Monthly Archives: January 2014

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder……

This is a warning and a blessing for those of us who are aging….which is all of us………..there are some upsides to technological ignorance.

My husband and I took my Mom, who is a very “with it” 85 year-old, who uses her own computer and iPad, to an orchestral pop’s concert yesterday afternoon. What intrigued me about the ad I read in the paper (yes, I do still read an actual newspaper) was that the theme of this concert was Ellis Island. The concert would include live performance pieces and a series of photos on a large screen to add to the music accompaniment. It was a new piece and had been around the world and shown on Public Television. “Wow!” I thought, “this would be great for all ages!” Honestly, though the average age in that audience was easily 90 or above.  I guess Ellis Island has a certain age appeal. Now that I think of it,  most of the ads in the program were for home care and assisted living. Not kidding.

The concert is held in a beautiful fairly new theater in a local public middle school. This theater is pretty darn magnificent for 11 to 14 year-olds. My theatrical-career-yearning heart is sobbing over the cafegymatorium we used for our productions in my high school in the ’70’s. Nonetheless, I am impressed and happy to be in a theater this beautiful and with all kinds of groovy acoustic equipment, lighting panels and comfy, cushy seats for this Ellis Island extravaganza.

I tell the ticket seller that I’m excited for the concert. And he, appearing to be a long time volunteer for the orchestra says” “Well, it’s different, hope you like it!”

But, not so different from any other Pops, I think. The first half is music from Fiddler on the Roof, and a tribute to Louis Armstrong. It’s wonderful and fun to hear. Then a short break and the Ellis Island themed presentation begins.

A huge projection screen slowly decends down from the ceiling, the maestro appears, the audience claps heartily and the music begins. It’s lovely. the screen projects a million dots in gray, black and white and then ‘pulls out’ so that the photo you see is actually millions of people on the deck of a boat. There is not an empty space between any of the heads. It’s overwhelming. The photos continue with individual pictures of immigrants and places on Ellis Island. The change in each photo is timed perfectly to the music. It is grand.

The first actor appears. She reads a charming account of an immigrant from Rumania, all the while beautiful music is lowly playing behind her. When she is finished, she leaves the stage and the music begins again in real earnest. The projection screen lights up and an error message appears….”NO SIGNAL.” Again, the screen goes from gray to the cursed blue of noncompliance, and the same error message appears. There’s a tiny little groan in the audience….mostly from people under 60, I think. We all know what that error message means. And, that’s it for the photo display. The rest of the concert takes about 40 minutes and never another photo is shown.

Six more actors appear. The music continues, and it’s really quite beautiful. But the whole time now I am literally having an internal boxing match with myself about why this stupid technology isn’t working, and can’t they fix it, and just put up some pictures, and hasn’t this ever happened before, where’s the back up plan and just UGH!!!! So it’s a good concert… really, it is…..but I’m  a victim of my techno-google-pc(that’s private computer not politically correct)time, and I can’t get this dumb error out of my head. I’m feeling cheated of half the performance.

The show ends with all seven actors reciting Emma Lazarus’ poem that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. When they finish the recitation they all raise one arm to the screen, where I imagine the Statue of Liberty is supposed to appear. Nope, just a blank screen.

The crowd goes wild, struggles with their seat handles and their coats and programs to raise their sweet bent old bodies for a standing ovation. And then it hits me. Maybe 5 per cent of this audience knows what went wrong. So I do a survey of one, to my Mom:

“So, how did you like it?” I ask

“It was wonderful! Thanks so much for bringing me, it was really beautiful. The music was beautiful and the actors were great. I really enjoyed it.”

“Did you notice anything wrong?”

“No, what? It seemed fine to me. What?”

“After the first actor the projector didn’t work, there was an error message and no more photos. And at the end the actors raised there hands to indicate something on the screen, but nothing was there. You didn’t see that??”

“Nope. Loved it. It was beautiful.”

See….there are distinct advantages to aging…

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

What those toddler tantrums were REALLY training you for……

A friend of mine recently took a job at the Assisted Living facility where my mother-in-law spent her last few years. My friend will be a great asset to the Villa, and overall, it was a wonderful experience for us, eventually.

The first day, however, was like sending your first born to kindergarten. We had taken Mom to the facility to “check it out”, knowing full well we were already going to make it her home. ( I was going to say, “send her there” but even still those words sound so harsh….even though we KNEW it had to happen). And that tour was the disaster in my blog,  Who Knew Grandma Has Great Legs…

But we persisted with the move forward since we were still afraid that she might burn down her apartment building, or not have any nutrition but coffee for days at a time. So we brought her to our house for a long weekend, telling her that at the end of the weekend her furniture, clothing and personal items would be moved in to her new apartment and then she would move as well.

The first day of school arrives…I see her at my breakfast table having her coffee and tell her I’m going to the gym and when I get back we will shower and get ready to go.

“I’m not going. I’m not going,” she says while LITERALLY STAMPING HER FOOT LIKE A TWO-YEAR OLD! Now, my mother-in-law had an amazing sense of humor. And she is really kidding me, but I know there is a sense of panic there.

“Okay,” I say, “we’ll talk about that when I get back.”

“Don’t hurry back!” she yells after me.

As I’m working out at the gym, I realize that my best arsenal might be in remembering how I dealt with my toddlers. But I am really cognizant of respecting my mother-in-law here. We tried to include her in the process, but at 94, she wasn’t really all that interested in change.

When I return home from the gym, I hustle Mom into the shower, dress her in a darling little outfit and the protests begin:

“Why can’t I stay here and help you?” In support of that, she folded my laundry while I was at the gym, which she hasn’t done in about 5 years. Tricky little devil, this one.

“Well, Mom, because I have too many stairs, I’m not home all the time”…blah, blah blah

She is undaunted.

“Well, I can stay with  your mother. She has a big house. No one is there but her and she could use the company.”

Ugh. Remember when your little ones said “why, why, why” to everything? What did you do?

“No, Mom. Just no.”

“But…..” and she goes for it a few more times.

“No.” That’s all I say.

We get to her apartment and she is pleasantly surprised to see all her own things there set up much like her apartment that we moved her from. We go to the dining room and we let her order whatever she wants.

And this is where you know you’ve done the right thing.

She looks at her food and says:

“Who ordered this, it looks delicious!”

You just have to Laugh……………….

Cathy Sikorski

When naughty is nice……

I have done something very naughty. I must even go so far as to admit I have done it on purpose. You will probably not agree with my decision, but in the end, was I right? If you’ve read any of my blogs….you know the answer to that.

Being a caregiver puts you in the ‘decider’ seat  more times than you care to admit. And sometimes you don’t want to be George W. Bush….you WANT someone else to be the decider. But alas, you’re it. You are the caregiver.

The hired caregivers, who do all the hard stuff, the bathing, the dressing, the cleaning up, keeping the list of needed items, they gladly call on the decider when well, when decisions must be made.

So, I get a call from Susan, head honcho caregiver:

“Cathy, your brother-in-law, is acting weird.”

“Weirder than usual,” I say, hoping that this is just happy conversation, knowing all the while that I am in for a project.

“No, not usual weird—- cranky, mean and kind of ‘out of it’ weird”, she says weirdly, knowing that I KNOW she wouldn’t call me unless there was a problem to be solved.

“Hmmmm, that sounds like, ‘you-know-what’, doesn’t it,” I say with regret.

“Yup,” she says, ” a UTI” (everyone’s worst caregiving enemy…the urinary tract infection). ” He’s weird, he’s ornery and his urine looks a little tinged with brown. So that ‘s not good.”

“Okey doke,” I say with false upbeat. “I’ll call the visiting nurse he has right now and get her to call the doctor.”

Now the reason I have to go this Chutes and Ladders way is because I have no medical authority to call the doctor and beg for an antibiotic, but since he just happens to be suffering from a bed sore right now, he has a visiting nurse once a week who I can ensnare to do my dirty work.

“Hello, Visiting Nurse? I want to ensnare you to do my dirty work,” Okay I really don’t say that.

“Hello, Visiting Nurse? I got a call from the caregivers and they think his behavior and his urine suggest a UTI. I would be ever so grateful if you would call his doctor for a prescription because it’s Friday, I can’t get him to the doctor for at least three days, and if it gets too far gone, he usually ends up in the hospital.”

“Ok,” says the Visiting Nurse, “I will call this morning and get back to you.”

By 4 o’clock, I haven’t heard from anyone. So I call the pharmacist to see if there is a prescription waiting. No, of course not. So I call the doctor’s office.

“Hi, I’m call because I know the Visiting Nurse called and the pharmacy  has no prescription.”

“Yes, we see that the Visiting Nurse called this morning, and it’s in the doctor’s inbox to process.”

“I understand that the doctor is busy,”I say patiently (really  I do) but it’s Friday afternoon, and these UTI’s can be very dangerous for this guy….so if you could just see if he can get it processed tonight……”

“I’ll put a reminder on it,” says the receptionist.

So, of course, at 8:30 that night the Visiting Nurse calls to tell me they called in a prescription, with the caveat that the nurse would take a urine sample and have it to the lab BEFORE we give him the medicine, just to make sure.

So she gets the sample (that’s it’s own blog, I’m sure). I get the meds into him the next morning, and two days later they call and tell me the sample is negative.

And here’s where I’m naughty.

Years ago, when my kids were toddlers, they would suffer from chronic ear infections. I would see it coming, take them to the pediatrician, no red ears would appear in the otoscope, and the pediatrician would send me home. A day or two later, I would be right back in that office with a kid with DOUBLE ear infections, because the symptoms were obvious to me, but not yet to the otoscope. And pretty much, every time, Dr. MOM was right.

Soooooo………I just kept on giving that antibiotic to my brother-in-law since his symptoms were so obvious to all of us caregivers, he gets really, really, REALLY sick if he gets an untreated UTI, and I just was willing to go for it. I am the decider.

I know. I know. Too many antibiotics, too must MERSA, too many super bugs. I know.

But here’s the kicker. THREE DAYS LATER, the doctors office calls me and says.

“Well, you know the test was negative for an infection, but all the other markers were questionable, and so we thought an infection was on the horizon, so just finish the antibiotic as given.

Yup, DR. MOM!!!!

You just have to Laugh……..

Cathy Sikorski

Every time I think I’m out…..

The holiday season does not have an internal compass that allows you to treat every day like a holiday. In fact, I’m pretty sure that MORE, not less disasters happen during the holiday season, just as a karmic reminder that in life, there is no holiday. But a few days off can really re-charge the batteries, if you’re lucky.

I am so sleep deprived, it’s like being the mother of an infant all over again. But I have no baby to blame it on. Menopause, hot flashes, holidays, alcohol, too much food, not enough gym,those are the culprits….oh yeah, and shoulder pain, back pain, and general pain-in-the-ass middle age. That doesn’t help either.

So every time I THINK, “tonight is the night” for sleep (which I’m sure is not the same thing my husband is thinking when he’s thinking, ‘tonight is the night’), I am reminded that no caregiver is ever in her right mind.

The first time I thought this was the day after Christmas. Yay, all the hoopla is over! I can just sleep in. Everyone is well, we are all snug in our beds, no more planning, wrapping, shopping, just the blessed day of rest.

The phone rings at 7:30 AM.


“Hi Cathy, this is your cousin. My Dad is in the hospital and is having surgery today and he needs to see you.”

“Umm (this because I have 25 cousins and am not sure who woke me out of an ACTUAL sleep). Okay.”

“He’s in ICU, so you have to call and ask the nurse to give him the phone or they will call you back.”

“No, I will go to the hospital, no problem.”

This uncle is my godfather, and I love him dearly. He’s a bit of a Duck Dynasty gun dealer, but I love him anyway.

So I haul myself out of bed at 7:35 AM and go to the hospital. There’s a moratorium on who can see him, ’cause his Duck Dynasty pals can be a bit overbearing. So I tell the squawk box:

“I’m here to see Mr. R, I’m his lawyer and his niece.”

Immediate entrée. I pull this lawyer card when I just don’t have time to deal with any crap. Little do I know this will come back to haunt me. I get to his room and my cousin is there with him.

“Cathy’s here now Dad, do you want to have a private conversation with her?”

“No,”says my Uncle, who is looking pretty good for a guy going into surgery, “I just wanted the hospital and everyone around here to know I have a ‘mouthpiece’ so they better watch out.

Really? I dragged my tired sorry behind out of bed the day after Christmas, so my uncle could have his lawyer as a show piece in the  ICU???? Where am I, ‘The Godfather???’ Oh, yeah, that is EXACTLY where I am.

You just have to Laugh…..

Cathy Sikorski