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!

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