Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You!

We live on a farm and keep an odd assortment of chickens and waterfowl. The chickens, for the most part, are a congenial lot, whereas, the waterfowl have an “ATTITUDE”   every day. You have to be really careful around a certain gander, named after a character we heard about on a children’s record from the 1950’s. The song  goes something like this:

Ozzie the Ostrich,
the bird with the long long legs,
nobody knows where he goes to doze,
or where he lays his eggs!

Crazy lyrics, but years ago, that song inspired our older daughter, Claire, to name our new white gander, Oswald.

You have to watch your backside when you’re in Oswald’s presence. You never know if he’s going to bite you, especially after you’ve just been nice enough to feed and water him. Our other geese are a little less threatening, but once there was a rooster who must have been a distant cousin of Ozzie’s. This high-strutting cock refused to appreciate just how good he had it here on the Novak funny farm. And because of that, he no longer lives here.

At first we thought “he” was a “she” so we named her “My Fair Lady.” Her beautiful black and white feathers reminded us of the striking costume Audrey Hepburn wore in a racing scene from the movie of the same name. However, when “My Fair Lady” started to “cock-a-doodle-do,” we realized our mistake. “She ” was a “he,” so we quickly changed her name to “Henry Higgins.” The name fit perfectly.

Henry was ornery and dangerous. He had the habit of jumping in the air and kicking you hard with his spurs when you least expected it. He nailed our landlady in the rear one day when she tired to shoo him back to the barn (we weren’t home at the time – oh, how I wish I could have seen that). Another time, he flew around the side of the garage like a stealth bomber and attacked our four-year-old who was innocently playing in the sand box. This premeditated maneuver brought Henry’s military career to an abrupt end.  For everyone’s peace of mind, Henry had to go.

When our neighbor asked if she could have a rooster, we offered her Henry – permanently. With no little children running around her farm, her barnyard was much better suited for Henry’s aggressive and unpredictable behavior.

Although this happened many years ago, thinking about our current situation brought back fond memories of Henry Higgins demise (Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait!). The last we heard, Henry had mysteriously disappeared into the woods, likely carried away by a fox or coyote. Needless to say, not a tear was shed. He was the meanest animal we’ve ever had on the farm, that is, except for Oswald.

One of the most aggravating farm chores we undertake on a daily basis is feeding the geese (or trying to feed the geese). It’s not too bad if you’re just pouring feed into their pans, but if you reach out to offer them a piece of bread, they show their appreciation by honking their heads off and trying to take a chomp out of your fingers. I’m almost positive this is where the saying “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” came from. I mean, how ungrateful can you be? Geese have a love/hate relationship with the human race, that much is obvious.

Well, Grandpa has been exhibiting similar “goose- like” behavior with us the past few weeks. He’s back to complaining about minor irritations, digging below the surface like a chicken scratching for bugs in the burn pile. Yes, Grandpa’s been working overtime to find something to be disgruntled about, and in the process, he’s been aggravating the “heck” (sorry for the graphic language) out of his grandson and granddaughter, his chief caregivers, cooks, and bottle washers. In other words, he’s biting the very hands that feed him, get him out of bed, change his diapers, prepare his meals, wash his clothes, and puts him to bed at night…you get the idea. I sure wish Grandpa would!

I  don’t know if it’s because I haven’t been there much in the last month and he misses my maternal input (it’s the most time I’ve had off in a year, and I’ve really needed it) or because it’s after the holidays, and cabin fever has set in, but Grandpa has gotten cranky and down-right demanding again. The object of his disdain this time is the issue of “double dipping ” and “germs.”

First he refused a jar of apple butter Eric placed before him at breakfast.

“You’ve all been double dipping out of that jar,” he complained.

“What are you talking about, Grandpa? Nobody’s eating this stuff right now but you!”

“Well, I’m not eating it!” Grandpa retorted, like a spoiled three-year-old.

“Fine,” Eric said, tossing the jar back in the fridge. “It doesn’t bother me.” Don’t major on the minors, right? Good job, Eric.

The next issue to surface was a request for Eric to put gloves on to dispense his medicine.

“You need to put gloves on when your handling my pills,” Grandpa demanded.

“What the heck, Grandpa?” Eric replied, incredulously. “I’m not going to do that!”

We’ve been dispensing Grandpa’s medicine for almost a year and a half now, and putting latex gloves on three times a day to place his pills on a spoon would be a waste of time and energy, not to mention completely depleting our local Walgreen’s store of their latex glove supply.

I could only imagine what might come next.

“Grandpa’s driving me crazy,” Eric confided to me on the phone, one day.

“Is he getting enough water?” I asked, my standard question whenever I think Grandpa is becoming internally imbalanced, which can lead to crankiness and erratic behavior.

“Yeah, he’s getting enough water,” he said.

“What about cranberry juice?” I suggested, trying to figure out if he had the second cause of cranky, erratic behavior – a urinary tract infection.

“Yeah, he’s getting his cranberry juice,” Eric said.

“Well, tell him we’re not changing anything,” I said.

You see everyone will be going along fine, when all of the sudden, Grandpa wants to change the routine. It’s not good enough that everyone’s happy and life is running smoothly; let’s change the routine so we can be in control. Maybe that’s part of Grandpa’s discontent, the need to be in control of something – anything, because all of his life is in the control of others, and when he can’t get his way in little things, he begins to feel that no one is listening, no one cares.

But that’s not true. We’re all just a little battle-weary from taking care of a 90-year-old rooster with Parkinson’s. Most of the time Grandpa gets what he wants the minute he asks for it. Like Henry Higgins, Grandpa loses sight of just how good he’s got it. He forgets how bad the care was in the the nursing facility and when we least expect it, he hits us in the rear by recounting his current list of grievances to the visiting nurse. When we meet his needs 99.9% of the time, it really hurts to hear about the 1% we’ve missed (kind of like a peck to the posterior by an overly protective goose).

In order for everyone to continue to be able to handle this situation, its necessary to remind Grandpa of a few things when he begins to act up. “We’re not changing anything, Grandpa. The routine works and we’re not changing it.” Now that we’re on to him, that’s one of our new lines, and of course there is always my personal favorite as a last resort – “Tell him, he’s biting the hand that feeds him!”

Honestly, doesn’t Grandpa realize that Eric is one of the last people he should be picking on? What if Eric get’s really mad someday and flies the coop. Not many 19-year-olds would put up with this kind of nonsense – this long (I haven’t told you the half of it). Where would Oswald (aka 90-year-old Grandpa) go then?

I think, maybe Grandpa and Oswald ought to share accommodations for a while. I know a nice little place where you can get all the eggs you want, and Grandpa just loves farm fresh eggs. After all, birds of a feather flock together – and those two have a lot in common.

Yes, I’m Doctor Mom!

I’ve had some funny (and not so funny) experiences involving Grandpa and his health issues. When he first came home from the nursing facility, he would challenge all of us concerning his care. “How do you know, are you the doctor?” he would say rather rudely. A lot of his complaints were solved by just using common sense, but in his childish way, Grandpa would try to push the limit.There was no way we could let him do some of the things he wanted to do.

The initial challenges we encountered were mainly over his desire to walk anywhere he wanted without anyone holding onto his safety belt. Grandpa is way past the ability to walk on his own all over the house, and although he rarely gets dizzy, he could fall over backwards which is common for people with Parkinson’s.

He had fallen a number of times in the nursing facility and after reading about non-restraint nursing facilities (I will not use the word “home” in the same context anymore) it is obvious, they did not use enough safety precautions with Grandpa. On the other hand, someone would have to be with him all the time and that just isn’t realistic. They would have been hard pressed to keep up with him because he is a very determined individual, especially when he wants his own way. It would have been nice if our family had been notified that he was beyond their care, but that’s not the status quo. They just wait for them to break a hip, end up in the hospital, and die.

After he had been home for sometime, Grandpa’s health began to improve and we were told by the visiting nurse that he could try to walk around the house unaided – but she didn’t mean unattended. Somebody always had to be there to walk alongside him. Anytime he tried to convince us that he could walk from one room to another all by himself, we would say, “Debbie said no, Grandpa!”

The second area of disagreement was over his bed railing. Grandpa tried every possible way he could think of to try and get us to put the safety rail down, but we wouldn’t give in to his demands. With a hardwood floor in his bedroom, there was no way we were going to leave him unattended. That’s because Grandpa was sneaky. There were times when we would catch him trying to get up on his walker alone or find him standing at the bathroom sink, trying to shave (great broken hip material). But, Grandpa wasn’t always in his right mind because of a medicine issue, so besides the rail being physically constraining, it became psychologically confining as well.

Benzatrophine, a Parkinson’s drug that Grandpa should only have been on a short time – and wasn’t – was causing him dementia symptoms. He became paranoid and claustrophobic about going to bed. Early one morning around 3:00 a.m., Eric awoke to the sound of a feeble plea. “Help!” “Help!” It was Grandpa calling out into the night in his raspy little Parkinson’s voice. Eric groggily arose and made his way to Grandpa’s room where he found him lying across the bed with his leg stuck through the railing.

“Grandpa, what the heck are you doing?” Eric asked.

“Trying to go to the bathroom.” Grandpa replied.

“You can’t go to the bathroom by yourself.” Eric said.

Eric freed him, changed him, and put him back to bed. I felt bad for Grandpa (and Eric), but there was nothing we could do. We reminded Grandpa that the doctor said he was to have the railing up at all times. Once Grandpa was taken off the Benzatrophine, his mind cleared up, and so did a lot of the bedtime baloney episodes (I say that respectfully), and he hasn’t mentioned the railing bothering him for months.

There have been other issues we’ve had to deal with such as Grandpa wanting Benadryl every six hours to clear up the drooling which became more pronounced when he was taken off of the Benzatrophine (I can see how some people get hooked on hardcore drugs. Grandpa was ready to kill for it).

“No Grandpa, you cannot have Benadryl that much,” I told him not so gently because these were doctor’s orders, and he knew it. “The doctor said you can have a 24-hour allergy medicine, but not the Benadryl.”

“Are you the doctor?” he said.

“Yes, I’m Doctor Mom!” I stated emphatically.

But Grandpa wasn’t convinced. He even challenged the real doctor on this one. “Well, those doctors are not always right, either,” he said.

“Oh, now the doctor isn’t even the final authority,” I said. “Listen dad, the buck stops here! That’s what the doctor prescribed, and that’s the way it’s going to be!”

He gave me a disgusted look and finally backed down.

Over the months, “Doctor Mom” has served him well, nipping most of his illnesses in the bud so he doesn’t end up staying in the hospital or worse. Last month it was a urinary tract infection, this month an impacted bowel. No, I haven’t received a doctor’s degree from one of those reputable institutions like Harvard, but I have received a tried-and-true education from “The School of Life.”

Being older myself – a little over the middling mark of a century – I’ve encountered a lot of health issues with either family, extended family or myself, so when Grandpa tries his 90-year-old “one-upmanship” on me, I remind him, “Yes, I’m Doctor Mom!” Finally, he seems to be accepting my authority in his life to make health decisions that are in his best interest. And that’s why he barely put up a fight this weekend when I said, “You’re going to the emergency room.”

“No!” Grandpa grimaced, as he clutched the trapeze bar above his bed. He was having another spasm in his rectum.

“This isn’t normal,” I told him.

“You’re right,” he admitted.

“Well, I’m not staying there.”

“I’ll stay with you, dad, wherever you go.”

It turned out he had an impacted bowel. Something Doctor Mom knew nothing about, but does now.

On the way out of the hospital, one of the  nurses said goodbye and added that she was glad we didn’t have to stay overnight. She’s not the only one! Five hours later we were all gathered around the kitchen table eating dinner as if nothing has happened. I know one thing, Doctor Mom is grateful to God that He continues to help her make the right decisions concerning Grandpa’s health.

So remember this, if your parent has Parkinson’s and is partial to too much turkey and side dishes on Thanksgiving, make sure they drink a lot of water and get some exercise walking around the house – aided of course – or they may be struck with a very sluggish colon and the complications, thereof.

I still think my sister stuffed the turkey with a brick, but Grandpa keeps saying, it’s the best Thanksgiving meal he’s ever had.

Caring for the Ungrateful or A Rat in the Ranks

I take care of Grandpa on Sunday mornings so the kids can go to church. We watch some of the televised religious programs like In Touch with Charles Stanley and Power Point Ministries with Pastor Jack Graham, that is unless Grandpa’s too groggy.Yesterday morning, he was totally out of it, so before Claire left for church, she helped him back into bed after breakfast for his power nap. He missed all of his programs, but I recorded them so he could watch them later.

I didn’t know, because neither one of them said a word to me, but Grandpa gave Eric a real hard time about getting up, yesterday. He told him he shouldn’t go to church, but instead attend church at home like “other” people do on Sunday mornings. Unimpressed by his feeble attempts to dissuade him, Eric firmly told him, “I’m going to church and you’re getting up!”

There’s not much you can do when your 6’4″ grandson is towering over you with a determined look on his face. John 21:18 puts it this way, “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Unfortunately Grandpa is forced to go with the flow on Sunday mornings – and that flow is get up and go.

Grandpa generally wakes up around 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. weekday mornings, you can almost set your watch by him, but Sunday mornings, he is extremely hard to rouse. Doesn’t it figure? The one day we need everything to run smoothly like clock work, Grandpa is having one of “those” mornings. One thing I remember from having babies is you can always count on the the baby to have a rough night, especially when you have to go somewhere early the next morning. Lately, it’s the same with Grandpa. Sunday mornings are beginning to turn into a bit of a battle ground.

And, just when I make the observation that Grandpa rarely complains about arthritis or old age maladies like “the rheumatism,” he complains that his shoulder was hurting him all night long – from “arthritis,” no less. It’s possible that he pulled a muscle or something, but Grandpa is a bit of a hypochondriac and we tend to downplay whatever is ailing him, if it doesn’t bother him for more than a few hours.

We have often said that we’d love to have a 24-hour surveillance camera – a “Grandpa Cam” –  installed in his bedroom so we can see what shenanigans are going on during those supposedly “terrible” nights when he doesn’t get any sleep. I’m not downplaying his discomfort, but we are aware that the slightest symptom may be used as ammunition to solicit sympathy for not getting out of bed in the morning – especially Sunday mornings.

For instance, on Veteran’s day, Grandpa was pretty tired the whole day, sleeping most of it away, until Eric said, “Gee, Grandpa, it’s too bad you don’t want to wake up today, I was going to take you to Applebbe’s. They have a special for Veterans today, your dinner is free!”

Grandpa opened his eyes real wide. “Really?” he said, “I’m awake!” and off they drove to Applebees where Grandpa had a tasty steak dinner – his favorite. It touched my heart that Eric would take Grandpa out when he already spends so much time with him everyday. So you see, if Grandpa has a good enough reason, he will be extremely cooperative and push himself to get up. Eric needing a break from “Grandpa care” to go to church is obviously not a good enough reason to get his 90-year-old self out of bed. Truth told, Grandpa is being ungrateful – and a bit selfish, but at the age of 90, that’s to be expected, and it’s our job to keep lovin’ on him because even Jesus was kind to the ungrateful.

I love what it says in Luke, 6:35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” NASB. Not that Grandpa is evil – at all, but he does have a tendency to display an ungrateful spirit every now and then, especially Sunday mornings. I think, I smell a rat…

The Tortoise and the Caregiver or Caring for an Elderly Parent with Parkinson’s

Have you ever been there? Done that? Taken up the burden of a thousand tomorrows and suddenly realized you were doing it “again” –  thinking so far in advance that you could barely make it through the day because of the crippling effect it had on your brain?

Remembering to take life one day at a time takes the inertia out of the downward spiral that seeks to plummet us into the depths of despair, a condition easy to fall into when you are physically challenged from being your parent’s full-time caregiver.

I know, because I’ve been doing it again – heaping all of Grandpa’s future care onto today. Lately, the load has been unbearable. Every time I see him lose strength, fear washes over me. I can’t lift or pull him up anymore without hurting myself, so I’ve stopped trying. The stress on my already compromised spinal cord is taking it’s toll – my weakness magnified by Grandpa’s frailness. I have to have one of the older kids help me at all times now. I wonder how I’ll make it in the future for I can only imagine what is coming – an even higher level of care then we give now.

Just yesterday, Grandpa couldn’t push himself up off the bed onto the walker. Then after lunch, he couldn’t push himself out of the wheelchair onto the walker to get into bed. I wasn’t about to pull him up, but I didn’t have to, because for the time being, Grandpa and I have figured out a way around his disability.

When we’re by ourselves, I wheel him into the bathroom and he pulls himself up on the bar by the toilet, then he turns around and grabs his walker. Then with my hand on his belt, he makes the laborious trip back to his bedroom to lay down and take a nap.

Sometimes he can’t move, though. I had to sing a rousing rendition of Stars and Stripes to get his feet moving – a nifty trick that caregivers use with Parkinson’s patients. Still, it took us about ten minutes to cover the 30 feet distance between the bathroom and his bed.

The following day, when I’m totally convinced that Grandpa is soon to be wheelchair bound, he shuffles off to the kitchen, full steam ahead like he’s in a race – and actually he is. It’s a race with a degenerative disease that no body can stop, except God. We arrive in the kitchen in record time – two minutes, instead of ten.

Once again, I’ve been fooled by Parkinson’s! One day your body works, the next it doesn’t, but who’s keeping track, right? Wrong. Parkinson’s has a nasty way of messing with my mind. I keep second guessing Grandpa’s symptoms and feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster day in and day out. And the odd thing is, Grandpa seems to take it all in stride, even if his stride is only a tortoise’s pace. The slower he walks, the more I panic. Just how many tortoise and caregiver races are left before the tortoise has to  sit them out, permanently? Only God knows, that’s for sure.

One Day at a Time

The Window to Heaven

Consider it all joy, my brethren,
when you encounter various trials,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
And let endurance have its perfect result,
so that you may be perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing.

James 1: 2-3

Have you ever just wanted to crawl into bed and stay there permanently? My body is fatigued, my muscles ache, and I can’t seem to muster any strength. I’m exhausted physically and emotionally. The smallest act of kindness brings tears to my eyes. My husband brought me a cup of coffee the other morning and I felt so loved – it was ridiculous.

I feel totally overwhelmed from having to care for others right now because of the high level of care we’re giving to my 90-year-old father with Parkinson’s. Is it any surprise? We’ve been taking care of Grandpa for over a a year now and there is no relief in sight, although I am hopeful some things that need to change will be happening in the next few months. Grandpa has lost a little more mobility over the last month (as if that was possible) and it’s hard to watch him regress.

I’m not writing to elicit pity for my situation. I write to record a dialog between God and myself, to bring clarity and healing to a tough situation. In exchanging words  – His and mine – I hope to see victories large and small in this new season of life. I would enjoy your companionship along the way, too. After all, we are fellow sojourners along with a crowd of unseen witnesses, the saints who have faithfully traveled the well-worn path of suffering before us. We are in good company.

I’m sure you have your own battles to fight, your own set of unique circumstances and obstacles to to overcome. And if you don’t at this particular moment in time, you most likely will in the future. Trials are God’s way of giving us an opportunity to become totally dependent upon Him, to draw us close to his heart. Through times of severe trial and testing, He is especially near, wanting to reveal His character to us, His lovingkindness and faithfulness to all generations. And most importantly, through trials He begins to remove all the props – the things we rely on and put our trust in other than Him.

Is this journey one of comfort and ease? No. But as Christ’s followers, we learn to take up our cross daily and trod the path specifically designed for each of us to travel – one in which we may humbly follow in His steps, call upon Him for assistance, and die to our own will in the process. But we won’t be able to stay the course unless we are willing to quiet ourselves and listen for His words of love and direction.

We have to allow God a window, an entrance into our soul – a quiet place where He can open our eyes to see the sin which so easily besets us and trips us up on our long passage to the other side. What is God’s purpose for each of us at the end of any trial? That we would be more fully-fashioned into the likeness of His Son. But to be victorious, we must be willing to undergo the journey with endurance.

What is endurance? The Greek word for endurance is Hupomone: patience, endurance as to things or circumstances, longsuffering, endurance toward people. It is associated with hope and refers to the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial.

So I must ask myself a hard question and one I hope you will ask yourself today. How am I handling the trial I am walking through right now? Am I letting endurance have it’s perfect result? I know I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, but “knowing” is not enough. Am I willing to surrender my will to His? Am I obediently doing all He has required of me? Have I accepted this new season of life with joy?

In a time of quietude this morning, when the window to heaven was open, God showed me that I once again have been fighting His latest assignment with every fiber of my being – so much so that tears of exhaustion well up and spill over at the least provocation, exposing emotions raw and worn-thin like a glove with a hole in the thumb. I wish there was a quick fix, but I can’t just slap a patch over the frayed threads and expect the mend to hold. I have to take the time to sew the edges down tightly, slowly pulling the thread in and out the patch and glove to prevent the hole from becoming larger and unraveling altogether. It’s no secret that mending takes time and patience. So it is with the mending of our souls. Letting endurance have it’s perfect result takes time and patience.

Lately, it seems as if I couldn’t find a needle and thread if my life depended on it. Due to sheer exhaustion, my whole life seems to be unraveling. That is until I stopped again to open the window to heaven. It was then that God in His mercy reached out and showed me the true condition of my heart and what needs to change to run this race with endurance.

We can’t deliver ourselves, so why even try, right? Well, not exactly. We cannot deliver ourselves, but we can place ourselves in the right position to receive deliverance.

The hymn writer expresses this spiritual paradox this way:

Born to wander Lord I feel it,
Born to leave the God I love,
Here’s my heart now take and seal it,
Seal it for they courts above.

We can throw open the window to heaven wide and invite the Lord to minister to our heart and soul in times of trial or we can board it up and refuse Him access, making the journey even longer and harder than it was before. The choice is ours.

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