Parental Care Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 25 September 2009 15:51

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for my father. He returned home last Friday after just over five weeks in two hospitals and a hospital rehabilitation unit. He is recovering from his broken hip, but also tore some muscle fibers - or strained - his right thigh adductor, so that has caused him significant pain and made rehabilitation more difficult. He started receiving dialysis three times each week while in the hospital, and is continuing that now that he's home.

I've been taking care of mom while dad was in the hospital, and now they're both home. I am grateful to have had this time with them. At 87 years of age, I may not have many more such opportunities. They're fun to be around - and, since both of them walk with walkers, it's a real insight into the lives of the elderly.

Getting dressed is a chore. Mom's back hurts most of the time, except when she's in her recliner, so simple tasks, even, are literally a major pain. Both are quite unsteady on their feet, so I try to hover when they're on the move. Taking a shower takes a long time, and is a major fall hazard, so next time you're around an elderly person you think could stand a bath, know that it might not be because they don't care about hygiene, but because they're terrified of slipping and having a devastating fall that would make them have to depend upon someone else - or end up in a nursing facility that they may not be able to afford.

Getting a meal prepared is pretty much beyond them. Just standing at the sink is a challenge, although the edge of the sink is something you can lean against. Of course, your forearms aren't long enough to reach the faucet then. And if you should sit down again and then remember you'd like a glass of milk with that sandwich it took you ten minutes to make and left you breathless... well, you might just stay thirsty and hope you don't get dehydrated.

Of course, milk's not something dad can drink anymore. At least not more than 1/2 cup a day or so. It has too much potassium, which is bad for the kidneys. Nuts are a no-no, which is a shame, since peanut butter has been one of his favorite foods. A few months ago - before his fall - dad told me over the phone, "I could commit suicide," which left me stunned for a moment. He intentionally included a pregnant pause before finishing his sentence, "by eating a banana." Bananas are off the list, too. And then some foods that are on the low potassium list aren't on the list of foods that are good for diabetics, so dad has very methodically gone over his "kidney approved" list and checked it against his "diabetes approved" list and checked the foods that are best for him.

It's a limited selection.

And then there's medication. Prior to his fall, dad was on some thirty-plus meds, which included medications to help overcome some of the symptoms of medications. Hypertension was an issue that has been overcome by dialysis, so now he's down to about 20 meds or so, if you include the 81 mg aspirin he takes daily for his heart. One of the blood pressure meds made him so drowsy, he'd have to nap for up to three hours after taking it, and he had to plan his day around it.

He's off it now, but spends three and a half hours getting dialysis - but at least that's not every day. I wonder, If I weren't here to drive to the pharmacy, how would they get their medications? Or their groceries? Or to dialysis?

While standing in line to pick up a prescription or two the other day, I overheard a pharmacist tell a patient at the drive-through window, "You realize that medication costs $257? Your insurance will only pay for $20 of that. Do you still want it?" The man replied, "I want to live."

And he didn't even get fries with that.

My dad has great medical coverage, which includes mom. They never have to choose between medication and heating, or medication and air conditioning, or medication and car payments, or clothing, or another trip to the doctor to have her tell me something else is wrong.

Or medication and food.

When I was a child my grandmothers took turns living with my parents and I. My brother was in the military and my sister at college, so there was room for them. They'd stay with us for three or four months at a time or more, and it was great for me. They were younger than my parents are now, and didn't require as much care, but I loved having them with us. It was only when they needed nursing care that they stopped living with us, and both died fairly shortly thereafter.

I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a temporary caregiver to my folks, and I know my sister is glad that she could take care of mom while he was in the hospital and I was on the road.

But next week I have to leave for work, as Sherry indicated. And yesterday dad had a tearful conversation with me in which he went through the list of his maladies, his inability to drive, or even walk to the dining area in the independent living section of the retirement complex where they live.

"I can't take care of mom anymore. I'm ashamed that I can't even take care of myself. We have to move to assisted living." It will be a gut-wrenching change for them. They have to admit that independence is no longer an option. They have to say good-bye to their beloved cat, which has given them lots of affection and entertainment over the last four years. And, most difficult of all, they have to become dependent upon strangers, because I'm a priest, my sister's alone and works as a teacher, and my brother and sister-in-law are both teachers. None of us are home during the day.

With all the wonderful drugs and procedures we have to keep people alive - we no longer die from things that killed off our ancestors in their forties and fifties - we don't have something they often did: extended families living as a unit, or in the same town.

So it's off to assisted living for my parents.

I'm grateful they have that option. My dad was an engineer, worked for the same Fortune 500 company all his career, lived well below his means and saved money. He and mom can afford to grow old.

Many of us can't. I don't know that my brother and his wife can. I know my sister's very carefully calculating when she can retire, and what she can afford to do in retirement. I've got the brothers to fall back on (note to self: be kind to the young ones, since they'll be pushing your wheelchair someday).

I'm glad President Obama is getting us to think about healthcare reform. It's a messy topic, but has to be addressed.

I think we should also examine "honor thy father and mother" a bit, too. The two issues are not unrelated.