven't," she said.  I added... "And you didn't take it yesterday or the day before."  "Yes, I did," she said.  "No, you didn't," I countered... "It's still here."  "Well, I don't know what to tell you.  I always take it!"  I assured her that it doesn't miraculously just reappear in those compartments.

She countered... "Well, those meals (Meals on Wheels) come before I'm ready to eat, and it just makes me forget."  I told her, "The arrival of your meal should be your reminder to take your medicine.  That doesn't make sense."  She answered, disgustedly, "Well, I guess I'll just have to go to sittin' out that medicine to remind myself."  I told her whatever worked was what she would have to do.  I also told her to go ahead and take her noontime medicine for that day.  She made a HUGE production out of it... moaning and coughing and saying, "Oh! Oh! Oh!  That hurts so bad. Oh, you don't know how bad that hurts."

Mam-ma also told me that the hairdresser "liked to killed me."  Apparently it was not comfortable to lie back for a shampoo, and she said, "I told her, 'Now I can't do this.  You're a killin' me.'"  That poor hairdresser.  Mam-ma said she told her, "I don't know what we are going to do with you," but she was somehow able to finagle the chair height and finish the shampoo.  The hairdresser never let on to me at all that anything had happened.  We are so blessed to have such loving, caring people who exhibit tremendous patience with my grandmother... like her hairdresser, her deacon, and her housekeeper, as well as many others.

Mam-ma is still complaining to my mom about her chest - and sometimes to me.  Last night I called to see if she had taken her medicine, and she said she had.  I asked, "Did you take it at noon?"  She replied, "Only after your momma called and reminded me."  I just don't know about this!  I told her I am having the entire family - even cousins - over for a chili supper on Thursday night, and she said, "Well, I hope I feel like coming.  We'll just have to see."  Do you really think she would miss it?  Mom says that she was the "belle of the ball" tonight at their church Fall Festival... and several men fussed over her and made her day!  Mom said she passed by as one man who was talking to Mam-ma pointed at her (Mom) and asked, "... and she is guilty?"  Mam-ma replied, "YES!"  Mom said she held up her hands and said, "Not me... I'm not guilty!" and walked away. 

Clearly, we still do not understand!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Full Plate

Sooner or later, many life-changing events for elderly people center around a car - and usually, this involves a collision.  Tuesday, I took my daily walk mid-afternoon.  I often use this as prayer time, and I spent this particular hour talking to God about a packet we had received in the mail that day from our church.  This packet contained a tabloid outlining ways that church members could serve in church ministry ... everything from serving as Sunday morning attendance or Communion steward to teaching a Sunday School class or Bible study.

I mentally checked off those ministries in which my husband and I already participate ... and there are several ... and those in which we have served in the past (even more).  I talked to God and expressed my concerns - that I have a full plate already with the care of my grandmother, my great-nephew and another baby on the way, and helping my husband with his mother ... not to mention life in general, the ministries in which we already serve, and more.  I asked Him ... "What do you want me to do?  Am I where you want me?" and I told Him... "I almost feel like I spend many days just waiting for 'the other shoe to drop' and don't need to add anything else in the meantime.  Am I right, or do You have other plans?"

I really didn't expect God to answer so quickly ... but if I have learned one thing in recent months, it is that I must be ready at all times for God to show me whatever He wants to show me.  So when I walked in the door and sat down to recalibrate my pedometer, I shouldn't have been surprised to hear the phone ring.  I glanced at Caller ID and saw the name of my grandmother's "yard man," so I answered. 

The voice on the other end was shaky and belonged to a woman ... "Debbie, this is Ruby.  Me and Polly went to Fred's, and on the way home, somebody hit us.  My car won't start ... can you come get us?"  My mind began racing...

"Are you hurt?"

"No, but my car won't start."
"Did you call the police?"
"Yes, they are here now.  We're at the corner by the church and the library."

I knew this location well - two blocks west of my mom's house, and just across the corner from the police department.  I told Ruby, "I'll be right there."  Is there a Murphy's law that says that 90% of the time when these things happen, your hair will be dirty and stringy, you won't have on any makeup or clean clothes, you'll be sweaty from working out ... and there will be no time to even think about those things?!

I grabbed my purse and told my husband what had happened. He offered to go with me, and I thanked him and told him that I would call him if I needed him, but for now, I was fine.  I wished later I had taken him - he thinks so much faster and more clearly than I in these situations.  But I had assumed from Ruby's conversation that it was nothing serious.

I arrived at the scene to find a wrecker loading Ruby's car on a trailer.  I rolled down my window and told one of the police officers I was there "to collect two little ladies." "Good!" he said, pointing to my grandmother and Ruby, who were standing to one side leaned against a minivan.  I pulled in beside it.  There was no broken glass that I could see, and I didn't notice any damage to Ruby's car.

An older woman, a younger woman, and a little girl were talking to the ladies and getting sacks of groceries out of Ruby's car and putting them into the van.  There was also a young man I recognized from my church, and an adult friend of this young man's mother, standing nearby.  There was also an ambulance parked beside the minivan, lights blinking, and I assumed this was a routine formality.  The policeman told me, "The lady in the white coat complained of chest pains, but she is refusing treatment."  I looked over, and both little ladies had on white jackets, and they waved at me and grinned.  I thanked the officers, and they left.

I turned to the ladies and asked, "Who has chest pain?"  Mam-ma said, "I do, but I'm fine."  "Are you sure?" I asked.  "Yes," she replied.  One of the EMTs asked her, "Are you sure you don't want us to take you to be checked out?"  She told her no... she was fine. 

By this time, the young man driving the wrecker was tapping on my shoulder, wanting to know if I could follow him to the Ford dealership to retrieve the rest of the car's contents.  I told him no, that I had two little ladies to take home.  I said, "Why can't we get the rest out here?"  "Oh, the police want this cleaned up quickly," he replied.  He also wanted to know who was going to pay for his services, and he said normally he got paid at the scene.  Ruby asked him how much it would cost, and he said he didn't know.  I assured him he would get his money, and I walked over to the car and saw that most of the groceries had been retrieved.  I grabbed the rest, along with Ruby's prescriptions from the Fred's pharmacy, and I told him we were good.  I gave him my phone number and again assured him he would be paid, and he left.

I returned to my two little ladies and the women and child with the van, still unsure what exactly had happened.  The young man and his adult friend were still there, too.  I asked him, "How do you figure into this equation?"  He replied, "It's all my fault... I hit them."  I was able to determine that the lady with the minivan was the wife of Mam-ma and Ruby's yard man, and she happened to drive up just after this accident occurred.  Recognizing the two ladies, she stopped to help.  She had planned to take Ruby home, so they were loading Ruby's groceries into the minivan.

We transferred Ruby's groceries to my Jeep, and I loaded the two ladies to head home.  We no sooner got in and buckled our seat belts, when Mam-ma said, "Can... you... take me... to the ER?  My... chest... hurts ... and I... can't get... my... breath."  I just looked at her.  "You need to go to the ER?"  "Yes," she said between short breaths.  "Do we need to go straight there, or do you feel like me taking Ruby home first?" I asked.  "Take Ruby home," she answered.

All the way to Ruby's, which was some 10-12 blocks, Mam-ma was saying, "Oh... that hurts so bad ...oh ... my chest hurts ... oh... oh... oh."  We pulled into Ruby's driveway, and Ruby said, "I don't have a house key... it's on the car key ring, and the police couldn't get my keys out of the ignition."  But then she quickly remembered that she had a key hidden.  She told me where it was, and I dashed to get it.  This was Ruby's first day to drive since having the fall and breaking 3-4 ribs a month ago, and she was in no shape to dash anywhere.

I got the key, grabbed Ruby's cold milk from the car, and unlocked her house.  I told her we would be in touch later and get the rest of her groceries to her.  I got back into my car, and Mam-ma was clutching her chest and moaning between short breaths.  I asked, "WHY did you refuse the ambulance?"  "I didn't know I did."  I told her the policeman had told me she refused, and she even told me that she was fine.  She said, "Well, I didn't know." 

We started across town - 4:30 p.m. - "rush hour" traffic beginning, and Mam-ma saying, "Oh... I can't get my breath."  I told her I was driving as fast as I could without speeding.  I thought, "If she passes out on me, she just does... all I can do is keep driving and stay calm." 

We arrived at the ER, and the waiting room was filled with patients.  I knew the admissions clerk... a woman from my church, and I quickly explained the problem.  She took information from me and asked us to be seated.  My cousin, who is an LPN, was in the ER with a patient from the clinic where she works, so she helped me get Mam-ma seated ... then to the bathroom ... then seated again.  More than 20 minutes went by before we were called back to an exam room.  We both pointed out to Mam-ma that, had she ridden to the ER in an ambulance, she would have been driven directly to the back entrance and placed in an exam room.  "Well, I didn't know that," she said pitifully.

While I was handling the insurance and admission forms, my cell phone rang - the guy with the wrecker service.  He wanted me to know he had stuck a bill in the car visor.  I told him that I would let the car owner know.  Sheesh!  This was the least of my worries at the moment!

In the exam room, more questions were asked, and Mam-ma was hooked to a monitor.  Her BP was 207 over 90-something.  The nurses went into high gear getting her in a reclining position and trying to lower those numbers.  I told them that her BP always goes up in the ER and at the clinic, and usually it comes down (and it did, somewhat).  She was also due for her night-time medications, which include Coreg for high blood pressure.  They made note of all of this, but no medications were given.

The doctor came in and asked Mam-ma what happened.  As she began to tell him, she started crying, which is something Mam-ma often does, but it was effective in garnering her sympathy from the medical staff.  The doctor ordered a chest X-ray.  A couple of hours later, he said the X-rays were inconclusive, and he ordered a CT-scan.  He said, "We're making sure nothing is cracked and there are no punctured lungs." 

At 9:30 p.m., we were dismissed.  The diagnosis was a bruised sternum, resulting in pain when deep breaths are taken.  BUT... failure to take deep breaths can result in pneumonia, so she was told to breathe deeply throughout the day for the next week or so, regardless of how much it hurt.  The doctor gave her a muscle relaxer tablet to take when she got home - and a prescription for 12 more.  The doctor also said she would be woozy and would need someone to stay with her, at least that first night.

So I loaded Mam-ma into the car and drove her to my house, where I took my medication, grabbed some food to take with me and an overnight bag and a nightshirt, and off we went to her house.  I got her home and inside her house, and while I fixed her dinner, she called Ruby to give her the report.  By now it was nearly 10 p.m.  Mam-ma ate and took her night-time medications.  She said, "I'm not taking that pill (the muscle relaxer)" - fine by me.  She added, "I'll just take two Tylenol."  She did, as well as one of her Ativan tablets for anxiety. 

I knew from when my mother-in-law took this same muscle relaxer  a few weeks ago that the side effects would mean someone would have to stay with Mam-ma for several days, if she decided to take the medication.  I told her unless she needed the prescription, I was not having it filled. She insisted I leave the first tablet with her "just in case," but I brought the prescription home with me and have not filled it.  And clearly, she doesn't need it.

After I got Mam-ma fed, she went to her room to dress for bed while I called my mom (who was in Memphis visiting her husband's family) and gave her the report.  While we were talking, Mam-ma came into the living room and asked, "Are you gonna sleep with me, or do you want to sleep in the other bedroom?"  I told her I would sleep in the other bedroom, thanks!  She went right away to turn down the spare bed.  I followed her, assuring her I would do that, while Mom was laughing and saying, "No you won't, no you won't!"  Sure enough, Mam-ma turned down the bed.  She also made 2 more trips through the house to check her garage to make sure I closed the big door (I had), and she turned out most of the lamps, and then she told me she was afraid I would get hot in the night.  I assured her if I did, I'd move to the couch and turn on a ceiling fan.

Our nights are cooling off now, and on the way home, Mam-ma had declared, "When we get home, I'm turning on the fire (meaning she'd turn up the thermostat!)."  Her house is usually like an oven anyway, and I thought, "Great... this will be fun... NOT!"  She apparently didn't turn up the thermostat, because it didn't get unbearably warm in her house overnight.  And she slept like a baby - probably from the medications she took, all of the excitement, and a busy day she had experienced the day before that included afternoon company and dinner out.

I was up much of the night, and the next morning, Mam-ma was up before 7:00.  She seemed fine - was sore, but moving around well - and I left her getting a bowl of cereal and looking for her Home Health aide, who was coming for the routine check-up and morning bath between 8:00 and 8:30.  She insisted she wanted to keep her hair appointment that afternoon, so I told her I would be back to get her before 1:30 ... and I asked her to tell Ruby that I would drop off her groceries later. 

I swung by the Ford dealership and retrieved Mam-ma's remote garage door opener, which she always leaves in the pocket of the passenger door.  Ruby's passenger door was warped and would not open, so I had to slide in on the driver's side. 

I came home, regrouped and showered, and returned to town to run some errands and take Ruby her groceries before picking up Mam-ma for the hairdresser.  Ruby said she was fine... sore, but fine... and she was very worried about Mam-ma. I had heard Mam-ma tell her the night before as they talked on the phone that "Debbie will take you to the beauty shop tomorrow."  Ruby goes to another hairdresser about an hour before Mam-ma goes to her appointment.  Since she didn't have a car, I guess she didn't have a ride to her appointment.  Honestly, I assumed when Ruby was at home that she either didn't feel like going, or she had simply decided not to go.  So I did not offer to take her.

Again that afternoon, Mam-ma seemed fine.  We got her hair fixed and got her back home.  I had picked up some things she wanted at the store, and I put those away for her.  I talked with her later that evening to make sure she had taken her medication, and she still seemed fine.

Saturday morning, Ruby called me, and she was very upset.  Her son had told her that she can still drive - and apparently he got the car fixed enough to be driveable - but he does not want her to have passengers any more.  She did not know how to tell Mam-ma.  I assured her this was FINE... and we would make Mam-ma understand.  This is too much responsibility ... and potential liablility ... for Ruby, who is 91.  We talked at length about the whole situation and what will happen long-term.  Ruby said, "If I have to stop driving, my life is over."  I assured her it will not be, but I know she is scared of the future and potential changes.

I tried to reassure Ruby as much as possible, and when we hung up, she said, "You've helped me feel a lot better."  I hope so.  A whole lot of changes have happened to these two ladies in a very short time ... and it's a lot to digest.  Thankfully, both are relatively unscathed for the moment.  Ruby's ribs are apparently healing, and Mam-ma's bruising will subside in a few days, hopefully.  But it doesn't end there, and we all know it.  Ruby told me that Mam-ma told the policeman she was 79, not 97.  She often does this - transpose the numbers.  An 84-year-old friend was 48 one day, etc.

Last night, Mam-ma called me around 9:30 and asked, "Debbie, did your momma and Lee get back home yet?"  I told her yes... FRIDAY.  Then I reminded her, "You talked to Momma this morning, didn't you?"  I knew that she had.  "Well, yes," she answered... "I guess I did."  I told her again that they got home Friday night, which seemed to surprise her, and she said, "Well, I knew I talked to her this morning, but she never called me again."  I replied, "Was she supposed to?  When I checked on you after dinner, you said you were going to call her in the morning and let her know whether you were going to church or not."  She answered, "Well... okay..." and I started to say something else, only to realize I was talking to dead air.  "Mam-ma?  Hello?  Hello?"  She was gone - she had hung up on me, as usual.  Some things never change!

So I let my mom know that Mam-ma had called and was confused.  Mom said if she didn't hear from Mam-ma Sunday morning, she would check on her.  Apparently, Mam-ma was well enough to attend Sunday School and church today, have lunch with Mom and her husband, and then stop at Wal-Mart for cookies and bread.  She is devastated that she can no longer ride with Ruby and that "... my life is over.  I guess I'll just stay home and never go anywhere."  Mom assured her that this is not the case, but Mam-ma, of course, replied, "You just don't understand."

Truly, we don't understand, because our universes are anything but parallel to my grandmother's.  I am content for days on end to stay home and enjoy my hobbies and writing and caring for my household.  My prayer is that I always have interests and hobbies to fill my days - and the ability to enjoy them.  I also pray that I will be adaptable, and if arthritis renders my fingers unable to do some of the things I enjoy now, like playing piano and typing on a keypad and small handwork, I'll find something else to enjoy!  So much of life is just what we make of it... and I hope I'm learning this for the long haul.

Meanwhile, I have assured Ruby that none of these changes are her fault.  She feels guilty that Mam-ma can no longer ride with her.  She fears that we will place my grandmother in the assisted living facility as a result.  I have assured her that if/when Mam-ma goes to the assisted living facility, it has nothing to do with the car accident - or Ruby's ability to taxi Mam-ma around.  This was already being discussed.  It may never happen ... or she may go next week.  But regardless, it will be the result of a compilation of circumstances - and the best thing for Mam-ma.

My mom thinks Mam-ma has already picked out her next taxi driver - a little lady who has driven her to the Senior Citizens' Center a couple of times for lunch - and who hit the accelerator rather than the break a few months ago and plowed into the wall of a downtown bank!  I have no doubt that Mam-ma is in "preservation mode" and considering all of her options for finding new means to stay "out and about."  At two weeks shy of age 98, she is not ready to settle down and stay put... and maybe there's a lesson in that for all of us. 

The other night at the ER, my cousin asked Mam-ma, "Won't you let me take your shoes off?  You'd be more comfortable."  She replied, "NO!  Leave 'em on... I'm not stayin' - I'm going home!"  The later it got, with all of her symptoms and maladies, I felt certain the doctor might keep her.  But sure enough, he dismissed her, and she walked out under her own power.  The next time I bump into her with a friend at Wal-Mart or Fred's, I won't be the least bit surprised. 

Meanwhile, I have thanked God for his quick - and profound - answer.  I truly do have a full plate at the moment ... and I'm handling all that I can - and should.  There's a reality television show that begins with one of the stars saying, "It may be a crazy life, but it's our life," and that is a great description of my present world.  To an outsider, it may seem chaotic and insane - and some days it is.  But for the most part, we've learned to manage on the present "diet."  We just don't have room for another bite!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Who Decides?

By the time beauty shop/errand day rolled around, the week had already been quite busy.  On Monday night, Greg and I hosted a "family dinner" for everyone - Mam-ma, my mom and her husband, my sister and her husband, and my niece, her boyfriend, and baby Timothy.  Afterward, Timothy spent the night and most of the next day with us.

Tuesday evening, Greg and I had an appointment at our church to have pictures made for the new church directory.  I had scheduled an appointment for Greg's mother 10 minutes after our appointment, so she rode with us to the church.  But when we got there, her name was not on the list.  I told the volunteer, "I know I scheduled her for an appointment," and then Greg's mother said, "Yes, I made one, too."  "What?  You made an appointment?  Why didn't you tell us?"  Her reply... "Well, you said you made an appointment, so I just didn't think I needed to worry about mine."  I went to the church office and tried to find her name on a schedule sheet for another day, but I was not successful at first glance.  Meanwhile, she and Greg decided that we should all three be photographed together, which was fine ... and that's what we did.  I am still not sure why she felt it was unnecessary to tell us that she had made an appointment and duplicated our efforts.  In the end, the pictures turned out really well, and it will apparently all work out just fine.

Friday, I got to Mam-ma's house, and she was working on the new baby quilt.  Mom had taken her to Wal-Mart on Monday evening before coming to our house for dinner, so that Mam-ma could pick out new quilt batting and backing material to replace the fabric she ripped off the week before when my sister tried to help her.  Apparently this quilting set-up is still not perfect, but working much better than what my sister helped assemble.  Mam-ma had already quilted around several of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters.

I sat down at the kitchen table to dispense medicine, and atop the grocery list was an old, used tube of some sort of prescription cream.  I recognized the tube, and on the grocery list was "itch cream".  I told Mam-ma, "We've already tried this... the pharmacy said the prescription was so old that they could not refill it without asking the doctor, and when they called him, he said we would have to come in for a visit first."  Mam-ma glared at me.  I continued, "I am not taking you to the clinic for itch cream and risk you catching the flu or some other bug."  "But I need it!" she whined.  I reminded her that we had talked about this before, and I had gotten her hydrocortisone cream as a substitute. 

She glared at me and said, "Well, if you itched like I do, you'd understand how bad I need that!  It works so much better."  I told her, "I itch nearly every day because of my allergies - I do understand.  Use the hydrocortisone cream."  She said it "wears off."  I countered... "Re-apply!"

I suggested that the next time a Home Health nurse comes by, Mam-ma should ask her to call the doctor's office and see if she can get the cream refilled.  But I am not taking Mam-ma to the clinic for an itch cream.  I would not take myself for that reason, and it's not worth exposing either one of us to the potential germs and viruses that might be represented at the clinic.

I took the name of the cream with me to the pharmacy at Wal-Mart and asked what OTC substitute he would recommend - hydrocortisone.  So she has a new tube.

Meanwhile, I'm doling out the meds, and Mam-ma says that her friend Ruby is "going stir-crazy."  She added, "She's like me... she needs to get out and go somewhere and do something."  I laughed and said I guessed I was just different, but I can stay home for days on end and never get bored.  Mam-ma said, "Well, that's because you don't like flowers."  I do like flowers - but I don't care about gardening, and I told Mam-ma this.  She replied, "Well, I love to work in my flowers, and I feel better when I garden.  My muscles are not as sore, and I just do better."  I replied, "You know...  they said you could garden at Southridge."  She retorted sharply, and at a loud, high pitch, "I'm not a-goin' to Southridge!"  I laughed and said that was fine ... I was just saying that the lady told me they had two gardens and that Mam-ma could bring her shovel and other tools and "garden" there. 

Mam-ma came over to the table and stood over me and asked, "Do you want me to move to Southridge?"  I told her no... I wanted her to be happy - and to be safe. If she is happier in her own home, that's where I want her as long as she can live there safely.  She then asked, "Well, just who decides whether I go to Southridge or not?"  I told her she does.  "It's your decision."   She glared at me, and I just smiled at her.  "MINE?" she asked.  "Yes..." I answered, "whose did you think it was?"  "YOURS!" she retorted.  I explained that as long as she was mentally capable of making decisions, the choice was hers.  Should she become unable to think clearly, then yes, I would decide.  But for now, the choice was hers.  She replied, "Well, I'm not a-goin'!"  I told her that was fine.

Later that day, I saw my sister at Wal-Mart, and she said, "Oh, I had quite a conversation with Mam-ma last night.  She told me 'Y'all have taken away all of my privileges, and I've not been able to get it together since.  I can't cook any more, and you know I love to cook!'" (another thing she could do at the assisted living facility)  My sister tried to remind her that she could still cook - but only when someone was there with her to help.  She didn't acknowledge that.  Then she told her "A lot of that food they got for me (meaning Meals on Wheels) I can't eat."  My sister chided her about how she probably wouldn't starve. 

For clarification purposes, my sister is the "golden one" who can get by with saying things to my grandmother that I cannot.  On a few occasions she has filled in for me when I was sick and taken Mam-ma to the beauty shop and run the errands.  Mam-ma usually cooks my sister lunch beforehand - and buys her groceries at the store afterward.  I neither want nor need the lunch and/or groceries, but I think you get the picture of how this all goes.

So my sister said that she tried to explain to Mam-ma that we are only trying to keep her safe and out of the nursing home by asking her not to use her stove any longer - and she pointed out that she can still use her microwave and toaster.  Mam-ma flatly told her she had no intention of going to the nursing home!  This all gave me huge insight into why she had so quickly flown off the handle to me about going to the assisted living facility... it was continuing the thread of the previous evening's conversation!

After we had church pictures made on Tuesday, we went by my grandmother's to check on her.  Catching her off guard, she was more alert and able than when she knows we are coming!  She was smiling and happy to see us - and of course, a lot of that was because Greg was with me.  She told us how good the Meals on Wheels lunches were, and that she had really not had anything bad yet. (She told my mom that her lunch on Monday - chicken strips - was "horrible - the worst one yet!")  She is telling us the lunches are good - but she is telling everyone else how bad they are - sort of a reverse of the way she normally complains to me and tells everyone else how things are fine.

Mom and I tallied this week alone, and Mam-ma had a big dinner at our house on Monday, pork chops and gravy for dinner at a cousin's on Wednesday, and Mom took her butter beans and cornbread another night for dinner.  Then Saturday night, Mom made vegetable soup and took her some.  Mam-ma had already re-heated the rest of her Meals on Wheels lunch, but she told me, "I'll toss that in the dirt - I ate the soup instead.  It was delicious!"  So she is eating well - and in no danger of starving!

An elderly cousin telephoned me one night last week, and we talked about the situation with my grandmother.  He lives in a condo on the campus of the assisted living/nursing home facilities.  Before his wife died, they shared an apartment in the assisted living facility for a while, so he is quite familiar with the facilities and what is available.  He told me, "Anyone in town with any sense would wonder why on earth your grandmother is not already at the assisted living facility."  He was not being unkind, or implying I am using poor judgment - he knows my grandmother about as well as anybody.  He was merely pointing out that I should not feel badly if she has to move there. 

I asked him, "Does this mean you are on my team if I need reinforcements to encourage her?"  He assured me is is indeed in my corner.  I took this as one more sign that I am not off base in making preparations. 

Honestly, we are feeling like it may be sooner than later that this move occurs.  My cousin said, "Two weeks of living there, and I bet you wouldn't be able to get your grandmother to move back home."  He thinks she would really enjoy the company of others and the activities there. My mom doesn't buy it for one second.  I am just not sure.  I want to think my cousin is right, of course.  And I know that Mam-ma will never admit to me that she likes it, even if she is having the time of her life.  But I have to believe that my philosophy is right for now - as long as she is relatively safe and able to live in her home, she should live there.  The minute that changes, she should move.  The question of "who decides" will be determined by these factors.  Ultimately, the decision maker will probably be me... and I'm okay with that.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law has returned to her family physician for a follow-up visit.  Her sacroiliitis is better, but her dizziness is not.  The doctor changed her blood pressure medication, added a diuretic, and scheduled her to see a cardiologist and a physical therapist.  There is apparently new therapy that may help with vertigo, so the doctor wants to try it and see if this helps with the dizziness.  Three mornings this week of therapy, then another doctor's visit at week's end.  Greg maintains that the doctors will find something to treat, even if there is nothing really wrong.  He is monitoring this closely, because our past experiences have made us wary of all of these tests, diagnoses, and treatments.

Friday, I was running errands with my grandmother while Greg was taking his mother to doctors and therapists.  And so the cycle begins anew.  Friends came from out of town to visit us this weekend, and they asked, "So what have you been up to?"  Grandmas and babies... with "life" sandwiched in between.   The complexity of the layers changes daily, but the components stay pretty constant... at least for now.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What a Week!

What a week it has been!  My husband went to Mam-ma's on Monday and checked on her.  That's when she told him she had baked a cake.  So much for not using the stove!

Tuesday, I was in Mam-ma's neighborhood to visit a friend, and I stopped in at her house late in the afternoon.  She showed me her first lunch from Meals on Wheels - ham, green beans, mixed vegetables, and a dessert.  She declared that it was good, and she was reheating the remainder of the lunch in her microwave for dinner.  I told her I wanted to get some things out of her freezer for our family dinner this next week.

Mam-ma led me to the "deep freeze," and it was far less full than she had indicated, and much of what was there was so badly freezer burned or outdated that it was inedible.  But I sacked up quite a bit - some to try to salvage, and some to toss.  I noticed the cake on a table on her back porch, but I didn't mention it.  I brought home a big package of Spanish peanuts, several packages of pecans, and some vegetables.  I left two bags of peanuts that Mam-ma insisted belonged to her deacon.  He told my mom he got his peanut brittle ingredients, but Mam-ma was positive these peanuts belonged to him.  I told her to be sure and give them to him!

Tuesday night, Mam-ma called me and asked if I wanted her cake. I told her no, and I could tell she was irritated. I asked, "Why would I want your cake?" She answered, "Well aren't you having us over for dinner?" I told her, "Yes ... but not until next Monday!" She said, "Well, it could go in the freezer!" I told her no... she should eat the cake. I didn't want it, but thanks anyway.  She hung up on me.

Wednesday, my sister and her husband went over to Mam-ma's.  She wanted my brother-in-law to re-pot a violet that was root bound, and she wanted my sister to help her sew a quilt top and backing together so that she could make a quilt for Timothy.  My husband stopped in and looked at a light fixture that was broken and changed out her heating and air conditioner filter.  That evening, Mam-ma told both my mom and me on the phone that the quilt was not right, and she had "ripped it all out."  She discussed this at length with my mom and set up a trip to Wal-Mart to look for new quilt backing and some thin quilt batting.  That is in the works for Monday.

My sister doesn't see Mam-ma nearly as often as I do, so she was quite upset about how frail and feeble she seemed.  Mam-ma showed her the freezer, and my sister got a few things, but she told me later how much of what she took had to be tossed at home.  I understood completely.  Oh, and by the way, my sister said the cake was in the freezer! She's betting it comes to our house on Monday for the family dinner, whether I wanted it or not!

I called every evening to make sure Mam-ma took her medicine.  Thursday evening, she was entertaining a friend from church whose husband has recently died.  The lady is supposed to be moving to Texas today to live with her children.  Mam-ma shared dinner with this woman Thursday night - leftovers from her Meals on Wheels for Wednesday and Thursday.  I can only imagine how that was ... or how much was there to eat!  But she insisted they both ate well.  When I called Thursday evening, Mam-ma said, "I want to talk to you tomorrow about several things."  I asked if I should come early.  She replied, "Well it wouldn't hurt."

So Friday, I went early for the hair appointment/errands.  I sat down in a chair and said, "You told me to come early so we could talk about some things - what do you want to talk about?"  She pointed her finger at me, shook it and gave me the "evil eye," and said, "I want a toaster oven to go on my counter like the one Ruby has." I shook my head and said, "No... I'm sorry ... we've had this discussion twice already.  Those are not safe, and you cannot have onel."  She was furious.  "Well Ruby has one and she says they are safe."  I told her that I have one, and the first time I toasted crackers, flames leapt out and up my cabinet!  The big stove is safer than a counter-top toaster oven.

Mam-ma's protest was, "Well, I'm not going to toast crackers!"  I told her that, contrary to what Ruby claimed, these were not designed to bake a pan of cornbread or a cake and the racks will not even support the weight.  She argued with me for several minutes, and finally I said, "So what else did you want to talk about?  I'm done talking about this!"  And I laughed.  She laughed a little, and then said, "Well, if I can't have a toaster oven, there's nothing else to talk about!"

I offered to make her some cornbread.  I told her my mom had offered to bring her cornbread.  She shook her head, "No! No! No!" she said.  She added... "I've got to have cornbread - I need the roughage!"  I suggested she make it on Tuesdays when her housekeeper, Mary, was there.  She said, "Well, a pan of cornbread will last me nearly 2 weeks.  I keep it in the refrigerator."  I told her to make a pan next Tuesday.  She added... "They don't ever send cornbread in them meals."  I told her I was quite sure that I've seen cornbread when I've helped Greg deliver Meals on Wheels.  She backpedaled and  retorted, "Well, they DO send it ... but none that's fit to eat!" 

Then she slumped into her chair and said, "I guess it's eat that stuff from that place (meaning the Meals on Wheels) or forget it!"  I told her, "Pretty much ... unless you want to cook when someone is here."

She also asked if I knew where to get a little electric skillet.  Apparently she doesn't understand that no cooking means NO COOKING!  She has gotten out her electric skillet and set it on her counter top.  She said, "Well, that skillet is so big that when I fry my egg in it, it just runs everywhere."  I mentioned something about how I thought she was going to eat cereal, and she ignored me.  I told her that the purpose of having the meals was so she wouldn't need to cook.  That, too, got an icy stare and no further response.

We ended our discussion and gathered her things to go to the beauty shop.  On the way to the hairdresser's, we talked about how much to pay for the Meals on Wheels, and she asked how much the meals were costing.  I told her two dollars per day.  She looked at me as if she were stunned and said, "TWO DOLLARS per DAY?  You've got to be kidding!"  I told her no... and that was a bargain!  She didn't mention it further.

Then she asked about something on her grocery list, and I looked at the list - orange juice, mayonnaise, eggs, bread, and straws for her milk cartons from the Senior Center.  I asked, "Don't you need some milk?"  "Well, yes, I do need sweet milk," she commented.  Many older folks in the South refer to whole milk as "sweet milk."  She also said she was drinking all of her buttermilk provided with her meals at lunchtime, and I offered to get a quart of buttermilk for her to drink at dinner.  She said that would be good and added, "I need some sweet milk because I'm gonna make a pudding."

I asked, "Are you going to make that pudding Tuesday when Mary is there?"  She whipped around in her seat in the car and screamed, "HONEY!  All I need to make pudding is a bowl!"  I asked, "You're making instant pudding?"  "Well, YES!" she retorted.  I told her, "Mam-ma, I'm so sorry - I didn't know you were making instant pudding."  For the record, I don't know that I have ever bought her an instant pudding mix.  I know I have bought the kind you make on the stove top.  Anyway, I told her again, "I'm sorry - I just didn't realize you made instant pudding," to which she retorted, "No, y'all don't ever come to see me, so you don't know anything about how I operate!" 

I had just had it... I said, "Mam-ma, that is not true.  We have been at your house nearly every day this week."  She retorted, "No, you haven't!" with a little extra emphasis on you!  I told her I was not going to argue, but yes, one of us had been there four out of 5 days.  I pulled into the parking lot at the beauty shop, got out and walked around to open her door and the back door to retrieve her walker.  She said, "I'm just frustrated."  I said, "I'm frustrated, too."  I was also mad!  I added... "We are just doing all we can to keep you living at home in your house as long as possible, and we don't know how else to do it.  Do you want to stay at home?"  "Well, yes," she said.  I didn't say anything else - I knew better.

The ride home was fairly silent, too.  When we got home, the garage door remote opener would not work - dead battery.  Mam-ma didn't have any more - a 12-volt special kind.  I unpacked her groceries, took the dead battery and headed to Fred's, which is not but a few blocks away.  Traffic was horrible.  Fred's didn't carry the 12-volt size.  I was not going to make a trip to Wal-Mart for the battery.  It would have to wait.  I told her to put the battery on the list for her trip to Wal-Mart with Mom on Monday.

Meanwhile, I discovered that my mom was shopping at Wal-Mart, and I asked her to pick up the battery.  I'm not sure why she couldn't find one - the sales people told her there were several kinds of 12-volts, and they needed to see the battery. And I still had it, so Mom would not be able to purchase one, apparently.  I walked right into the store on Saturday morning to the electronics department and got the only 12-volt package on the rack.  Oh, well...

So Friday night, my husband and I went to the high school football game.  We were walking in the door at 10:00 when our phone rang - Mam-ma.  She told he she had been tossing and turning for an hour and wanted to apologize for the things she said to me that afternoon.  I told her to forget it ... that I knew that these changes are hard - for all of us - and it was okay.  She replied, "Well, I don't want you to be hurt over this."  I told her I didn't want her to be hurt, either, but she is, and I can't help it.  I smoothed her feelings as best I could and told her to get to sleep and forget it.

This is how Mam-ma operates.  When she is especially mean or hateful - to me or Ruby particularly - she calls and cries and apologizes later, and basically expects that to solve everything.  And for the most part, it does, because we are not going to stay mad at her for very long.  And I do hate that she is upset and hurting... and basically panicked because things in her world are changing so fast.  But most people understand that the world doesn't operate on the principal of being mean and hateful one hour and apologizing and making it all better the next ... except for my Mam-ma!

So yesterday when I took the battery and installed it, Mam-ma did not mention the day before - or the apology - and she surely didn't apologize any further.  When I phoned last night to make sure she had taken her medicine, she said, "I tell you what ... they brought the awfullest mess of stuff over here and put in my freezer!"  I questioned her - "Who put what in your freezer?"  The friend who is moving to Texas.  She and her son brought all of the things in her freezer they didn't want to my grandmother's and left them!

I asked, "Mam-ma, didn't she know you aren't cooking any more?"  "No."  "But she ate your leftover Meals on Wheels with you, so she knows you're getting them.  Didn't the son know?"  "Probably not," she said, adding... "he said 'whatever you don't want, just toss.'"  I told her that aggravates me at HIM to think he expects HER to handle his junk!  She said it was peas and other vegetables and things, and I have no doubt it is vegetables grown in the garden of the man who recently passed.  So I called my sister and suggested she go over sometime this week and empty the freezer - once again!

I also learned that Mam-ma called a mutual friend this week to "vent" and she asked this dear woman, an LPN, to come over to her house.  The woman cares for her own family members, who are seriously ill, and she told her she would gladly visit on the phone any time, but she could NOT come over there.  Then she mentioned she goes two mornings each week (if her family's health permits) to walk at our new Community Center.  She said she walks at 6:00 a.m. so that she can be home by 7:00 when her family wakes up and needs help and medication.  Mam-ma replied to her, "Oh, I can't get up by 6:00." 

Now, the woman did not invite my grandmother to go to the Community Center and walk, but Mam-ma just automatically assumed that this woman would give her a ride.  The woman told me, "She can't even walk across the parking lot to get to the building ... much less climb the hill to get back to the car afterward!  That will not be happening!"  This was good news to me.  I thought we had already covered the fact that my grandmother exercising at the Community Center is not an option.  Apparently not!

So Mam-ma is still trying to find a ride to the Community Center - and probably to Wal-Mart for a toaster oven!  Someone told me I might have to disconnect her stove, and that has been discussed, but clearly she is already conspiring to cook without it ... via crock pot, electric skillet, and perhaps a toaster oven (until I discover she has one!).

I feel like it truly is only a matter of time until we are revisiting the Assisted Living facility issue.  The administrator was very kind when I called to decline the available room for now.  She said, "I'll just put your file back in my drawer, and if/when you are ready, just call me."  Sadly, that may be sooner than we think.

My friend told me she hopes that I am not beating myself up about this and feeling guilty over these decisions ... "and I know you are."  I told her that truly, I am not.  I have outlined for my grandmother what it will take for her to be able to stay in her home a while longer.  The rest is up to her.  If she cooperates, I think she can stay at least several more months.  If she doesn't shape up soon, it's not going to be long at all.  But it is her decision at this point.  I have done all I can humanly do, so I have no regrets.  It truly is up to her - and God - what happens next.  I feel pretty good about leaving things in His hands.  Hers, however, are another matter altogether.