21 April 2015
Yesterday, my doorbell rang a few minutes after one o'clock and in walked lovely Olga. Olga is an RN with Lower Cape Fear Hospice and she breezes in with a warm smile, stylish shoes and an air of confidence. When I found out she was from Moscow and had visited St. Petersburg and we realized we shared a deep interest in Russian History and particularly the Romanav Dynasty, we became fast friends.
Olga introduced herself to my Mom and Dad and proceeded to give them one of the most thorough going overs that would rival that of any physician. She checked blood pressures in BOTH arms, listened to the arterial blood flow in my Mom's neck and knew even before I told her that my mom had carotid artery disease. Olga was a splendid blend of professionalism and kindness and as I watched her examine my parents from head to toe, I felt such comfort having this woman in our home, particularly taking care of two folks who are very precious to me.
As Olga was giving my Dad a thorough check up, the doorbell rang again and in walked Patty, who is our new Certified Nursing Assistant. I watched as Olga and Patty exchanged hugs and then proceeded to work together and I realized we have an amazing team (or flock?) of angels. Patty explained she was here to meet my parents and wanted to know about things like personal care, showers, and examine the bathroom to see if everything was in order. When she decided our shower chair was nowhere close to her safety standards, she and Olga put in an order for a shower chair with arms and sturdy legs.
While these women were discussing my parents' care, the door bell rang yet again and voila! It was a medical supply delivery man bringing in two shiny new rollator walkers, a bed side toilet and Olga and Patty quickly asked him if he had a shower chair on the truck. He did, in fact, but it wasn't the one they wanted so the new one was just delivered a few minutes ago and is quite impressive.
After Olga's examinations, she and Patty took my parents into the living room with their new walkers and they taught my parents about the hand breaks, the folding seats and how to make full use of their new conveyances. I stepped back and watched and I was so deeply touched by their attitude of caring, compassion, humor and encouragement as they worked at converting my Dad to the idea that his cane was no longer adequate. My Mom was an easy and eager convert - she LOVED that her new walker rolled easily and had a seat to rest on. Dad took a little more convincing but from watching Olga, I could tell she was up to the challenge and knew her way around a stubborn customer.
After a few test "walks", Olga came over to me and told me that she was ordering some cough syrup for my Dad and some allergy medicine for my Mom. I asked her where I should pick these up and she smiled and said FedEx would be delivering them to me today and that the cost was covered by Medicare.
Patty came over and told me we were now on her Tuesday and Thursday schedule for showers and that she would shave my Dad's ever growing beard. Thank God. He just isn't the beard type and the last time he tried it, he forgot that he had popped the stopper in the sink, left the water running and flooded the bathroom.
Olga will be coming over again on Friday to do a check up and both women reassured me that if anything came up day or night, help was only a phone call away and they made sure I had the big purple magnet on the fridge with the 24/7 help line.
No sooner had we said goodbye to Olga and Patty when the doorbell rang again and in walked Kim. Kim is our assigned social worker and she came bearing a different kind of assistance and information. Kim and I sat down at the kitchen table and her queries were for me - "How was I doing, what were my biggest concerns and how did I feel about everything?"
I took a deep breath and I went on to explain that this was all very new, and that after going it alone for so long, it was going to take a little while to get used to the extra help, but it was a welcome adjustment to make. She was interested in the history of the relationship with my parents, how it came to be that they were living here and she wanted to know how I was coping with being "shut in" with my "shut ins".
On that note, she told me she was putting in a request for hospice volunteers to come and spend some time with my parents for a few hours a week to give me a breather - a chance to go to the grocery store without feeling as if I was on a wild frenzy to collect everything in my cart before some buzzer rang at the end of twenty minutes. Or perhaps a couple of hours to go to the beach and walk and breathe and unwind. Oh my God how I've needed some "free time" - time away from home without worrying myself sick that people were falling, ashes were popping out of my dad's pipe setting something on fire or someone had left a door open and the dogs had taken off. I honestly can't remember the last time I've been able to be away from this house without all those worries. I also told her I couldn't remember the last time I was in the house alone - and upon further reflection, I realized it has been years. YEARS!!!! I don't even remember what that feels like.
Kim and I chatted for about an hour and it was so REFRESHING to speak with someone who truly understood what I was talking about and how wickedly crazy the life of a 24/7 caregiver is. I didn't realize how dearly I needed to talk with someone who really "got it". It was a release for me. She gave me some additional information on caregiver resources and she popped in my parents room to introduce herself for a few minutes and then she turned back to me and explained she would be back to visit next week - and I am looking forward to it. It's a wonderful thing to be able to speak to another person who understands the landscape.
After all of our visits were finished, I indulged in a long, lovely phone chat with my dear friend Jayne. We had some catching up to do. Jayne herself went through all of this a year ago with her sister and just last week, she and her husband had to say goodbye to their dear sweet chocolate lab, Mocha. He had developed an age-related condition that progressed faster than anyone had expected and it was a very difficult week for Jayne and her husband.
During the course of our phone conversation, my Dad came outside and beckoned me inside. He said he had to give me something and it was very important. I told him I would be right in as soon as I was finished with my phone call, but about ten minutes later he came looking for me again, asking me to come inside. I asked Jayne to hold on and followed him into this room. There, on his desk, he had several pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters - all grouped neatly in currency groups and he said, "Here, your Mom and I want you to have this - all of it." It must have been all of about $8 in change. I looked at a piece of paper he was holding in his trembling hand and saw that he was trying to figure out exactly how much money was there.
"Here - there are fifteen nickels in this group - do you know how much that is?" I thought he was teasing me, but I played along and answered, "seventy five cents".
"Really?", my Dad earnestly asked? "How much is a nickel worth?". I felt my knees buckle.
My dad who spent his career as an accountant and knew figures inside and out, no longer understood the monetary value of a nickel. As I realized he was sincere and it was very important to him to give me this change, as soon as he calculated just how much it was, my heart broke in a few deep places. I never imagined a day when my Dad wouldn't have the ability to calculate ANYTHING, much less wonder what a nickel was worth.
After I finished my phone conversation with Jayne, I went back into my parents room and my Dad was still diligently counting pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. He had a scrap piece of paper in his hand and there were calculations. I glanced down at the numbers he'd scrawled and all of the question marks he'd placed when he couldn't come up with the right answers.
So many pieces are missing...fading away. The deficits are becoming so much more pronounced and I'm so grateful to have angels like Olga, Patty, Kim and Susan (the weekend RN) to steady all of us as the losses accumulate.
It's such a long, painful goodbye.