Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Sky Really Fell

“Don’t cry wolf,” My Mom would caution almost daily when we were young. Sometimes she’d even tell elaborate stories of a little girl that made up tall tales. One day this little girl found herself in a lot of trouble and really needed help and no one would believe her. I don’t know about my sister, but I would sit terrorized listening to this story. We used to read about Chicken Little and his cries over “the sky is falling, the sky is falling,” too. He seemed a little more annoying, so I was never too concerned over his well being. And from what I remember, he ended up being right anyway.
I guess the message got through. I know for sure my sister never made false claims to garner attention and I hardly did either. My most famous cry wolf didn’t take place until third or fourth grade when I maybe overplayed a sprained ankle a little at summer camp. The minor twist really hurt when it happened, but by the time the pain receded I was already getting piggy back rides around the property. Come on, who would pass up that kind of fun?
What I don’t understand is why My Mom was so obsessed with that specific type of precautionary tale back then or why she isn’t heeding her own warning now. That woman is so dramatic over a stubbed toe or a brush against her skin, I actually find myself feeling irritated if she complains of pain rather than checking to see if it’s legitimate or not. Not a good MO for a caregiver. And it landed us in a very traumatic situation yesterday.
Actually, let me back up to mid July. It’s one of the blogs I didn’t post yet – My Mom and I were leaving the house and she kept acting exhausted. I knew she was faking it, so I insisted she get moving. We made it to the kitchen sink where she grabbed the side of the counter just as her knees buckled and her feet swung out from under her. I was right by her side, grabbed her and the shock of it all brought her back around again in a split second. She became perky and alert enough to continue to head out of the house. The situation left me shaking like a leaf and very aware of how unprepared I was for an emergency. It also reminded me how lucky I had been that in two and a half years of caregiving, I never had to make a trip to emergency and never had to dial 9-1-1. A few of my friends that have begun caregiving for parents have been strapped with medical emergencies on top of the every day duties. My situation seemed like a breeze in comparison. So as we hit the car and took off for our afternoon of fun, I actually began to doubt once again whether my dramatic Mom hadn’t faked at least a little of the incident.
Fast forward to yesterday. We had a replay of feigning exhaustion. She had already been in bed for two days and I was convinced oversleeping was the culprit, nothing truly health related. She did have one of her recurring Urinary Tract Infections. The doctor’s office had already called in the prescription, I figured she could go to adult daycare for a couple of hours of activity while we waited for the scrip to be ready.
Through closed eyes and grunts we trudged to the daycare. As expected, her eyes popped open and a smile hit her face as we walked through the door to hear “America the Beautiful” being crooned at the sing-a-long. The only problem was her tummy was grumbling to the music as well.
The rest of the group soon left for lunch. My Mom and I stayed behind to make a trip to the restroom. Alone, in a room completely constructed of tile, she pulled the “I’m going down” routine. I yelled, I grabbed her head and told her this wasn’t the place to try this antic and then I realized …. she wasn’t faking it. This was a real emergency. Her eyes rolled back, her body convulsed and I abandoned yelling at her and instead screamed for help at the top of my lungs. No one could hear me – and I wasn’t crying wolf. The whole group had gone downstairs to the lunch room. I was in a giant, empty facility, hoisting My Mom’s crumpled body like a toddler on my hip trying to figure out what to do next. First I begged to hang in there. Next I asked forgiveness for not believing she was really sick. Then, fearing we were both going to hit that hard tile any minute, I propped her on the walker and somehow made it back out to the main room. Her head continued to sway back dangerously. My calls for help remained unanswered. I wrestled between staying with her and running for assistance. Survival won out. She somehow stayed propped half on the walker and half on a table while I ran down the hallway to the front desk. “Call 9-1-1!” I yelled, still trying to convince myself it was really an emergency. I had never done anything that weighty. “She might be having a stroke,” I added, mostly to convince myself that, yes, this was real. This was that dreaded emergency that any caregiver knows will happen one day.
By the time I got back to the room, the worst of My Mom’s episode had subsided. With help, she sat upright. Eyes closed and even more exhausted than early that day, but alive and somewhat well. Well enough that I started thinking I would look like an idiot in front of the paramedics. Who would look like she was crying wolf now? Just as I debated calling them off, they wheeled in. The first thing I did was apologize. They reassured me I was right to call and even started calling out symptoms as if to make me believe I wasn’t crazy. She was still pale, had almost no blood pressure and was severely dehydrated.
“I’m starting to doubt she should go to the hospital,” I admitted.
“She is bouncing back,” one of the guys said, but you should have her checked out. But a full blown ambulance ride? I thought to myself. It just seemed too dramatic.
“What would you do if it was your mother?” I asked.
“Don’t ask me that,” the female answered. “I’d leave her here.” At least, comic relief.
“What if she was a good Mom, instead of a bad one?” I added. We all laughed.
They assured me we were doing the right thing. I admitted, even to my disbelieving self, that at the age of 88 it was pretty miraculous that this was the first trip to the hospital for an old age concern. It was our first use of an ambulance too. (My Dad even drove himself to the hospital when he had a heart attack.)
The ER crew confirmed the need for medical attention. My Mom’s raging infection had likely spread to her blood system. A very serious condition. Her heart rate to this moment remains dangerously low. We had to have two talks with hospital staff to agree on no “heroics” if her heart rate or blood pressure dropped any further. “She could slip away tonight,” the doctor told me. “You made a good decision. That’s a peaceful way to go.”
Not so peaceful to the caregiver. Not when you know you dragged your Mom out to daycare when it turns out she was deathly ill. This mistake could consume me with a lifetime of guilt. Or perhaps I've stumbled across the reason My Mom read those bedtime stories all those years, maybe it wasn’t to scare me out of crying wolf, maybe it was to prepare me to accept the reality of life. If you cry wolf enough times there are bound to be consequences and it’s not necessarily your caregiver’s fault.
The good news is, My Mom survived. She’s quite lucid today and I was able to truly ask forgiveness for not believing her. I even pledged to take action a little quicker next time she claimed to have an ache or pain. We’re being very loving right this second, but when we get home – she’s gonna hear the warning tale of the little girl that tells stories! In fact, I saw a children’s book section in the gift shop. I wonder if they sell Chicken Little?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Eat, Pray ... Love???

My Mom and I had girl's day out today. Two reasons: one I've been traveling a lot lately and I thought it would be nice to reconnect outside of our daily duties, and two, I was fighting with my boyfriend. What a better escape than a chick flick and what a better partner in crime to hang out with than My Mom. She's a sympathetic listener and God bless her, she always sides with me.
I didn't really intend for her to be such an active participant in the outing, nor quite so fun, but we really had a spectacular afternoon.
My Mom was pretty perky from the minute I announced we were going to the show. She's been failing again mentally and I honestly don't think she knew where we were going. As always, she was game for anything outside the house. Her enthusiasm boiled over like the popcorn spilling out of the popper as we hit the concession stand.
"Look at that," she said in complete awe over all the treats in the lighted case. Music to my ears. A girl's gotta binge while she's working out complex relationship issues (also known as sulking). I was thrilled that My Mom was an eager participant in ordering junk food rather than have her critically comment on the potential pounds I might put on as a result. (Yes, she would go there.)
Never have I ordered so much -- and the bonus, it was all at her insistence. How could I refuse? We walked into the theater with a giant bag of popcorn, candy, two drinks and even an order of chicken tenders. On the way, My Mom spotted an advertisement for a place that served ice cream. I assured her we'd make a stop there when the movie was over. Quick confession: My Mom never was much of a movie person, so it's even tougher with Alzheimer's for her to engage with a film. Seeing she was such a trooper at hanging with me, I thought the least I could do was provide a spectacular picnic movie lunch, including somewhat healthy protein from the chicken tenders. She sits quite well through a flick if I bring enough treats. We were prepared to make it through a double feature.
We don't go often, but my only real concern in attending a movie is whether she'll talk disruptively once the show starts. I save key pieces of candy for those moments to distract her from any lengthy conversation. She also hums through everything, but the cinema sound typically drowns her out. We've been shushed at church and a small play, but other than that it's been okay. Finally, I always go in the late afternoon when only a handful of people attend and we sit at a respectful distance from the other moviegoers.
I really wished that My Mom could understand where we were or the content of the movie. If this had been released in her day she would have taken both of her daughters to see it in an instant. She loved exposing us to other cultures and, even though she was a devout Catholic, she embraced the idea of attaining higher awareness and universal love. I remember when she and I went to see Gandhi when it came out when I was in high school. She enjoyed the movie for her own sake, but desperately wanted me to love it too. I remember vividly the animated conversation we carried on about the movie as we left the theater and all the way home.
I felt that same way toward her as we sat in the theater today. I wanted her to embrace the story. I hoped at the very least she'd enjoy the scenery. It was the kind of the thing the old her would have really appreciated.
I never expected her to become absorbed in the movie. My Mom was mesmerized almost from the minute the movie started. First of all, one of the opening scenes featured a baby. She's always enthralled with babies. Then she thought she knew Julia Roberts. She actually laughed at the jokes and elbowed me at one point to ask if I got it. In Italy the female characters were lying on the floor trying to button up jeans. I thought I should explain to My Mom that the girls had been eating too much and that's why the jeans were tight. "I know, she told me," My Mom replied. Hilarious. Indeed, the main character had said they that needed to go shopping for bigger pants in the previous scene. My Mom thought she was part of the discussion.
A little later when the Julia Roberts character was crying, My Mom stretched her arm toward the big screen to hand her a tissue. Touching yes, but also a sign of just how distorted My Mom's reality has become. I'm the one that needed a tissue at that point.
While My Mom was reaching out to the character in the movie, I was relating. When the book came out multiple people bought it for me and dozens, if not more than a hundred, said it was a 'must read' for me. I didn't make it past the opening chapters back then. The author was so like me, it wasn't even entertaining. I figured if I wanted to relive that type of pain, I would just go back and read my own journals.
That was some time ago. I feel differently now. I was anxious to see the movie. I knew it would speak to my soul, so I wanted to be in the right mindset to see it and I wanted to be with the right girlfriend.
How awesome that person ended up being My Mom. Today proved to be the perfect day and My Mom the perfect partner to escape to all the wonderful landscapes shown in the movie. She genuinely enjoyed every scene. It was remarkable.
My Mom and I appropriately ate our way through the 'Eat' portion of the story in Italy along with the characters. We fully embraced the trip to Indonesia for the 'Pray' portion and then we found ourselves run right off the road to happiness just as we hit 'Love'.
A handsome man driving a jeep rolled into town in the film. Immediately I knew it was the love interest. I felt my heart come to life, exactly as a desperate tap hit my right arm.
"I have to go to the bathroom," My Mom said as her stomach confirmed the urgency with a loud gurgle. There was no time for disappointment. With swift speed we wheeled out of theater six and made our way to the closest restroom. I needed to contain the pending concession stand catastrophe as best as possible. The treats took their toll.
By the time we were done changing and cleaning up it didn't seem worth heading back in for the final minutes of the movie. What good's a happy ending without the romantic build up? I stopped at the customer service desk and they were kind enough to give me a rain check to go back later tonight and watch the ending. I have to. As much as I love My Mom and didn't mind for one second having to take her home -- I can't risk what happened today becoming the story of my life -- Eating, Praying then totally missing out on Love.
I'll wait until she falls asleep and sneak back to the theater. I don't want to miss out on a happy ending!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Dancing Queen and other tidbits from this week...

My heart is about to burst. I have My Mom watching Momma Mia while I get a little work done on the computer and I looked up to see her full blown dancing, well, from the waist up anyway. The arms were swaying skyward, punching and swinging to the beat and her face was just beaming as the TV screen transformed her into the Dancing Queen. She caught me watching.
"What are you smiling at?" she asked.
"I'm thinking this movie looks pretty fun," I said quickly sending my arms into action so she'd continue dancing without feeling like I was making fun of her. Instead, she took a poke at me.
"See, this is good for you," she said as she watched my chair dancing maneuvers with interest. "You usually stay back."
She's right. I grew up super introverted. She doesn't remember having children, but she remembers my core personality. The shyness has been pretty much gone since high school, but I still slip back on occasion. It made me realize caring for her has really helped me over the final hurdles of living in fear -- we pull some pretty crazy antics. Come to think of it, all the silly things I wish I would have done when I was young. My Mom not only gave me life, but at 88 with full blown Alzheimer's, she's continuing to teach me how to live it to the fullest.
We're on "Super Duper Lights are Gonna Find Me" now. I'm not even sure that I have the words right, but regardless, we're singing them at the top of our lungs. We've rewound the scene several times to try and get the lyrics right. Such fun!
Monday we performed "I could have danced all night" from My Fair Lady over and over again.
(Okay, if we had a Peeping Tom, he'd tell you we play that one often.)

I have several stories to post -- I'm sooooo behind!
In the meantime, two funny highlights from this week:
Tuesday I told My Mom that it was the first day back to school for the kids. I suggested we call her granddaughters to ask how the day went but she was deep in thought, almost as if she was troubled by the news of school starting.
"The weather's getting colder, summer's coming to an end, it's time to go back to school," I told her.
Her brain whirled, her eyes shifted around the room calculating. What exactly she was thinking about, I had no idea, until she spoke. "I think I'm sick," she said feebly.
"So you're not ready to go back to school?" I couldn't believe that's what she thought, but I went with it anyway.
She clutched her throat and managed to add a little hoarse quality to her words. "My throat, my chest," she complained.
I assured her she didn't have to go to school which of course led to a miraculous healing.

The next morning we had a distinct fall chill in the air. I turned the heater on to blast a little warm air in her room before waking her up, just as she did for us every fall when we were young. She had a particularly good morning, so after putting her outfit on, I left her to put on her shoes and socks.
It's a 50-50 gamble on whether she'll carry out that type of task. If she starts right away, she'll usually stay focused and get the job done. If something in the room catches her eye, she's off target and anything can happen when she tries to remember what she's supposed to do. I've come back in moments later to find her putting on several layers of clothes or collecting pencils from her night stand. That morning she was quite with it and upset that she had misplaced her socks. I only stepped out for 2 minutes, but when I came back she was agitated and rather animated about the loss.
"I can't find my socks!" she complained with extreme exasperation. "I just had them!"
Sure enough, her feet were bare. I checked the floor to see if the socks had fallen from her lap.
"Oh come on!" she said pounding her fists into the air. I glanced up in time to see her animated gestures.
"Are you ready for a good one?" I asked her. "I found them."
I pointed to her hands. It was a chilly morning all right -- she was wearing them as mittens!