Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should Mom Get a "Medical Alert" Button?

"Should I get a 'medical alert' device for my mom?"  This was the question my sister-in-law posed over dinner last night.  I emphatically answered "YES!" and my other sister-in-law echoed my sentiments.  My grandmother had a "button," as she called it, for years while she lived at home alone.  Now that she is in an Assisted Living Facility, she still has a "button."  The difference is that this alert is tied into the system for the ALF, while the one she had at home notified a security alarm company, who then took steps to determine if emergency assistance was needed.

But back to the question... my sister-in-law's mother is in her eighties.  She has a daughter who lives with her, but there are times when she is alone... and as we all know, things can happen in a heartbeat!  The woman's family physician recommended that she get a cordless telephone and program it with emergency numbers that could be accessed with the press of one button. 

However, as we pointed out to my sister-in-law, this is only a good option if her mother will always carry her phone with her... and we never could get my grandmother to do this.  We tried to get her to carry her cordless phone to the bathroom with her - or anywhere else she traveled in the house or yard.  Her response was always, "Well, I forgot."  I can't tell you  how many times I couldn't reach her on the phone for long enough to start to worry, and she would say, "Well, I was out on the sunporch quilting," or "I was in the bathroom and didn't hear the phone."  "Did you take your phone with you?"  "Well... no... I forgot."

So the "medical alert" button becomes a more viable solution.  My grandmother's device cost her a little over $21 per month... and it was worth every penny.  Oh, you will hear stories from those who fell and could not reach their button... or those who accidentally pressed the button in the middle of the night and heard a voice coming from the "base" box that asked, "Mrs. So-and-So... are you alright?"  But by and large, these devices offer a level of security and safety with little downside.  And my other sister-in-law got a model for her mom that is like a wristwatch... she wears it all the time on her arm. 

Waterproof styles are available... at least waterproof enough to be worn in the tub or shower.  This was especially helpful for my friend, Olive, who became so weak one day that she was unable to get out of the bath tub.  She was able to press her button and call for help... and ambulance personnel were summoned to assist her.

How does one find a reputable company for obtaining this service?  Start by asking around for recommendations from others in your community who already utilize such a device.  You can also contact your local security alarm companies and ask if they provide such a service.  There are national franchises that provide such devices - and these can be located via a Google search.  My sister-in-law used a service offered through the hospital in her mother's community. 

The point is... there are plenty of viable options... and all are reasonably priced and well worth the peace of mind they provide.  If you have an older loved one who lives alone - or who is alone for large chunks of time - you owe it to them, and to those who care about them, to investigate this service.  The senior may balk, at first, but do it anyway... and do it now.  This is one of those times where "an ounce of prevention" truly is "worth a pound of cure."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Flying By the Seat of My Pants - an Interview About the Sandwich Generation

This morning I was interviewed by Heather Mundell, a life coach who hosts Mom In the Balance, a website for mothers who find themselves part of the Sandwich Generation. The interview was delightful... Heather made me feel very comfortable, and I found myself feeling like I was simply having a conversation with a fellow member of this group. I will post a link to the interview when I receive it. Meanwhile, be sure to check out Heather's website. She may just offer a service you are needing. I am flattered to think that Heather considers me something of an "expert" in any way/shape/form on the Sandwich Generation... most days I pretty much fly by the seat of my pants!

Friday, we kept Timothy for a few hours while his mom took care of some personal business. He was as fun as ever, and we enjoyed him immensely. He was with us about four hours... which was a good length of time for an impromptu visit! We are always glad to keep him; however, I think at this stage in his life, a stay of more than a couple of days and nights is a little much for him. He really missed his family during the week he spent with us when his sister, Zola, was born... and I think it was confusing for him. We are fairly sure he thought he was returning for another lengthy stay on Friday, and he cried and didn't want to leave. I am sure he got over it quickly, but when a baby is clinging to your neck and crying to stay, it's hard to put them in the car!

My niece and my sister took the children to see Mam-ma last week... her first introduction to Zola, her second great-great-grandchild. She really enjoyed getting to see them, and as I visited with her yesterday, she told me about how she held the tiny baby and marveled at her small size and delicate features.

When I arrived at the ALF yesterday, Mam-ma said rather gruffly, "Well! I thought y'all had forgotten me!" I asked why she thought that, and she said, "Well, I hadn't heard from anybody!" I told her that I had tried to call her several times over the last few days, and I never could catch her in her apartment. I added with a laugh... "You're apparently too busy to talk to us on the phone!" Then I reminded her that my sister and niece had visited and brought the children... and I knew that she had spoken by phone with my mother. It was just one in a handful of minor complaints she voiced.

I think the main problem this week is the heat. We are having brutal heat in Arkansas... hotter than normal for June - actual temps as high as 100-105.  When you add humidity, you have a recipe for some serious heat troubles.  Mam-ma was complaining that she could not sit out on the porch. There was a breeze, she said, but the air was so humid and thick that she could not get her breath.  And I know this keeps her from walking outside around the facility like she enjoys.  So when my grandmother cannot get outside for awhile each day, things are not right in her world.

I asked Mam-ma if she would be having tea time last night... she supposed they would.  "But it's not been very good the last couple of nights."  I asked why, and she said, "Well, one night Molly (a younger woman from her church) brought milk shakes for everyone."  "Oh, that sounds nice," I said.  She replied with a harrumph... "Well, I couldn't drink it all."  I commiserated that perhaps a milk shake after dinner was a little much, but I also pointed out that she didn't have to drink all of it - and I am sure Molly didn't care.  "So, if Molly brought enough for everyone... what was the problem?"  "Well, I just couldn't drink it all!" she said.  I surmised that there were probably some ladies who could drink all of it, and she confirmed that yes, there were. 

One of my grandmother's chief "complaints" about the ALF is that "there is too much food, and I can't eat it all."  I do not consider this a problem.  There is no way that the facility can personally tailor every plate to the appetite (at that moment) of each resident.

Heather asked me what I have learned from my years as a member of the Sandwich Generation... what advice would I offer?  Here's what I told her:
  1. Remember that your loved ones are still real people, no matter how crazy or irrational they may become... or how ridiculous their comments may seem.  They still deserve dignity... and toward that end, we must allow them to vent and express themselves and filter the comments and behaviors accordingly.
  2. Remind yourself, "It's not about me.  It's not my fault.  I am not responsible for this."  Do not own your loved one's frustrations.  Understand them, commiserate as much as possible, and do what must be done to cope, but do not take that upon yourself.  Remind yourself that your loved one is frustrated, scared - and perhaps not thinking clearly - and this is the only way they know to express this... then leave as much as you can at the door.
  3. Do not forget to take care of yourself and your own family.  If you have a spouse, be sure to make time for him/her that does not include conversation and activity with the children and/or elderly loved one.  It is truly about balance, as Heather's website suggests... and do not get so caught up in your loved one's life and concerns that you neglect your children... or vice versa.  Above all, take some time for yourself... recognizing that unless you do, you will be of no use to anyone else.  Do not beat yourself up for time spent on a workout... the afternoon you take to scrapbook or shop for a new dress... or the 30 minutes you spend soaking in the tub! 

    Don't feel guilty for screening calls and returning them later... or telling your loved one, "I cannot do that today."  Remember... you are only one person, and while the world will not fall apart if you are not there to do everything, it won't function as well without you. So make sure you do all you can to be as well as you can - mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually!
  4. Although I didn't mention this directly in the interview, don't hesitate to get help and support, if you need it.  Read blogs like this one - and websites like Heather's.  Spend a few $$ and get books that will help you - or hire Heather to help you balance your life!  The one component that has been in large measure missing for me in this journey has been support from others with "hands-on" experience.   I have friends to whom I can vent, and an incredibly supporting and loving husband... but there have been times when I really wished I had some sort of "Hotline" to call to say, "HELP!  What do I do now?" 

    This was in large part why I started this blog, and I do hope that you feel you can contact me and ask this very question.  I may not have the answer you need, but I will do all I can to help you find it.  And so will people like Heather! 
The Sandwich Generation is definitely a lesson in balance.  Some days are better than others, but if we all stick together, we can stay as close to the center as possible!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I'd Like to Buy a Vowel

I visited with my grandmother after church today.  She had called last night, but a thunderstorm was in progress with very serious lightning, and I suggested we talk another time.  When I arrived at the ALF today, Mam-ma's room was unlocked, but she was nowhere to be found.  An aide suggested she was out walking the halls.  I started searching for her, but I couldn't locate her.

I visited a dear friend of mine who moved to the ALF last week.  My little "birthday buddy" who shares my birthday has declined tremendously in recent weeks, and I found her in bed, under oxygen, looking frail and quite unwell. However, when I squeezed her hand and spoke to her, she immediately began talking to me, and she seemed quite lucid.  She told me she had been very sick, but today she had eaten four bites of oatmeal and drunk a cup of milk.  She said, "Oh, the milk tasted so good."  She also told me she had fallen again, and she felt so badly that she didn't think she would dress today.  This little spitfire who has been my hero for over 50 years is now in tremendous decline, and it saddened me greatly to see her this way.  As I left, she said, "Happy Birthday."  Our birthday is not until July 4th, and I told her, "Happy Birthday to you... we've still got a few weeks, but we're gonna make it."  Secretly, I wonder if she truly will see 93.

I let myself out and started looking for Mam-ma again.  A resident told me she was sitting on the front porch.  And that's where I found her... sitting in a rocking chair, looking at the redwing blackbirds and enjoying the relatively cool morning under a cloudy sky.  As I sat down in a rocker beside her, she said, "Well, I didn't know you was here... I've been a lookin' for you all day."  It was nearly noon, and I asked, "How did you know I was coming?"  She replied, "Well, you told me last night that you might come today."  I had to wonder... would she have sat there all day waiting for me?

We had a good visit, and my grandmother talked about my "birthday buddy"... who is also her friend... and an elderly cousin who is ill... and Mam-ma cried.  She said, "Sometimes I wonder why I am still here... and I wish I wasn't."  I told her about a book I read this week... 90 Minutes in Heaven.  The author tells of crying out to God and asking why he had to leave and return to earth to suffer terribly through nearly 2 years of excruciating recovery.  Heaven was so amazing it defies description... yet he didn't get to stay.  He learned that God had a purpose for him... on earth... to minister to specific people in a way that no one else could.  He was directed to several people who were enduring the same recovery that he had endured... and they could only relate to the empathy of someone who had "been there done that."

I explained to Mam-ma that she has a purpose... at Southridge.  I didn't even acknowledge that she is important to us... that she serves a purpose in our lives.  She might not even believe me!  But I pointed out several at the ALF to whom she is ministering... friends, aides, nurses, staff.  I told her, "Maybe your purpose is to help James (the maintenance man) to become a better gardener!"  That made her laugh.  I also told her that heaven will be just as glorious - if not more so - when it truly is her time to go... but for now, she has work to do here!

I stayed until Mam-ma went to lunch, and then I filled her bird feeder and came home.  Mam-ma called a little before 6:00 p.m., and I didn't get to the phone in time, so the machine picked up as I answered. She said, "I can't get my TV to work... it says cable." I told her to hang up and I would call her right back. "Okay," she said. I hung up, but she didn't, and I waited a few seconds, and finally she DID hang up, and I called RIGHT back... and ... wait for it... I got her machine!

Lately, there have been a few times when I have told Mam-ma, "Let me call you right back," and she has said okay... and when I phone her immediately, she doesn't answer after six rings... and I get her answering machine!  I had to try three more times before the machine finished its cycle, and the phone would ring. I heard her pick up and start dialing. "Mam-ma! Mam-ma! POLLY!!!" "What?" she asked innocently. "Where did you go? I told you I would call right back." "Well, I don't know... I don't know what I did."

So she said her TV was messed up - "It's on cable, and I can't change it." I told her she is supposed to be on cable. No, she wasn't... it wasn't right. She didn't know what she had punched. I tried to talk her through punching the "TV" button on her remote - she could barely see the markings to read them to me. Then she started reading SS1, HDTV, Dolby... "No, that's not it," I told her. She said something about only getting an orange screen. Finally, I said, "I'll just come down there... I'll be right there." "Okay," she said.

I collected the manuals for Mam-ma's TV and headed to Southridge. When I got there, her TV was on, and it appeared everything was fine. I picked up the remote and started flipping through the channels, and everything was fine. "No, it's not!" she insisted... "It says 'Cable'." "Yes, you are on cable," I told her. I explained that this little display shows "cable" when she punches the "TV" button on her remote, but it will go away after a few seconds.

I flipped all the way to what appeared to be RFDTV. "How many channels are you supposed to get?" "40," she said. "Okay, I'm on channel 40." She showed me her channel guide, and I showed her the Weather Channel, "60 Minutes" on CBS, "Dateline NBC" on NBC, and RFDTV on Channel 40. She said, "Well, all of my programs is not there." I looked at the clock... 6:25. "Are you looking for 'Wheel of Fortune'?" I asked. "Yes." "Mam-ma, this is Sunday... 'Wheel of Fortune' isn't on tonight." "Yes it is!" "No, it's not... that show is on every night of the week except Sunday. You should be getting 'America's Funniest Home Videos' and 'Extreme Home Makeover,' but there is a ballgame tonight on ABC, so that's what you will get there."

I FINALLY convinced her that "Wheel of Fortune" was not on tonight, and there was nothing wrong with her remote, and I showed her the button to press to be sure she was on TV. She showed me the SS1 and HDTV settings she was referring to on the phone - they were on a sticker on the front of her TV! They were for Surround Sound, Dolby Sound, HDTV, etc. - and just indicated her TV was programmed for these features. I explained that these were part of a sticker and were not actual buttons - pressing them did NOTHING.

Finally, she was convinced all was well, and she said, "Well, Sugar, I'm real sorry." I told her it was fine... I did not mind running down to check. I told her what might be on tonight that would be of interest to her, and she said, "Well, I'm a fixin' to go to tea!" I said, "Okay... well, your 9:00 news will be on for you when you return."

So next time, I will know a few more questions to ask before I make the trip.  And I have no doubt I will have to return again at some point to "fix" the remote.  As for the phone, I don't have a clue.  Mam-ma's apartment is less than 300 square feet... she has a cordless phone.  How she gets that far away from it in 15 seconds is beyond me!  Mam-ma had asked for pretzels and raisinets for "tea time" - and I'm sure by the time she got there tonight, all was forgotten about the television and the remote - and the phone... until the next time Pat and Vanna are not on at the appointed hour.  Once again, I'll be called upon to "solve the puzzle" and get things back in order.  And so it goes...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Sandwich Adds a Layer

Our "sandwich" added a new layer last week.  One week ago today, Zola Claudette - Timothy's baby sister - was born.  She weighed in at 5 lbs, 15 oz. - 19 inches long.  She is the tiniest thing I have ever seen!

Zola was born on a Tuesday afternoon.  My husband and I picked up Timothy the night before, and he stayed with us for a week.  His PawPaw picked him up yesterday morning.  I was sad, but also very tired and ready for sleep and a chance to regroup.  I have no doubt he will return soon, as his family will need a break.

I am so thankful for my husband.  I truly do not know how single mothers do it.  I got pretty good this last week at sneaking in a shower and other tasks, but there were times when it was great to know that someone else was "in charge" while I stole away to the water closet for a few minutes uninterrupted!  I learned quickly that some "play time" in the bath tub in the morning could buy me enough time to dress and "put on my face," wipe down the bathroom, and maybe answer an e-mail or two on my laptop.  Night-time baths included time to play while I did my Bible study and answered more e-mail.

One morning, while my husband and Timmy ate breakfast, I slipped away and showered.  When I returned to the table, my husband said, "I'll watch him while you shower."  He was astounded that I already had managed to accomplish this.

Timmy is not always a good napper or night-time sleeper.  He sometimes has night terrors, and we count ourselves lucky that he has begun to sleep through the night - although that is relative, since "through the night" means about 6 or seven hours.  So if he goes to bed at 9:30 p.m., he is awake by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. at best.  Yesterday morning, he was awake at 4:15 a.m.  We watched "Jack's Big Music Show" in bed for an hour, then we went outside to play with his tricycle and blowing bubbles.  However, he was not in a good mood... and not wanting to wake the neighbors - or my husband still sleeping in side -  I decided we should "get outta Dodge."  So we loaded into the car and went to Wal-Mart to shop for groceries.

I was barely dressed... Timmy was in his pj's and sandals... and I didn't care.  I slapped on a little powder from the compact in my purse, added some lipstick... ran the comb through my hair, and we headed to the store.  Timmy slept on the drive there and back and was a perfect angel while we were in the store.  I unloaded the car at home while he continued to doze in his car seat.  We were back inside by 7:30, with the groceries unpacked and breakfast underway.

Thankfully, my grandmother is doing so well at her new apartment in the Assisted Living Facility (ALF), so I was not having to worry about her well-being and safety this past week.  Timmy and I visited her twice, and both times, she was doing incredibly well.  She pushed Timmy around the facility on her walker (which has a bench seat), and we printed pictures of her new great-great-granddaughter for her to share with her friends.  One nurse said she had shown them to everyone.  I am hoping that she will get to meet Zola in person soon.

As luck would have it, I had scheduled an appointment at the hairdresser for the day after Zola arrived.  Since those appointments are like gold and hard to secure, I asked my mom to watch Timmy while I got my hair cut and colored.  She gladly obliged.  That morning, my husband and I drove Timmy to the hospital in a city 30 miles away, so that he could meet his baby sister.  Then we returned in time for me to take Timmy to my mom's before my appointment.  Luckily she only lives a block from the hairdresser's salon.

The next day, Mam-ma had a six-month checkup scheduled with her cardiologist.  The visit was to happen at our local hospital, which is about 5 minutes from our house.  Again, there was no way to change the appointment.  But this time, my mom was not available to help.  My husband rearranged his schedule to watch Timmy, and the appointment didn't take that long - and we were able to mark that off our list!

My grandmother was "dressed to the nines" and looked like a million bucks when I picked her up for her 10:00 a.m. appointment.  This was her first visit with a new cardiologist - an associate of her previous doctor who actually sees patients at our local hospital's outpatient clinic, which saved us the 30-mile trip (one way) to see the original doctor.  None of this new guy's staff could believe that Mam-ma was 98.  She looked so good... was spry and able-bodied, and she hopped up on the scales to be weighed - she'd lost a pound and a half.

Why is it that doctors feel they simply must find a problem?  My grandmother is doing fantastically well.  Her left ankle was slightly swollen.  The doc noticed it and made mention - which opened up Pandora's box with Mam-ma.  I tried to discount the swelling - it wasn't as bad as she has many other days, and I surmised she had probably eaten something salty.  The doctor launched into a campaign for Mam-ma to go on a low sodium diet and be more active.  Goodness, if she were any more active, we'd have to take extra vitamins to keep up with her!

Mam-ma told the doctor her food was "terrible" - no seasoning.  For the record, my grandmother salts her food before she ever tastes it.  Anyway, the doctor finally asked, "Do you see your family physician regularly?"  "No," Mam-ma replied.  I explained that we do not see him unless she needs to... and she is remarkably well.  BUT... the staff at the ALF is in contact with him, and he was consulted when she got the stomach flu recently.  I also pointed out that, while most residents were in bed at least 4 days to a week with the bug, Mam-ma was back eating in the dining room within 2 days... a testament to how well she is doing these days.

The doctor asked if Mam-ma's kidney function had been checked recently.  "No," she told him.  "Yes," I countered.. "you had a complete physical in January to prepare to enter the ALF."  Oh... she forgot.  The doctor said, "Well, Mrs. Chandler, since you are doing so well and seeing your doctor here regularly, let's just see you again in six months and not change anything now."  He hinted at upping her Lasix for the ankle swelling, and I told him that this is how we get into trouble - when doctors start tinkering with her meds.  That's how she ended up depleting her potassium, falling, and staying 3 months in the nursing home a few years ago.

The doctor asked, "Do they check your blood pressure regularly at the ALF?"  "No," Mam-ma told him.  "Yes," I countered... "they do... at least once a week."  The doctor said, "Okay, so since they are keeping close tabs on you there, let's just see you in a year."  Mam-ma slumped her shoulders, looked forlorn, and said, "Well, don't put me off like that."  He laughed and said, "Okay... come back in six months.  I just don't want you to spend all of your time going to doctors."  She looked at him and wagged her finger and said, "I don't go to doctors unless I have to!"  I just didn't comment.

While we were waiting, we visited with friends of my grandmother... the parents of a schoolmate of mine.  Both are in their eighties and are declining in health.  On the way back to the ALF, I told my grandmother that my friend is really struggling with the care of her parents.  Her father is very ill, and her mother is lashing out and not always cooperating.  Mam-ma never missed a beat... she said, "Well, Leon is just like me.  All his life, he's just done whatever people told him to do and not complained.  He's just gone right along with it."  I had nothing... given Mam-ma's history, what do you say to that?!

I told my husband that I am so grateful that Mam-ma is settled and safe.  If this had happened even six months ago, I don't know what might have transpired.  I know that Mam-ma is less self-absorbed now... and less demanding.  She is busy, involved and active... and thinking of others.  And she has been a great sounding board for me in recent weeks as I've experienced some personal frustrations.

Meanwhile, my"birthday buddy" - a dear lady who shares my birthday and will be 93 in a few weeks - has moved to the ALF.  Physically, she is not doing as well as my grandmother, but Mam-ma is doing all she can to encourage her and to comfort her daughters, who are struggling with her decision to make this move.
So this has been a week of blessings and new experiences... and lessons learned.  I've learned that I can still multi-task... and I am glad I've been working out for the last few months!  Timothy is a tall 34.5" two-year-old who weighs 29 lbs. - and my back would be screaming if I had not done strengthening exercises in the last few months.

I've learned that I can survive a trip to the store with a kid in his pj's and myself in some semblance of disarray - and that it's okay if the house is a wreck and the dishes don't get done but once a day.  I've learned that it's okay for a 2-year-old and his great-great-grandmother to share a Three Musketeers and get melted chocolate all over both of them... and old people need to see babies more often.  Timmy is always a hit at the ALF... and Mam-ma loves to show off how handsome he is!

I've also learned how precious a good night's rest can be.  I've slept and napped and rested most of the last 24 hours since Timmy went home... because I know that Mam-ma will be calling - and Timothy will be back... and I need to be fresh and ready for both!