August 21, 2016 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
“Did I plug a cord into the charger for water?” my father asked.
It was the weekend before Mother’s Day. My sister had come over to help with the morning routine, and to give my dad a chance to take a shower. My mother’s Alzheimer’s meant she could not be left alone.
What on earth was he talking about? Whitney was used to not being able to understand my mother’s word salad; this was new. My dad’s question got written down on a list of other strange things he’d said and done recently. Mixing up my mother’s medications. Not knowing what day it was. Or time.
The day before he had gotten my mother up at ten and dressed by eleven. Whitney had intended to be there by 3:30, but was running late. When she called to tell him it would be closer to four, he informed her that he had put my mother in her pajamas and she was ready for bed.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
She was taking him to the doctor on Monday. She would pull out the list then.
“Remember, she is coming today,” my father said. “No not today. It’s Saturday. Oh I am so mixed up.”
His face twitched oddly. His breathing was labored, his speech weak. He had no appetite, and toddled when he walked. Two days before, when my nephew had come to mow the lawn and had trouble starting the mower, my father had gone out to show him how, fallen on the grass, and had to crawl to the mower to pull himself up.
After his shower he fell asleep in his recliner almost immediately.
Whitney made my mother lunch. And texted me her lists.
I read them.
Oh dear. Oh dear. I don’t know if this can wait until Monday.
I think it can. Emergency rooms are terrible, especially on the weekend. It will go a lot better if Dr. Terry admits him.
She was right.
My baby sister – nine years my junior – had had a lot of experience with emergency rooms in the last few years.
Every time my mother had a “fainting spell” from which they could not revive her, she ended up in one. Often my mother would be back to normal (well, the new normal) by the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital. Then there would be hours waiting to be admitted, and a series of tests that would find nothing.
Usually they’d keep her overnight, speculate on medication interactions or a drop in potassium, and, after a long discharge process, finally send her home. My father had come to hate hospitals. Complaining about what they did wrong was one of his chief sources of entertainment.
The truth was that if Whitney suggested a trip to the hospital, there would be a nasty fight, and my father would refuse. The weaker he got, the more in charge he insisted on being. And no snot-bubble kid was going to tell him what to do.
We had all been urging him to hire another home health aide, but my dad balked at this.
It had taken all Whitney’s powers of persuasion, both subtle and not so subtle, to get him to hire even one.
After my mother’s last hospital visit, there had been an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist, and a “bathing lady.” The bathing lady gave her sponge baths in the tiny downstairs bathroom, barely big enough for two. Because of her own balance issues, my mother could no longer go upstairs, to the only tub and shower in the house.
These services were all authorized by Medicare because of her fall and hospitalization in October, not because of her Alzheimer’s. No home health support for Alzheimer’s is considered a medical necessity unless the person is recovering from an injury or in palliative care.
Let that sink in.
“You and I can bathe your mother,” my father insisted, “if Medicare won’t pay for it.”
“No,” she said. “We can’t.” She reminded him of the times when Mom had fallen, and the two of them together could not get her back up.
“We can do it if we have to,” my father said. “That’s what families do.”
“But we don’t have to,” she insisted. “We can hire someone like Dorothy. You liked Dorothy.”
The excuses went round and round in circles.
“You never know who you’re going to get.” “They’re unreliable. They don’t come when they say they’re going to come.” We don’t really need them.” “It’s hard to have someone come into your home. We like our privacy.” “I’m not made of money.”
Change is hard. Especially when it involves giving up control.
My parents had a good retirement. My father would brag about his net worth, and what we were going to get when he died. “Pretty good for a school principal. Your mother made good money too.”
It really should not have been necessary for my sister to be over there four to six hours each day. Every day. Or to give up her part time job because my father, who insisted he could care for my mother himself, could not, in fact, do so alone. She loved them, and she was willing to help, but she had three children, a husband, and a life of her own. If they wanted to stay in the house they’d built – a house that was not made with infirmity in mind – they would need to hire more help.
But still my father balked. And now, here we were.
My dad’s mood was ugly, and he was very easily set off.
“Don’t you know how to soft boil an egg? What the hell is wrong with you? Everybody knows how to do that.”
(Not that he did. Or could.)
“All I wanted was a goddam soft boiled egg. If the yoke is hard, it’s a hard-boiled egg. Even the morons at Denny’s can do a soft boiled egg.”
When she’d suggested he might have a urinary track infection – a simple issue which can mimic a lot of other more serious problems – and asked him to pee into a cup so she could check for a foul color or odor – he threw a tantrum. Made her get a water glass from the kitchen. There was no evidence of a UTI. Whitney was full of shit. The dirty glass went back on the kitchen counter with the breakfast dishes.
“There. I hope you’re satisfied.”
“I’m using the dishwasher tonight.”
“There’s not enough dishes.”
“I’m using the dishwasher.”
My sister told me to call – she wanted to know what I thought.
My father talked to me for a few minutes. His voice was slurred. He was barely engaged in the conversation. But he was polite. He put on a good show. Then he passed the phone on to my mother.
I wished her a Happy Mother’s Day. She chuckled. I’ve come to value my mother’s chuckles. She doesn’t say much these days, but the chuckles let me know she’s OK in there. She’d gotten my pop-up card. Whitney had her open it up again.
Thank God for the Finn who invented texting.
Teenagers aren’t the only ones who sometimes need to talk behind their parents’ backs.
I am not crazy…. He sounded better when he talked to you.
You are not crazy…You were right to do the UTI check. Are you staying the night?
She was. My brother and sister in law were coming tomorrow for Mother’s Day. It would be good to have another set of eyes. Maybe he was just tired. Maybe it would sort itself out.
It did not.