Above: To pass the time in the dental office waiting for CR and Dick to arrive, and then waiting through CR's appointment I do a little sketching in a small 8 x 8 inch journal I made with Nideggen paper. I started with a Staedtler Pigment Liner and then went to the Sensei from Sakura. I really liked how it worked on this paper. All of the faces on this page were started roughly like the bottom two on the right, and then worked up if the person stayed there awhile. I really like the guy on the left in glasses because it looks just like him.
That's the way it seems some days, that Dick and I are not enough to take care of CR, let alone his mom, let alone worry about my folks (who this summer plummeted in the health category—but that's still up in the air, so I'll deal with that when it settles into something I can actually take action on).
My father-in-law turned 94 last week. He's totally in dreamland these days. He doesn't remember to take his pills unless we call him. (He has a pill box and has 3 sets of pills to take each day.) Dick thought his dad was doing OK on the pills so he stopped calling him about them. On Thursday when I dropped CR off after the dental visit (more about this below), I found, while searching for all his stolen property (more on this below too), that he hadn't taken pills for 3 days, since the last time we'd seen him. Dick needs to keep with the program as much as his dad.
Because I had a dental appointment at noon and CR had one at 1:30 I couldn't just pick him up and take him with me. Those days are long gone. He can't be out that long or he gets tired, and he's too frail for long excursions or multi-tasking trips. (We used to get his hair cut after the dentist—that's off the table.) He is also at the point where he is likely to wander off if left alone. It only takes one time to lose someone. (And I no longer have two tracking dogs.)
Also he needs to take antibiotics before his dental appointments.
Typically I go over one hour before we have to leave for his appointment and give him the antibiotics.
Even that doesn't really work any more because he is taking longer to get out the door. Even if you call him in the morning and remind him to put on clean clothes, chances are when you show up he'll be covered in the food he just ate for lunch.
He's too blind to see it any more. It's actually a little funny when I think of it.
We then have a "discussion" about why I want him to put new clothing on.
I've been told by friends and experts to not have a discussion about anything with him at this stage as it's pointless.
This is where I'm still in "denial." I have discussions with toddlers and dogs, so I think I can still have one with my 94-year-old father-in-law. I know what to expect—nothing. I just don't think I should start pulling his clothing off without an explanation as to why.
To make all this easier on both of us, I need to schedule more time for every type of outing. I need time to assess what he is wearing, find a new outfit if necessary, and change him.
Changing him is no small feat. You have to take off his shoes, then disconnect the suspenders, and untangle them from his t-shirt and pullover.
Everything has to go back in a logical and methodical way, or you end up with a tangled mess. We laugh about it, but in a world where I still believe I can get people to appointments on time, it is stressful.
Once he is packaged for transport into the world, there is still the effort of getting him to the car. That used to be about a 10 minute task. A week before dental visit day he slipped to a new low, taking almost 20 minutes to get from his apartment through the lobby to the car I pulled up at the front door.
This is something you can't plan on, so I pad the pick up time to allow for this so I can deal with it when it happens without being stressed.
Well last Thursday I was going to be at the dentist when he needed his pill so Dick and I decided that I would go to the dentist and then just stay there. Dick would come home from work (because he forgot the pills, even though I reminded him) and then drive to his father's, give him the pills, change him, and then bring him to the dentist. After that Dick would return to work and I would be in charge of taking CR home.
Sounds like a reasonable plan.
But Dick doesn't believe in padding his time frames to stay on track. He claims that traffic and construction made him late for the dentist, but in all the years we've been together Dick has been on time for 2 events, and neither one of those was our wedding (which was held in our house! You work it out).
When they strolled into the waiting room, CR was without his glasses (and he asked every 3 minutes for the rest of the afternoon who had taken them. Or when he was told he'd left them at home he announced they had been stolen). And half his lunch was over his sweater. (At least I assume it was lunch.)
Dick claims that they did some changing and there were difficulties, I understand. Sometimes you are so focused on a huge stain on the pants that you miss the brownie and ice cream stain running down the side of the shirt. It happens. Dick has vision problems of his own.
The dental hygienist is easy going and sweet with CR. She was even done in record time. Then the real adventure began.
CR came out into the waiting room asking if they could go back and get his glasses. When she said he didn't arrive with glasses on, he approached me and told me she'd stolen them.
Get used to it folks—if you care for the elderly their default mode when they misplace something is to announce to EVERYONE that someone stole whatever it was they were looking for.
It doesn't matter if the item has no monetary or sentimental value. Some people are simply evil and steal everything from the elderly. And those evil people are everywhere. You'll hear all about them, every three minutes.
Once I had paid the secretary, I bundled CR into the elevator and we made our slow way to the car. He actually did well for an almost blind person who wasn't wearing glasses. At least neither of us fell.
He walks with a walker and when faced with something like a wad of gum, blackened and flattened on the cement, he will hoist his walker practically over his head and "fling" it ahead of him and then lean forward and fall toward it. You can object, you can cajole, you can offer to personally clean the soles of his shoes if the gum turns out to still be sticky and he does roll over it, but to CR it's a dark valued shape that indicates 1. A crack in the universe, or 2. A black hole.
I understand that. I'm always on the look out for those two things as well.
But as I said, we both made it unhurt, to the car.
And then he started in again about the need for me to go back into the dental office and get his glasses, because they were stolen.
R: Nope, you never had them. They were left in your apartment.
CR: No they were stolen. They aren't in my apartment.
R: You had them two days ago.
CR: Well [name of best friend inserted here] came by and…
He nods knowingly.
R: Why would [name of best friend inserted here] steal your glasses?
CR glares at me.
I laugh to lighten the mood.
R: Come on, we will find them at home, and if they aren't there, they weren't stolen, they were inadvertently thrown out in one of your stacks of newspapers. I'll call the eye doctor and order a new pair.
R: Two pairs? We'll just get one for now, in case your prescription has changed since the last time you went in. You’re going in next week.
He glares at me again.
A year ago I couldn’t beg him to get an extra pair of glasses. Now he wants double or triple of everything, because he spends his whole day looking for one misplaced (i.e., stolen) item after the other.
To change the subject I asked him if he’d like to drive past his old house.
CR: I was just there two days ago.
R: Really? Who drove you? [I ask in an upbeat way, so we can talk about happy memories.]
CR: I don’t remember, but I was there. I don’t need to go there.
I don’t argue with any of that. It’s unlikely that someone would stop by and we don’t hear about it from staff, or meet the person on the way to a visit of our own, but it’s possible.
CR: In fact it was [insert name of second best friend here] and he stole my glasses and my wallet.
Here we go again.
I get that straightened out by pointing out that that friend came over on a Thursday (I happened to know that) and CR still had both his glasses and his wallet on Saturday when I brought Phyllis down to see him).
He admits that his friend could not have stolen his stuff after all.
Then out of the blue he says, “It’s too bad about Phyllis. It’s too bad she’s gone.”
Happily this isn’t the first time he’s become convinced that his wife, who lives in a long term care unit of his building, because she needs help he can’t offer, has died.
If it had been the first time, I think I might have had to pull right over. Forgetting something about someone you've been married to for 60 some years…
R: We just brought her down to see you on Saturday.
CR: I go see her every day.
R: Oh, so did you see her yesterday?
R: So she's not dead?
CR: Someone told me she was dead today.
R: Well, she isn't. She's actually in better shape than you are. If she dies, I'll put a note up to remind you. If there is no note she's still alive.
I know he’ll never remember that, but it makes him comfortable for a moment.
I think he tells all the women in the dining hall that Phyl is dead, because he gets sympathy. Of course they all look pissed off when I show up with her. Or when I stop to say hi in the dining hall, and tell them I can't eat with them because I'm off to see his wife Phyllis.
And then I’m smiling and chatting away.
Balance is restored and we drive along in companionable conversation, which consists of him asking me in a loop, the same four questions about my work. Which I answer each time as if for the first. I’m getting good at it. I play a little game with myself about remembering how I answered the first time and how closely I can match it.
Almost back at his apartment, he brought up the theft of his glasses and wallet again.
I suggested in an upbeat way that they were simply lost. I suggested that when he goes around stating that people have stolen things, when he's just misplaced them, he puts people off and they don't want to be around him.
He laughs and claims to understand it. But I know he doesn’t. Still that’s part of my denial, I still have to try to reason with him.
I know that this is the last conversation with him that I will ever try that.
It makes me sad as I get the walker out of the Subaru and help him out. I open the doors for him and remind him to sign back in. He says he will. I tell him I’ll meet him at his apartment. I know I have plenty of time to park and get there before he does.
I park, check the sign in and see he’s simply crossed out the entire line. I write in a time. I pass him in the hall. He’s trying to use his key to open someone else’s mailbox and can’t see that, because he doesn’t have his glasses on. I help him sort through the advertising fliers—we have all his mail delivered to us because he was throwing out important bills.
We walk slowly to the apartment and on the way he explains again that someone has stolen his glasses.
(I found them on the TV shelf immediately when we got back to his apartment.)
As for the wallet, I'm sure he left it in pants that got laundered. Or he tossed it out in his paper recycling. (The blindness is a huge issue.) I never find it. It will be up to Dick to help his dad replace his ID.
I return home five hours after I left it. I know that in the future I need to reschedule my appointments if his ever fall on the same day again.
And I realize I have to add 20 minutes minimum both ways to any future outings.
Left: When I first arrived at the dental office and was waiting for my appointment there was an older woman reading an iPhone manual and asking her son for explanations. I smiled as I looked straight ahead and drew her using my peripheral vision. This is how it starts. The learning of new things seems impossible.
Dick believes his dad is having vivid dreams that he can’t distinguish from reality. I simply know that all the synapses aren’t working, and that I have to compensate and find ways to work around the increasing mental frailty and physical frailty.
Later that night, I can’t shake off the worry that the same thing will happen to me. My imagination is already way too vivid. Heck, some days I actually half believe I AM a ninja.
Dick tries to reassure me by reminding me that both his folks smoked for decades (that deprives the brain of oxygen), that I never have, “and you’ve always exercised.”
That’s small consolation. And zero guarantee.
But here’s what you need to know if you are facing eldercare—
Time will take on a new and fluid meaning.
If you don’t want to be stressed all the time about delays and replays, make sure to pad in extra time for even the simplest of tasks.
If you have a village to help you with this, delegate! If you don’t have a village, maybe you have a significant other with whom you can at least tag-team.
And buy double of everything, so if something gets lost you have a spare.
I’m just kidding, of course you can’t buy double of everything. But you can laugh a lot.
You can practice laughing right now. Go ahead, think of the worst thing you can imagine. You know, something like those puppy mill commercials, which, if you're like me, you can't watch, because they are too, too awful.
Now laugh. That's right. In spite of all those horrible images burned into your brain of pain and suffering, you have to laugh. Laugh all the way from your belly.
You have to be able to be upbeat and to laugh, in order to remove the tension from your body and stay calm.
If you can laugh while thinking of those horrible puppy mill commercials, then you just might be able to take care of the elderly.
You need balls to take care of the elderly. Otherwise everyone would do it.
Next laugh at yourself, for expecting anything different than what is being offered up. This is old age. This is what it looks like.
All you can do is be there to make sure they don’t step into any black holes.