I was doing so amazing, blogging away every week and then I stopped. Why? Life just blew up. Work got intense, I overcommitted on a few things and my parents had a few medical emergencies that required my time.
My poor old dad, who has fought bladder cancer and polycystic kidney disease for more than a decade, and is now wrestling with Alzheimer’s, had what was deemed to be a very aggressive tumor removed and that led to a lot of problems. He’s doing better now, but a few things I learned from all of this.
- Question your doctor. We all say this and no one really does it, because it’s hard and expensive and insurance doesn’t cover it. But, what we discovered when it was all said and done, was there were complications with this surgery that were considered common and we were not really prepared for that. It just felt like the follow up care wasn’t very thorough, even when we called to say that things didn’t seem right.
- Listen to your instincts. When your elderly person seems to be acting strangely or seems to be suddenly deteriorating, don’t depend on him to tell you he’s not feeling quite right. This is even more important when they have dementia. They just can’t express it anymore. DYK? If your elderly person starts acting really loopy, more loopy than they normally do, that they aren’t crazy? They probably have a UTI. The looniness is the only symptom. This leads me to …
- Tune in to your elderly person. They can’t necessarily process what they feel any more. It helps if you have raised a child recently. You have to think about it in those terms. The latest example: last time I visited Dad, he told me he didn’t have a toothbrush. I went into his bathroom, found a toiletry bag under the sink in his new bathroom and lo and behold, two toothbrushes. I put one, with the toothpaste, on the sink. He’s just like my daughter in that he’s a visual learner. So, if you put it in a bag under the sink, it no longer exists to him. And, he’s no longer able to process “hey, maybe it’s been put away, under the sink, in this toiletry bag.”
- Your reality doesn’t matter any more. If they tell you the sky is green, well then sure, the sky is green why not. My dad has told me stories about buying an old Karman Ghia that he’s going to fix up and repair. This is never ever going to happen, but it made for a conversation. Why not give him a few minutes to fantasize about fixing up an old car? What else is he going to talk about? Watching Judge Judy that afternoon?
- Treat those nurses right. First, they deserve it because they are doing hard, emotional work and they are doing it for too many patients. Second, they’re taking care of your challenging elderly person. Fortunately, my father is still a sweet old man and boy did those nurses love him. They REALLY watched out for him and the fact that they were happy to see him made my dad happy to see them too.
- Be there for your elderly person. Fortunately, I have a job and a manager that allowed me to take some time off, frequently without a lot of notice, to sit with dad and make sure he was OK. It feels like you’re not doing anything. Take some knitting, take a book, take an iPad. Even if you’re just sitting there watching them sleep, it means something to them. Seriously. At one point, I was sharing with Dad all the folks that had sent well wishes via FB and he grabbed my hand and held it for a good ten minutes. He felt loved and that was huge.
- Take care of yourself too. The dark secret is that I only went up to the hospital every other day. On the off days, I depended on others to visit instead. This kept me from burning out and keeping up with the kid and my own health. Since he was in the hospital for nearly a month and in the nursing home for nearly three weeks, pacing was important.
- Keep your community informed. They want to know. I put it on FB and I’ve had more people tell me they were grateful for the updates. I’ve had others that live far away and don’t know my father who have been wonderfully supportive and interested because they’ve been there themselves. And, I’ve had people come from all over to help out. The flip side: reading those names and messages to your elderly person makes them feel like someone still cares. The hospital can be a lonely place.
Thoughts? Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did as I’m still learning.
(BTW, Dad is OK for now. He’s moved to assisted living, where I’m grateful people are looking out for him and taking care of him.)