Diary of a Caregiver
When his wife's ailing parents moved in, everything changed.
Second of four parts.
by John Catsis
Editor's note: When Silver City author John Catsis' in-laws, Harry and Vera, moved from San Antonio, Texas, so Catsis and his wife could care for them, he began keeping a diary. He shared the first part last issue, and the story continues here.
May 5, 2012
Special day. Cinco de Mayo, Buddha's birthday, and most important, my wife Connie's birthday, 67. Vera had me buy Connie a strawberry/rhubarb pie and flowers to mark the day. I'd gotten Connie a small window air conditioner for her art studio. Harry forgot the day.
May 7, 2012
For the first time in weeks Vera left the house. She accompanied Harry to see the podiatrist, as a follow-up to his toenail removal. While Connie was parking the car, Vera asked why Connie was not in the waiting room with us. "She doesn't like you anymore," I said. Once again I had made a joke without thinking. How would she react?
Minutes later Vera decided she'd had enough of people, and announced she would wait in the car. Uh-oh, I thought. My heedless comment had affected her, after all. Fortunately, as I learned later, I was wrong. She probably hadn't heard me. And when I confessed to Connie what I had said, she roared with laughter. "You've got to put this in your diary," she said. So here it is.
The doctor pronounced Harry's right big toe healing nicely, with no further checkups required.
When I gave Harry the morning paper, I asked how he was doing. "Not well," he replied. Then he went on to indicate that he was ready for his life to end, wishing he had a pistol with which to do it. That's the first time he's said something like this.
May 13, 2012
On this Mother's Day Connie invited her mom to join us for dinner on our deck. Vera was not in a good mood. During the meal, when I mentioned her nephew, Steve, she bristled, and indicated she had no use for him. Interesting, because it was Steve, and his helper, Juan, who cleared all of Harry's many vehicles from a rental property last year, saving $300 a month in rent. Over the years, Harry had collected more than 40 vehicles of various types, all requiring extensive repairs, most of which were never completed. Steve's cleanup of this collection had been a herculean task. At the same time he also supervised the repair of the roof and replacement of the fascia boards on their residence. But because this work had not been done on a schedule that would have satisfied Vera, she was angry.
Later, I talked to Connie about this, and asked if she'd noticed any change in her mother. "Not really," was the reply, "except mom told me she was now getting tired of taking care of Harry."
Connie also said her mother was talking more about going to Air Force Village, a retirement facility in San Antonio. Six months ago, that was out of the question. Connie sees this as a transition from anger to acceptance.
May 22, 2012
Harry could not find his penis in order to urinate. He told Vera it had retracted into his body. She couldn't find it, either. Connie called Hospice, who told her someone would be over within the hour to insert a catheter.
May 29, 2012
This morning, I was seated at my computer when I heard Vera approaching, commenting about being "pissed off." As she entered, I asked her who she was pissed off at. "You," she said angrily. The scowl was unmistakable.
She claimed to have overheard me saying I planned to charge her daughter and daughter's husband rent during their stay here next week, while we went on a trip to Taos. I told her that wasn't true. Connie, standing at the doorway, confirmed my statement.
"I know what I heard," Vera said loudly. "I'm not stupid." The exchange of words became louder, as she continued to insist that she heard me correctly. Finally, I found myself shouting, "It's not true."
Connie explained that we had prepared a seven-page set of instructions for them during their stay. Vera dismissed the instructions as unnecessary. But before she stormed from my office, I handed her a copy.
An hour later I encountered Vera at the fridge, getting ice. "Hey, I want to talk to you, John," she said loudly.
Here we go again, I thought. "Those instructions you prepared were quite good," she said. "I'm sorry for what I said." It didn't sound like a full-fledged apology, but I would not let the moment pass.
"Your apology is accepted," I replied, putting my arm around her. The crisis had ended. But for how long?
June 2, 2012
Vera wants to go home. Never mind that Harry is in no condition to travel. Never mind that Vera is incapable of running a home by herself. Never mind that she is now beginning to become more and more disorganized. Never mind that she cannot fully care for her husband. Never mind that Connie prepares meals for her parents and oversees medical and hospice care and does their shopping, jobs that take up most of her waking day. Never mind all that.
Vera wants to go home. Connie does not disagree. What good would it do to argue? Harry told Connie he was also ready and prepared to drive. All this can change quickly. Who knows?
June 7, 2012
We leave for Taos today! Both Connie and I are excited.
June 15, 2012
We are back and everyone is alive. From what we have been able to gather, the week went smoothly. It appears Harry and Vera were well taken care of.
June 21, 2012
Daniel Franchette, a Hospice case nurse, visited Harry today. Afterward, Connie and I had a long talk with him. Two points stuck with us. First, he believes Harry has dementia, not Alzheimer's, and second, Harry seems to be improving, which may result in "graduation." That means Hospice will no longer take care of him. Something called "home care" then takes over, also covered by Medicare. As Daniel explained, Hospice is preparing for one's death. Home care is for restoring one's health. A patient can be rotated in and out of Hospice, apparently any number of times.
July 5, 2012
Harry officially was graduated from Hospice today. Daniel came to our home with the paperwork. As part of the "graduation ceremony," Connie was required to return the morphine Hospice had left with her. The contents were poured into a small plastic bag containing sand, rendering the medication useless. Daniel took it with him. As he walked out the door I heard Connie remark, "Hospice people are angels." Daniel probably heard her.
July 9, 2012
It's my birthday. Harry and Vera joined Connie and me on our deck for a birthday breakfast, complete with cinnamon rolls that Vera had baked that morning. They repeated their desire to return to Texas. Connie has told them she will take them soon after her final eye appointment in Tucson, which is scheduled for July 25.
The trip to Texas would be in early August. And what could be more wonderful than San Antonio in August?
July 11, 2012
Harry fell twice today. The first time was when he was out on our deck, chatting with a volunteer. Because of a recent case of soreness and raw skin on his buttocks, brought on by bed sores, Harry decided to change chairs. In the process, he fell, skinning a knee. Fortunately the volunteer was able to get Harry back on his feet.
That evening he fell again, when he decided to get out of bed to return a newspaper to a bookshelf. I was not home, which meant Connie and Vera had to work together to get him up and into bed. The brunt of the work was up to Connie. At one time Vera might have helped. Thirty years ago she had lifted a car that slipped off a jack, pinning Harry underneath. Vera's effort probably saved his life.
Tonight's fall injured Harry's back and caused cuts on a toe and finger. Connie bandaged the wounds and provided a heating pad for his back.
When I returned home, Connie had just finished helping her dad. "I now believe he needs to be in a nursing home," she told me later, then adding: "I can't believe I just said that. I'm a grownup now, but after seven months of living with my parents I feel I am reverting to a 13-year-old again. I'm not. I've got to buck up."
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