Category Archives: Medicare

Laugh….and the world laughs with you……………

Okay kids….it’s time to laugh, even just a little bit…

How do you know if you are a caregiver?

  1. If you are buying wipes and you don’t have a baby…..
  2. If you have dozens of medications in your house and none of them are yours…..
  3. If you wish some of them were yours…………..
  4. If, when someone says ‘whine’, you break out a long-stemmed glass……..
  5. If you get into your car and your car takes you to a nursing home but that’s not where you were going……….
  6. If you’re so tired that you used Preparation H to brush your teeth before bed….
  7. If you have dishes in the sink, laundry in the hamper, unpaid bills, and you drop everything to take your Mom to the doctor and the hairdresser and lunch and the bank and the pharmacy and the grocery store and the dry cleaners…….
  8. If you have on two different shoes…..
  9. If you just recently started using swear words that never came out of your mouth before….
  10. If you are so well-versed in medical-speak that they ask you to check on a patient in Room 612 ……..
  11. If when you say you’re going to the Vet, you don’t mean a place where animals get medical care….
  12. If you use so many acronyms like HIPPA, AARP, HMO, DME, SNF, OT, PT, ER, that you start spelling your kids’ names instead of saying them….
  13. If date night is now every Friday night in the Emergency Room….

Or this……

 

Check with your spouse, your significant other, your friends, your therapist….you just might be one of us!

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2017 Cathy Sikorski

Knock Knock…Who’s there? Good info…that’s who!

I attended an Elder Law Conference recently and as usual, my head is spinning. Lots to tell you, because not one of you is getting younger.

But the big takeaway was a talk by a dementia expert, Teepa Snow, on how we are truly failing those with this disease. It’s not them who’s the problem…it’s us.  We are so hellbent on proving we know what’s best for our loved ones, that we have done nothing to understand what it feels like to be them.

I was invited to do a Virtual Reality tour of what it’s like to have dementia. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go that day. But those who did said it was unbelievable. And enlightening. They quickly learned what it’s like to have someone in your face, someone yelling at you for no apparent reason, someone repeating to you when you believe you answered their question. I cannot stress enough how we need to take a good, hard look at what we, the caregivers, the health care workers, the families are doing. Ms. Snow told us there are 110 different kinds of dementia. 110. There can’t be a common answer to treatment for every single form. And locking every body up is not the answer. It is certainly not the quality of life answer for everyone.

I’m not naive. I realize that dementia has a big component of safety issues. Just spending 90 minutes with Ms. Snow, who has hours and hours of material, convinced me that as a public policy we need to re-think the concept of dementia care.

Her website is at teepsnow.com, and it’s called Positive Approach to Brain Change. If you have any family members at all who are suffering from any effects of dementia, please check out her website and her videos. They are remarkable and could be game-changing for your life right now.

And if any of you wonderful readers did not hear by now….I WON the contest to be the Keynote Speaker at the National Caregiver’s Conference. AND GUESS WHO THE SPEAKER IS RIGHT AFTER ME????  TEEPA SNOW! How great is that? I’m so excited to be meeting her once again after my Elder Law conference. Life is full of wonderful treats sometimes, isn’t it?

Since you read this far with no chuckles, I’m going to give you 3 Elder Law Knock Knock Jokes I found on the internet:

Knock Knock……….Who’s There?  Little Old Lady………Little Old Lady Who?

I didn’t know you could yodel!

Knock Knock…..Who’s there?   To………….To Who?

To WHOM!

Knock Knock….Who’s there?   Nana………….Nana Who?

Nanna You’re Business

I’m pretty sure you could use those jokes somewhere today!

“You Just have to Laugh……”

©Cathy Sikorski 2017

You talkin’ to me?

So these stories about medical insurance could go on endlessly, but they give me such good material.

My Mom called me a few days ago to tell me that she received eighteen EOBs (Explanation

What do you mean you're not Zsa Zsa?
What do you mean you’re not Zsa Zsa?

of Benefits forms) from her medical insurance. If you’re not an EOB counter, 18 is a Zsa Zsa galore. A normal amount might be 2 or 3 on a busy day.

The reason she received 18 is because of the huge mix up created by her medical insurance 15 years ago. Fifteen years is a lot too–a whole teenage year of angst. Now, there are two insurance companies trying to figure out how to pay each other back for 15 years of screwing up.

Half of the EOBs indicate that Insurance Company B paid claims formerly paid by  Company A, and everyone is happy about that.

The other half of the envelopes  were filled with EOB’s and checks. Lots and lots of checks. All these checks are payable to my Mom for claims going back to 2007.  Insurance Company B has paid all that money that is supposed to go to various medical providers to my Mom.

So somehow my 87-year-old Mom is supposed to divvy up these checks, figure out who needs to be paid and how much and hope that the medical providers can properly credit her account, some going back 9 years. Really?

I got on the phone.

I have come to love you so much, my dear readers, that you won’t get every bit of every one of the 4 hour-long conversations I had with Insurance Companies A and B.  You know some of this is priceless.

“Hello, my name is John, thank you for calling Insurance Company B, how can I help you?”

“Hi, John, my name is Cathy, I’m calling for my Mom, who is sitting right here with me.”

I hand the phone to my Mom because I know that John needs to interrogate her. She also needs to give John permission to speak to me. After they complete that happy dance, Mom hands the phone back to me.

John asks me for my address.

“No, John, you can’t have my address. You can have my mother’s address, as she is your insured. I have called your insurance company thousands of times and no one has ever asked me for my address.”

“Oh,” said John, “I have to speak to my supervisor.” I’m pretty sure this is John’s first day of work.

He comes back five minutes later and tells me he can’t talk to me if I won’t give him my address. I am undaunted.

I hand the phone to my Mom. He asks for her address, birthdate and phone number. My Mom tells him everything he requests. Then she says,

“Now I want you to talk to my daughter because I have no idea how to deal with any of this.”

She hands me the phone. John and I have a long conversation about how to deal with this complicated problem. John cavalierly tells me that this happens less than one percent of the time. How he knows this from one day on the job, I have no idea. It is, however,  supposed to reassure me.

“John, just stop sending checks to my Mom.”

“I have no idea why that happened. They should be going directly to the provider. I have 458 claims here to be processed for your Mom over the last 10 years. But we could just start over. We could reclaim those checks and redo those claims. I don’t know……”

“NOOOOO, John, DO NOT DO THAT!” Yes, I meant to use capital letters, because it was a capital letter kind of response.

“But……,” said John…..”we……”

“No, John, just NO. Do not add insult to injury. Just stop doing what you’re doing.”

“Is there anything else, I can help you with , ma’am?”

“No, John.” I so wanted to say….”But you did talk to me without ever getting my address, didn’t you? ”

I win!

We all know I haven’t won…but

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

 

 

Who you gonna’ call…Dustbusters…….

So the saga for my brother-in-law continues. Of course it does, I’m a caregiver.

He had surgery yesterday. Finally, after 12 weeks in rehab of staying in bed with a shop vac on his behind to suck the wound into a better place. I don’t know, that’s what they tell me. It’s actually called a wound vac…but it’s a mini shop vac that stays on the wound 24 hours a day to help the healing process.

My Mom, a nurse from the ’40’s says all they really had to do was keep that wound clean and dry and open to the elements. That’s what Rosie the Riveter nurses used to do and it worked fine. Of course, because his wound is on his bottom he would have had to be lying on his stomach for 12 weeks, with his derriere on display for the world to see. So I’ll take the shop vac method. Plus, if he takes home the vac, maybe it can double as a Dustbuster.

Surgery is a resounding success. The only downside is he cannot be in a sitting position for 4 to 6 weeks. I know. Maybe solitary confinement and water-boarding would be more pleasant. But what are you going to do? The problem with these damn bed sores is that they don’t heal if you don’t stay off of them. And ironically, as bed sores, you can’t stay off of them easily if you are, well, in bed, which is where they insist he stay.

So, now the protocol is that he must be lying on his side or flat on his back at all times.

My brother-in-law is an engineer. He’s actually a rocket scientist as he worked in that industry.

His first question is:

“How do I eat?”

This drives me crazy.

Not only is it not rocket science and he is a rocket scientist, he can’t figure out how he’s going to eat.

By the way, his engineering brain wants to kill me every time I have to do something with his wheelchair or tray table and I can’t figure out the best engineering way to handle it. I’m actually on his side, when he yells at me. I am NOT an engineer. I have no spatial skills whatsoever. I can’t play pool because I don’t get it. Physics eludes me. So when he is trying to explain to me how to turn the tray table around the OTHER WAY so that the feet don’t bump into his cath bag, and I just keep shoving…well he wins the frustration game that day.

MilkshakeBack and forth we go the caregiver and the caregivee with our remarkable skill sets and loss of patience for each other’s nincompoopery (I’m absolutely positive that’s a word in the caregiving lexicon).

So when he can’t figure out that he will have to lie on his side and chew and swallow the best he can, and have as many milkshakes as nature will allow to keep his calories up, and that we won’t starve him. He will have help like he’s always had these last years, well I want to …………..say a prayer of thanks that I can help. (Not really but I wanted to look better than the jerk I am in this moment).

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski

It’s Here…..It’s Here…..!!!!

showing_w_nana (1)

My baby has been launched!!!

You can find us at Amazon .com at this link:

https://www.amazon.com/author/cathysikorski

I  am so excited to see this fun work of such a long time finally come out to be a friend at your reading table. Thanks for all your continued support. Love to all of you my wonderful readers!

Something’s Fishy……….

Two years ago, my brother-in-law’s son purchased a fish tank as a gift for his Dad. My BIL had built a very elaborate fish tank in the home he had long ago shared with my sister. He really loved that fish tank. I do believe it gave him hours of joy. But when he moved and as he became wheelchair bound with Multiple Sclerosis, a fish tank was out of the question. It was just not feasible for him to take care of it the way he would like to, or be able to buy the fish he wanted.

Fishtank fish just don’t live very long. And my BIL likes to buy a variety of fish and tank creatures to populate the roost. So it would have been more of a burden than a joy.

But this gift from his son truly came from the right place. He knew how much his Dad would love this treat. What he didn’t know was how in God’s name any one was going to take care of it.

This is where I turn into the caregiver from hell. This is where caregivers do things they regret, but not really.

I took the young buck aside and said, “I know you live more than an hour away, but you have to be responsible to take care of this. I cannot take on a fish tank. It’s like a puppy to me. I just can’t put one more thing on my plate.”

He just looked at me and nodded, telling me not to worry,

sushi-190565_1280Really? Not worry? This made me so nuts, that all I could think of was, this may turn into a sushi buffet for my BIL, because I am NOT taking care of these damn fish.

The son came pretty regularly for about a year. The following year, my brother-in-law was and has been in and out of rehab and the hospital for almost the entire  year. Those fish were on their own. Again, or so I thought.

But the one thing I didn’t consider or count on was that my BIL’s caregivers, those blessed women and occasional man who come to get him ready for the day and tuck him in sweetly at night were angel(fish) in disguise.

angelfish-24669_1280angel-8186_1280

Every once in a while, over the months, I would get a text from one of the caregivers that I should not worry as they were taking care of the fish. Like I was worrying. Things that float are things that flush as far as I’m concerned. I know this is not animal PC, but I just could not and cannot go a half hour or an hour in a different direction every day to check out a gold fish.

So again, the caregivers who are in the building every day for other patients, not my BIL, take a minute to feed, clean and funeral direct, if necessary.

I am really, really grateful. Not in the ,”wow, I should take care of the fish, ’cause it makes him happy” kind of grateful. More the “I’m hopeful that he will know, he’s got good people in his world and sometimes it ain’t me …….” kind of grateful.

“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

Real elegance is everywhere, especially in the things that don’t show…Christian Dior

It was going to be a happy day. After months of being in and out of rehab, my brother-in-law was returning home. His current rehab center was about an hour away from me, so I was a bit late in getting there to do all the discharge baloney.

Nonetheless, they called me when I was 10 minutes away from the facility, as his wheelchair transport was already there. The transport driver was ready to go and wanted to leave before I arrived.

“Is he dressed and ready to go?” I asked the discharge nurse.

“Yes, they are just waiting for you to get here and sign the papers.”

“Well, if he’s ready and they can’t wait 10 minutes, he can get going and I’ll be there to gather his things and sign,” I replied.

“If you’re only 10 minutes away,I’ll see if they can wait,” said the nurse.

“Either way is fine with me,” I pleasantly replied…after all, it was a happy day.

I arrived in less than 10 minutes, and went into his room to gather his things.

There was my BIL in his bed, in a hospital gown, just shrugging his shoulders when he saw me.

Right behind me followed the discharge nurse.

“I thought you said they were transporting him home?”

“Well, the transport driver said he heard you were going to be an hour late, so he left.”

“Where would he hear that? Twitter? Facebook? The Huffington Post? I literally just told you I was 10 minutes away!”

“I don’t know,” said the nurse, “but that’s what the front desk said when I told them to send up the driver.”

“Okay,” I responded incredulously and losing my pleasant disposition ever so quickly, “but you told me he was dressed and ready to go. He’s in a hospital gown.”

“Well, that’s dressed,” he said a bit defensively.

Now, granted, this is a rehab facility. Fashion is not the highest order of the day. And if you’re not running around the hallways, or eating in the dining room, a hospital gown may be your couture du jour. However……..

“Ummm…….no….that is NOT dressed for someone who is going home in a wheelchair and right to the dining room at his home, for his meals. I’m pretty sure no one wants a Sharon- Stone-Basic-Instinct  reveal from a hospital gown , while having their salad course. It brings a whole new meaning to ‘dining al fresco.’ You need to get him dressed in his clothes which are in his closet here.”

To which my brother-in-law pipes up: “I’m a bit chilly.”

Ya’ think?

“You just have to Laugh…………”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski

 

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

“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