Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts on Thanksgiving With Both Parents in the Pokey

Thanksgiving greetings from my elderly triage center in Northern California.

I had to take a break from blogging to attend to the latest Crisis of the Elderly Parents: Mom fell at 6:30 Tuesday morning and is now in the hospital.

Naturally it is never as simple as that. She called me after she fell and I rushed over and called 911. They took her to the ER and X-Rayed her and said she hadn't broken anything and sent her home. I got her some strong pain pills and put her on the couch and gave her something to eat and a pain pill, with strict instructions to stay put. Then I went up the hill to visit Dad who has pancreatic cancer and lost five pounds last week in nursing care.

When I checked back in with Mom, she was in the fetal position, calling out in pain. How could this be, I asked myself? She's always dramatic when she is ill, so I wasn't sure what to think. Her doctor prescribed some even stronger pain pills and said if they didn't work she would have to go to the hospital. On Wednesday morning, since she was still in the fetal position and crying out, I called 911 again and took her to the hospital. After all day in the ER (Such fun! And I could have been defrosting the turkey!) they decided to admit her. She spent Thanksgiving Day on morphine in the hospital.

She didn't like visiting Dad in nursing care anyway.

"I hope you aren't planning to let her live by herself anymore," the physician said to me on the telephone yesterday. Oh sure, I said to myself. My mother always does exactly as we tell her. Instead of saying this I said to him, "Oh, you are so right. My family wouldn't think of allowing that."

We'd like Mom to go from the hospital to the bed next to Dad in the nursing home. Not that Mom will go there. But we continue to dream of the triumph of hope over experience.

Entrance to skilled nursing center and location of parent #1.

Meanwhile, back at the nursing home, my father has had a good week. He's been eating well, sleeping well and has gradually adjusted to his new living arrangements and the regular routine we've established.

I arrive at 7:40 a.m. to help him with his breakfast. I enter the dining room behind his chair and scratch his back, and, without turning his head he says, "That's Robin."

Yesterday he said, "I was hoping you would come. And I said to myself if she doesn't come, I'm going to cut her off."

This morning, I kissed him on the cheek and he said, "That's worth a million dollars. Bet you'd like to have it now, too." He hasn't yet heard we're spending his fortune on his care, but oh well. I told him it was raining outside and he smiled and said, "I have a plan." What's that, I asked? "I'm going to let it rain," he said.

He may have dementia, total hearing loss, terminal cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, can't walk or feed himself, but he hasn't lost his personality nor the quirky way he looks at the world.

Speaking of which, last night at the hospital Mom tried to get out of bed on her own and fell again, then pulled out both of her catheters, which in the case of the Foley catheter was quite a difficult task because it involved both her bladder and a balloon.

A rainy day outside Silicon Valley's newest hospital: location of parent #2.

"I can't understand why she would behave like this," my sister said to me after speaking with the nurse this morning. "She's being so naughty."

"Why should she stop now, just because she is sick," I asked. People don't really change much, no matter their situation. Mom has always had a very strong personality and does not take direction from anyone, especially doctors. She has been very unhappy with Dad in nursing care. She wouldn't agree to move out of the house, but she obviously hated living there alone. She's had one ailment after another in the month he's been gone that has kept her from visiting him. Something is clearly hurting in her--whether it is mind, body, or both we don't yet know.

So on Thanksgiving Day, as I shuttled between the two of them, I realized I had a lot to be thankful for. I moved back to California just in time. Just in time to be here when they both fell apart and actually needed me, for the first time in their lives. And though I missed my friends the Seymours and their annual Thanksgiving feast, full of the fascinating and witty characters at their table, I knew I was lucky. Both my parents were safe and having their own kind of fun. Mom, playing Camille and having an audience at Silicon Valley's Newest Hospital (which looks like NY's Four Seasons Hotel inside) and Dad cracking jokes at the world, and imagining his daughter loves him only for his money, which, by the way, the thrifty Scotsman had always planned on taking with him. And which, in a way, is exactly what he is doing.

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Bob Liddle said...

And I thought I had a great Thanksgiving! :)

Polly and Thad said...

So appreciated your Thanksgiving phone call and your reference in this column. LOVE your old postcards, too! Thinking of you hard and with much love during these sad and trying days. Polly and Thad

Robin Chapman said...

I'm hoping it will be twice as much fun having both parents incarcerated at the Big Fancy Nursing Home on the Hill. Then I plan on taking a 'round-the-world cruise. Ha!