Tag Archives: Mother-in-law

No Regrets…..

Hope you enjoy my Grand Slam Story Slam for 2015! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, my beloved readers. I am so thankful for all your reading, comments and support. Hope this gives you a chuckle. I have never had one regret putting myself out there for all of you!

 

 

Here’s Mud In Your Eye…………

Every family has their legends. This is one of ours, but I’m absolutely certain it’s true.

My mother-in-law was one of the kindest, sweetest women you could ever meet. She was the quintessential housewife. Marie ensured that there was always great food on her table and good food available in her kitchen if she wasn’t there in that moment to prepare something for you.

Her freezer was never empty. In fact, she was so committed to having snacks available, that we deemed her freezer a “hard hat” area, in fear of all the goodies that would fall out onto your head if you opened the freezer door too quickly.

I was never fortunate enough to meet my father-in-law, but by all accounts they had a fine and long lasting marriage.

There were glitches, however. And when I hear stories like this, I am so proud of Marie. Words  like moxie and gumption come to mind.

So one day, John, Marie’s husband, comes home from work and saunters out to his garden.  Marie, who never learned to drive, has been home alone all day long with no one to talk to.  She kind of waits for her husband to come home so that she can have a nice conversation, a nice dinner, and a bit of grown-up human interaction.

There was a time when she used to follow him out to the garden and chit-chat while he was weeding, pruning and picking ripe vegetables. But his grunting instead of answers, or turning his back to her, quickly made her realize he was in no mood for conversation, even though she was dying for a pow-wow, a talk fest, a tete-a-tete.

So when he immediately goes out to the garden, she’s well….pissed. She, of course, would never use that phrase. She might say she was upset, disappointed, or put-out. But let’s be honest, she was pissed.

When John finally comes in to wash up for dinner, Marie is in a tizzy. As her husband is alighting the stairway to go change out of his gardening clothes and  get ready for dinner, Marie can’t contain herself any longer.

She confronts her husband, something like this, I imagine:

“It would be nice if you could talk to me for a few minutes when you get home from work.”

“What?” he replies as every clueless husband on the planet would.

“I would just like to talk a for a little bit.”

“We’re talking now,” he said, seriously meaning it.

“No, like just a few minutes to talk about our day,” she tries to sound like she’s not whining.

“What are you whining about? We’ll talk at dinner,” he responds ending the conversation and turning to go.

“Well, that’s not how I see it.”

And with that John says (in my imagination).

“Well, how do you see this?” And with that he spits in her eye.

Marie chases him around the house inside and out, the whole time the two of them are laughing, knowing how ridiculous this is….. but he never went to that garden first again.

Marie and Jean..2 girls with Moxie
Marie and Jean..2 girls with Moxie

Go, Moxie!

“You Just have to Laugh….”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski

Happy 99th Birthday, Marie!

Today would have been my mother-in-law, Maire’s 99th birthday.  In honor of all our great and hilarious times spent together, here is my tribute to a great party gal!

Please click on the link to see my StorySlam tribute to Marie!

 

 

 

Techno and Testing………..

As I sit in the waiting room for my husband to have his colonoscopy, I am reminded of all the times I’ve been to various hospitals and doctors’ offices for tests of one kind or another as a caregiver.  Sometimes, I think we test like our patients are the next subjects in a high school science experiment.

When my mother-in-law was 86 years old, I took her to her cardiologist for a semi-annual check-up. By that time, she had a pacemaker and was required to have it tested in the office to make sure it was working properly. In the interim, they had sent her home with a machine that she was to use monthly to check the battery and operation of the pacemaker over the telephone. This was hilarious.

Marie had to take out this little box, put two wrist bands on herself, call a phone number, place the phone in an electronic phone cradle at just the right moment,  while holding some gizmo over the pacemaker on her chest, and wait for the buzz to tell her all was well. It sounds simple. But the set-up, the conversation with the technician and the ultimate getting the phone in the cradle at just the right time was a comedy of errors. Phone check-ups had to be by appointment only. I tried to get there on the exact date every month to help her, but some dates were just not possible for me. So after training my mother-in-law, this darling 86 year-old woman who lived alone and had not the slightest relationship with technology, did the best she could. I prayed she could do it, or in the alternative prayed that the pacemaker just worked until the next month.

At this bi-annual visit with her cardiologist, the good news was, her pacemaker was working just fine. Dr. Smarty Pants, however, had no trouble telling us that every month they weren’t getting the best reading, and we would need to do better. You know what I wanted to retort. But instead, I  said, “Okay.”

Marie took it personally and tried to explain how hard she worked to get it right, but by that time we were dismissed on that topic to discuss further things.

Dr. Smarty Pants was concerned that Marie’s chest X-ray showed a slight spot on her lungs. The X-ray had been taken as a standard procedure due to her heart condition and pacemaker. This spot, however seemed new and the doctor was concerned.

“It could be nothing, or it could be a sign of further pathology,” he said to us.

“Well,” I said, “exactly what would you like to do?”

“I think we should do some more tests,” he declared. “I would like to do a CAT scan, or perhaps even an MRI, and then based on those results, we may have to do a biopsy of the lung area to see what we are dealing with. And then, based on that information, well, actually, as soon as we have the results of the CAT Scan or MRI, I would probably send you to a lung specialist as this is not a cardiology issue in any event.”

“So let me get this straight. As her cardiologist, you want to send this 86 year-old woman for a CAT Scan, and MRI, a possible lung biopsy and then off to another specialist, as this isn’t really your bailiwick anyway? Do I understand that correctly?”

“Yes.”

Now my mother-in-law is just sitting there in her paper gown, probably freezing, as it is cold in there and I haven’t even taken my coat off, watching this banter .

“Let me ask you this doctor,” I said pretending I was just seeking information, but wanting to put my hands around his throat while he strangled out an answer if he were lucky enough to survive.

“Tell me a bit more about this spot on the X-ray. Is it big, is it new, what do you suspect it could be?”

“Well, it’s tiny, and we haven’t seen it before. Honestly. Sometimes it could just be a spot or speck of dust on the machine and not pathological at all. But we don’t know that for sure.”

“Okay,” I say incredulous but still pretending to be seeking only information and not the death penalty….for him…..”Let’s just say you find the worst case scenario after all those tests, the biopsies and whatever else you do….then what? My mother-in-law is 86 years old. She has a really nice quality of life. She has heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure. What exactly would you do or suggest under those circumstances?”

“Well, truthfully, I probably would just make her comfortable, she’s not really a candidate for surgery or even intensive therapies.”

“Um…hmm.. that’s what I was thinking, Doctor.” Of course, what I was really thinking was: “You’re an idiot.”

“Based on that, Doctor, I think she’s already pretty comfortable so we will pass on further testing and let nature take its course.”

My mother-in-law lived 11 more years, with nary a cough.

“You just have to Laugh…….”

©Cathy Sikorski 2015

I still got it…..sort of…..

As I enter the stage of life called “aches and pains,” I am sometimes rewarded with a girlish moment.

I went to visit my mother-in-law in the assisted living facility shortly after we moved her in there. I tried especially hard to get her involved in activities that were age appropriate. She was, after all, 94 years old, so I didn’t think she needed to learn how to play bridge or try Zumba. But she could go to the sing-alongs, play bingo for 25 cents a game, and sit at the big puzzle table with other ladies and gents and gently touch the pieces while looking for their ideal slot.

So off we would go to the activity of the day. I didn’t mind playing bingo or helping with rudimentary crafts, And I loved ice cream sundae Wednesday. Yeah, that was pretty terrific. My mother-in-law loved that too. We shared a common appetite for a good sundae on Wednesday.

I would go two or three times a week, just to make sure she wasn’t sitting in her apartment sleeping while watching TV. My mother-in-law was a very social person. She was charming and enjoyed talking to people. The aides loved her because she was kind and she was interested in what you had to say. I wanted to encourage her to have places to go and people to talk with.

I became a ‘regular’. A certain contingent of the locals who engaged in the same activities were friendly and chatty with me on all my visits.

On some days, I might be dressed up, if I were going to or coming from a business meeting. It would be like CHEERS when I would go through the lobby, the activites room, the dining hall ,or down to the nurses station. People who lived there and worked there would say, “hey”, “hello”, “Hi Cathy, how are you?” Very pleasant ,indeed.

On this day, I was looking pretty spiffy, and went down to the mailboxes to check for my mother-in-law’s mail. As I exited the elevator, there was a gentlemen, who I didn’t know, walking slowly with a cane coming towards me with a small pile of mail in his hands.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” he said.

I thought just in that moment I detected a little sparkle in his eye. Charming, I thought.

“Well,” I said, “I see my timing is perfect.”

I glanced down at the mail in his hands to indicate that I had come just in time to get today’s mail.

“Your timing is absolutely perfect, ” he said.

I swear to you, he looks me up and down, a smile of approval slowly spreads across his withered face and he said:

“Are YOU moving in here?”

I would have flicked my hair, but it’s short. I just gave him my best girlish laugh, shook my finger at him, and moved to the mailboxes.

You just have to Laugh…….

Cathy Sikorski

Lions and tigers and Bear Hugs…Oh my……

Caregiver’s often feel like they have been cast in a Stephen King movie, and no one told them. A scare a day is not an unlikely scenario. One of our scares with my mother-in-law was when she got dramatically ill for unknown reasons. Even though in her 90’s, all her blood work, scans, and any test they could think of continued to come back negative. But she became pretty much unresponsive, landed in intensive care, and her body temp dropped to 90 degrees.

They put a huge piece of bubble wrap around her like a blanket and had a machine pumping hot air into the bubble wrap to try and get her temp to come up from it’s dangerously low hovering place.  They called this contraption, “the bear hug.” I kinda wanted to take one home. It looked so cozy and comfy and you could pop it for fun.

Even though Mom wasn’t really conversant, she would continuously shake her head back and forth and push “the bear hug” off of her and put her arm over top of the bubble wrap ,so that she wasn’t under the heat. Just like anyone would who was too warm under the covers. Whoever was visiting had to constantly put her back under the “bear hug” and hope for the best.

After the gazillion tests, the medical team decided that she was likely suffering from an infection that was coming from her toe. They discussed taking her toe, her foot, or even half her leg. I put my foot down (oh yeah, pun totally intended). I wanted to wait as long as possible before they would do anything like that. I just couldn’t see trying to train my mother-in-law how to walk or use a wheelchair with that kind of disability at her age.

The “bear hug” did it’s loving job, and she was moved out of ICU. Just as the doctor came in to look at the offending infected toe, it fell off right in his hand. Ack! Really, I was there with my teenage daughter. I wanted to yell, “cut!” to stop this horror film I was in, but I was afraid what they might do next.

So we were able to take Mom home in a few days, but she had to wear special surgical shoes to protect the injured foot until it healed. She was in assisted living. They would get her dressed and get her to meals. But as soon as she got back from breakfast, she would change out of those surgical shoes and into her sneakers.

This went on for a day or two and finally, I told the physical therapist to hide her shoes. Oh my God! My mother-in-law, the sweetest, kindest, gentlest soul went crazy looking for her shoes. She was absolutely convinced that my daughter was the culprit and I should  get her to confess and get those shoes back immediately. This was not completely unfounded as my daughter would occasionally take Grandma’s jewelry or refrigerator magnets as a joke when she was younger. But my daughter was 500 miles away in college, and there was no convincing Grandma that that made a bit of difference.

This battle went on for weeks, until the therapist gave the ok to return to real shoes. When the magic shoes finally reappeared, my mother-in-law said, “Well, finally your daughter has given me back my shoes!” Guess she felt like she was in a Stephen King movie.

You just have to Laugh…….

Cathy Sikorski

Um….yeah…..not paying that….

You think when your caregiving ends….well, your caregiving ends. But not so, intrepid caregivers. I’m now steeped in estate work and it, too has it’s unbelievable encounters. I have to call billing department after billing department to make certain that a bill is legitimate before I concede to pay. And each billing experience makes the last one look like child’s play.

Billing Experience Number One (really probably number 157)

“Hello? I have a billing question. Can you help me with that?”

“Sure.”

“What information do you need?”

” How about do you have a name and birthdate?”

“Why yes, yes I do.” And do I give her all the necessary information to retrieve the bill for my mother-in-law.

“My question is, this bill seems to have been processed by all her insurance carriers, and so there should be no balance due, and I know that she has also met her deductible.”

“Well, there is still a balance due after that.”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure that according to the laws in Pennsylvania, if someone is on Medicare and they have a Medigap policy and both insurances have paid AND the patient has met their deductible that you must accept that as payment in full.”

“One moment, please.”

Oh boy, Muzak.

She returns pretty quickly, which in and of itself makes me happy.

“Well, ok, then. There is no balance due, but we didn’t have in our records that she was on Medicare.”

“Really? Because you just asked me to identify her by her birthdate, which is 1916, which makes her 97 years old AND you are showing on your bill that Medicare made a payment, just sayin’…”

“Well……”

And she hung up.

Billing Experience Number 2 (Actually not even 157, more like 210 by now)

“Hello. I have a billing question. Can you help me with that?”

” I will transfer you to billing.”

“Hello, I have a billing question. What information do you need?”

“Sorry ma’am this isn’t billing. Let me transfer you.”

“Hello, I have a billing question. What information do you  need?”

“Can you hold a moment?”

Of course, I don’t get to answer that question. I just get more Motley Crue Muzak.

“How can I help you?”

“I need to know if this bill for Aunt J is final?”

“Well, let me see…..hmmmm…..no, it looks like there is another bill with an additional balance.”

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you that there are no funds to pay this bill or any future bills. There will be no estate and the patient was visiting from Australia.”

“What? Australia? I don’t understand.”

Really? I’m thinking…..what’s not to understand. That seems pretty clear to me, but OK, I’ll just lather, rinse and repeat.

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you that there are no funds to pay this bill or any future bills. There will be no estate and the patient was visiting from Australia.”

“Um…ok…so could you send us a letter to that effect with a death certificate?”

“Sure. I would be delighted to do that.”

So far I’ve had to send that letter and death certificate 11 times. Do you think they would send me anything for free?

You just have to Laugh……

Cathy Sikorski

What’s in a name?

The generation that I mostly have cared for in the last 20 years is the ‘greatest generation’ born in the early to mid 1900’s. These wonderful people  were often here as children and maybe grandchildren of immigrants. We grew up as children, grandchildren and sometimes great-grandchildren of immigrants. Suffice to say that hardly any of us were far from the boats or the shores of Ellis Island. As a consequence, our parents always wanted to know the ethnic derivation of the families of our school chums, our friends, our bosses, our co-workers.

This wasn’t necessarily a point of prejudice as much as it was often a point of reference. So if that nice girl Maria came home with me, was she Italian? Who were that boy, Tommy’s, people? Does that last name end in ‘ski’ or ‘sky’ because that could be the difference between Polish and Ukrainian. Our parents and grandparents just wanted to know. In some ways, I think it made them feel worldly or cosmopolitan to ‘figure out’ just where those surnames and your people came from.

When I met my mother-in-law, my husband and his entire extended family were very proud of the fact that they were 100 percent Ukrainian. My daughters have always teased me that I muddied the waters with my crazy quilt of an ethnic background that is only half Italian and nothing else on my  mother’s side that anyone can actually attest to. And, as punishment for this transgression, my daughters threaten to bury me in the “Ukie” cemetery. Yes, the Ukrainians have their own cemetery. So maybe they do want to keep out riff-raff like me. And I will haunt my daughters from the dead if they bury me there.

Since we are so dramatically aware of being politically correct, you don’t hear this kind of conversation outside of elder care facilities too much.  But once my mother-in-law was comfortably ensconced in her assisted living facility, ‘ethnic-geography’ was the game of the day.

“So, Repko, is it? Where does that name come from?”

“Is it MacClellan or McClellan, because that would be Scotch or Irish, right? ”

“Are you Pennsylvania Dutch or are you a real German?”

These are the conversations you would overhear in the lobby, the dining room and at Bingo. It seemed harmless enough because everyone engaging in the game would just nod their head or say, “Oh” and that would be the end of it.

Since it was a long-standing joke in our family that I was not Ukrainian, I thought that my ethnicity with my husband’s family was at least on the approval list.

This particular day, my mother-in-law was recuperating in rehab for a gangrenous toe. She had been very, very sick and her recovery was very slow. But within  several weeks, she was remarkably back to her old self and on the mend so that she would be released from rehab back to her assisted living apartment any day.

We took a little stroll in her new special shoes that were necessary to protect her injured toes and feet, then we sashayed back to her bedroom for a little rest. She was in such good spirits, that I was telling her about all the great things waiting for her back at her apartment.

“So there’s bingo, and your friends miss you at your table, and since the weather is getting nice we will be able to go outside for walks in the garden. Isn’t that nice?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’m getting a bit tired now. These shoes are hard to walk in.”

“I know,” I tell her. “I’m tired myself, my back has been acting up and I just can’t seem to get comfortable to sleep.”

“Oh well,” she said with a  chuckle that I recognized as “this is about me not you.” And  as we sat there in  comfortable silence in her breathtakingly warm room for awhile,we both start to nod off. Her head was lolling to the side and I was losing the battle with my eyelids, and I sort of mumble under my breath:

“Aren’t we a pair? A Ukie and an Italian….”

She sits bolt upright and says:

“YOU’RE ITALIAN???? I thought you were Polish!”

You just have to Laugh…….

Cathy Sikorski

The most important meal of the day…..

I wanted to return to ‘my roots’ of why I started this blog. I believed (and still do) that there is a real honest place in caregiving for laughter. There’s no way you can do this day in and day out and not see the humor in all the craziness around you.

Today is an homage to my dear mother-in-law. She was known for her subtle sense of humor. She would laugh at whatever you tossed out there as funny and she could come up with a zinger or two herself when necessary. So I feel quite certain that given the time and the retrospective, she too, would see.

So once my 94 year-old mother-in-law moved into her assisted living facility, she was quite content. She adjusted quickly and enjoyed her feisty bingo games, where the winner got a quarter for each victory(I too became a little over zealous with “BINGO!” when helping her play…to WIN)She seemed to enjoy her table companions at breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well. The facility tried to keep the table companions constant so that they could get acquainted and hopefully, enjoy some conversation at mealtime.

Things were going swimmingly. But as time rolled on and Mom became more comfortable with her surroundings, she actually began to backslide into more childlike behavior. Eventually, she needed more help dressing, reminders to go to meals, and assistance to get ready for and go to bed. Otherwise she would never change her clothes, forget to go to meals, and stay up all night watching TV and dozing in her favorite chair. (This became such a pastime for her over the last 20 years, that I was tempted to put her in that chair for her viewing….most of us would have said “Oh she looks so natural.”)

Then her time clock began to get out of whack. She would put her pajamas on after breakfast, she would refuse to go to meals because she just ate, and she would wonder why no one was coming to get her for a meal, when she had just returned to her room from lunch.

One day I went to see her and she was sound asleep in her bed at 11 o’clock in the morning. This was extremely unusual for Mom. She has been an early riser since the dawn of time, and she NEVER would go back to bed for a nap or if she was sick. She would just get dressed, take to her beloved chair, and snore away the day resting comfortably…but NEVER napping. (I think that’s reserved for lazy people like me who try to nap every day, if possible).

I go to the nurse’s office to see if they know why Mom is in bed.

“Hey, ladies! Do you happen to know why my Mom is in bed at 11:00 in the morning?”

“Ummm, not really, maybe  her aide knows?”

I hunt down her aide, and this is the story:

“She got up around 1:00 AM. I saw that she was out of her pj’s and completely dressed for the day. So I said, ‘Hey M, where are you off to?’

“I’m going down for breakfast.”

“No, darlin’ it’s not time yet, let me help you back in bed. It won’t be for awhile, so you need to get some rest.”

“Ok,” she said.

The aide took her back to her room, put her back in her nightgown and tucked her in bed.

At 3:00 AM, the aide sees my mother-in-law down in the dining room.

“Hey M, what’s going on?”

“I’m here for my breakfast.”

“No, sweetie, it’s not time yet, let’s go rest for a bit and then we will come get you for breakfast.”

Back they go to her room, get her back in her pj’s and tuck her in.

At 5:00 AM, my mother-in-law enters the dining room, perfectly coiffed and ready for breakfast. It’s dark in there and no one is at her table.

“Good Morning, M. you’re down here a bit early,” says the aide.

“I’m here for breakfast.”

“Well, that ‘s not until 8 o’clock, how about I take you back to your room to watch TV until we come get you?”

“Ok.”

At a quarter to 8, the aide goes into Marie’s room. She has now changed herself BACK into her nightgown and is asleep in her bed, as the morning sun streams brightly into her room.

“C’mon, M, it’s time to get up and go to breakfast!” says the aide.

“Oh forget it,” says my mother-in-law, and turns over and goes back to sleep.

You just have to Laugh……

Cathy Sikorski