Observations, Learning, and Activities for the New "Over 21s"

Archive for the ‘Parental Aging’ Category

Feeling Ancient

The years are slipping by, and I have accomplished nothing in my life. Not one single thing I can look back to and feel proud of–as though I have left not the slightest mark on the desert sands of time. 

Of course, that is not entirely true. I have two children and eight grandchildren, and two wonderful “in-law” children of whom I am very proud. There is an estranged sister and her family, including two wonderful nieces and three nephews. And I love my sister-in-law and her daughter and husband. But, aside from my own children and their progeny (part of my peso al genetic pool) there is nothing personal–no personal accomplishment or contribution–I will leave to the world. 

My husband, a work-preoccupied professor, does not understand how I feel. He does not understand how and why I have plunged into an agoraphobic state. He does not understand how our move to this island paradise to which we moved over three years ago when he took this job has left me feeling alone and isolated, feeling homeless and homelandless, and insecure and scared–very, very scared. I am too old to get a job on this island, so I did not even bother to apply for a work permit on this island. When we moved here, I was just beginning to build up students in an online program; I had to give that up because the university does not allow even online tutoring of their American students from a foreign country. So I arrived on this island feeling resentful and irritable, and promptly made a mess of any further possibility of making a mark even on this small island. 

Although I did some volunteer work, I was beginning to feel the stress of the cross-island traffic problems. Thus, I failed in my obligation to both the program I volunteered for and the kids I was working or help. What I did was hide. I burrowed into my home–especially the “new” one we were buying–and have not come up (or out) for air. 

To be fair to myself, many things happened at once between mid-December of 2015 and early May (2016). In December, my husband underwent unanticipated surgery for the removal of a kidney. Shortly after our return from the Mayo Clinic, I late January–I received word that my mother was hospitalized directly from her physician’s office, then that she was going to hospice care. In my mind, “hospice” was synonymous with rehabilitation, and my broth-in-law’s words of “resting comfortably” meant recovery. I was shocked when I received a call in early February that my mother had died. I was angry with my mother for allowing herself to get so I’ll so quickly. I was angry that she had left my parentless. Even though I am in my mid-sixties, I still relied on her to offer advice or words of reassurance. I changed my flight reservations from Miami for scheduled cataract surgery to New Jersey, and arrived in my East Brunswick hotel alone and weary. The flights to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, had maxed out our credit cards, and I was hard-pressed to come up with money for one ticket to Newark International, much less two. Thus, I arrived alone, letting my husband continue his recuperation from surgery and getting back to work in Sint Maarten. Alone. Truly, now, alone. 

My drivers license had expired, so that I was left isolated at the hotel during the funeral proceedings, even though my son and daughter-in-law flew out from Texas to New Jersey for the funeral and provided transportation as needed. Josh and Raven were staying in Pennsylvania with my former husband, and were going out of their way to support me during this time of stress. Although I already held both in high esteem, their acts of kindness raised them to saint-like status. I next spent 2 weeks at their Texas home, setting up my retirement and going through all the necessities of obtaining a new drivers license, including a road test which made me feel like the 17-year-old I had been the last time I was tested while behind the wheel. I felt very sheltered in my son and daughter-in-law’s home, very much at peace with all except my mother’s death. 

Next, I flew to Miami and and took a train to Delray Beach where I stayed with an old friend and her husband while undergoing cataract surgery and it’s after-care. Spending almost three weeks in my friend’s very gracious company, I arrived home at the very end of March to chaos in regards to the purchase of the condo from which I write this passage. My husband was suddenly too busy at work to help with the financial end of things. I found it necessary to fly back to Miami for a day trip to transfer funds. I was feeling tired and put-upon, as I had still not recovered from Mom’s death ( although I don’t think I knew that at the time). 

Slowly, I began to realize the finality of my mother’s passing, and the sense of isolation bore down on me harder than ever–my son’s family in Texas, my daughter still under the misimpression that I do not care for her mate and his family, my husband once again deeply entrenched in his work. I withdrew further into myself and my new home (photos above are views from the patio). And that I am growing older–ancient, in fact–and more frightened of the future to which we have mortgaged our retirement. Literally. 

This passage marks my decline into agoraphobia. I still go out to pay bills, sometimes to pick up items from the grocery that my husband cannot get from the little store he passes on his walk from work. Occasionally I make phone calls–locally because we still do not have adequate Internet access to use the Vonage phone with our US number. Mostly, I am finding consolation and solace in writing one blog or another, but that has been recently, as I have burrowed into learning more about oil painting and Zentangle. That I am blogging again and sharing my “art” may be an indication that I am slowly emerging from my inner-facing world. That I am sharing my attempts at artistic endeavors, written and graphic, may indicate more that I am trying to leave a mark on the world than that I am emerging into that sunlight almost ever-present here on the island. 

It is my hope that this post also marks the beginning of the end of the decline into the lonely world of agoraphobia. It seems so important that I emerge back into the world, although I am not certain why. 

Only more time will tell.

#educ_dr

Elder-Care

Elder-care is nothing like an eiderdown, or the care of an eiderdown.  One is about people; the other is about bed covers made of feathers.  No comparison.

How much do we know about elder care?  If you have an individual of advanced age living with you, how aware are you of certain common diseases of elder persons?  For example, do you know what the early signs are of diseases like congestive heart failure?  Do you know how to recognize the beginning signs of a stroke?   Are you watching your elderly home mate for signs of diseases of the elderly such as pneumonia?  Or of undernourishment? Or of sleep disorders that can lead to other problems?  Or do you assume that the elderly individual living in your home would tell you if he or she were ailing?

To be honest, although both my husband and I are over 65, we are still in reasonably good health.  However, we watch each other fairly closely for symptoms of health problems.  Right now, my only health concerns are cataracts which need to be removed, with the lenses replaced with appropriate lenses.  I also suffer from chronic back pain from spinal stenosis.  A few years ago, I was diagnosed with COPD, meaning that my breathing is not where it should be.  I have noticed muscle weakness in my hands, meaning I need to keep “special” appliances in the house to help me open jars, cans, and even bottle tops.  The latter is from surgery I had on my hand a few years ago that left my dominant hand weaker to perform the common tasks of twisting the caps off of bottles of water and mild, among other things.  And I can’t carry much one-handed any more.  Between arthritic spurs growing into and pressing on my spinal column, I tend to lose feeling in various pars of my body, causing little things like difficulty walking in a straight line, walking fully upright, carrying objects heavier than a few pounds, etc.  The degeneration of the disks in my spine help cause the spurs to temporarily slow down the response of my hands, arms, and legs.  But these are things I am aware of and am trying to do something about.

My husband suffers from problems of the urinary tract and–as one often hears on comedy shows–difficulty with urination.  I have noticed over the past few years that he is walking much slower than he used to.  He was never terribly coordinated, but now he has even more difficulty lifting or carrying items weighing over 20 pounds.  His energy level for physical activity has never been high, so it is difficult to tell just how much his overall movements have slowed.

These types of things are fairly normal among the elderly, and don’t necessarily suggest health problems.  Although I write about our own health concerns, I am also thinking about my mother’s recent death.  She had been living with my sister and brother-in-law for at least 15 years.  During the weeks–maybe months–before she died, she had started falling for no apparent reason.  She had worked in a hospital for 20 years, and was well aware of the symptoms of congestive heart failure.  I doubt that she ever told her daughter and son-in-law the symptoms, and maybe didn’t want to.  Before my father died of a heart-related condition about 20 years ago, I heard the difficulty in his breathing months before he died.  Because I lived 3000 miles away, I made it a point to take time off from work and fly out to see him, knowing it would probably be the last time I would see him alive, figuring the aneurism was letting him know to be prepared.  My mother knew why I flew out and was angry with me, in part because she was in denial about his condition, and in part because I supported his decision to decline a possible life-saving surgery–I didn’t encourage it, nor did I want him to die; I simply respected his decision and tried to get Mom to back off.  The problem with the potentially life-saving surgery was that (at that time) there was a huge risk that he would be left a paraplegic, a condition that he could not even begin to think about living with. He was a proud and active man. So when I heard in his breathing the signs of congestive heart failure, I needed to have closure with him.  I flew out to spend time with him–primarily him–to say goodbye in person before I could not say goodbye at all.

Although my mother did not appear to have problems with her breathing except for a cold that would not go away, and because she hid the falling from her family for quite some time, my sister did not get my mother in to see her doctor fast enough.  Instead of insisting on an immediate appointment after my mother fell and could not feel her legs to get up, they settled for an appointment the following week.  My mother was sent to the emergency room by her doctor immediately, and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and a few non-specific infections, one of which was from a skin condition that would not heal under my mother’s own home remedies.  Thus, within two weeks of admission to the hospital, my mother died in hospice care in a comfortable and painless state.  Her body gave up, but more importantly, her spirit gave up. Perhaps that is why she never mentioned the frequency of her falls to the family.

My family is not at fault for not taking my mother to see a doctor earlier. They simply didn’t know any better.  My mother was a relatively private person who mostly stayed in her room and took care of her ailments with home remedies.  Also, because of extremely busy schedules, the family did not notice that she was failing as quickly as they would if they saw her more frequently as part of the regular family gathering.  But the family has scattered all over the country, and only my busy sister and brother-in-law remain.  On top of all this, my mother had kept forgetting to charge her phone, so I had been unable to reach her for well over a month.  Maybe if I had heard her–maybe–I would have known she was ailing.

This is not the time or place to talk about a weird psychic connection I had with my mother, especially since I don’t really believe in them.  But I had been frantic to get in touch with my mother during that entire time because I felt that she wasn’t doing well.  My husband had just had emergency surgery, and I also wanted her to know that he had been hospitalized and, later, that he was recovering well.  As is my sister’s habit, she sent all calls from me to voicemail and never responded in any case.  It turned out that my brother-in-law got a new phone, so the calls to him on his old number were not getting through, either.  I stopped writing emails and IMs to my sister for the same reason I stopped calling her some time ago.  So it was not until a few days before she had her doctor’s appointment that I finally spoke to her on the phone.  All she told me about was the falling; she never mentioned the other problems, although she was unusually quiet.  For the first time in years, I was doing all the talking and she just said a few words.  When I spoke to my husband about her falls later that night, he immediately suspected congestive heart failure (he teaches medical school students), and we were anxious to find out more about her condition as the days progressed.  Not until a day or two after my mother’s hospitalization did I find out how ill she had actually become.

The problem was the lack of knowledge; the family could not understand the importance of the symptoms my mother was displaying (or, perhaps, hiding).  If an elderly parent, relative, or friend is living with you, make certain that you read up to learn about signs indicating the individual is getting ill.  Knowing the signs could improve the quality of life for the individual, and might extend or even save the person’s life.

A good place to learn about symptoms of diseases of the elderly and the signs that accompany the problems is webMD.com .  There is an entire section devoted to the elderly, with many easy to understand articles on symptomology, general health, exercise and diet, and almost any other health topic you can think of related to the elderly and elder care.  Our population of senior citizens–especially those living on their own–is growing rapidly.  Even if you only visit an elderly relative or friend once or twice a month, know the signs of common diseases of the elderly, including things like what malnutrition or dehydration looks like.  And of course things like pneumonia could look or sound quite different in an elderly person than in a younger one.  Learn what you can so you can be more of a help to an elderly relative living with you or alone.  The information you learn could save a life.

Maybe there actually is a relationship between the frailty of an elderly person (even if it is not apparent) and the delicate feathers of an eiderdown… .

Submitting from the great state of Texas,

#educ_dr

So Much Life Happening Right Now

Yes, life is happening all around me right now.  Some are good, some not so good.  Some…well, who knows.

Finally, after months of having to put it off again and again, I scheduled cataract surgery–got appointments set up and flight reservations made. All together, it takes about three weeks to get both eyes done from initial consultation and exam through actual procedure and follow-up, one eye at a time.

Not an hour after I get everything scheduled, I see an email message from my brother-in-law that my mother is in the hospital.  We must have been on the phone for the better part of an hour, talking about how she has been, what she says to me versus what she says to my sister and him.  You would think that because she lives with them, she would share more information with them.  But you have to know my mother.  She’s a real handful at the best of times.  At age 88, she is still kicking around and refusing help from anyone unless absolutely, positively necessary.  And she doesn’t like being “in the way.”  She has gone out of her way to avoid allowing herself to feel that she is home.  I can guarantee that this is not how she is treated; this is just the way she is.  So she also does not tell her family everything that she is feeling physically, either.  Easton Hospital

Until about a week ago, that is.

That was when she fell and couldn’t get up because, for the first time, she could not feel her legs.  She was near a wall in her room, so she was able to pull herself up into a sitting position until my brother-in-law got home.  When I spoke to her several days after this first happened, she told me she had been falling fairly regularly, but she was never hurt and she was always able to get up.  She also didn’t bother to share this information with the household.  As I said, she’s a handful.

Right now, she has congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and one or two infections that are being treated.  She is fairly strong, but she is in a semi-delirious state and keeps pulling out her IVs and pulling off her oxygen mask.  As I write this, she is being sedated, mostly to keep her from pulling life-sustaining equipment from herself, I think.

And while all this is going on–just after I made appointments for badly needed eye surgery–we are also trying to buy a house.  This is not an easy task at our age (66), and we need to dip into our retirement funds to make it work.  If we dip into them the wrong way, we will be left penniless into our old age, even though my husband is still working full time and doesn’t plan to actually retire until he is at least 70.  Basically, he wants to work as long as his employer is willing to keep him on.

So much is going on right now that can once again hamper something so important to me–arranging to be able to see enough at night to drive and maybe even read a physical book instead of using a reading device or a computer.  And I need to be able to drive at night, since my husband does not drive at all–doesn’t now, never did.

I wish I could be with my mother to provide some relief to my sister and brother-in-law, who are with her all the time.  But I’m no good to anyone without the ability to see at night.  And I am reasonably certain that my mother, despite this current setback, will be on her feet and being ornery again in no time.

And I wonder: will this be me in twenty years?  Probably not, but who knows?

So why am I worried that I may need to postpone my own needed surgery yet again?  Maybe it is because I’ve had to do it so many times before during the past three years…

No good dwelling on that too long.  What will happen will happen, regardless of my own needs and desires.  As always, I will roll like a shell in the ocean waves that surround the tiny island on which I currently live…

 

#educ_dr