Category Archives: Living Octo

Essays and comments about taking care of our elders.

Is Mom OK? Did I Miss Something

It’s been weeks since I heard anything from my siblings.

One day my brother calls.  He leaves a message.  He sends a text.  I need to call him right away.  He said it wasn’t an emergency, but he needed to talk to me.

When this happens I usually hear about how some great job has come into his life.  He tells me how much money he is going to make, and that he is so excited.  He just wanted to let me know what is going on, because I had spent so much time taking care of mom I hadn’t been able to work for two years and we are discussing bankruptcy.

So he feels it is critical to know that he is going make “150 k” and that he’s bought a new truck.

I usually feign some interest.  But it becomes harder with each phone call.

I find myself having to pump myself up to call him back.  I try very hard not to sound condescending or too angry.

I resigned myself to hitting his name on the phone.

He answers and starts telling me how he talked to mom last night.  He has some concerns.  He is a little miffed that I haven’t kept him updated on Mom’s condition.  Clearly, something has happened and now he feels like he needs to become involved.

I asked him, “What are you talking about?”

“I talked to her for about an hour last night, and she could barely hold a conversation”, he said.

[You talked to her for an hour?  What the hell?  I cannot get five minutes of lucidity!  I guess crazy “gets” crazy.]

“Then what did you talk about?”

“She just went on and on about how we are all working together, and that she is proud of us.  She was telling me about casinos.  She isn’t gambling her money away or is she? “

“And that you are working hard to sell the house and you avoid instant online bad credit loans because it can really get you broke fast.

“I thought that was all done.”

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“She just really sounded out of it. What happened?”

“That’s it?”

“Yes, what is going on?”

“She is crazy.  Well not crazy, crazy.  She just gets confused and time is a very loose concept these days.”

“How come you did not tell us it was bad?”

“I sent you a four page email last week explaining all of this.  Did you read it?”

“No, I don’t like email.  My wife will want to read them all.  So I never open them.  I told you to track me down and call me.”

[I tried that.  He would call me back at 11 Pm, drunk.  And expect to have a conversation about Mom.]

“The email explains it all.  Go read it.”

“Just call me and let me know.  I want to be in on these decisions.  We are not very happy with how you are doing this.”

[What is this we shit?  Does he have a mouse in his pocket? He hasn’t talked to my other siblings in years.]

Was he making a threat?  Was he going to complain?

Really?

I could hear the mafia voice in my head, “That’s a nice gig you got there, bathing your mom…It would be a shame if something happened to upset that gravy train.”

“I am not making any decisions.  It’s not like deciding you are not going to water the front lawn and you sit and watch it burn.  This is a state”, I said.

“I will be happy to have her sign a POA and put you in charge.  She has two medical appointments next week.  You need to remind her the day before, and get there an hour before the appointment to make sure she is dressed and has clean underwear.  Then when you get her back, you need to make sure she hasn’t pissed herself into dehydration.  I will drunk dial you at 10 Pm next Friday night and ask what the hell you are doing.”

[Click. Dial Tone.]

What advice do I have for the caretaker with “interested” siblings far away?

First, you are driving the bus.  If they will not, can not, or are incapable of taking the lead in this process you must come up with a communication plan that works.  Do not share powers of attorney.  One person should be in charge.

If like me, your siblings are living their lives in far away places, they are not going to help.  They might come up and spend a day with your Mom/Dad, whomever.  But thats it.

Here are some of the rules I set up with my siblings:

  1.  I will update them on serious/important things.  That means trips to the ED or significant changes in situations.
  2. I have asked them to check with me before any visit.  This way I can give them a heads up before they get into the room.  This prevents misunderstandings or having to deal with Mom’s complaints.
  3. I have asked them to call her regularly.
  4. I’ve told them that if Mary or I have to go to doctors appointments we are getting paid for them.  Mileage and an hourly rate.  As if you were paying someone to do it.
  5. I told them that her finances were her business and I would not be detailing how to trade crypto and how she chooses to spend her money.  No more free loans.  And unless it is your birthday or you are getting married, the “gifts” are going to be scarce.

In the end, these rules helped immensely.   And also in the end…the visits from the far reaches of the continent have become more and more scarce.

And, as we go further through this process you will come to understand why I don’t spend much more than a second thinking about some of my siblings.  Talking to them is like shouting into a room that has been sound proofed.

 

You are doing God’s Work.

If you are the caretaker, you will hear platitudes.  You will hear that you are doing God’s work.  Or “I don’t know how you do it.”  Or, “I could never do that.”

Every once in a while someone will share that they were/are the caretaker and they know exactly what you are going through.  But where are you going to meet these people every day.  Certainly not in a social situation.  Maybe at a Doctor’s office, but usually not.  At a Doctor’s office the care taker has to go into the room with the Doc.  The patient isn’t going to remember where they are or what they are doing there.

How does one react to these comments?  Whenever I hear that I am doing “God’s work” I point out that if it was God’s job, he is making a bloody mess of it.   And if I am picking up the slack for a deity, they are not really putting out much of an effort.

Of course, what these people are really saying to you is, “That sucks.  I am glad it’s not me.”

There was one time I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment at the geriatric psychiatrist’s office.  There were three or four couples in the waiting room.  Not “couple” couples, silly.  Patients and caretakers.

Each patient was at a different stage of their need for a geriatric psychiatrist.  Some simply sat there and rocked.  Others engaged in conversation with their caregiver.  Deep conversations like, “Where are we?”  “Why are we here?”, and “I like bananas.” (Seriously, conversations I’ve heard in waiting rooms.)

There was one woman, about my age, sitting with another elderly woman.  They had similar facial structure and it was pretty clear it was her mom.  Her mom wanted to read a magazine.  She would pick one up and put it in her handbag.  Then she would pick up another one, and put it in her handbag.

Every time her Mom went to get another magazine, the daughter would pull it out of the handbag and put it on the table between us.  She probably did this half a dozen times.  She never batted an eye and she did not even try to stop her mom.  Her mom was not bothering anyone.  Well, there was one woman bothered but she was crazy too, so she doesn’t count.

Finally, the daughter was called and she stood up to go in to see the doctor.  As she was walking by I looked up, caught her eye, and said quietly, “Remember…we’re doing God’s work.”

Without batting an eye, she said, just loud enough for me to hear, “Well, if I was God I would get some other idiot to do this shitty job.”

Stories from Living the Octo Life.

preface

Why do you do this?  What makes you think this is your job?

~My shrink

Honor they father and thy mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

~The Ten Commandment


I guess I was crazy.
I was on my way to becoming athlete, training 2 time a day, taking D Anabol 25 to grow and recover fast from the workouts.

I did not feel crazy.  But does a crazy person know they are crazy?  Had someone told me I was crazy and I don’t remember?

Caren, my psychiatrist, was concerned enough that she stopped my quarterly med update, picked up the phone, and dialed the psychologist in the room next to hers and asked if I could come over.

Come over. Right. Now.

That was a message that maybe I should start paying better attention.

Up until now I was cruised along with minimal meds and no anxiety or frustration issues. Caren was a 15 minute visit every three months to make sure I still had the medical issue that caused me to be on the prescriptions from the start.

My wife Mary and I were getting along great.  Our kids were not psychopaths, sociopaths, or general run of the mill assholes.  Life was good.  I was about to leave on a cross country motorcycle trip.  And then I could come home and sell my mother’s house to a real estate agent and everything would be great in the world. That is what I thought.  Now?  I am not so sure. In dealing with real estate services, it necessary to find an agency that is accurate and reliable. For instance, your community needs help in hoa management, research first on the background of your chosen company before making negotiations.

Caren had asked that secret question.  You know the one: “How are you?”

She listened for half an hour while I rattled off the elder/sibling/son nightmare that my life had become.   She picked up the phone and dialed the extension for the office two doors to see if the psychologist could seem me that day or right now.

I was having a “crisis.”

I had no idea.  I guess this was good news.

I wasn’t afraid of therapy or headshrinkers.   Things had been good for a while.  A long while.  I discovered that my common sense of things was not all that common.  Being a cynic has its advantages.

The sum of the next few week’s psychotherapy was that I did not like my “patient.”  And that was OK.  I loved her.   Just about everything she did and said drove me a little nuts…but I had been coping.

After years of spending a good part of my life doing things for those who were not longer able, I had settled on a nice baseline that balanced between obligation, frustration, and anger.

The unanswered questions is:  How and why did all of this stuff end up being MY job?

“Just lucky I guess.”

” Right place, right time?”

None of those wise ass answers were acceptable.  I was deflecting with the best of demented.

How did all of this happen?  And why was it my job?

I answered that no less authority than the Bible—the Lord Jehovah—or Jaw-eh—or Moses with a chisel had said we should honor our parents.  And that meant I needed to make sure they were taken care of and not helpless.

Martha the psychologist asked if I was generally “a savior?”  I told her that no, generally I was anti-social and aside from some very close friends and family, not really empathetic to the world around me.

I did not enjoy the abused animal commercials on TV.  You know, the one with that singer who bellows out that song.  Its the only song I know from her.  I don’t enjoy those commercials, but I don’t turn the channel either.  Stuff doesn’t bother me.

In the end, I told her that I felt very strongly that Mary and I did not do these things, no one would.  And the elders of our family would be helpless and broke; I could not stand by and let these things happen with a clean conscience.

So, that is why I got here.  The following pages explain where “here” is.  They explain in disjointed stories written in the order I could remember them, how I went from loving life to being wrapped up in the bizarre world of elder care and general madness.

Dementia, senility, Alzheimer’s…they all mean something just a little different.  If you know what I mean, you will probably find a lot of yourself in these stories.  In fact, you probably have better stories.  You just thought they were in bad taste.

“Nice children don’t talk about their parents like that.”

Bullshit.

Most people feel this way at one time or another.  Its natural.  And we often bury it for fear that the rest of the world will judge us harshly.  I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks.

If you knew how many people share your experience you would feel relieved.  If you knew that I shared your underlying hatred of a sibling who calls before they leave on the 10-day cruise to let you know they will be out of touch.  In case….

You know, “in case.”

I started asking, “In case what?”

I could tell it made them uncomfortable.  And for me, that was a little win.

This is a story about accepting responsibility in an age of the irresponsible.  This is a story that is both funny and sad.  It is a story of discovery, and of loss of the most horrible kind, and in the most horrible ways.  This is a story that is being played out in millions of households in this country.  This is the true part of the story of taking care of our elders’ move from being productive members of society to beyond the grave.

Pretty bleak isn’t it?

But in the midst of the darkness there are a ton of funny stories.  Not Reader’s Digest, joke of the week, funny stories.  Many of these stories are dark.  Stories about the basic human functions.  Stories about fright, anger, compliance, and submission and death and dying.

It is also a story about little, tiny, almost insignificant interactions with loved ones who are sick, confused, and terrified.  It is a glance or look, or squeeze, that tells you at least they are happy you are there.

It is about sanding down the lifelong barriers that we put on like so many layers of paint, until we get to the raw wood.  Sometimes that wood is fine mahogany.  Other times it is cheap pine.  Most often, the veneer does not tell the story.

These stories were not funny when they were happening.  There were plenty of tears.  But after a while, if you are not laughing, you will join them in the “locked” wards.

You learn a lot about someone when you are walking them to a date with the Grim Reaper.   Everyone goes on that date.  Sometimes its dinner and a movie, and a late night kiss while listening to “your song” in the background.

Other times it’s date rape, bondage, and murder.

It does not matter where you came from, or what did in life.  He is still coming.  And you are still going.

The Grim Reaper earned his name.  He should be respected.   Give him his due by being honest about the way he does business.  He is a busy guy, and he has no time for nonsense.

And he has never failed at his job. Think about that.

(There were those two times where it did not stick, but lets not argue over that.)

Mary, my wife and partner in crime, says that as these people grow older they revert more to who and what they were before they put up the façade we all build in front of our kids.  Over time, when they lose their minds, they lose all filters.  They become child-like.

If you ever want to know what your parents were like when they were young, be their caretaker.

The good people get nicer.  The whiners, whine more.  The crazy, get crazier.  The self-absorbed become unbearable.

If you are the caretaker…they focus on you.  And they spend their days collecting their anger and frustration.  And then they dump it on you.  Congratulations, you are the championship coach getting doused by a Gatorade cooler, full of their bullshit.

Before you get too far into this story I must tell you something.  It is important for you to understand.  And you must believe me.

I love these people.  Honest to God, “Walk through hell for them”, love them.  “Put your life on hold” love for them.  “Respect and defend them,” love for them.  “Allow them to go into that good night without rage,” love them.

“Never let them die alone”, love them.

Bookmark this page.

You will want to keep referring to it.

You are going to be calling me a liar in about six pages.

There are times when you are going to think I must hate these people.  You will think that I could not possibly love people this close to me—people I’ve respected most of my adult life—and then turn around and tell these tales out of school.

I do love them.

I hate what I dealt with.  I hate how much this impacted my life.  I hate how relatives who could have helped did not.  I hate how the world has become averse to responsibility.  Old school responsibility.

I hate how I cannot use my four weeks of vacation to take a vacation.  I hate how I have to hide the mail because there are thieves and ghosts out to steal their money.

I hate how I’ve spent many more hours taking care of them then they ever did taking care of me.

And I am never going to get that back.

So, I love the people; I hate the situation.  And when I am faced with a situation I hate, I laugh at it.  I try to find the funny stuff that makes the situation a little more bearable.

I am sure you know the saying, “If I were not laughing, I’d be crying.”  And when everything is a stressful mess, one should look for things to laugh at.  Sometimes it’s the absurdity of what life has become.

If we are bringing up old sayings, this one seems appropriate: “If you go looking for something, you are likely to find it.

If you are easily offended or if you think all little old ladies are charming, please stop reading now.  You are not going to like these tales.  Really, stop.  We all hate you.

If you are the sibling to the person “in charge” of your parents, keep reading.  You may learn something.   Those of us left in charge secretly hate you too.  At least most of the time.

If you are the person “stuck” with the caretaker job, sit back and enjoy.  You deserve to laugh.  We’ve walked in each others shoes and we get it.  In the end, you are likely to tell me that this was “nothing.”  And you could tell me stories.  I would love to hear them.

A few years ago I was catching up with a friend from high school.  I found out he had been his Dad’s caretaker for the past four or five years.  His mom was elderly and she could not do any of the physical stuff for his Dad.  He is one of three sons and a daughter.  He is the one who did not go to college, but he worked in the trades and he was successful.  He was a great guy, a wonderful father, and apparently a fantastic son.

Based on discussions with his siblings, He had taken over the job because he wanted to.  His siblings would have come home for the weekend to help.  If he had just asked.  They would have taken Dad to his doctor’s visits, if they were during the weekend.  And, coming up for a Wednesday morning would not work, because those were busy days.  And the kids had sports all fall. So, they would love to come up, but they just cannot.

Anyway, if he needed help, all he had to do is ask.

And so on.

Until his Dad died.

The family all came for the wake.  All of the children stood in the receiving line, greeting old friends and relatives.  They were all very sad.  Their Dad was a nice guy.  I recall hanging out at their house forty years ago. Even though a house is already old, as long as it is well maintained, the foundation is secure and safe. If you’re interested to have a renovation, underpinning services by globalreblocking.com is recommended for they have the experts in such installation/repairs.
  He was a nice guy and it was sad that he had to suffer for years.

While this was no picnic for my friend and his siblings, it was tougher on his Dad.

The morning between the wake an the funeral, the children gathered at the church to plan the mass.  There were four of them.  The priest asked who was going to carry the father’s urn down the aisle.

The daughter, who was the oldest said that she, being the only daughter should carry him.

His oldest son suggested that as his namesake, he should carry him.

The youngest son, said that maybe as the baby, he should be the urn bearer.

My friend said nothing.

This went on for about half an hour.  It doesn’t sound like long.  But think about watching a sitcom for half an hour.  And all people did was talk about how they were “more qualified” to carry a ceramic urn down the aisle at a church none of them had attended for decades.

And they had the rest of the service to plan.

Finally, my friend slapped his palm on the table to silence the bickering.  He had heard enough of how all of these people had suffered from afar.

“I’ve been carrying him for the last ten years, I am going to finish the fucking job.”

I knew exactly what he felt.

Except I knew it times seven.  Yes, seven.  There are now two left.  Just two.  They ask about each other every time I sit with one or the other.  It’s a Mexican standoff.  And it’s going to last forever.

I’ve already explained to Mary how this is going to end.  I am going to call the funeral home to come get the last patient.  I will send my sister a text with the name and address of our funeral director.  She will spread the word to my brothers. They can come get her whenever they want.  They can arrange to bury her when its convenient.  I will pour a glass of nice bourbon.

The news will go into two newspapers:  One in our town and the other where she lived for the last thirty years.

And then, I will drop the mic.

And walk away.

The story ends when they are gone.  Or when I am.  I think right now that might be an even money bet.

In my fantasy, I walk off the stage with Mary and go enjoy ourselves to round after round of hearty applause.  Cheers even.

As a good friend and one of my first bosses used to say, “That’s your asshole talking, your head knows better.”

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Living Octo, 2015

No one lays alone.  That is one of the rules of Living Octo.  No one dies alone is the primary rule for Living Octo.

No one dies alone is the primary rule for Living Octo.  Many times this means spending your Saturday bedside instead of getting your lawn mowed or going to the concert or getting an ELO Boosting for your game and if you play shooter games, you can also use different sites online to trade game items, such as mycsgoboosting.com/resources/csgo-trading-sites and others.  And…most of the time the patient makes a full recovery.  THEY think they are dying.  You know better.

 

Modern medicine extends the lifespan of many people way beyond what their ancestors experienced.  People who would have been dead and buried at 65 forty years ago are living another 20 years due to cardiac surgery and “better living.”  Family members lucky to live to 85 or 90 in the 70’s can easily approach 100.

These elders, born in the 1920’s and 30’s, are independent much longer than their parents were.  They lived on their own twenty to thirty years past their retirement.

Another change over the years is the diaspora of the American family. Provided by Saunders Landscape Supply are a safe distance from other plants and any structures. These days jobs take children to the furthest corners of the country, and in some cases, the world.  The days of increasing your property values is long gone.  Disappearing quickly is the model where children moved only miles from their parents.  The nursing home, assisted living, and rehab facilities have taken the place the in-law apartment.

This combination of elder independence and the dispersion is responsible for creating a new breed of caregiver.  This new breed are the folks “Living Octo.”  I coined this term to describe the children of elders who have taken on the role as the primary caregivers in the family.  Since most of these elders are in their late 70’s to late 80’s, they are Octogenarians.  I shorten it to Octo.

The role of one Living Octo can take on the functions of guardians, conservators, health care proxy, or general non-skilled nurse.  This of course comes after the roles of taxi driver, appointment secretary, translator, maid, housekeeping, and accountant.  They also act as the communication coordinators between the elder and their relatives–siblings who moved away years ago.

You can tell someone Living Octo because when you engage them in a discussion about they all eventually say the same thing:  “Don’t get me wrong.  I love my [Mom, Dad, Aunt, etc.]…….” and they look for a reaction.

If the reaction is a blank stare that conveys, “Of course you love your Mom.  Everyone loves their Mom,” they have no idea of your life.

If the reaction is a sigh, or a laugh, you know you’ve found a fellow caregiver.  That reaction tells you that they love their parents, but they hate what the lifestyle.

Sometimes you come across the person who “thinks” they are caregivers.  But their version of Octo life is visiting once or twice a month, and dealing with an occasional doctor’s visit.  They are frustrated and constantly surprised that their Octo cannot figure out how to keep things straight.  They are not us.

This blog is about the joys and pain of Living Octo.  There are funny stories and sad stories.

If you are one of us, you will “get it.”  If you are not, our stories will come across as selfish, raw, and sometimes mean-spirited.  It might be thought that we are exaggerating.  Sometimes others think we like this lifestyle–that we have some sort of martyr complex.

But if you have had any of the following experiences, you are one of us:

  • Have you spent time researching the actuarial tables for someone with dementia?
  • Can you recite the Medicare rules for a qualifying three day stay?
  • Have you talked down a crazy person who thinks their relatives have come back from the dead to steal their money?
  • Do you understand the impact of a UTI on the mental state of an elder?
  • Have you given your mother a bath?
  • Does it phase you when your loved one wanders around the house without pants on, but donning a shower cap?

Read this blog with an understanding:  “I really love my Mom, Mother in Law, 2 aunts, 2 uncles in the nursing home, 3 uncles outside the nursing home, and all of the people who are their friends and who take care of them.”

But…

The “but” is our story.

 

 

Rebooting My Life

Its been a while since I posted and a lot of stuff has happened.

Here are the things that are in my life today:

My older daughter is getting married and the planning has started. This is exciting news. I am sure that the planning process and the bumps in the road along the way will be interesting. We are happy to welcome Krieg into our family.

My youngest daughter is finishing her college degree and will be graduating from Alfred University in May. Sending out that final tuition check was a wonderful feeling.

April has been a nightmare so far. My job quest continues to flounder. Resumes are sent out and they get no response. I have interviewed, but for jobs that would be fun–but certainly not at the level I was before starting the photography business. Getting out of line means that a lot of folks get in front of you! And who would hire a “photographer” for their senior manager. Simply getting hiring managers to read your resume is a trick I evidently haven’t mastered yet.

My Mom has fallen ill again. She caught the flu and ended up dehydrated and after a four day visit to the hospital she finally landed at Mt. St. Vincent rehab. They are wonderful people, but it is an added stress that no one needed.

During lent I gave up Facebook. In order to fill the time I picked up studying for my Amateur Radio license. During the 40 days I started the process and took the three tests, ending up with my Extra License. I am working on learning what I can about the whole hobby. It is pretty technical and full of interesting folks.

All of these issues have given me great fodder for writing stories. So that is where I am going to start.

Living Octo

20140402-150600.jpg

For the past two days I have been living the life of an Octo. I have witnessed a hospital treat an 83 year old woman with a broken shoulder. Because Medicare would not allow her to be hospitalized, they discharged her. Of course, she is unable to get out of a chair, feed herself, or ambulate to the bathroom. She lives alone.

The only recourse is to pay for private nurses. Or put her in rehab at a price that ces close to $10,000 a month.

Of course, this woman has a premium Federal retiree health care plan. So, if she had laid on the floor for another day, she would be sick enough to be admitted, since she had a lot of pain in her body and joints, even though she took great medicines as proflexoral for it.

I am a strong advocate of seniors spending their own money before using public assistance. But in order to save Medicare the cost of admitting to a hospital they are prepared to allow this woman to go back to her unsafe home and probably face further danger.

The answer from the social workers is for is to leave our jobs for a month and have private pay nurses come in.

Everyone is in agreement that this woman needs rehab. But they all talk like automatons. This is a glance at your future.