Tag Archives: Caregiver

Caregiving blows hot and cold….

I’m entrenched in the rehab cycle right now. Many days to the rehab center every week are required to watch the progress of my brother-in-law, keep an eye on his care, and to make sure he’s behaving like a human being to the overworked, understaffed people running around trying to please everyone, and pretty much pleasing no one.

The very first day he entered rehab,in the dead of summer, he wasn’t there two hours and protesting royally about the heat. Now, MS sufferers really do need to be temperate. So his complaints were absolutely legitimate. To my amazement, the staff relocated him immediately to a bed where he would be next to the window and air-conditioner.

His first two roommates complained bitterly because they were freezing. My loved one had the thermostat at 60 degrees because he was alternately too hot and too cold. Ya’ think?

But the third roommate hopped on board with my brother-in-law, lickety split. They conferred daily, maybe even hourly, about how freakin’ hot it was in their room. The good news was that one guy wasn’t bundled in a sweat suit and blankets, while the other was half naked in a hospital gown embarrassing anyone who walked down the hall and peeked in mistakenly.

Flat Stanley in PA
What they want it to feel like

Every time I entered their room, the two gentlemen of Verona were commiserating about the unseemly state of the weather in their room. No matter how many times I reset the air conditioner, it wasn’t cold enough……for them. Meanwhile, anyone on the staff who was in  menopause was hanging out in their room to cool off.

By the third day of this, I was at my wit’s end trying to make these two guys happy. The only saving grace was they were enjoying the mutual complaint department. Sort of an “us against them”, giving rehab a fun kind of flavor.

Yesterday morning I entered their room and noticed that the staff had pulled the curtains closed during the night. The curtains were romantically billowing in the window forcing  the air conditioner to blow all the cold air straight up to the ceiling. I went to the window to draw open the curtains and let the cold air directly into the room. That was when I noticed the window panes had quite a bit of condensation. Looking closer, I saw the window was actually open. In fact, both windows were open. Open.

All night long, the July heat was drifting in through the open windows, allowing all the humidity to circle around and settle on their hot sweltering bodies. Ugh. Really? Someone came up with this idea as a way to cool these guys off?  I closed the windows. I asked the gentlemen to tell the staff to keep the windows closed.

The roommate quickly informed me that he thought the open windows constituted a good idea. It would allow circulation and air into the room at night. This logic reminded me of my mother-in-law.  Every time she left the house in tropical heat, she turned off the air conditioner. We told her she might as well turn off the refrigerator every time she left the house too, as that logic goes.

I return the next morning and the condensation is just waiting for me to put “Cathy was here” on the window.

Okay, so … I give up…..

“You just have to Laugh….”

Cathy Sikorski

 

 

 

 

 

I can see clearly now… the pain is gone…..

This is why you have to start taking care of yourself ASAP. And, admit maybe you should just go the old fashioned way.

My friend has always enjoyed perfect vision. As she beautifully progressed into middle age, she admired all those fancy reading glasses her friends were flaunting in hopes of looking fashionable (instead of old), and bought a pair for herself. Voila! She, herself could view ever so much better her books, her Kindle, her tax returns. Okay, she thought, not so bad. These glasses are super cute. Like when we all wanted to sport those sparkly cat’s eye glasses in the 50’s and 60’s because, well, they were just peachy keen, right?

Then she began to notice that looking far away was not all that productive either. Relenting, she went to the optometrist. Lo and behold…she needed glasses. Since her vision declined both near and far, she was encouraged to get bifocals.

“But wait!” she said, “what about contact lenses?”

“Well, of course,” said her doctor, “that’s no problem. You have to come in to be fitted.”

When fitting day arrived, my friend was beaming with happiness that modern technology gave her the opportunity to keep those old lady glasses at bay.

“Here we go!” said the perky technician. “Now, open wide, put one contact lens in each eye. We will let you get used to them for a bit, and then practice a couple of times putting them in and taking them out.”

In and out the contacts went. She was impressed that the contacts felt okay in her eyes with no real discomfort.

“Oh, that’s because they are soft lenses, so easy peasy,” the technician told her. “Let’s just do it one more time and then you’re good to go.”

In they go. Out they do not go. She pinches, she pulls, she tugs at imaginary things in her left eye. Nothing happens.

The lens was still in there. It had to be. Her eyes were watering like Niagara Falls, her fingers were giving her eye a proctology exam. She poked and prodded around desperately seeking a foreign object. Her eye was really hurting now and no lens appeared on her finger.

“Oh my!” said the tech as she leaped out of her chair to get the doctor.

“Well,” the doctor said, “I must say we’ve never had this before.”

He gazed at her eye in the special machine.

“Oh, oh my, oh that can’t be good,” said the doctor.

“What? what?” said my friend, mildly in a panic, okay probably not so mildly.

“Well, it looks like you broke the lens into three pieces in your eye. So we’re going to have to numb your eye and flip your eyelid so we can fish those pieces out of there.”

Yea…………

Her new bifocals are really quite fashion forward.

“You just have to Laugh….”

Cathy Sikorski

 

“What do women want? Shoes.” Mimi Pond

In honor of what would have been my mother-in-law’s 98th birthday, a shoe story comes to mind.

About 2 years ago, Marie got very, very ill. She was in intensive care for a few weeks. Between an infection in her big toe and dangerously low body temperature, she was in a precarious place. The conversation vacillated between surgery to remove her toe, foot or part of her leg and just seeing how she would fare at 96 years old.  (I know, when does this get funny?)

She miraculously recovered with the help of a ‘bear hug’ which is like super groovy bubble wrap that keeps you warm and brings up your body temp. And in other news, her toe took care of itself by just falling off. I know, it’s gross and horrible, but it was just the tip and the infection was then completely out of her system.

Because walking was kind of weird now, Marie had to wear special surgical shoes and regain control of her balance. She was hustled home from the hospital with peculiar shoes and instructions for physical therapy.

Her first day home, I visited her during therapy and she was quite agile and perky. I returned the next day and since it was a weekend, there was no therapy. Sitting in her  chair, she was wearing her favorite sneakers.

“Oh, no, no, Marie, that will not do,” I said.  “You need to wear the other shoes until your foot is healed and you can walk properly.”

“What other shoes?” she said. “These are my shoes.”

I wasn’t born  yesterday. In five minutes, I was hauling out the ugly, black orthopedic surgical shoes that were somehow conveniently stuffed way in the back of her closet behind suitcases and Depends packages, I displayed to her the offending footwear.

“This is what you need to wear while your foot heals.”

“Ugh,” she muttered.

Two days later, I moseyed back to the therapy room and there she ambled in the ugly shoes, but her pristine sneakers sat lovingly next to the walker waiting to be put back on Cinderella’s pining feet.

The therapist took me aside.

“She insisted on wearing her real shoes, except in therapy. It’s really not good for healing or balance. Maybe you can talk to her.”

I devised a different plan. Whilst she meandered all around the therapy room, I snatched the glass slippers like an ugly step-sister and hid them deep in the therapy room closet.

I was well versed in diversion by now and spirited her so quickly to lunch after therapy that she forgot about those sneakers. After lunch we strolled outside and then I settled her in her favorite chair for a post-repast siesta.

For the next four weeks, every time I visited Marie, she asked me the same question:

“Where did Rachel put my shoes?”

Rachel is my daughter. She had been known to play a practical joke or two on Grandma over the years. When she was a youngster, Rachel would steal Grandma’s refrigerator magnets and return them a few weeks later. One time she asked Grandma if it was ok to ‘look’ at  Grandma’s costume jewelry. That Easter, Grandma admired her own necklace around Rachel’s neck. However, at the time of this shoe incident, Rachel was firmly ensconced in graduate school in Ireland.

“Rachel, did not take your shoes, Marie. You have to wear these other ones to get better.”

“Yes, she did. Tell her I want them back.”

Simultaneously with her complete recovery, Rachel came home for a visit. When she came to see Grandma, there she was holding the shoes out like Prince Charming. What the heck….whatever works when you’re a  caregiver.

“You just have to Laugh….”

Cathy Sikorski

 

 

 

Death by Desk

Just before I was to leave for four days, return for one, and then leave again for four days, one of my hired caregivers calls:

“Hi Cathy,” she says with trepidation.

“Oh no, what now?” I say.

“No, it’s fine, really. It’s just that your brother-in-law needs a new desk for his computer.”

Okay, I’m thinking, that can probably wait for a week or so. It is an old computer table, sort of the pre-IKEA era, where you bought these cheap wood-like substances and put them together and hoped they lasted a few years. Way before laptops when your computer was a piece of furniture that needed a piece of furniture.

“Okay,” I tell the caregiver, “no problem, I’ll come do some measurements. When I get back I’ll get a table over there ASAP.”

There is a bit of silence on the other end of the line, for just a shade too long.

“Hello?” I say.

“Oh, I’m sure that’s fine,” she says, ” I’m just worried about death by desk.”

WHAT?

“Well, you probably have to see it for yourself, but he was so happy to be back at his computer after recuperating in bed for two months, that I think he just got a bit carried away when he needed to move his chair and go to lunch.”

“Ummmm, Okay. Well, I can go over there today and check it out and then we will decide from there. How’s that?”

“I told him I had to ask you first if he could have a new desk.”

“It’s fine. Of course, he can have a new desk. Let me just take a look.”

As it turns out, I have an old pre-IKEA desk I needed to get rid of, so I measured that first and went to my brother-in-law’s apartment with tape measure and confidence that death by desk was a bit of an exaggeration’

When I get there, he’s sitting at his desk on the computer and seems fine. “So what have you been up to Speedy Gonzales?” I ask him.

Sometimes I think he goes too fast and furious in his motorized glee  because his dexterity and hand control are more difficult due to the MS. But truly, sometimes I think he kind of really enjoys speeding around in that wheelchair wreaking just a tiny bit of havoc. In the old days, I’ve seen him drive a car and a lawn tractor and a bit o’ the race car driver was always a part of this guy.

I glance around at the side of the desk obstructed by his wheelchair and there are the pieces of the three drawers strewn all over the floor. I begin to take measurements and I see the other supporting side is knocked out from the grooves at the top of the desk that would keep it together. I’m wondering if he is actually holding up this desk on his lap.

“Yeah, you can’t sit here until I get you a new desk. This is dangerous! How about if I just get you a very sturdy table? You don’t use these drawers for anything, and that way you would have lots of room underneath for your chair, and you wouldn’t be knocking the supports or drawers with your chair when you wheel around at the speed of sound?”

“No,” he says, “I would like a desk just like this one.”

Okay, first of all, they don’t make these dinosaurs anymore. Second, I’m not buying and putting together a piece of crap so he can play demolition derby when no one is looking. And third, I actually do care about his safety and do not want death-by-desk to become our new fun game like in The Deer Hunter.

I’m on my way to get a good sturdy table, I’ll tell him I’m looking at vintage shops for a desk just like the one he has.

You just have to Laugh…………

Cathy Sikorski

What do a Pediatrician and Blanche DuBois have in common?

Fun at the Pediatric Dentist!
Fun at the Pediatric Dentist!

I have been searching for 2 years for a dentist to treat my brother-in-law, “L” who has MS. The issue is that L is wheelchair bound and cannot get out of the chair at all without the assistance of at least two people or a Hoyer Lift.

The dentist, eye doctor and any other pyhysician or medical facility that we have to go to, must have a wide enough room for him to enter, leave, turn around and be treated in. Thanks in great part to the Americans With Disabilities Act, most medical facilities have come to the place where L can be accommodated. But the dentist is a challenge.

Most dental offices here in Smalltown, USA are converted homes and even if we could get into the lobby, we can’t get into the treatment room. And on top of all that, since L can ‘t move from his chair to the dental chair, many dental offices I have contacted would not see him.

To be fair, his own dentist offered to try and get the lift from the wheelchair van to come even with the outside deck of the dental office, and then maybe we could skootch him through the glass sliding doors and into treatment. And I considered it until we had snowstorm after blizzard after ice storm.

And then L broke a tooth.

Now I had to put this into high gear.

I called the MS Society, who put me in touch with a dentist who was far away. Kindly, that dentist agreed to see him, but had no openings for 3 weeks. I called my own dentist who had no access at his office, but I thought he would have a recommendation. The first office was unable to help me. The second dentist was a pediatric dentist, so I was pretty sure that was going to be a wash. Never assume.

Pediatric Dentist, Dr. Zale, agreed to see L. We entered the office and were immediately surrounded by picture books, Legos, toys for every age, and a beautiful array of kids from toddler to teen. I told L not to smile too much because the broken canine in his mouth might scare the little ones. But those kids played around the wheelchair like it was a dining room chair at home. If the toy they wanted was on the other side of L, they just looked him straight in the eye and walked around him to play.

Dr. Zale and his staff took my brother-in-law into a very large and airy treatment room, somehow got him x-rayed and fixed him right up. There was no time to do a standard cleaning so they made an appointment for him to return before I even got back to the desk to pay. He was now their actual patient!

Six weeks later, the Jeff Gordon of wheelchair drivers, my brother-in-law, hits the high speed button on his wheelchair, bonks his head on his computer and completely breaks off the new tooth. I called Dr. Zale, they got him right in and took yet another two hours to fix that smile right up. Because it had taken longer than they expected the front desk ladies said they would just send me the bill. This is the bill I received:

No Charge per Dr. Zale..
No Charge per Dr. Zale..

Sometimes you just have to be ever so grateful for the kindness of strangers,  and

You still just have to Laugh…….

Cathy Sikorski

A Girl’s gotta’ take care of herself…..

In the vein of  every caregiver has to take time for herself, I was remembering that I started my caregiving journey over 20 years ago, first with my Nana and then with my great aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was a crotchety character, probably why she crocheted 10 hours a day. She thought she was  being crotchety but she was mixing up her letters.

I went to her house a few times a week, after my Uncle Buddy died because she only had a few nieces and nephews. Her son had sadly passed away before his parents, and her grandchildren lived far away.

Again, I was designated caregiver because as a stay-at-home mom, I had nothing else to do. Said the stay-at-home mom to no one.

Aunt Mary lived 30 minutes away and required grocery shopping, prescription pick up, supervising her cleaning lady, checking her mail and paying her bills. I took  my 3 year-old with me and it was just a few hours out of our day. But after having my Nana for two winters, and discovering I was pregnant. I was starting to feel tired, old, ugly and sad.

My husband saw the downslide and suggested we go to a fancy dinner dance at the club. Yay! A new dress, nails done, hair done, pretty, pretty, pretty me.

I hired a babysitter. I began the day with a fresh outlook. I was excited for the pampering and an evening of dining and dancing. My husband and I love to dance, and it had been a while since we danced the night away.

In the spirit of thinking everyone deserved some fun, I wore that rarely seen sexy thong underwear in the back of my dresser drawer. I kind of hate thongs. They are so darn uncomfortable. But under certain circumstances I must agree.  First, the dress looked ever so much better with no panty line. Second, my husband deserved a little fantasy. Which was probably the closest he would get to fantasy because if the evening went the way I thought it would, he would be a bit tipsy, we would both be exhausted from dancing, and we would fall into bed and be snoring a duet within minutes upon our return home.

So off to the ball we went. Cinderella (that’s me…code name caregiver) danced with her Prince Charming to every single song they played. Fast, slow, samba, mamba, polka, it didn’t matter. If music was playing, we were dancing.

Oh my, so much fun. I made sure to hydrate constantly. I was the designated driver, but I didn’t want to wake up to mommyville with a dehydration headache. At some point in time, I decided a trip to the loo was in order. I went in to the ladies room feeling, hot (as in sexy) confident, happy and just darn groovy.

I go into the stall hike up my dress, go to pull down my panties. Hmmm. I remember just then I’m wearing that darn thong, and gee, I didn’t feel the need to grab my own ass the entire night.  It is then that I see I have come across a new invention. I am wearing my ‘thong’ sideways.

Do it all the time now. Too comfortable to go back to tradition.

“You  just have to Laugh…..”

Cathy Sikorski

When wine and wheelchairs DO mix…..part deux

If you have been living in the Snowmaggedon part of the US this 2014, you know how desperately we all want sunshine and warmth. My last post was from a teeny jaunt to Florida and I was somehow lulled into thinking that going away meant being away.

Day Three: My friend and I are getting ready to go out to the extra special dinner we have planned for the trip. We are going to a five star restaurant to be wined and dined. We have been lolling in the sunshine, chatting for hours and resting in the warm, balmy air of Florida.

“Hello?” I already recognize the phone number, Chestnut Knoll at Home, and know it’s not good.

“Cathy? This is your brother-in-law’s caregivers. His wheelchair is broken in the lying back position, and we can’t get it to move. And it’s time for his dinner.”

All I can picture is the poor guy laying back like in a dentist’s chair trying to get some peas into his upside down mouth.

“Okay,” I say,” let me call the wheelchair repair guy, because this is their rental that they just brought him yesterday.”

Of course, it is 5:00. I’m in a bathrobe, wet hair, no make-up, our taxi is coming in a half-hour AND, I’m pretty sure wheelchair repair guy closes at 5:00.

I call the repair office, closed. I call the salesman in my phone that I have listed as ‘wheelchair Sean’ and leave a message. I do what every caregiver does. I call my mom.

“Mom, I left messages for the wheelchair repair guy but I don’t know if they will get back to me. The caregivers suggested we get a hospital tray and put him back in bed, but I don’t think that makes sense.”

My mom is 85 years old. A REALLY GOOD 85 years old, but I can’t picture her hustling a huge hospital tray on wheels into her car and over to my brother-in-law’s for dinner.

“Okay,” she says, I’ll just go over there and help feed him.”

I call back the caregivers at my brother-in-law’s phone but they don’t answer. I call their office and we formulate a plan for Mom to feed him now, they will feed him breakfast and hopefully the repair guy will get there before lunch and they can get him back in the chair by then.

My phone rings, I’m still in my bathrobe.

“Hi.” It’s wheelchair Sean. He gives me some simple directions on how to probably fix the chair.

I call the caregivers at my brother-in-law’s phone again. Still no answer. I call the office, give them the instructions. They call me back in 2 minutes, saying crisis averted, chair fixed.

I throw the phone at my friend and tell her to call my mom probably driving in her car and tell her to go home.

“Hello?” I hear my  Mom answer, as I’m putting on a face in the bathroom, and trying to get on underwear before the taxi gets here.

My friend says to my Mom: “You can go home, the wheelchair is fixed.”

“I can go home?” my Mom says. “Yes, go home, he’s fine,” my friend tells her.

“Okay, thanks. I’ll go home,” my Mom says, “ummm, WHO is this?” Explanations ensue.

My friend and I go to an absolutely lovely dinner where we are treated like princesses. We have a bottle of wine, oysters Rockefeller…my phone rings.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s your brother-in-law.”

“Hi, is everything ok?”

“Well, yeah, YOU called me. What did you want?”

Really?

“Oh, nothing,” I say and dive into my Pinot Grigio.

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