Diary of a Caregiver
When his wife's ailing parents moved in, everything changed.
Last of four parts.
by John Catsis
Nov. 9, 2012
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. Begun in our August issue, the story concludes here.
Busy day. Getting ready for what could actually be a trip to Texas in three days. Connie and I go into town to do some last-minute shopping.
"I've got to stop by the Verizon store for a minute," Connie informs me. "Mom washed Dad's cell phone with the laundry and it doesn't work."
The Verizon clerk said that kind of problem is usually resolved with a fresh battery. So we tried a new one. No soap. Or should I say too much soap. "Why does Harry need a phone, anyway? He never uses it."
"It's his intercom," Connie explained. "It's how he keeps in touch with Mom when he needs something."
"How about getting one of those air horns at a party shop?" I offered. "It does the same thing." After all, Vera doesn't always wear her hearing aids, and even then, a cell-phone ring can be difficult to hear. An air horn, she can't miss. Even though Connie liked the idea, it didn't happen.
Nov. 10, 2012
Once again, Harry offered to help Connie drive to San Antonio. That must never happen. As far as I'm concerned, Harry should never drive again. Connie gave in once last year, and when I heard about it, I was quite upset.
This time, her response was: "You haven't been checked out yet." That's an aviation term that Harry would understand. A pilot who hasn't flown for a while, or is going to fly a new aircraft, must first go through a check ride with a licensed instructor.
Nov. 11, 2012
Connie came into my room this evening and asked if I had a spare watch I could give her dad for the trip.
"What's wrong with the watch he had?" I asked.
"Mom washed it along with the cell phone the other day, and it doesn't work, either."
Nov. 12, 2012
It's our scheduled departure day. But once again, neither Harry nor Vera feels well enough to travel. Both have taken to their beds. Perhaps tomorrow.
Nov. 13, 2012
We're off! The time is 9:45, earlier than I would have expected. Connie and I created a space in the back of the Honda CR-V, by folding down one of the rear seats. In this cramped area, she packed a bunch of sleeping bags and other bedding where Harry spent the entire trip, never once getting out, even to urinate. He accomplished that feat, he told me, by lying on his back and holding his pee bottle between his legs. I didn't think that was possible, but at a rest stop he handed me a partially filled bottle to empty. We made the trip in just under 14 hours, with no problems. Vera seemed a little uncomfortable in the back seat, but did not complain. Too bad the rear seat doesn't recline, like in some newer cars.
We arrived at their home just before midnight. The house seemed just as I had last seen it, except for the elk head. It was gone. We knew Connie's sister, Laurene, had given it to some organization to hang in its lodge hall. Harry had shot the animal back in 1978, near Mancos, Colo., during a hunt we'd taken together. At my insistence, he had it professionally mounted.
Nov. 14, 2012
I took a tour of the back yard and found that much of Harry's stuff (most folks would call it "junk") still had not been removed by Steve, their nephew. Vera was still angry at him. "I paid him good money and he still did not do everything I asked."
I don't know the details of their arrangement, but I do know that Steve was very appreciative for all the help he got many years ago, while recovering from a water-skiing accident that nearly took his life. While he was recovering, Harry ran errands and helped in many other ways. Now it was Steve's turn, and he did it by removing all of Harry's old, inoperable vehicles from that lot 30 miles distant and saving them $300 a month in storage fees. Harry had been paying that amount for the past 30 years. Do the math — $300 times 360 months is... a bunch of money.
Steve and a crew also repaired the roof on the bedroom wing of the house, and replaced and painted the fascia boards. But not all of them. That's what Vera noticed — the unfinished work. It's not in her character to compliment anyone for work completed. And she always will find something wrong. She also claimed the workers had stolen a valuable Luger pistol that Harry's father had brought home after World War I. "It's worth $6,000," Harry would repeatedly tell us.
While apparently pleased to be home, Vera would continue to remind us of the work she believed had been left undone by Steve and his crew. Like the hot tub, which had not been removed. Harry had purchased it from a home center, but refused to spend any money to have it hooked up by a plumber and electrician. "I can install it," he insisted at the time, but it stayed on the back patio for perhaps 20 years, collecting roaches and filling only with rain water.
A hole had been punched in the bottom of the fiberglass tub to empty it. Harry saw the three-inch hole and said he could fix it. But the hot tub was beyond repair. It clearly was time to cut it up and haul it to the dump, just as Steve had done with three of Harry's fiberglass boats.
When Laurene came over that afternoon, she showed Connie how to recline the back seat of the Honda.
Nov. 15, 2012
It's 3 a.m. and I wake up coughing. Couldn't stop. Went to the bathroom to get some water. Within a minute, Vera was standing by my side. This woman, nearly deaf, heard coughing from her bedroom on the other side of the house, perhaps 50 feet away, and feared it was Harry.
"Oh, it's you," she said, as if disappointed. What a strange transformation. For 67 years, Harry and Vera fought. Regularly. Now, with dementia, Harry has become quiet, almost childlike. Compliant. And Vera has become his constant caregiver.
Later that day, Vera found Harry in his recliner, reading the newspaper. I wonder if he understands anything he is reading? Vera asked him why he didn't do something she had asked him to do some time before. His answer: "I didn't have time." And with that, he continued to read the paper.