Sunday, April 25, 2010

Alone Time

A month ago yesterday my mother came home from the nursing home where she was having rehabilitation.

As usual in such situations, the nursing home gave very little warning that her Medicare coverage was being withdrawn because she had "stopped progressing" in her rehabilitation. There was a "family meeting" on a Friday and I was informed that she had to leave by the following Wednesday, March 24, and oh, by the way, she needs 24/7 care now.

I don't mean to be cranky about this; it is the way things work, and nursing homes can get in trouble with Medicare if they let a patient stay longer just because it isn't convenient for them to come home so soon.

Be that as it may, it basically gave me two business days to set up care for my mother and make arrangements for whatever she would need when she returned to her apartment.

Luckily, with the help of information supplied by the nursing home administrator, I was able to line up overnight care for my mother through an agency, and did receive all of the necessary equipment in time for her return to her studio apartment. She needs to be on oxygen, so that included an oxygen concentrator machine, as well as a wheelchair, a walker, and a hospital bed so her feet could be put up at night.

At first I had the overnight aides coming at 9 p.m. and leaving at 9 a.m., but that meant I had to rush over there by 9 a.m. every morning, seven days a week. If I wanted to get away for an hour here or there I had to get my long-suffering husband or my aunt (who luckily lives one floor above my mother) to come Mom-sit. I am so grateful to both of them for all their help. My husband has come over to Mom's apartment and made us all dinner or we've brought her to our house and had dinner together a number of times, and he is always ready and willing to lend a hand.

I eventually changed the aides' hours to 11 p.m. to 11 a.m., which gave me back my mornings, and hired another aide privately three evenings a week so I could escape by 7 p.m. for a more normal evening.

The rest of the time I've been spending with my mother. And I'm happy to report that mentally she has improved remarkably since she got out of the nursing home. It makes me realize how important it is that health coverage for seniors should include at-home care instead of only nursing home care.

No matter how good a nursing home may be (and the one she was at was lovely and the people couldn't have been nicer) it is still not the same as being in familiar surroundings. Some people do well in a nursing home, if they're naturally gregarious and enjoy having a lot of activity around them. My mother isn't one of them. She found the ongoing commotion confusing and the soap operas her roommate favored on television made her think people all around her were in terrible predicaments. Her roommate also watched the Catholic Mass on television and I'd come to visit my mother and she'd be expecting me to take her to church. So I'm so grateful she was able to come home and is getting back to her normal self. And I'm lucky I was able to retire just when my mother needed me.

However, I had no idea how all-consuming being a caregiver can be. I figured if I did the daytime care, I'd be able to sit and blog or play on Facebook or read a book, chatting occasionally with my mother and making her meals. No such luck. For one thing, my mother's eyesight has gotten too bad for her to read, so she is only able to watch (mostly listen to) television, so I feel kind of bad reading while she can't. The other reason is that just as I might be getting into something, either in a book or on the computer, Mom has a request..."Could you please put another pillow behind my back?" or "I need to go to the bathroom." She can walk by herself but needs help.

Sometimes she'll take a nap but inevitably just as I'm settling in to watch one of my own personal guilty pleasures (such as one of HGTV's home makeovers or a cooking show) she'll wake up and want to get up again.

Mom loves MSNBC and CNN so that's what's on most of the day. I am now more well-informed on political issues than I ever was before. And I'm grateful that she is into politics because we have that in common and now that she's coming around again mentally we can discuss the issues, and it's great.

But the only problem is these programs are all covering the same Big Stories every day, multiple times. One day they kept showing a speech by Sarah Palin campaigning for John McCain that nearly drove me insane. If I had to hear her screechy annoying voice once more I might have lost control. I finally had to switch to a public television station and watch a cooking show, much to my mother's dismay.

The other thing that takes up a lot of time is dealing with the comings and goings of the aides, and the visiting nurse who comes twice a week but I never know when until a half hour before when she calls to say she's on her way. Plus there was a physical therapist who came three times a week for the first month. And on top of that I had to get Mom to two different doctor appointments during this past month when she was still quite unsteady and needed the wheelchair.

At first I was doing fine with all of this, but then it started to wear on me and as my mother got better and I was no longer expecting her to die at any moment, I found myself getting cranky to her by the late afternoon, and then of course feeling really guilty about it.

I found the cocktail hour was getting earlier each day. I'd go home for an hour while my aunt sat with Mom and I would walk the dog and then sneak a glass of wine on the deck, sitting in the sun. Or I'd bring a bottle over to Mom's and have two or three glasses of wine while she'd have her evening sherry, which she is now able to enjoy once again. I'd get an evening off and go out with friends and drink way more than usual just to de-stress.

I started having trouble sleeping, waking up in the middle of the night confused, worrying about my mother, sometimes not even sure if I was in my own house after being at her apartment all day.

I finally realize what my problem is - I'm not good at being with anybody all day long. I was brought up as an only child and I need my alone time!

So I'm finally having some this weekend. I managed to get two aides to cover the daytime with my mother, and the usual overnight aides are covering the nights. And we headed off to our cabin in the Adirondacks for three nights.

On the way up Route 22 from Whitehall to our turnoff there was a large male turkey in the middle of the road, strutting his stuff, showing off for a modest female who was at the side of the road, studiously pretending to ignore him. We had to wait while he ambled off the road.

Then came the turn toward our cabin, and then we were going up the familiar gravel road. As we pulled into the property in the early twilight we saw our personal Great Horned Owl fly across the pond from one tree to another. Later that night we heard him calling in the woods.

This weekend was the first time we were able to get to the cabin since the first weekend in December, and we were pleased to find it just as we left it. No one broke in, no trees fell on it, and it didn't burn in our absence. Within a half hour of arriving, we had the propane flowing, the generator generating, the well pump pumping, and the water running.

We've managed to have beautiful weather even though at home it is now raining. Somehow we always manage to get lucky with the weather.

Ed's dad joined us on Saturday and he has been enjoying his own escape - from visiting the nursing home where Ed's mom is every day, twice a day. No matter how much you love someone, you need time away in order to get back to them again with your patience intact.

When I return to the "real world," I'll need to reconsider the care my mother is getting, as the expense is untenable. We will be getting her on Medicaid shortly, but it won't cover the amount of care she has been receiving.

Somehow there has to be a balance achieved between leaving her alone some of the time but not endangering her welfare. I don't know yet what that balance will be. As she has improved I think she may be able to stay alone at night but won't know until I stay there myself and see how she is.

Long-term care is another area of our health care system that desperately needs reform. As the Baby Boomers age, I am hoping our generation will take on this task because you know we will not be willing to go gentle into that good night without making some major changes in how we are treated on that last journey!

Naturally from my constant exposure to news programs over the past month, I have a lot of fodder for commentary here but first wanted to let you all know why my posts have been so few and far between.

I am incensed about the new immigration law in Arizona, am glad that President Obama will get to appoint another Supreme Court Justice, and have lots of other opinions on various subjects to share. Baxter too is waiting patiently to get his turn to blog, so either he or I will be back soon to do so!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It's Too Late Baby - But I'll Blog Against Theocracy Anyway

I just revisited the Blog Against Theocracy site and realized it says that no posts will be accepted after April 5th. Unfortunately I was unable to get to writing about this important subject until today. I will try to link to it anyway.

As some of you know, I have become the caretaker of my 91-year-old mother, Marge. She's a great lady and is doing much better since she's been home rather than in an instutional setting. However, her frailty does make her care a fairly time-consuming and and relatively exhausting job. Thank goodness for the aides that come to keep an eye on her at night. During the day she is pretty with-it and we have a good time chatting. Her sense of humor is still there and we are doing well. But it doesn't allow me much time or energy to blog.

Where shall I begin about the issue of theocracy in this country? I've written about this before but it seems as if the situation is getting worse. What with the Texas School Board trying to change the textbooks to go along with their version of reality, which is based on religious beliefs rather than science, and those who refuse to vote for the health care bill if the insurance companies cover abortion, "theocracy" is everywhere these days. Where do people get the nerve to say they won't let their taxes fund an abortion paid for through a private insurance company? After all, my taxes pay for wars, and I don't believe in them either. If everyone got to choose exactly what their taxes pay for I don't think much would get done.

We have moved from the silliness of lawsuits over whether or not to allow religious statues on public property or plaques of the Ten Commandments to be displayed in front of a town hall, to more important issues. Now it's coming down to whether our children will be educated properly or not; it's come down to arguing over what someone's taxes cover or not. The religious people in this country are overwhelming the secular side of our society.

What really gets me is, it is the Christians, who outnumber any other religion in this country by a huge majority, that claim their rights are being trampled every time something isn't done their way. They don't understand that freedom of speech and religion means that you are free to practice your own religion without infringement. It does not mean that you have the right to force YOUR religion on other people.

The whole issue of gay marriage is a good example of why we need separation of church and state. There is no logical reason why gay couples shouldn't benefit from the blessings of the government in terms of joint property, laws of inheritance, visiting privileges at hospitals, and all of the other rights that heterosexual married couples take for granted.

The only reason to deny same-sex couples these rights is found in the Bible, where believers claim that "God" doesn't approve of same-sex couples. This is a religious context, not a civic context.

The solution would be to allow any couple of consenting adults to marry in a civic ceremony. If religion comes into it, then they are welcome to also be married in the church of their choice. Some churches may choose to marry same-sex couples, some may not. But that is a private, religious context. The civic context should not be consigned to the same rules.

Interestingly, just today I had a chat with one of my mother's aides who comes in to help out for two hours twice a week. She is of Mexican descent and I had assumed she was Catholic. However, we got into a discussion of religion and it turned out she had been "saved" in a Protestant religion in 2001 before 9/11. As a result, she believes the Bible is the word of God and everything in it is true.

She brought up the idea of gay marriage and I said I was in favor of it since I believe God would want people who love each other to be able to pledge their lives to each other. She said that the Bible doesn't allow for that, it's not natural and that with God, all things are possible, so anyone who is gay could change if they believed.

Naturally I didn't get into a big argument about this (I do need her to take care of my mother), but it made me think. There are a lot of people out there who really believe that the Bible actually is the word-for-word "Word of God" and because of that they are willing to consign a whole group of people to second-class status. If these people continue to gain power in our government and our civic organizations such as school boards, our country is going to fall further and further behind, what with rejecting evolution, believing gay people are "unnatural" and many other beliefs that are not consistent with science or good sense.

Organized religion in general has a tendency to become corrupt, or at the very least, the participants tend to protect the organization rather than the beliefs on which it is founded. Look at the scandals in the Catholic Church. I'm sure none of those in charge feel good about the terrible things that some priests have done to young children. But rather than expose those priests and the church to public scrutiny, they hid this behavior and just transferred the priests elsewhere. As a result, there is now a sitting Pope who may have conspired in this cover-up and the church is in crisis.

If even a church cannot stay pure, how could incorporating religion into government have any better result?