Thursday, April 06, 2006

Elder Caregivers Deserve More Respect

After most of four days and all of three nights on high alert even while sleeping, I was too weary to see straight after returning home Tuesday afternoon from sitting with my husband’s grandmother over the weekend. My sleep was accompanied by the static and hum from a baby monitor that erupted several times per night with the sounds of wheezing and coughing as Grandma struggled for breath. But other than the fact that it deprived me of the rest I needed to be prepared for the next day, the nights were easy. Because at least I knew where she was and was fairly sure she was going to stay there until at least dawn.

I could even stay fairly relaxed until after Grandma had her coffee in the morning. But for the rest of the day, I had to stay very alert to her every move as she was impulsive and sneaky and careless. Just like a toddler. But toddlers have yet to be autonomous adults. Grandma may no longer have the wherewithal to be autonomous but she has the experience of having been and she continues to act as if…

And I haven’t the heart to abuse her sense of dignity any more than absolutely necessary to preserve her health and life. So I had to be sneaky and alert and proactive. I had to watch her from around corners. I had to couch my offers of help as questions that appeared to give her options she didn’t really have. I had to try to anticipate her needs so she wouldn’t try to do for herself things that endangered her.

But there were some things I could not pre-empt. Grandma has one over-riding obsession and that is her dog Spot. She wants to know where Spot is every minute. She is constantly calling to her and if she doesn’t get a quick enough response will go looking for her. Even to the point of going outside! She got all the way outside once while I was sitting just three feet from the door she exited.

I thought she was just going to call to Spot again as she had ten minutes earlier when she found Spot on the front porch and coaxed her inside. But Spot had made a circuit around the room as Grandma made her way back to her chair and then as soon as Grandma had sat back down that dog headed straight for her doggie door on the back porch. Grandma had called and called until her asthma had kicked up and she’d had to stop to use her breathing machine. As soon as her breathing was under control she headed straight for that front door again. I heard that door open but I assumed it was just a repeat of before. But when I heard silence instead of the calling of Spot’s name, I turned to look and there was Grandma’s walker standing alone in front of the closed door.

She also obsesses about Spot having food in her bowl. No matter how many times I assure her there is, she keeps going to look and if the amount doesn’t suit her she adds another full scoop--a day’s serving. She did that three times that I witnessed on a single day. This is one of the tasks that is dangerous for her as bending down to the floor risks a fall or wrenching her back again.

The thing I dreaded most happened on the first night as we were heading for bed. Grandma fell. But it was slow motion and amounted to an abrupt sitting down onto the floor and not a tumble. She was attempting to stand up from her recliner while pulling her walker towards her all the while giving me instructions about shutting down the living room for the night--be sure the lights are all out, and the TV is off, and turn down the heater and lock the doors. And she seemed to want me to start doing these things immediately. I used poor judgment on my part in eagerly complying. Especially in turning off the lights. I am nearly helpless myself without lights!

I was across the room when I saw her shadow swaying. Spot and the walker were between me and her so there was no way to get to her in time. By the time I did reach her she was already scrambling over onto her knees and pulling herself up by the seat of the rocking recliner. She ignored my pleas to stay put until we were sure she was OK. I’m alright. I’m alright. She kept repeating until she had kicked her asthma into high gear again. It was another forty-five minutes before she was settled in bed and breathing comfortably. It took me another two hours after that before I was calm enough to doze off. Then, not an hour after the last time I saw the time on the clock, I was awakened by the sounds of another asthma spell coming over the baby monitor. And that was just the first night.

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