And why I’ve been away so much. This started about three weeks ago, when my Mom went in to see the oncologist for her biopsy results, and the staff didn’t think that her shortness of breath and loss of consciousness was simply stress. They sent her to the emergency room, and I got a call that if I didn’t come to pick up my Dad, he’d be picked up by a long-term care facility and they might not release him to my Mom because she was so sick. Talk about incentive. I hadn’t finished doing laundry, so I went down with whatever I had to wear, my medications, and an aerobed.
Turns out, she’d been having these problems for a while (and, of course, downplayed them so nobody would be concerned) and it was a pulmonary embolism. A small one, but I don’t think size really matters much. Thank goodness they insisted. But here’s where the fun begins. You see, Dad has been declining mentally for several years, and his condition is another thing Mom has been downplaying. The reasons are numerous and complex, and I’m not going to get into too much detail because that’s outside of this narrative. Since Mom’s got atrial fibrillation and has been on blood thinners, which she stopped so she could get her biopsy (Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, treatable with chemo) it became kind of complex to get her clotting factor right at the same time as they broke up the clot in her lung – and while she was there, they wanted to install a chemo port and give her her first treatment.
This meant over a week in the hospital for her.
This meant over a week of caring for my Dad by myself.
At this point, my new meds had not kicked in, I was still having panic attacks, and I was trying to process a whole bunch of information without the benefit of Adderall, either. And my Dad’s dementia is. . .bad. Looking at the description of a seven-stage progression, he’s between five and six, and awfully close to entirely stage six. After just a couple of days with him, taking him back and forth to the hospital and then being yelled at later for not having told him Mom was in the hospital, not being able to do anything except have the same conversations with him over and over without him getting upset that I wasn’t engaging him, being awakened at all hours of the night and early in the morning either because he was wandering the house (sometimes on his way outdoors) or waking me up to ask where Mom was, I was really on edge. I texted my sister and asked if she could relieve me for the weekend, and, bless her heart, she showed up on Thursday night. Not only did it help me out enormously, but I now had someone else to corroborate my story about his condition.
Things were relatively OK, but then Mom called me on a Saturday to tell me that Dad was in the hospital – this was his second time, but his first one (a couple of weeks prior to Mom’s for the embolism) she didn’t tell me anything until he was home. This time, she really shouldn’t have been driving, but she would have if we hadn’t come down, so hubby and I headed down on Sunday to take her to visit Dad. We got her a wheelchair to take her around the hospital, because she needed it. Dad was really out of it, sleeping slouched in a chair when we arrived, so we went and got lunch. When we came back, nothing had changed, and Mom found that she couldn’t wake him up, that he muttered a few incoherent things, and we realized that his arms and legs were ice cold.
When we called the nurse and they realized that they couldn’t get his blood pressure, we were shooed out of the room, and soon there were more doctors and nurses than could even fit. They moved him to the bed, and tried to get a chest x-ray, but he was uncooperative and physically fighting them off. They figured that in addition to the one infection he had, he probably also had pneumonia, so they began an IV drip of antibiotics for that. He was conscious when we finally got back into the room, but nothing he said made any sense.
Once we knew he was out of danger (because we were pretty worried for a while) we brought Mom home. I called her the next day, and she had spoken to him, and he was doing better, but still thought he was being held in a jail for something. She had no idea if she actually had someone to give her a ride to her second chemo appointment, so I figured I would drive her myself and then go to the hospital to see if they could just care for him for a couple more days – because even this had not been enough for her to actually get a home health aide or a visiting nurse. I knew that there was no way that she could care for him and keep him out of danger while recovering from an infusion.
So this is where it gets dramatic.
I slept badly, of course, and set off a little before 6:30AM to pick her up. I went in with her to speak with the oncologist and we discussed, frankly, the reality that she would not be able to care for Dad by herself, and I think that hearing it from the doctor lent it credibility that it didn’t have coming from me. She agreed that as much as she wanted Dad to be able to stay at home with her, it was in her best interest that he be cared for around the clock somewhere else for at least a little while when she was feeling like crap.
I got Mom settled in with her pillow and blanket and book, and headed out to the hospital. I went to the nurses’ station, trying to keep out of his sight so I could speak to them without upsetting him. They shocked the heck out of me by announcing that they had been calling all morning because it was time to release him! I explained that this was really, really, really bad timing, because my Mom would be hooked up to chemo drips until at least 4PM, and I couldn’t take him to the oncologist’s office OR leave him home alone. Well, they told me, the papers had already been signed, so I’d have to take him and do one or the other. No room for negotiating.
The social worker was at the desk, and I asked her if he could stay. No. Are there any short-term places he can go? No, he doesn’t qualify for short-term rehab, so he’d have to go into long-term care, and then he’d be there permanently. I didn’t want to place him somewhere permanently, and I especially didn’t want to be the one responsible for placing him permanently, against my Mom’s wishes. I asked if I could speak to the doctor who signed the release. (n.b., at this point, my Dad has not seen me, but he no longer has a guard in the room – he’s all by himself, seated on a pad that sounds an alarm every time he gets up, at which point, nurses rush in and make him sit down again.)
The doctor comes out, and I have to say, I have not been treated so condescendingly or disrespectfully by a doctor in close to 20 years. I’m not naming the hospital or the doctor – I’m going to write to them, I don’t need them to have a bunch of people descending angrily upon them, because my anger should be just about all they can handle! I tried to explain to him that Mom was getting chemo all day, I live an hour and a half drive away, Dad’s dementia makes it impossible for her to care for him while she’s dealing with her own treatments, and isn’t there some way he can just keep Dad there for even one more day? He gives me the same line about either I take him home, or he gets committed permanently and there’s no way he’ll ever come home, and he’s a professional gerontologist and I should know that Dad’s mental condition will decline rapidly if he goes into a home and I’ll be responsible for giving him a death sentence.
That’s when I threw out the names of the other doctors with whom I had consulted who agreed that he needed nursing care while mom was sick (GP as well) and suddenly he’s all “Oh, I know them. Good doctors. Well, I wish you luck,” and then walked away with a smile as if he had not just implied that I don’t care if my father dies in a nursing home.
Believing I had no choice and needing to do something quickly, because Dad was beginning to get really angry with the alarms and the nurses and such, I arranged for a liaison from the home closest to my parents’ house to start the admission process. Dad had seen me at this point, so I had to sit with him for a bit, but I needed to call Mom and it’s impossible to make a phone call with Dad there because he gets upset if you’re talking but not to him. Of course, he tried to follow me out, and the alarm went off, and the nurses came, and he was fighting and yelling.
Down the hall, I tried Mom’s cell phone, but she didn’t have it or it wasn’t on, so I called the main number for the oncologist. The receptionist passed the message, and shortly after, I was talking to Mom about what I had been forced to do and why – then she passed the phone to one of the nurses and the oncologist’s social worker. They were pretty furious, because I’d been lied to. Yes, my only option was a nursing home, but it wasn’t a prison. We could take him out any time.
Trying to explain this to my Dad was an awful experience. He didn’t get the concept – of anything. He forgot who I was. He was angry because he’d been kept alone in this room for so long and didn’t understand why this alarm kept going off and why nobody would let him walk around. He was tired of waiting around to go visit whomever he thought he was visiting, because he didn’t remember that he was the patient. When the rep from the nursing home arrived, she was wonderful. It was obvious that she understood how to handle people with memory issues, and had the patience of a saint. She figured out the one thing that caught my Dad’s full attention – he wanted to take care of Mom. She told him that he was going to need to build up his strength so he could do that, so he was going to stay in this place and do physical therapy every day until he was ready to be Mom’s caregiver. And when she saw that I would tell him what was happening and then he’d get mad because nobody had told him this was happening, over and over again, she told me that the hospital social worker needed to see me so I should say goodbye to him. It got me out of the room, and Dad accepted it – but nobody actually wanted to talk to me. She just knew that was the only way to disengage.
I went back and stayed with Mom until her chemo was done. I hadn’t had anything to eat, so I was given some crackers and coffee by the oncology nurse. When the chemo was done, I went out to pick up Mom’s prescriptions while she packed clothes for Dad. I got back, and she was on the phone with Dad, explaining to him that he needed to get strong so he could take care of her. The moment they hung up, my sister called. I may have been a bit abrupt (sorry, Jen!) but I had been up since 4:30, had eaten nothing but those crackers since 6AM, and still had to drive to the home and drop off the clothes and pick up dinner from the diner.
The home was nicer than some, not as nice as others, but the staff was good, and nobody was restrained. Dad wanted me to take him on a tour, and this was just not an option at this point. Fortunately, a staffer was approaching us, and I asked her if she could show him around. She agreed, and I said my goodbyes. Picked up food. Ate. Drove home, got there about 10:30.
A couple of days later, I called Mom. She’s talked with Dad, and he thinks this place is pretty luxe, and he’s doing physical therapy so he can come home. She, meanwhile, has been able to sleep whenever she needs to and for as long as she wants, and get sick without Dad trying to “help” her. She didn’t want him to be taken away from home, but for the moment, things seem to be working out, and that takes a huge weight off my mind.