Saturday, July 14, 2012

Getting Psyched

Trying to understand the psyche of an elderly person is nearly impossible in my experience.  Their ability to reason has taken a detour from it's normal route.  My parents have been here for a little over 3 years and we have had to weather all sorts of situations.  In a sense, we had to find a "rhythm" for being here all together.  Once we got into a groove, so to speak, we had less outbursts and more harmony.  Getting to that point was at times quite a struggle.  One of the struggles was over the issue of their safety.

Bill & Mary Beth still lived in my childhood home in Bexley, Ohio in 2008. I felt it was dangerous for them to remain there because it had 4 floors which meant 3 sets of stairs.  Their bedroom was on the 2nd floor, kitchen on the 1st floor and the washer & dryer was in the basement.  They would have to maneuver stairs at least once or twice a day and that was unacceptable to me.  Both of them have had balance issues starting 9 years ago when my father suddenly fell ill in the Winter 2003.   I drove to Ohio to help my mom while he was hospitalized in January 2004.  (I ended up traveling to Ohio 6 times that year!)  While he was in the hospital he became less and less mobile to the point that he could not walk at all.  The hospital staff was flummoxed.  No one could figure out what had caused it.  As a result, he was discharged to a rehab facility so that he could receive physical & occupational therapy several times a day.  It was during the rehab stay when he first started using a walker.  It was also the beginning of  his change in gait.  He resisted using the walker once he was able to stand without falling, but relented in using a cane after he fell several times.  Watching him go across a room was similar to watching a toddler learning to walk.  Very unsure, wobbly and unpredictable.  He would habitually leave the cane behind and attempt to cross the room by grabbing hold of anything within reach.  Unsecured bookshelves, floor lamps, end tables and china cabinets were some of the things he'd grab if he felt unsteady.  All the grabbing of air, stumbling through rooms and falling never seemed to be enough to convince my father to heed the doctors' orders about using walking aids, though.

My mother has had problems with balance as a result of her feet becoming more gnarled over the years. I find this incredible because she had foot surgery in the 70's.  I think her condition now is directly linked to the high heels she always wore after the surgeries.  When she walks she shuffles and as a result she can't move quickly.  In February 2012 she broke her shoulder outside her doctor's office.  I guess if you re going to fall the best place to do it is at the doctor's office!  She had received a walker in January, but she didn't want to use it outside the house.  She said it was because the doctor's office was cramped, but we knew she just didn't want people to see her using it.  So there she was with my dad walking out to the car.  My dad was using a cane.  It was like the blind leading the blind.  I had gone to get the car to pick them up at the curb, first mistake.  I  did not get out of the car when I pulled up, second mistake. I didn't insist on them walking to the ramp, third mistake.  She came over toward the car and stepped off the curb and kept going down, down against the open door and landed between the car and the door.  I watched in horror when she fell.  I swear it was in slow-motion.  My dad said without any affect, "oh, dear".  I'm not kidding.  His wife is lying on the asphalt and he says, "oh, dear" as an after thought, just in case I missed that my mother had taken a dive and lay on the ground!  The nurses and her doctor were there immediately.  I was actually quite calm.  I knew she was in good hands.  Plus, falling is pretty routine with my parents.  One or the other falls in any given month.  I learned while raising children that you temper your reactions to minimize the child's fear when something happens to them.  When you jump up and run to a fallen child it scares them more than if you wait to see if they are injured first, then go to them.  I follow the same guideline with my parents because they don't need some drama queen fussing about nothing.  She was loaded onto a gurney and as she was being rolled to the ambulance she looked unfazed still wearing her ever present sunglasses.  I remember thinking how even now she holds appearance as a priority!

As a result of falling my mother received a wheelchair that my father now pushes.  It serves two purposes.  One good, one bad.  On the one hand my dad is forced to walk with assistance when pushing her around, but on the other hand she has become even less mobile than before she fell.  She already spent 80% of her time lying in bed because, as she puts it, "that's where I do all my stuff".  Just as we tried to get my father to use his cane or walker, we try without success to get through to my mother about spending so much time in the bed.  On occasion she will come out to the living room to watch TV.  She will always bring attention to us that she is doing so.  Just to prove we are wrong about her always being in the bed!  Sometimes she has him bring her in the wheelchair which isn't really the same as her walking.   They will both use walkers if my father is feeling particularly shaky.   They come into a room  hunched over their walkers as if in some sort of old people parade.  And just in case you didn't notice the sound and sight of it, one of them announces, "here comes the train!"   I don't dare say anything.  I WANT them to use the walkers!!  My dad finally understands his need to walk with assistance.  Now if I could just figure out a way to get Mary Beth out of that bed...

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