We had a couple of wonderful weeks with Grandpa. He seemed as content as he could be. But yesterday, due to his lack of mobility, I saw a bit of impatience creep back into his spirit. He has a dream that he’s going to walk around the house all by himself.
I love him for wanting to, but it’s not going to happen. We have to be in the same room with him when he is at his walker with our hands on his safety belt. Rarely do we take our hands off of that belt. That may seem a little extreme, but there is a reason we are so vigilant.
Three years ago, my landlady fell and broke her hip. One Sunday morning, she was coming out of her bathroom with her walker when she tripped and fell in the hallway and broke her hip. She was never able to come back to the farm after that. I share this story with my dad every time he begins to try to to walk around the house by himself. He usually doesn’t get very far, and just a friendly reminder of our landlady’s woes and it is enough to bring him back to reality.
My dad has a fighting spirit and and at the age of 89 (almost 90), he’s one of the most self-motivated people I know, which is why he got a little “snippy” with me, yesterday when I tried to help him re-position himself in his wheelchair for the third time that day. If he doesn’t sit down just right, he leans way over to the side because of the curve of his spine.
We walked from his bedroom to the kitchen, my left hand holding his safety belt and my right hand pulling the wheelchair behind me, a safety measure he wanted in place, because somehow he lost confidence in me. I’m strong enough to catch him from going down, but he doesn’t want me to strain myself if he does. The problem is, he gets shaky just thinking about it and starts to wobble. Then, I have to tell him everything is okay, just keep coming forward or we’re going to have to start all over again.
When we got to the kitchen, I pushed the wheelchair behind him and he sat down to eat lunch, only he didn’t get positioned correctly. When I tried to help pull him up so we could scoot him over, he protested. “Now, let me do it! I don’t want you to hurt yourself!”
“I already have,” I murmured to myself as I popped his lunch into the microwave. I’ve had to take care of Grandpa all week long because Eric has been working over at the farm, bringing in the hay and helping Robert paint the house. I’ve felt a few more aches and pains helping him up and down this week and I was grumbling to myself about it.
“I’m sorry, I yelled.” he said. I think his so-called yell was pretty low on the decibel scale, a four maybe. It didn’t bother me.
“That’s okay dad.” I said.
Doesn’t it figure, that the one area I struggle with the most is the one that Grandpa is most anxious about? Becoming ambulatory is suddenly at the forefront of his thinking, but he picked the wrong day to try to achieve new goals. I was taking care of him all by myself and my limitations for lifting him only seemed to make him want to walk by himself all the more. Like it or not, when Eric isn’t here, Grandpa is stuck depending on his 53-year-old daughter who can’t lift his 160 pounds – comfortably, but does the best she can.
Ah, the vicissitudes of life for Grandpa and me.
The day Grandpa stops trying to meet his goals, he’ll either be bed-ridden or dead, and if I keep trying to meet them in my own strength, I will be too. I pray that I learn to depend more on God, daily, and look to Him for the strength I need to physically care of Grandpa.
“But they that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
Today, my family is getting a break at Great America Amusement Park. Great America is practically in our own back yard and once a year, my husband and children spend the day there, riding death-defying roller coasters and yelling at the top of their lungs. Robert and the kids really look forward to making memories, but not with me. I have neurological issues that prevent me from joining them (thank God), so every year I am spared the self-inflicted punishment of having my body thrown about as if it were a sack of potatoes.
All this to say, since I wasn’t going with them, I became the designated Grandpa sitter. We had be at his house around 7:00, and Grandpa doesn’t usually get up until 8:00, so Eric had to wake him up early. By the time we arrived, Eric had changed and dressed him, and when I walked in his bedroom, Grandpa was already going back to bed. He had woke up around 6:00 and was still sleepy. Grandpa usually takes a power nap after breakfast, but being an hour off, he was not ready to eat breakfast yet.
Months ago, our neurologist said that if we needed to, we could give Grandpa some Carbidopa before he gets out of bed in the morning to give him a little jump start and warm up his muscles. We usually don’t have to do that, however. Eric is strong enough to lift Grandpa around and help get him going if he’s not moving well. But today I thought it might be best to give him one tablet to help him want to wake up and not sleep the morning away since he was already a little off schedule.
Obviously, I’m not as strong as a 19-year-old and my spinal cord issues make lifting and pulling an issue. I have to help my dad past the one spot where gravity is pulling him backwards, and I need him to move forwards. It’s not fun, but I have no alternative when I am here by myself other than to try and pull his 160 pounds up to a standing position. Along with his pill, I gave Grandpa a piece of cheese and bread so his stomach wouldn’t be upset, and he slept until 9:00 a.m.. If he misses any of his medications, he gets exhausted and way off schedule for his next meal, so we try to keep everything running smoothly and not forget to give him his pills on time.
So far today, I have cooked Grandpa breakfast and lunch (and will cook dinner,too), changed his diaper, walked him to the kitchen (pulling his wheel chair behind me for his comfort – he’s been worried today about not having his chair nearby for some reason), sat with him through his nurse’s visit, and worked on getting some of his old credit debt straightened out with a credit counselor. As well as writing this blog, I managed to get a nap in on the couch. One thing I learned from being a mommy, when the baby sleeps, you sleep. That’s true when I’m taking care of Grandpa, too.
Grandpa quote of the day:
“I have to get back to work. Enough playing around.” Grandpa on practicing Chopin at the piano and needing to go back to his bedroom to write on his book about the nursing home.
I am needy.
I groan with Godly sorrow
My eyes pool with tears.
Like David, I am painfully aware that I have sinned against Thee, and Thee only.
Thy Word, O Lord, is pure.
Tried as silver, refined in the fiery furnace of the earth, seven times.
Tried in the furnace of my heart, seven times seventy.
Will I ever learn? My tears overflow.
Thy word comes on a hot wind, a refiner’s fire.
Do all things without complaining or arguing,
Without grumbling or questioning,
Without disputing or murmuring
Be ever on your guard against a grudging and contentious spirit.
In my innermost being, I hear and bow low
Forgive me, Lord.
Purify me within, cleanse me without
Send forth Thy Word, O God, and refine me.
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling;for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Philippians 2: 12-15
Sometimes simple solutions to everyday challenges elude us because we’re so busy “doing” that we can’t “pause to reflect” (or in my case remember) what needs to be changed in order to make life easier.
Take Grandpa’s new Velcro shoes, for instance. They’re highly preferable over the tie-on shoes he was released from the nursing home with (those shoes never belonged to him anyway), but it took me a while to remember to purchase a new pair when I was out running errands.
During one of his therapy sessions, Grandpa became exasperated when his foot kept slipping out from underneath him. He was practicing transferring from a sitting position in his wheelchair to a standing position at his walker. He needed T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N, and he needed it now! So off to the store I went to purchase a pair of Velcro shoes.
When I got home, I tossed the old shoes out the back door at the garbage can, only I missed. I had intended to throw them away before I left, but it was late and I forgot. It rained that night and the nursing home resident’s name that was written on the side (let’s just call him John Doe), vanished by morning.
I assumed the name was written in permanent marker, but it wasn’t, illustrating the sad reality that nothing is permanently yours at the nursing home (I know, because Grandpa told me so).
For some reason, probably the injustice we felt as a family that Grandpa was sent home in someone else’s shoes, we never quite read whose name was inscribed on them. For eight months, we used those shoes day-in-and-day-out, and it never occurred to me to commit the poor owner’s name to memory (Hey, if the shoe fits, wear it, right?).
After he tried his new shoes on, Grandpa asked me if I had saved the old shoes.
“No, I threw them away.” I replied disdainfully.
“You never know when you’ll need them,” he quipped (remember, Grandpa was nine years old when the Great Depression hit).
Normally, I would have been a little more frugal, but, honestly, I didn’t plan on ever needing “John Doe’s” shoes again. They were an old pair of Dockers and it was frustrating to have to tie and untie them several times a day. And believe it or not, Grandpa pretty much wore the soles down. Don’t ask me how, but he did.
Come to think of it, maybe there wasn’t much of a sole left on the Dockers to begin with. Maybe John Doe was a senior marathon runner or nursing home dance instructor. I regret, I’ll never know.
Isn’t this just another example of how devalued our seniors citizens are? Shouldn’t their personal belongings be returned to their families after they die? Maybe John Doe was blessed to have his family permanently bring him home, and somehow his Dockers were accidentally left behind. I doubt it. But it does make me wonder, who’s wearing Grandpa’s shoes at the nursing home right now?
Suffice it to say, Velcro shoes – friends of both young and old – have made life easier for everyone at our house, especially Grandpa.
The level of care my father receives is called “skilled nursing” by the professionals. I don’t think these two words necessarily have to go together. Anyone can become skilled at taking care of their elderly loved one, and not every need they have will be medical. So let me encourage you that you don’t have to be a nurse to take care of your elderly parent.
What the nursing home means when they use the term skilled nursing is that they provide both of these services and everything in-between. Personal hygiene assistance, help with dressing, medical monitoring, dispensing of medicine, plus therapy and exercise classes are all provided under one roof at the nursing home facility.
The important thing for you to know is that these services are available to you for a limited time when you first bring your elderly parent home. Trained occupational and physical therapists, as well as medical nurses who monitor vital signs are all available to train you in what you need to know to achieve and maintain optimum health for your parent.
When we brought dad home, they sent staff to our house to make sure that we had the equipment we needed to take care of him. A hospital bed, wheelchair and walker were immediately ordered for us. This equipment was all covered by medicare. My brother had the bathroom tub ripped out and a handicap assessable shower installed. Medicare does not cover bathroom renovations for handicap purposes. This is a cost you will incur yourself, but can be written-off at tax time.
With the help of these professionals, you will figure out what you need for your particular situation. My brother spent some time in the physical therapy room at the nursing home, observing and video taping my father on the exercise equipment. He bought some of the same equipment for a reasonable price off of Craig’s List, and had it delivered to Grandpa’s home. It is very important to help your parent get the physical therapy he needs to stay strong. My father is a highly motivated individual and he loves to work out almost every day.
As far as care goes, it doesn’t take a nursing degree to fill a pill box or give your parent a shower. These are all skills that can be acquired through practice. The term for this kind of care is often called custodial or personal care. The word custodial reminds me of school lockers and shiny hallways. I like the term personal care better. I like to think that I am giving my father the personal, one-on-one care, he deserves and cannot receive from anyone else.
That said, there are health issues unique to the elderly that can progress quickly if you aren’t aware of what’s happening. It’s really important to have a highly recommended geriatric doctor nearby who can answer your questions or refer you to any specialists you may need along the way. If you are taking a loved one out of the nursing home it is really important to get them evaluated to make sure they are not being overly medicated as was the case with my father.
If there is any kind of ongoing health issue, the doctor will assign an independent nursing service to come to your home weekly and help monitor the episode until the threat of danger is over. We have learned so much from the physical therapists and the nurses who have taken care of my father in our home. Their expertise has been invaluable and I think this is one part of the in-home health system that really works.
I hope the future health care bill does not limit this service to the elderly. It has been absolutely vital for bringing us peace of mind as we went from the transition of not knowing exactly what to expect when we first brought Grandpa home, to being able to handle his Parkinson’s issues. Yes, I suppose we could bring him to the doctor more often, but the weekly visits have been invaluable for helping us deal with the numerous health issues that have arisen since Grandpa has been home.
You can do it!
I remember years ago when my father was in assisted living. He had contracted a germ common to seniors called c. diff* that causes diarrhea. He was put into isolation and my siblings and I had to take care of him until it cleared up. I helped change his diapers and ran back and forth to the store to get him anything he needed. The staff said our family (my younger brother, sister, and I) were one the most involved they had ever encountered. As I was changing his diaper one day, one of the CNA’s asked me if I had a nursing degree. “No, I said, “I’m just a mommy. I’ve changed lots of diapers.”
You don’t have to be certified to care for a loved one. Whether you help care for them in assisted care, the nursing home, in your home or their home, the tender loving care that only you can give will make all the difference in the world.
* Clostridium difficile, often called C. difficile or “C. diff,” is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications. Mayo Clinic staff