Tag Archives: Caregiving

One Man’s Trash or When the Saints Go Marchin’ In………….

There are karmically times when you know you are too distracted. Of course, you don’t usually find that out until karma hits you over the head with a two-by-four.

Yesterday, I had a massage, which although meant to be therapeutic, was also supposed to have the added bonus of relaxing my head, neck and shoulders which love to tie themselves into knots on a weekly basis.

I was feeling pretty zen as I left the masseuse, and then my mind took over.

“Okay…now I have to go to Wawa, get lunch for my brother-in-law who despises the nursing home food. Then go to his old apartment, get his mail, pick up his hand braces talk to the management about closing up his apartment, and get to the nursing home before lunch so he eats the lunch I’m bringing and not their swill.”

For some strange reason, as I get back in my car, I decide this is a good time to clean out all the extraneous trash. I have a cup from the masseuse, who gave me water, I have a napkin with a peach pit in it, which was my breakfast on the go, and some WalMart receipts that I no longer need sitting in the cup holder. I gather up all these items, throw them in the big bin outside the store and drive away. I’m feeling very superior, as I now have a tidy driving space, not like all those other slobs driving around!

On the way to my brother-in-law’s apartment, I remember that I’m passing the post office and need stamps for my daughter’s bridal shower invitations. A quick yank of the car into the post office parking lot, and I reach into my purse for my debit card. No card.  I take everything out of my purse, go through every pocket in the purse, take everything out of my wallet. No debit card.

How can this be? I just had it at Wawa? Oh crap. Did I put it back in my purse, or was it still in my hand when I threw away the trash? Oh crap. I start to pray: “Dear Saint Anthony, come around, something’s lost and can’t be found.”

I don’t even get out of my car, thinking, I’ve got to get back to that trash bin before they empty it or some other superior feeling keeper of a pigsty pours their left over Big Gulp on top of my trash. I’ve got exactly four minutes to get here (I timed it on the way).

AnthonyDear Saint Anthony come around something’s lost and can’t be found. You can say that a lot in four minutes,

When I get to the Wawa, there’s a space right in front of the trash bin. And, of course, a guy sitting in his car watching me. Ugh. Don’t care, I’m goin’ in!

I look in the bin and cannot believe my eyes, The bag is completely clean. The only trash in there is mine and my debit card is sitting right on the top. My first foray into dumpster diving felt so good, I wanted to do a victory dance. But I refrained, that guy was still watching me.

I must’ve been good today. Karma and St. Anthony my new BFFs.

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski

Winner, winner, Jack Daniels for dinner? If only…………..

The beauty of sharing a sense of humor with the one you are caregiving for is beyond measure.

My brother-in-law has been in and out of rehab and the hospital for 8 months now. It has been a rocky road……and not sweet, like the ice cream. But he has turned a miraculous corner and although, still in rehab for a few more weeks, I have confidence that he will finally be returning home and will be relatively healthy for a good long time.

Since he has come so far, he is finally taking an interest in his daily life and activities that eluded him while desperately trying to get healthy. And he’s funny again. He is entertaining his healthcare workers, and any one else who walks in the door, which, of course, I love.

On my trek to see him yesterday, I took my Mom and husband as we were then going to have dinner with a friend who lives close by the rehab center. It takes us an hour to get there, so we decided to take advantage of being in our friend’s neck of the woods.

A half hour before we left, there appeared some calls and one message on my cell phone from the rehab center. The nurse stated that my BIL had a few lab work issues, but if I didn’t get back to her today, we could discuss it tomorrow. As I was on my way down there to see him, I thought: Okay, no big deal. I did return her call, but she was gone for the day.

When we arrived at his room, his bed was stripped and  his wheelchair was empty. That is always a panic button for any caregiver. Where the hell is my brother-in-law????? At the nurses’ station, the nurse tells me that they sent him to the ER because his hemaglobin was so low, he might need a transfusion.

“You couldn’t leave a message that he’s at the hospital, that I just passed on the way here, so I could stop there first?”

No answer.

Off we go to the ER and they usher us into his room. There he is joking with the nurses, and, feeling relieved that he seems okay, I say, “well, yet another hospital we get to check out. Whoopee!”

This is how I know he’s ever so much better overall: “Well at least, it’s  not a Friday night!” he says.

Classically, for the last 8 months, we have gone to the hospital without fail on a Friday night. I told him my husband was getting jealous of our date nights.

jack-daniels-551052_1280Then he turns to the nurse and asks, “can I have a Jack Daniels with that Percoset?”

Then he goes into a litany:

“So now I’m going to miss my dinner. I told them at rehab, “hey, what about dinner?”. Then I come here and I’m asking them, “where’s my dinner?” But no, no dinner. And you know they’re going to screw around, and no food or drink until they decide what to do with me. And then they are going to  tell me I’m fine, because I feel fine, but then what about my dinner?”

onion-rings-274123_1280See, all of this is a sure sign that all is well in brother-in-law land. If his focus is dinner, dinner, dinner…………….he’s in great shape. You caregivers know what i mean.

In the spirit of kind caregiving and true sympathy to his plight, I say:

“Well, okay, now that we see you’re okay, we’re going to take our friend out to dinner! See you  later!”

He bursts out laughing. Yay…………

“You Just have to Laugh………..”

© Cathy Sikorski

Is your Plug Male or Female……..

Today’s tale is a bit vulgar….but I find honesty to be the best policy.

As my faithful readers know, I, with no training or inherent skills, have become a wheelchair repair expert over the last few years. I was able to get a different BIL (code for brother-in-law) to transport the humungous wheelchair to the rehab center, so disabled BIL would be able to get out of bed every day. By the way, there is no service, or transport that will take an empty wheelchair…well….anywhere….you have to find your own way to get it there.

One day, I’m walking down the hall of the rehab center and the physical therapist is manually pushing the electric behemoth with my BIL in the chair.

“What’s up?” I ask her.

“Oh my God, I’m so glad you’re here. No one can figure out how to get this operational.”

Because it had been a month since my BIL was even in the chair, and memory issues are a part of his disease, he was of no help either. In 2 minutes, I had everyone  operational and instructed for the forseeable future.

Then we went home.

I stayed with my BIL for about 6 hours that day. As happy as he was to be back in his apartment, he was feeling insecure and squeamish and not ready to be alone. I arrived home in time for an 8:00 PM conference call.

At 9:00 PM my phone rang.

“Hello, Cathy, this is the caregiver.”

“Hey, what’s up? Is he okay?”

“Oh, he’s fine, no problems. But we can’t plug in his wheelchair. It seems like a piece of the plug is missing that connects to the battery. So we can’t charge the chair.”

UGH. He needs that chair. He needs to be out of bed and as upright and mobile as possible to have a life where he goes to meals, talks to friends, plays SODUKU on his computer.

“Okay, I’ll come in the morning and look at it.” I must’ve been very tired. I’m still not a wheelchair repair person, what was I going to do?

Before I left the house, I called the wheelchair repair people, who told me the only thing they can do is order an entire new charger which would take 3 weeks.  When I asked what he’s supposed to do in the meantime, wheelchair repair guy thought for a minute or two (really??? no one has ever asked you THAT before?) And told me he could look around and see if they had a loaner charger, but that would take a day or two.

As I set my hair on fire in protest (only in my mind) I went over to my BIL’s apt. examined the plug and set off for the rehab center. I checked his room, as they had just cleaned it, we called down to housekeeping, I went to the nurses’ station, therapy rooms, front desk and had the social worker call the ambulance transport to look for it. No dice.

I went to my book club and my French Class. Mai oui…..I do some things for my self!

Then I returned to his apartment, there was the charger plugged in. But as my engineer BIL told me, truthfully, it was smoke and mirrors. It wasn’t charging at all. I showed the plug to him and hoped he had some brilliant insight. Nope. So I said to him:

“Well, you know what Nana would say?” She had a fine adage for problems when something would just not fit into a hole.

“Yep,” he nodded, “put a little hair around it.”  Yep, that’s what she always said.

Luckily BIL is a fiscal conservative and only used 3% of his power that day.

We then had the brilliant idea to call some local durable medical equipment providers and one dear soul sent me to Interstate Battery. As I was leaving with high hopes and the battery, my BIL said:

“I don’t know how to tell you this, but as an old man would say, I think you’re pissing up a rope!”

So with those axioms under my belt and a big huge 24 Volt battery in my arms like a newborn. I went to a big, ol’ manly grease monkey, full-of-testosterone battery warehouse.

And this is where the Good Samaritan works when he is not out on the road rescuing.

Keith worked for thirty or forty minutes to rig this battery charger so I could use it. The first thing he asked me is if it’s a male or female plug. I considered my Nana’s advice, but that didn’t lead me to any conclusion. I suppose I should have been able to deduct the answer, but I panicked and just looked as cute as I could. In that environment, I was a shoe-in.

By the way, there was never a missing part. It had been so abused over time by pulling it out by the cord that it basically pulled the charging plugs too far down into the casing.

Keith told me he has a few friends in wheelchairs and he sees this all the time, where they can’t get timely repairs and no one seems to care. He told me to just ‘Pay it Forward.’ I told him I try to do that, and he said, “well then, now it’s coming back to you!”

Sometimes…..”You just have to SMILE….and laughing never hurts, either.”

© Cathy Sikorski 2015

“You really don’t have to be young to find a friend in a teddy bear.” -Rachel Newman

I have become sort of immune to authority figures in the world of medicine and insurance. My friends would tell you my immunity started long before caregiving. My older brother, Chip would say I made my self the authority figure right around 5th grade when I would tell my Mom what Chip wanted for lunch. My baby brother Bill would say, “Cathy doesn’t have any problems with authority, as long as she is the authority.”

Okay, fine.

I’m bossy and pushy when I need to be.

But sometimes I am surprised by the far-reaching influence of my bossiness.

I was grilling the nurse in the hospital about the details of my brother-in-law’s discharge. What day were they thinking? What kind of meds would he need when they sent him home? Did they know I had a 24 hour notice rule, so that I could set up his at-home caregivers? Would they call the insurance company to confirm the need for ambulance transport since my brother-in-law was non-ambulatory?  Would the case manager call me so that I could give her the time of day that transport would work best for the caregivers as well as his meal time at his facility?

My brother-in-law was so used to this diatribe, that every once in a while he would chime in with a: “Yeah, when can I get out of here!” emphatic remark. He liked looking bossy, too.

His hospital roommate, a kind and gentle Teddy Bear of man, whose family had quietly visited with him just a few hours earlier and had now left, was patiently listening to all of this. We had exchanged greetings earlier. He was very soft spoken. Even his young grandchildren were very quiet and respectful. He didn’t have his television blaring, like my brother-in-law usually does.  He didn’t pull his curtain shut or ask for privacy. He didn’t call his own nurse for any assistance during this time. But he was clearly awake, aware and watching all this broo-ha-ha.  He seemed to be taking it in with great interest, but just stayed calm and quiet.

After I had hashed out all the details that I needed to make the exit from the hospital as smooth as possible for my brother-in-law, I noticed that his roommate called the nurse over to the side of his bed. She very graciously went over and asked if she could help. Before he could say another word, she cautioned him that she was not his nurse, but if she could help she would.

He looked at us, and then looked up at her with pleading eyes and said ever so softly: “I, too, was wondering when I could get out of here and go home.” Then he looked at me, and I swear there was a twinkle in his eye  that was a dash of courage, but still a Teddy Bear, asking for his own reprieve. I’m pretty sure he winked back when I gave him the thumbs up!

“You just have to Laugh…………”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski

 

Nailed it……………

I am getting a mani-pedi tomorrow.  First, ballroom dancing and now mani-pedis. Who is this so-called caregiver? But I have to because I’m going to a Masquerade Ball where I can use my new and improved dancing skills.

This brought me to the conclusion that my brother-in-law could use a mani-pedi himself. I just can’t get him to the salon. No one will transport him in his humungous wheelchair if it is not a medical necessity. Now actually, it is a medical necessity. Because he is diabetic, he must have his nails taken care of as a function of keeping infection and fungus away. The podiatrist will come to his apartment and take care of feet, but not fingernails.

Conveniently, there is a salon in the building where he lives. After 6 months in a rehab nursing home, wanting to feel clean, and groomed and just as much  a regular guy as possible, we made an appointment for my brother-in-law to get a haircut and a manicure at the salon in his building.

Sorry.

The manicurist won’t cut his fingernails. They are too hard to handle and she’s afraid of hurting him or cutting him. Albeit, she is supposed to be a professional manicurist. She suggests I get the visiting nurse to do it.

I text the visiting nurse. This is our text conversation:

“Hi cathy…We r not allowed to cut nails due the (sic) the risk of infection with diabetes..Sorry :(”

“Thank you for telling me. Do you know what other people do?”

“A podiatrist for the toes and I guess they do the fingernails themselves.”

I know. Already you are saying…………but Cathy, if he could do it himself you probably wouldn’t be asking this question…..to a nurse.

I can only come up with two possible solutions:

1. Pretend he is a bride and make arrangements for a personal manicure on his “wedding day.” I know some manicurists will do that. They may require an entire bridal party, but I’m sure I could get my mom and sisters, maybe some nieces and girlfriends to show up.

Or

2. See if I can get him a mail order bride that is a manicurist.

Either way the word bride seems to be the answer to my problems.

“You just have to Laugh…..”

©2014Cathy Sikorski

 

Patience…the Patient has gone clear….

Have you ever had the experience as a caregiver (or even a co-worker) where you’ve been taking care of someone and they are clearly forgetting things and allowing you to have all the responsibility and power? Basically, they are done. They don’t want to engage in any way that is challenging or difficult. And okay, fine. You deal. And then this happens:

“You are going home tomorrow from the nursing home to your own apartment,” you say to your brother-in-law, with every so much enthusiasm because he has been waiting for this day for 5 months.

“I know, but I thought I was going home Tuesday.”

“Umm…you are….tomorrow is Tuesday.”

“Oh, yea.” Caregivee laughs at his own silliness. Then he says, “and it’s time to sign up for Medicare, right? It’s open enrollment. And we were going to look at all the options to make sure I had the best plan. Did you do that  yet?”

This is where I go through these thoughts:

I want to kill you.

Who are you and where is my brother-in-law?

When in the last 7 years have you even said the words, “open enrollment.”

I take a deep, cleansing breath, and say ,”sure, we can work on that when you get home.”

“Because your sister and her husband worked the same place I did and they are on the same retirement insurance. He had a heart transplant, so he’s no healthier than me, ” says the guy who refused to do his physical therapy just so he can hold a cup without spilling it.

Sometimes I want to run away from home.

Medicare 2015No worries. I will read the 500 page booklets from Medicare and your employer retiree plan and we will end up doing the same thing we have done for the last three years because the plans in your retirement only have one option with unlimited lifetime benefits. And you’ve probably used over a million dollars already. And your young, very young. Sick, but young. That’s what I think, but what I say is:

“Okay we will go over that, we have a few weeks yet.”

“Okay, just wanted to make sure you were on top of it. Now did I have lunch yet? Why is that picture on the wall crooked? I don’t think anyone changed the  clock to daylight savings time?”

You just have to Laugh…..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2014

 

Weighing In……………

I noticed a weird bruise on my arm last week on Thursday. By Friday it had morphed into something that looked like a bear climbing a tree. It didn’t hurt. I had no recollection of bumping into things, or drinking too much wine on Wednesday (although now that I’ve written that “Wine Wednesday” sounds pretty tempting). So I went to the doctor.

Bruise Comparison Photo
Bruise Comparison Photo

The first thing they do when they take you into the super secret area where patients are seen is tell you to “get on the scale.” I have been trying to decline this for years. If it’s my annual check up or I think I have diabetes or perhaps I have miraculously lost those last damn 10 pounds by eating chocolate cake and the new Yeungling Black and Tan Ice Cream, then and only then will I get on the scale.

I’m sorry, I may be naïve to think that all American women have a psychological battle with weight, but I know all my friends do. That stupid number can send me into a tailspin of self-loathing and regret for days. I will not have it.

This time I may have been a bit intense in my questioning and refusal to be weighed for a bruise. The nurse ratted me out to the doctor.

“We have to weigh you for insurance purposes,” said the doctor.

“I’m sorry, but the insurance company doesn’t get to play mind games with me. Do you have any idea how crazy that scale makes me?”

“I’m starting to….”

“Women the world over hate getting weighed, even on a good day. It is a sign of our possible failure to literally measure up. It makes us feel bad about our next bagel. And it makes no sense when I’m coming in for a bruise. And on top of all that, not one doctor ever comments on my weight and how that may affect my health, so I have to conclude that unless it’s critical to my visit, it’s not important to the medical community on that day either.”

The doctor looked at me like I needed Xanax at that juncture and said, “we just have to check a box on the form that says we weighed you.”

“So what happens if I refuse to be weighed?”

“We check the box marked ‘declined’.”

So there you have it ladies and gents. If you have an irrational aversion to that doctor’s scale, you can just say “no,” or better yet, “declined.”

By the way, perhaps someone should have asked why I was so stressed by something so trivial. And that’s where the caregiver craziness shows up. In the final analysis, when attempting self care……

“You just have to Laugh….”

©2014 Cathy Sikorski

 

Stroke of genius?

I called my 86 year old Mom for help.

“Hey, Mom, I need a picture of your cabin in Canada.”

“Okay,” she said, “come over and get it.”

“No,” I told her, “I want you to get it off your computer, and email it to me.”

“Oh, ummm….where is that?”

“Where is your computer?”

“No, don’t be ridiculous. Where is the picture on my computer?”

“I don’t know. Don’t you?”

Maybe I did have to go over there and get it.

“Okay, let’s start at the computer. Are you on your iPad or your desktop?”

“Let me go to the big computer, the picture has to be on there because your

In folder marked "Canada"
In folder marked “Canada”

brother-in-law made it my screensaver.”

I hear her sneakers tweak around the kitchen floor, her bedroom door makes a little squeak as she opens it, and the whirr of her desktop hums through the phone line as she boots up.

“Okay, now what do I do?” she asks matter-of-factly. She calmly clicks on all the buttons I direct her to. We get all the way to the photos stored on her desk top and we are at an impasse.

“Mom, do you know where the photo is stored? Like, what folder is it in?”

“Well, I guess it’s in the one marked ‘Canada’, does that sound right?”

“Just try it. See if it’s in there.”

For some reason, I don’t hear any computer buttons clicking on the other end of the line. Silence, with a little breathing is the only sound coming through.

“Mom?”

“Yes?”

“What are you doing? I thought you were looking in the file marked ‘Canada’. Did you find it?”

Now she’s exasperated. Technology has won again. She is frustrated and annoyed, and I have no idea why.

“Ugh….I have been waiting and waiting for the keyboard to come up so I can look for the picture.”

“Wait…what? I don’t know what…..Wait….are you on your iPad or your computer”

“I’m on the computer. I told you that’s where the picture probably is.”

I realize that this octogenarian is trying her best to be in the 21st century. She has willingly taken on a desktop and an iPad. She puts up with her children trying to train her like an organ monkey over the phone, and sometimes it’s just too many things to remember. Plus naming every button as a “square thingy that looks like a tv,” or a “the blue e thingy,” usually ends up with a trip to Mom’s house anyway.

” Um….Mom, look down at your fingers, there’s your keyboard. It doesn’t come up on the screen like the iPad. You’re using the actual keyboard.”

“Oh.”

We both burst out laughing. She does indeed send the picture.

Caregivers need to give credit where credit is due and…..

“You just have to Laugh….”

©2014 Cathy Sikorski

What’s at steak??????

In the last four months, my brother-in-law has lost somewhere between 25 and 30 pounds. That may seem like a lot, especially for those of us who have been fighting those last damn 10 pounds for years, but it has been a blessing.

He now has lost so much of his Buddha belly that he can actually turn himself a bit from side to side. This is a spectacular advancement in the world of MS and bed sores because he may now be able to spend more time in his electric  wheelchair and less time confined to bed to protect his skin from breaking down.

He, on the other hand, sees that he has been subject to lousy food and a Spartan diabetic diet.  Now, it is kind of hard to point out the beauty of lousy food and a Spartan diet. So after much praise for his ability to scooch around (yes, I do believe that is a medical term), I researched the possibility of getting some fun back onto his food tray.

He is still in rehab for a few weeks to get stronger from wound repair surgery, so I must get permission to adjust his diet. And I do. Everyone agrees his blood sugar is exemplary and he can have sugar instead of sugar substitute. His blood pressure is also stellar, so he can have salt again as well. Hip, hip hooray.

I take this as a sign that I can ‘bring’ him a special meal of his own choosing at least once a week. It’s actually getting to the point where I’m concerned that he might loose too much weight and then we have another problem. I know, the “oh you’ll get too skinny” story is usually baloney, but he has taken refusing bad food to new heights….and I don’t blame him. In fact, he would welcome baloney, but they don’t serve that…too salty.

So, as we live in the Philly area, I brought him his favorite naughty meal. It was a cheesesteak hoagie with hot peppers. That means there were condiments such as fried onions, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise all slathered on that sandwich. He ate every single bite, picked the stray onions, peppers and tomatoes off the hoagie paper, and wiped his mustache with glee.

When the aide came in for his institutional food tray and it looked like he hadn’t touched a bite, I debated whether to confess. Ah…what the hell……….

“I brought him a cheesesteak.”

“Well, good for him,” said the aide. “I don’t think one person ate today’s dinner. It was that bad.”

“So our secret is safe with you?”

“What secret?”

Sometimes you find partners in crime in the best and most unexpected places.

“You just have to Laugh….”

© 2014 Cathy Sikorski

 

You’re the Boss, Applesauce….Andy Warhol

My mother-in-law, Marie, thought I was as cool as Bruce Springsteen.  A few years ago, in one of her long stints at the hospital, the social worker arrived in her room and quickly began her assessment of the situation.

“Marie,” she demanded, “do you know what day it is?”

“No,”  Marie truthfully answered. Marie was in her 90’s and loving her assisted living facility. Every day came and went like it was Tuesday or Saturday, or who-the-hell-cares day.

“Well,” the highly trained professional asked, “do you know who the President is?”

Okey dokey….now I jumped in.

“Is this really necessary?” I wondered while looking the social worker straight in the eye.

“Well, I need to know if she’s oriented to space and time.”

You’re not oriented to space or time if you’re thinking an elderly woman from a facility is keeping up with current events.

“Ask her questions she knows the answer to, if you’re trying to find out if she’s in any way conscious.”

“Well, okay.” She turned to my mother-in-law and pointed to some of the other people who were visiting in the room.

“Who is that, Marie?”

“That’s my son, Ted.” Correct.

“And who is that lady next to him?”

“That’s his wife, Judi.” Also correct.

Then pointing to me: “And who is that lady there?”

“Her?” And Marie pointed to me as well.

“Yes, that lady?”

“Oh, that’s the Boss!”

Boom!

I have become legendary. Last week in my brother-in-law’s room the social worker came in to ask some questions.

“What day is it?”

“Truthfully,” he said, “I don’t give a shit.” Score 1 for the ill and infirm.

“And who is this with you today?” she asked him, pointing in my direction.

“Oh her? Yeah, watch out for her, that’s the Boss!”

“You just have to Laugh….”

© 2014 Cathy Sikorski