Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Few New Ingredients... A Few New Sandwiches...

I answered the phone to hear a desperate plea from Beth, my friend since childhood… “Mom had a bad car accident at church yesterday and did a lot of damage.  She says the men of the church told her not to worry about it… that it was no big deal.  Why on earth would they tell her that?”  First of all, my friend’s name is not really Beth, but since I don’t want her to have to go in to the Witness Protection Program, I’m somewhat protecting her identity with a fake name.  So I won’t use her mom’s real name either.  Secondly, I told “Beth”… “In the first place… what happened?  And secondly, you don’t know that the men really said that to your mother.”

Beth began to relay that her mom pulled into her regular parking space at church on Sunday morning (I know the space- a “handicapped” parking area out front), and she apparently hit the gas pedal instead of the brake.  I’ve driven by the church and seen the damage, and for the life of me, I cannot begin to explain how the accident “went down” as it did… but “Lucy” managed to jump the curb, cross a sidewalk, hook a hard right, and plow into a metal railing that is (or was) secured in concrete.  This railing lines a retaining wall that adjoins a playground for the church daycare… one story below!  Probably four to six bars of the railing were mangled and literally pulled up out of the concrete.  But had they not stopped Lucy’s car, she would have plowed head first to the concrete floor below that once housed the church basement… and she could have been killed.  Had it been a weekday (and she does visit the church campus during the week), she could have hit and/or killed toddlers playing there.

I have not seen the car, but I understand that there is significant damage to her front grill.  As I told Beth, I suspect that men rushed to soothe the ruffled feathers of an 88-year-old woman in distress and lovingly told her, “Don’t worry about it… everything will be okay.”  But Lucy told Beth, “All I need to do is pay an extra $50 to the church, and those men will make the repairs.”  Beth made a trip to the church campus to survey the damage, and the office staff told her, “You need to call your insurance agent.”  The scary part is that less than an hour after the accident, my mother saw “Lucy” in the church restroom before morning service began, and Mom said she was “cool as a cucumber.”  Mom had no clue there had been any sort of accident – until I told her days later.

So Beth did call her mom’s insurance company, and she discovered that Lucy had cancelled everything except the minimal coverage our state requires for motorized vehicles.  In a panic, Beth called attorneys, the sheriff, and anyone else she could think of for advice.  She provided credit card information over the phone to increase her mother’s insurance coverage, and she talked to the collision repair guy and asked, once again, to be informed of any visits by her mother.  Lucy has had several “fender benders,” and she has asked the local collision repair shops NOT to tell her daughter and son-in-law that her car was repaired by them.  Of course, they have not complied, realizing the seriousness of this situation – and valuing their friendship with Beth and her husband.  In fact, Beth saw my husband last week at a local sub shop, and she said Lucy had taken the collision repair guy a box of donuts and asked him NOT to tell her kids about any more accidents.  Clearly, he did not honor her request!

Beth paid her mother a visit and suggested it was time to stop driving.  Lucy went ballistic.  In fact, she became quite angry and combative and all but ordered Beth from her home.  Beth forbade her mother to drive out of town (knowing it was only a verbal threat). Her mother continued to have a fit!  Probably a decade ago, Beth’s mother was diagnosed with “vascular dementia” - which mimics Alzheimer’s in many ways.  Beth was given a mountain of information about vascular dementia, including a checklist of common behaviors associated with this condition.  She said, “Mother checks everyone on the list now.”

Upon the advice of our local sheriff, Beth contacted the DMV, who referred her to a “Driver Control” office in a nearby city.  The person there recommended that Beth ask her mother’s physician to write a letter stating that Lucy was no longer physically capable of driving safely.  The doctor readily agreed.  He told Beth, “I do this all the time… and I’m glad to do it.”  Now, lest you think this doctor is a little too eager to get elderly drivers off the road, consider that his late grandfather practiced medicine until nearly his 96th birthday.  This doctor is very “senior friendly.”  But as he pointed out to Beth, “I have to think about what sort of drivers are on the road with my wife and four children.”  So he wrote the letter and sent it to driver control.

Fast forward a week or so, and Beth’s mother was supposed to play cards one evening with some other seniors.  However, she was unable to attend, because she was so upset over a letter she had received in the mail about her driving… and she was quite sure her kids had instigated it!   I talked to Beth the day after the card party and asked her about the letter… her mother had not mentioned it to her.  So Beth called and “played dumb,” and her mother said she had gotten “something about the insurance,” and never admitted that she had heard from Driver Control.  However, she had been summoned for a hearing… and that has subsequently taken place.  Apparently more information will be required from her doctor in order to determine whether or not she can continue driving.  Failure to attend any hearings or to comply in any way results in immediate suspension of one’s driver’s license.  Lucy is livid!

My friend Beth has her own “sandwich” going on… her second oldest son just returned home for the summer after his freshman year of college, and she has a nearly 16-year-old son who will be a high school sophomore this year.  She works close to fulltime in her husband’s business, in addition to shuffling the duties of caring for her family and her mother - and working in her church.  The day she called me, she had been to some sort of meeting three out of five nights that particular week.  She has begged her mother to move into an Assisted Living Facility – or even to move into a condo on the grounds of the Assisted Living Facility - so that she could avail herself of some of their services.  Her mother flatly refuses.

I am not sure how this is all going to be resolved.  Lucy adamantly maintains that she will not stop driving.  And I know it is a real problem.  Some of my grandparents and elderly relatives politely laid down their car keys… others gave up kicking and screaming.  A dear friend of mine who is probably in her late 70s is currently dealing with this dilemma with regard to her husband, who suffers from dementia and cancer.  This once-brilliant man can no longer remember where he went when he leaves home in the car… or who he saw while he was out.  He went for a haircut recently, and when he returned home, he could not tell her which barber had cut his hair.  Lately, the doctor has told this man he can no longer drive.  He commented to his wife, “If I can’t drive any more, then I will just shoot myself.”  I don’t know how she copes with the worry that she might indeed find him dead someday.

Someone said to me, “Just take the car keys or disable the car.”  My response in Lucy’s case was, “Do you know how many church deacons she would immediately phone to come fix her car?”  As for the woman whose husband refuses to stop driving...and to some degree, Lucy, as well… we are talking about people who are strong-willed, frequently belligerent and combative… and physically powerful when “fully engaged.”  It’s just not that simple.

So what is the answer?  In my opinion, there comes a time when we must realize that our loved ones are no longer the person we knew and loved… they are not responsible for their actions – nor capable of making wise decisions.  We must decide for them what is in their best interest – and the best interest of others, as well. Beth’s mother told a group of friends that none of her accidents until this last one were her fault.  That isn’t true… the collision repair man pointed out to her where she had damaged the underside of her bumpers by running OVER something – which Beth pointed out to her could have been a child that she hit and killed.  But Lucy’s comment to her friends prompted one of them to say, “We just all need to get together and tell that judge that you are a good driver.”  This person hasn’t a clue!  We, as caregivers and children – and responsible adults – must sometimes recognize that whatever decision we make is not going to set well with our loved one… and we must go ahead and do what makes sense.  For some, that means insisting they move to a facility – or get rid of the car.  It’s a tough call… but not much about the Sandwich Generation is easy!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A few weeks ago, my husband and I traveled to Little Rock to see a movie and do some shopping.  We stopped at Sam’s on the way home.  My husband purchased some storage cabinets for the garage, so we required assistance in loading them into the car.  While Greg went to get our car, I stood with the cart outside the exit doors at Sam’s.  I observed a young woman - with a FULL basket that included a small toddler-as she loaded her purchases into a mini-van.  She opened the passenger door and handed a box with some fresh fruit and a cake or some sort of baked good to an elderly woman.  “Hold these so they don’t get smashed,” she said.  The next thing I knew, the woman was getting out of the van.  The girl gingerly said to her, “Please get back into the car.  I need you to hold your cake so it doesn’t get smashed.”
By now, she had loaded the toddler into the back seat, where I could hear screaming and crying.  She muttered, “He’ll be asleep soon,” as she continued loading this mountain of merchandise into the van – tucking things into every nook and cranny.  And did I mention it was incredibly hot and humid for late May in Arkansas?  The poor girl was sweating and out of breath.  I so wanted to help her, but I knew better than to offer and upset her “system.”
Finally, I asked… “Is that your grandmother?”  She nodded and said, “Yes.  My mother died two years ago, so now I try to do all I can for her.”  I told her that I understood completely.  “I’ve been right where you are with a grandmother in one seat and a baby in another,” I told her.  She replied, “Well, it wasn’t bad until I had these last two only 2 years apart.”  So she has at least three children… and I realized that TWO of them were in the back seats of that van!  Talk about a SANDWICH!  I wished her well as she slammed the last door shut, and I thanked God for my own little “sandwich,” such as it is!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Grandma "E" with Nathan
Lest you think my sandwich has lost one of its slices of “bread” now that my grandmother has passed… it seems that my mother-in-law, whom Timothy and Zola call Grandma “E”,  is beginning to do a nice job of filling in the gap.  I’m not complaining.  I love my mother-in-law.  She is a jewel.  She will also be 87 in a few days… and in the last six months, she has begun to feel every single year of that age.  Things hurt that didn’t used to… she has no energy or “ambition” (one of her favorite words)… and her short-term memory is pretty well shot.  We have just completed a two-day yard sale, which was her version of “downsizing.”  My husband begged her not to overdo it.  As I said, we are already smack in the middle of Arkansas heat and humidity.  She decided to concentrate on “only cleaning the garage.”  I cannot begin to tell you what this means.

Grandma “E” spent two weeks working virtually every day in her garage, sorting, setting things out on tables, and rearranging.  She insisted she didn’t work that much, but neighbors reported differently… and we could see how tired she was when we would check in on her.  She found items she has not seen since she moved into this house in 1997… and some probably packed long before that and simply moved to the new abode.  She spent a good part of Friday searching – physically and mentally – for four small dolls “in blue boxes” – only to decide yesterday that she probably sold them many years ago and just doesn’t remember.  When the sale was over, I boxed up what I had left and we loaded it to take to the thrift store.  My mother-in-law plans to repack all of her “treasures” and “tuck it into the corners of the garage.”  My husband told me, “We are never, never, EVER having another garage sale… and neither is Mom!”  He has suggested to her that she have an auction… but she cannot bear to part with her treasures… so that will have to wait.

Meanwhile, Grandma “E” mentioned to me the other day that her knee was really hurting…her “bad knee.”  She had arthroscopic knee surgery several years ago, but the other knee now bothers her, and the orthopedist says it’s too far gone for anything but a replacement, which she doesn’t want to have done – and I don’t blame her!”  She said, “I accidentally knelt down on that bad knee to get something out of a cabinet, and I almost didn’t get back up.  It hurt SO badly.”  She went on to tell me that she has a hard time getting in and out of the bath tub, and that “I have to get on my hands and knees to get out of the tub now.” 

I repeated this to my husband, and the next day she demonstrated to him how she gets out of the tub.  I didn’t see this, but she actually puts some sort of piece of foam rubber into the tub to help with this somehow.  We talked at length about her tub situation.  My mother-in-law loves to bathe.  She said, “I like to fill the tub so full that the water comes up around my ears.  We talked about walk-in tubs.  But you have to get in, close the door, let the tub fill with water, then sit in the tub while the water drains out afterward.  That all sounds cold and uncomfortable to me, and she was not on board with doing this.

My husband conferred with his brothers, and they agreed that a walk-in shower is in order… the days of bathing are drawing to an end.  I told my husband, “There is a reason there are no bath tubs at the Assisted Living Facility and the senior condos!” We had lunch last week with Greg’s mother and one of his brothers and sisters-in-law, and we talked about contacting a local carpenter and plumber to redo her bathroom.  The brothers may also look into the possibility of placing additional hand rails in the spare bath tub, in case there comes a time that she INSISTS on having a bath.  While we were discussing all of this, my sister-in-law said something about the danger of using bath oils.  I had not realized that my mother-in-law uses those little “pearl” thingies that dissolve and put oil in your bath water.  She loves them!  OR… she uses Avon’s Skin-so-Soft!  Now I don’t know about you, but there is little to no hope of me getting out of the tub safely after using one of these items… it’s like trying to stand up in Crisco!  

So we insisted she stop using these products IMMEDIATELY and start moisturizing AFTER she gets out of the tub. Hopefully the new shower project will happen soon and alleviate this potential danger.  I’d bet you a dollar to a donut she is still using her bath beads, but I can’t prove it.  We were talking about people who lie yesterday, and Greg asked her, “Are you always truthful with me?”  She nodded and replied, “Yes, I never keep things from you… unless it’s something I don’t want you to know!”  And then she giggled.  Greg told me the other day that he thought she had not been honest with him about something – maybe how much she had worked in the garage in the heat – and I said, “You don’t think your mother would lie to you, do you?”  He replied, “Oh, I’m pretty sure she would never admit it… but yes, I’m quite sure she does if she doesn’t think the truth is what I want to hear!”  I just shook my head.

Timothy - now FOUR years old!
Last Sunday, we picked up my Grandma "E" for church… and then we picked up Timothy and Zola.  After church, we went to McDonald’s for lunch.  We ordered “Happy Meals” for the kids (and I got one, too), and Greg got chicken nuggets and fries to share with his mom.  She requested one of those coffee drinks with all the whipped cream on top.  We sat down to eat, and the kids had their meals and Cokes (a special Sunday treat), and Timothy said to Grandma “E”, “Mmmmm… I want one of THOSE!”  I explained that it was coffee, and he said, “I like coffee!”  He did not get any… and he was quite good about it.

Zola - now TWO years old!
But I had to laugh as we drove home. The children were sitting in their car seats, sleepy and ready for naps… and Grandma “E” was sitting in the front passenger seat, sleepy and ready for HER nap!

Yes, our “sandwich” continues… it just has a few new ingredients.