Tag Archives: Elderly care

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?”


“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’…”


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

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

“A girl should be two things: Classy and Fabulous” Coco Chanel

My Auntie J from Australia is  fashion plate.  At 90 years of age and barely 90 pounds, she is a wisp of a girl, who never looks anything but chic. Even her ‘sweat suits’ are more along the lines of Juicy Couture than what I wear to the gym. When I met her almost 30 years ago, she was never without a matching handbag for her beautiful and expensive shoes.  In my ignorance of thinking back then(before I realized now how young 60 really is)that this was an ‘old lady’, I was also thinking, “damn, she’s a fine old gal with great taste!”

Up until last week when we had to take her to the hospital for the first time in 25 years, she had her hair done (as a blonde…..never gray) every week, and her nails done as well. She was an extraordinary example of fine grooming, beauty, grace, and the true benefit  of “just a little lipstick, never hurts.”

So after ten days in the hospital, where she was really very, very seriously ill, we took her yesterday to a rehabilitation center. For very complex reasons, she went to a center two hours away. The ambulance drivers were two young adorable men, who treated her like their very own dear grandmother. By the time we met up with them at the end of the trip, she was holding their hands and kissing them goodbye.

She had been very concerned about the fact that she was transported in a hospital gown, but I reassured her that we would take her clothes and pretty pink nightgowns to the rehabilitation center, so she could be properly dressed there.

My husband and I have been very concerned for her health during this time and my mom, a former nurse has been right by our side the whole way, comforting, advising and just being a strong shoulder. But because my mom was a white uniform, starched hat nurse of the 40’s and 50’s, she has looked askance every day at the ‘sloppy’ nurses, aides, and technicians who have come to care for Aunt J.

“Look at that,” my mom would say.

“What?”, I ‘d reply, expecting an inept stick of the needle to draw blood, or a hospital meal that was not up to snuff.

“Look at how that nurse’s trousers are dragging on the floor, and no one has their hair up in a bun or a pony tail.”

“Well,” I say, “I guess we just have to overlook certain things when we are happy with her care.”

Of course, now I’M thinking something is terribly wrong here. And then I realize that my mom has much higher standards for dress and presentation than I, or the world, does any more.

So knowing Aunt J and her true art of dressing and personal presentation, I start to wonder if this is bothering her too. She never says anything and the following incident makes me realize that for Aunt J, it isn’t about how people look to her, it’s about how she presents herself to the world.

We get to the rehab center, and one of the last things I want to make sure of, is that Aunt J knows how to push the red button to call for help. With my mother-in-law, when she moved to assisted living, and with many stories from friends about their elders, I KNOW that this ‘pushing the button for help’ thing is somehow difficult for them to comprehend.

So I disconnect the button from the clips on the side of her bed, and make sure the cord is long enough so she can have the button at her fingertips. This particular button is like a tube with a bright red button at the top.  So you would hold it in your hand, curl your fingers around the tube, and push on the bright red circle at the top of the tube with your thumb. That would be how most people would use it, and probably the easiest way.

I bring the tube close to her, and I pantomime what I want her to learn…pushing the button. And I’m telling her, “if you need help, you push this red button.” I put the tube in her hands and tell her:

“Now you practice. If you need any help, I want you to PUSH THE BUTTON.” And again, I show her what to do.

My darling, beautiful Aunt J, shakes her head in the affirmative, looks me straight in the eye with her beautiful blue-green eyes, looks at the tube that I have placed in her hand with the bright red button on top, takes her other hand, rubs the top with her index finger and promptly ‘applies’ the beautiful shade of red lipstick I have given her to her luscious lips. Classy and Fabulous.

You just have to laugh………………….

Cathy Sikorski

O the places you’ll go……

Dignity is defined as : bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation. You can be assured that once you become a caregiver, you pretty much lose any appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.

Aunt J has returned to stay with us for a couple of weeks. I adore her. Her Aussie accent, her amazing stories from New York City in the ’50’s and ’60’s, her willingness to be snarky with me when I just want to gossip and bitch….it’s all good. But, of course, she’s 90 years old. She doesn’t come to the table with what we would call “clean hands” in the legal world. Not that her hands are dirty, but that she has baggage like every other 90 year-old, and the whole reason she kind of needs a caregiver.

I need to watch her meds, her showering (yes, I sneak up to the door and watch to make sure she doesn’t fall down or out of the shower) and make her eat because she’s barely 90 lbs. and will forget, or say she’s not hungry.

I also help her get dressed, so that I can put her pain cream on her before she gets her 47 layers of clothing on. So today we accomplished everything….showering without falling, meds without overdose, pain cream in all the right spots, and choosing an adorable outfit for the day.

We are up and atem’ and I say:

“Hey Aunt J, where are your necklaces?”

She wears several beautiful gold bracelets, necklaces and beautiful gold earrings every day. Honestly, she is one of the hottest chick 90 year olds you’d ever want to meet!

“O dear, I don’t know.  I think I left them on, I don’t remember taking them off last night.”

“Well did you bring your gold charms?”

“No, that’s broken. but I’m going to get that fixed and I still wear my other two gold chains.”

“Here are your bracelets,” I say as I hand them to her.

She jangles around looking for the necklaces, but to no avail.

So I look under the collar of her blouses, and lo and behold, I find a chain. But I can’t pull it out. It’s stuck on something.

“Wait, wait,” I tell her, “I’m trying to pull out the chains.” So I try as gently as I can, but those gold chains will not budge.

“Okay,” I tell her, ” I’m goin’ in……”. So I stick my hand down her shirt, around her neck, into her bra and around her boobs. Yep, I said it….around her boobs.  I set the chains free, and we are on our merry way.


You just have to laugh……

Cathy Sikorski



Please for crying out loud just do your job!

I am the caregiver for my surrogate brother-in-law, my friend who fell down a flight of stairs and has brain damage, and until she passed away in March, my blessed mother-in-law who was almost 97 years old. O yeah, and on occasion my husband’s adorable Aunt from Australia who goes back and forth between our house and other wonderful, caring relatives.

I have been caregiving for a very long time for various loved (and unloved) ones and ultimately turned my part-time law practice into Elder Care only so that I could help those with all that I have learned….mostly outside of the law, if you can believe it.

But I find the art and act of caregiving hard and hilarious. You just have to keep your sense of humor to keep going back day after day. I have a million stories as do all the other caregivers in this world, And hopefully, we can all help one another with information and an occasional laugh.

So today I have to take my brother-in-law( hereinafter referred to as “L” )to the doctor. Actually, I will just make sure he gets on the transport safely and then drive to the doctor and meet them there. He has MS and no use of his legs. This endeavor requires a lot of planning, phone calls, referrals and big huge posted notes on L’s TV stand because he often forgets what’s happening that day. It has to be between lunch and dinner or he misses his meal in the dining room. And, although we joke that he could STAND to miss a meal, he gets very cranky if he does. So three days before the appointment, with everything in place, I get a call from the Doctor’s office :

“Hello, this is the Doctor’s office, call us back immediately”

Oh crap, I think, they are going to cancel and that is a nightmare to unscheduled and RE-schedule everything. I’ll try and call back ASAP between my job, my own appointments and just general living.

“Hello?” I say, this is Cathy returning your call about L”.

“Why are you calling?” says the Doctor’s office.

“Because you told me to”.

“Oh, ok wait just a minute please.”

Holding, holding, holding, holding…I could have cleaned my entire kitchen by now.

“Oh yes, well was he here last week?”

“No”, I say, “he is coming in on Thursday”.

“Well, it’s been THREE OR FOUR MONTHS AND HE MUST SEE THE DOCTOR EVERY THREE OR FOUR MONTHS!” ,she says to me very briskly.

“Ummm, ok? Well, like I just told you, he will BE THERE ON THURSDAY!”

“O, Ok, thank you”. She says and hangs up.

Really? You didn’t see that on your computer? You had to take precious time out of my day to yell at me and then just say ok???? Really, before you called me you couldn’t check to see if he had an appointment in THREE DAYS?????/

Please for crying out loud SOMEBODY, just do your job.