Adventures in Eldercare: Where is CR?

June 12, 2015


Left: After a visit to assisted living as outlined in the "Aftermath" section of today's post, I always walk down the hall to the Aviary and sketch and paint the birds. I find a quick five-minute, or less, sketch like this balances me out, and grounds me enough, so that I can get into the car and drive home and get back to work. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy pen and Daniel Smith Watercolors, on Fluid 100 Cold Press—a test of their 100 percent cotton watercolor paper.  


It's 12:40 a.m. 

I'm wide awake.

At 11:50 p.m. I was checking emails. I saw one written by a friend of CR. It had posted at 11 p.m. This friend was to have picked CR up for lunch. 

According to the desk attendant at [the Residence], about twenty minutes before CR was supposed to meet me for transportation to the Engineer's Lunch today, he left the building “with two men.” I checked the log book and saw that indeed, he did leave. I want to convey the concern of the group. We missed him! We hope he didn’t have a medical emergency, and that he is back in his room resting comfortably.

I woke Dick (who had gone to bed at the regular time and is not cursed with worry-induced insomnia like I am, because in truth I was worrying about the folks before I received this email). Dick doesn't wake well—always being startled, regardless of how gently I try to get his attention—I have opted for the "Rip off the Band-Aid™" method. I call from two rooms away, loud enough to disturb him. Any closer and he'll leap out of bed injuring himself and possibly me; it's not as funny as it sounds.

Once he was awake, I told Dick that I had called the front desk at the assisted living facility and no one had answered so I left a message about my concerns, raised by this email.

I also told Dick, "I'm WIDE awake, I could go over there and check on CR…" I was really bothered by the unnamed "two men" he'd left with. We know all his friends, and of those still living, no one would come and take him out of the building. Most would in fact be waiting for him at the luncheon.

D: No, I'll go tomorrow. If he went to the hospital they'd have called you and me. No one would take him.

R: Well if they did, they'd return him in about 5 minutes. He can be difficult. [a beat] Really, I can go over there. Ninja in, Ninja out.

I demonstrated stealthy progress and Ninja Skills, in mime, as I said that.

D: You're not going to use your Ninja Skills. You'll get in there and Dad will wake up and have a heart attack.

I pause my Ninja Feet Demo, and I look frozen and startled as if someone just turned on a light and "caught" me. [a beat] We laugh.

R: What's the point of having Ninja Skills if you don't use them? [a beat] Just saying…

D: Good Night Munchkin…

He rolled over as he spoke. Ending the conversation. I stood in the bedroom doorway pondering my next move to distract my mind from worry…

R: I could cut your hair tonight. [a beat] I'm wide awake, [a beat] really…

D (without turning, his back still toward me): Good Night Cutie.

The Aftermath

Here's what happened.

We'll never know.

The next morning on his way to work, Dick stopped to check on his dad. Dick then called me to say all was well. But he didn't have any ANSWERS to any of the questions I had, such as where his dad was in the missing three hours he was outside of the building, memory impaired, without his heart medication, wandering down one of the busiest streets in the city, where there are numerous light rail crossings. Oh, and did I mention he's pretty much deaf and almost totally blind? 

I received a call from the staff saying I'd used the wrong number (I'd taken it off the internet) and that I'd used the daytime office number (it was all that was listed). She gave me a new number to call in this late night situation and apologized that no one had called me back until 10 a.m. She had no other information, except that CR had been back in the building since 2 p.m. the previous day.

I headed over after lunch. I worked my questions gradually into the conversation so as to not put him on the defensive. Basically I was trying to find out what would have taken him outside, minutes before he was to go to a luncheon he looks forward to monthly?

After a very circuitous conversation it became evident that he didn't know the previous day had been his luncheon date (it was written in large letters on his calendar); and he didn't have any recollection of leaving the building (though he was clearly signed out).

Next I asked questions about what he was working on and other projects he might work on, to change the topic. It was obvious there was no information available from him on his outing. None of it had made it into his memory.

The next week he tried to leave the building again, and this time the staff stopped him and asked him where he was going. He said he wanted to go to a store. (The stores aren't close and they are across the previously mentioned busy street and rail line.) The staff person convinced him to allow her to accompany him to the in-building store, where the items he said he wanted to purchase (laundry detergent and toilet paper) were to be found. 

On the way back from their shopping trip she carried his purchases because he can't carry things and use his walker safely. (He refuses to get one of those really cool walkers with a seat and carrying capacity.)

She then offered to put away his purchases while he went on to dinner (he gets nervous about being late). She told me that when she unpacked and put things away she saw he had an ample supply of EVERYTHING that he said he urgently needed to buy.

This means that he is either too blind to see into his large, well lit storage closet where all these items reside, or he wanted something else that he didn't buy because she was there. (He was buying hundreds of dollars worth of lottery tickets before he entered assisted living, when he was still driving to the grocery store, and he has a child-like secretive approach to his chocolate consumption.)

Or there is some other reason we will never fathom, perhaps as simple as he just wanted to take a walk.

This is both the reality of, and a metaphor for, eldercare. 

I sleep very little.

  1. Reply

    Oh.My.God. Roz!!! You just lived my worst nightmare, both with my mom when she was alive and had severe dementia and with my son who is autistic. Actually, I have pretty much the same level of worry about the dogs getting lost, too. And even about my other college age kids when they don’t call or return texts or messages especially at a time of the day or night I think they should be available. I am well acquainted with anxiety induced insomnia…the middle of the night is the worst possible time….something about the dark can make a serious situation seem a thousand times worse if that is even possible. And I’ve also experienced the same frustration of not being able to get in touch with the assisted living facility during the night. Don’t know about you, but I feel like I age 10 years every time something like that happens! Thank goodness the staff is now on the alert and know to keep CR in the building, but how unsettling not to know what transpired during those three hours. Your little bird is beautiful. Thank God we have our art to help keep us centered, sane and to bring some healing to our frazzled nerves. It’s a gift I appreciate more, and more, and more as time goes on.

    • Carol
    • June 12, 2015

    Roz, if you do want to start up again, you might really like RiverGarden Yoga down on West 7th. Maggie Kessell is the founder and still teaches viniyoga there – they’ve also have begun teaching other styles. It’s a calm atmosphere … just thought I would throw that out there 🙂
    Sorry about your eldercare worries – I’m right there with you (the yoga helps …).

  2. Reply

    I find much comfort in your posts on this topic. My husband and I are in a similar situation and in addition to sleeping badly, we find that our social life has dried out. It really does help to see the humoristic side of it. We do laugh a lot.

  3. Reply

    Viktoria, well I’m glad, because they certainly help me get through it all. Posting about all of this has been a relief to me because it has been a way to embrace it more completely, instead of leave it as something that I only talk to with Dick as the stress of it pulls us part on many days and friends without these commitments haven’t a clue why I’m unavailable. And it allows me to focus both on serious and funny moments, which leads to balance.

    Yes one’s social life does dry up. We haven’t had a vacation for 20 years. (I got away to Paris with some girlfriends and we’ve had a couple overnights at friends’ cabins, but no trips away together for us because we’ve always been on duty—with no relatives to spell us.)

    And last night I missed my own opening because of an eldercare snafu.

    Something I’ll probably have to write about in the coming weeks after I digest it. Because something funny did happen.

    Thanks for writing and I hope that you find the humor and the joy in helping your loved ones at this time in their lives.

  4. Reply

    Oh Roz, how awful for you. I was very lucky that my mother never had dementia before her death 2 years ago, but Jan is right, we worry about anyone we take care of, children, pets, etc. I do believe that yoga (or meditation) could be helpful. I’m glad nothing terrible happened to your father-in-law while he was out on his mystery adventure.

    Yet another possibility is that he forgot why he wanted to go out when confronted.

  5. Reply

    Thanks Cheryl. I guess Dick is just happy he didn’t get a haircut at 1 a.m.!

    I’m glad that CR seems a little less inclined this past week to go on walkabout.

    I hope he didn’t feel confronted though, I try to be very casual in getting the “background” on his activities.

  6. Reply
  7. Reply

    ellen, I loved her book and bought it after an excerpt appeared in the New Yorker (which I subscribe to.

    I reviewed her book here

    and since then have given it to several friends as a lifesaving guide.

    • Joan
    • June 16, 2015

    I know you’ve got a lot on your plate with eldercare and insomnia. I can only relate to
    insomnia which nearly drives me mad! My parents died in their sleep, never went into prolonged elder care, which I’m eternally grateful for.

    I hope you get to a place where you can review this new paper, I’ve just found out about it reading my latest issue of Watercolor Artist magazine. Before I spring for it, I’ll wait for your review pros/cons.

    Hope you get some sleep and get to enjoy your exhibit.

  8. Reply

    I hope to paint on it some more in the coming weeks Joan, but right now I’m lukewarm on it. If it were less expensive I would buy more of it, but since it’s as expensive as, or more expensive than, other “name” brand papers I buy of the same quality there isn’t a lot of incentive to switch. I have several sheets that I tore up for a journal, but haven’t been able to take time to bind. We’ll see.

    Thanks for writing, and the good wishes.

    • Julana
    • June 19, 2015

    I hear you, and affirm you in your service and commitment to your relatives. This path of love and care used to be taught to the young by example. It’s a loss that people are becoming separated by age groups.

    I’m using the Fluid paper block to paint out squares of the Daniel Smith test dots. Since both are new to me, can’t compare. However, find it therapeutic.

  9. Reply

    Julana, my family traveled all the time while I was growing up. We were overseas when relatives and friends died, or when they were ill and near death. I never saw any behavior on how to deal with the elderly, except for a yearly, quick visit.

    When I moved in with Dick we lived above his maternal grandparents and the caregiving began in simple ways: walking with Grandpa, going grocery shopping with Grandma. Then I witnessed my m-i-l take care of her folks.

    So I had plenty of training in my new family. And that tradition is alive here. But ends when the folks die, because we don’t have any kids.

    I’m grateful that I was able to be part of this family and discover a new way to be and relate. It has made a profound change in my thinking.

    Testing paint is always therapeutic! I’m glad you’re having some fun.

    • Julana
    • June 21, 2015

    Thank you.

    • Julana
    • June 21, 2015

    P.S. Thank you for that window into your experience. I grew up in a community where the Amish farmers had grandparents living in small “daughty-houses” connected to the main house by a hall way. Would love to havre one of those now.

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