It Depends on how you look at it…

Do you want to know how I know I am getting old?

It’s not that I just had a birthday that is half of 90. (Although that hurts.)

It’s not even that my daughter wanted to know why I had so many lines on my forehead.

Nor is it the fact that I still have a landline in a world of cell phones.

It’s not even the fact that little grey hairs pop out 20 minutes after I have left a $175 salon coloring appointment.

No. The real reason I know I am getting old is that Lisa Rinna is now doing Depends commercials.

Yeah. Depends. You know, the little (or actually big bulky) pads that save our undies from those surprising involuntary spurts that often accompany a sneeze or a laugh?

Yes, those Depends.

Wow. I wasn’t prepared. Maybe I wasn’t even paying attention. But it threw me.

It was just one night at home watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie. What? It’s good tv. Kids love it. Good messages. Oh, whatevs. I am old.

But seriously, just your average Tuesday night in the burbs and then. Boom! Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin on national tv taking one for team Depends.

I have to say, I did a double take. Is that really her? Depends? Really? Lisa Rinna?

I remember Lisa Rinna from my years of watching the soaps — she was on Days of Our Lives for a while before Melrose Place, a talk show and everything else. She might even have done a show with hubby Harry, come to think of it. I don’t think she is even that old.  Or maybe it’s all the lip work she’s had done. I understand. They get thinner with age. No biggie. Last thing I want to do is have a needle stuck into my lip, but that’s me.

I watched Lisa on many things, from tv to commericals. She was young.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I did just see Kirstie Alley hocking for Poise. “Period pads are for your period. Period.” Catchy.

But Kirstie Alley must be older than Lisa Rinna. I was young when she took over for Shelly Long on Cheers. Or was I? It’s been so long I can’t even remember. But I do know I loved Parker Stevenson when I was 10. And she married him, so that must make her way older than me.

Oh this business of getting old is tiring.

Do I really think Lisa Rinna has those unfortunate moments of, um, how do I say this, leakage? Well, probably. She does have a couple of kids anyway and if she birthed them naturally, well, it happens.

The combination of childbirth and getting older, well it takes its toll. Walking and sneezing are hard for me. It’s one or the other. Not both. And I have a group of friends who can make you laugh your head off until… well, you get it. I wonder if any of them take precautionary measures before we get together.

I should ask.

It’s one thing to see a, ahem, more mature person talking about personal accidents. Like say if Betty White or Diane Keaton were out there speaking on the benefits of incontinence pads.

But throw in Lisa Rinna, a sexy younger-ish thing that she is, trying on a Depends under her sexy black gown on the red carpet and, ladies and gentelmen, you have just made incontinence en vogue.

The advertising company ought to be proud.

And Lisa, God Bless You. There are now some happy people out there who can talk about peeing in their pants with a little more dignity.

But that still doesn’t make me feel any younger.

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Respect Your Elders

I guess we can breathe a little bit now. Mom was transferred to a rehab to begin her climb back to being the spry almost 83-year-old she was before all this happened. It’s a nice place, as far as a skilled nursing facility goes, but for her it’s one more change. One in the long line of changes to come.

Mom’s experience has really opened our eyes to the state of elder care — something we knew existed but never had the need, or desire I suppose, to find out more about. Ignore it and it doesn’t bother you? Perhaps. Or maybe it was a “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

It’s all so new. And scary. And sad. And a whole lot of things.

Being on a hospital floor dedicated to the elderly was, to say the least, a very interesting experience for mom and for all of us.  I felt a sadness for these patients. They have lived long lives and yet here they were. They all had their own story that spanned decades and decades. Most, hopefully, had some family in their room to keep them company, but not everyone did.

There were a lot of call button lights on in the hallway.  There was a lot of movement by staff, but it seemed slower than I imagined it should be. Elderly patients who need so much help to do everything –I’d wager the nurses work pretty hard.

But I kind of felt, for lack of a better word, a sense of detachment. Maybe it was because she was my mom and I wanted them to feel more compassion for her and her situation. But I didn’t feel enough of the warm and fuzzy. I guess it depended on the shift, the staff personality. The day.

A well-oiled wheel it was not. There were lots of gaps, miscommunications and, in some places, total lack of communication. It wasn’t one thing that stood out, just as a whole, it left me and my family dumbfounded. Is this it? Is this really the way things are?

Looking at the portraits of the people who I think are the benefactors of the elder care wing at my mom’s hospital, they are themselves older Americans. I wonder what they would think if they were patients there. Would they feel the detachment? Would they feel like they were just another old person who had the unfortunate luck to have to come there? On the outside it is a beautiful place. One the inside, at least for us, not so much.

I like to give people, and things, the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the feeling that my mom’s trip into elder care left with us could be because we were muddled up in the middle of it all, looking at everything through magnifying eyes. I’d like to think it was an anomaly and elder care is not always to be this way. But at the end of the day, I am not sure I want to know the answer to that.

(That may be my oldest sister’s cause — the bulldog will be a champion for the elderly. And if she doesn’t get what she wants, I think she might even bite.)

I think we as children don’t want to accept a parent as being old, but then all of a sudden one day they are and they need help and things that used to come naturally to them don’t anymore. For us, the children, it is frustrating and heartbreaking to watch. We try to help and do what we can.

But I can’t even fathom what the parents go through.

Something I guess we will all go through eventually.

Whenever we would encourage my mom to go to a Senior Center or something for older folks in her community, she always said she didn’t want to go hang out with “old people.” We’d laugh because it was funny that as a woman in her 80s, she didn’t think she qualified as being old. And for her to look in the mirror, well she didn’t look her age, so it was probably easy to believe that she wasn’t old.

After the stroke and all the complications that came with it, she sat in her bed one day and as we talked about all the “stuff” we needed to get done — rehab, a visiting nurse, a walker, a dietician, etc… she listened and then looked at us and said. “I am old.”

The words were hard to swallow. For all of us. Of course we immediately told her she was not old. It was just a minor set back and she’d be up and running soon.

The thing about my mom is that nothing about her has changed that much in 30 years. Yes, she is skinnier, and maybe shrank an inch or two and her pace has slowed, but really, she is still the same silver-haired lady we have always known and loved. She still laughs at the off-color jokes her children tell her. And a week prior to the stroke, she was creating painting masterpieces with her 5-year-old grand-daughter and helping to collect pieces of broken fences for her 9-year-old grandson to build a fort in her yard.

The stroke slowed her down a bit, but I do think after a few weeks of physical therapy at the skilled nursing, she’ll be ready to race. We are talking about aqua therapy and getting her moving in the water. She likes that idea I think. And I do think she is ready to embrace a different outlook on life.

She may be a senior, but at least today, she says she realizes that there is alot more to do.

Keep the happy thoughts coming.

Froot Loops for Dinner and Other Things

Well, in an unfortunate turn of events, my mom was released from the hospital yesterday morning only to be back, via a 9-1-1 call and ambulance by 5:30 p.m. Still no word on what it is, but something happened that wasn’t normal.

She was fine all day — well as fine as one could be after what she went through. She was complaining a bit about some hip pain on her left side. And knowing what we know about her — she is the original minimizer when it comes to pain. And complaining — well it’s just not in her nature. So we kept a close eye on it.

She sat on the couch and we didn’t let her get up. I had picked my daughter up from pre-school and shot down to my mom’s because Gramma wanted to see her granddaughter and I needed my sister to sign something. Plus I could help get my mom settled in. I figured it would be a quick trip. I did some cleaning and moving things around so that she could get around on a walker temporarily. She played with my daughter for a good time and then got tired and sat back for a while.

My sister ran around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to find this medicine my mother was prescribed. From pharmacy to pharmacy, she struck out. This injectable form of her stroke prevention medicine — something that she needed to have the same time each day — was not something places like Walgreens or CVS had on hand. (You think the prescribing MD or hospital staff might know this prior to sending my mom home?) My sister finally found a place that had it, secured it, then nearly fainted from its price tag, called my mom’s cardiologist and explained the situation and scored my mom some good old fashioned free samples. Woot Woot!

I stayed behind and puttered. Really just secretly tossing away some of the items my pack-rat mother has kept over the years. Things like bags of bags and tissue boxes she wanted to turn into “toys” for my kids when they were younger. I think some people deal with getting older by holding on to everything. Perhaps not throwing an old item out lessens the blow of aging. Who knows. For another day to figure out.

In any case, we got mom some cottage cheese and pears around 5 p.m. then walked her to the bathroom and back, and that is when she said she started feeling weak on one side. We sat her down. Then something happened. Without any words to explain it, it was as if she just went away for a few minutes. Her face changed. Her body changed. She changed. We couldn’t fool around trying to decipher what it was, so we called 9-1-1.

A few minutes later, a police officer showed up, followed by a paramedic and the rest of the EMTs. By then, mom was more like herself, but still had no strength when they tried to get her to stand. (Can I just say I love EMTs? They were so great with my mom. They joked with her and talked and laughed with her. One even called her sweetheart. I think she blushed.)

In any case, I made sure my daughter did not know what was going on and didn’t see them take Gramma out on a stretcher. She didn’t hear the sirens, but she did see the policeman and asked who he was. I told her he was a very nice man who came to make sure Gramma was feeling better. She said “Oh”, shrugged and went back to Nick Jr. in the bedroom.

Phew.

It was one of those things where I was unsure what to do. Or maybe my mind went blank and I couldn’t figure it out. I knew I had no choice but to take my daughter with me, as there was no one down at my mom’s that could watch her. I had secured care for my son back home from my friend. But I was momentarily at a loss. I needed to go be with my mom, but I surely didn’t want my 5-year-old anywhere near the ER and all that goes with it.

And then it dawned on me. The hospital cafeteria!

My mom’s hospital is a beautiful place a la a renovation a few years back. It’s like a hotel. Fountains, pianos, etc… And my siblings and I could tag team with my daughter in the cafe while we went in to see my mom. So I explained to my daughter that her Gramma left in a really cool car called a GEM (Greenwich EMS — pretty clever, no?) that went fast and had lots of pretty lights that flashed and that we would go have dinner in an awesome cafeteria and she could have anything she wanted for dinner.

So off we went. That’s where the Froot Loops came into play. Out of all the things she could choose from — cheeseburger, fries, chicken nuggets, deli sandwiches, etc.. — she chose Froot Loops, an ice cream bar and a Gatorade. (I know, but what?) I chose fried fish and mashed potatoes. My sister came into the cafe while my brother was with our mom. I ate. My daughter tried my fish and declared she’d like some for dessert. All good.

So back to mom.

She seemed better as the time ticked on in the ER. And believe me, it ticked on and on. By 9:15, they still hadn’t admitted her. The ER was crazy busy. I had at that point run out of tricks to keep my daughter entertained and it was time for us to go. My oldest sister, who apparently is part Bull Dog (in a really good way), finally told the ER docs they needed to decide because we needed news. And within 15 minutes, she came back out of the ER with news they were admitting her.

I kissed mom goodbye, drove my sister back to my mom’s so she could get her car and go home and we left my mom, who was with my brother, to be admitted to her room.

Here’s the real kicker. One could not have known that she would sit in the ER until, wait for it… 4 o’clock in the flipping morning! Apparently there was some sort of lock down situation there and they could not move patients. Anywhere. I think if my mom weren’t so tired and this wasn’t her second go around there, she would have gotten up and kicked some ER asses.

Oy.

So today she rests, and after a night like that, she’s probably happy to rest in a nice hospital room where people don’t bother her too much. She gets more tests. CT Scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and x-rays.

And we wait.

Life

I am not sure my mother will be happy about me sharing what’s under our pots. She’s a relatively private person. But as the saying goes, Write What You Know. And right now, what I know is that my dear mom is in the hospital surrounded by strangers poking, prodding and looking.

My 83-year-old mom suffered a stroke on Friday night and was admitted to the ER.

I should have known that a call from my sister at 9 o’clock on a Friday night couldn’t be good. I kissed my family goodbye and drove the hour or so to the hospital. All the way down I couldn’t help but wonder what shape she would be in. Could Mom speak? Could she move?

I was happily surprised. Other than stumbling on a few minor things — like shaving 20 years off her age (good girl!) and not remembering right away the name of our current President (not that I blame her for that) she seemed pretty good. She could move well, and her speech wasn’t slurred in the least.

I told her it was a heck of a way to ensure she got flowers for Mother’s Day, something my sister and brother probably said when they got there too, and she laughed. But behind the facade of our family always trying to wing a good joke in the face of sadness, she sure scared the hell out of us all.

On the outside, my mom didn’t look like someone who suffered a stroke. We were relieved when the ER doc told us it was a TIA – a transient ischemic attack. A likely precursor to a stroke. But upon further testing, they found more lurking on the inside: My mom had indeed suffered not one, but three or four small strokes and that her brain did suffer some injury.

And yesterday it was discovered that my mom also has a form of pulmonary hypertension where there is no mechanism to block a clot from her heart to her brain. And they discovered a small hole in her beautiful heart. She now needs to add coumadin to her array of meds she already takes.

So it begins.

If I had a lick of advice for anyone with an elderly parent, it would be this: educate yourself BEFORE something happens.

Right now, my siblings and I have to take a crash course in caring for an ill elderly parent.

There are literally so many questions — Will she need food delivered? Will she eat it? Should we just cook and hope for the best that she eats it? Which medical alert device? Will Medicare cover it? Do we need a home health care worker? Will Medicare cover it? How will we get her to rehab appointments? How will she get around? How will we ensure she takes her meds? How will we configure her house so that we can ensure she does not bump into anything for fear that her dose of coumadin will make her bleed? Will she be okay?

Can all four of her children do this without ripping each other’s throats out?

 These and so many more questions need to be answered before she gets home.

My head is spinning. I am tired from the driving back and forth and why I feel compelled to be sitting at my computer instead of researching more or dragging my kids into bed with me is beyond me. But here is where I sit, perhaps trying to figure out the next move. Or just trying to get my mind to work again.

The thing about my mom –she is a fierce little thing. All 90+ pounds of her. She’s beaten a lot. Breast cancer at 58. Car accident at 62. Widowed at 62. Heart attack at 79. Now she’ll handle this. I know she will. It’s who she is.

She’ll be back to puttering around her home in no time. But for now, she gets killer milkshakes from her nurse Paula, is forced to relax and is slowly getting to know the kind old lady in the bed next to her. She chats with all the staff and really is in good spirits. Not a bad place if you take the stroke out of the equation.

On the sibling front, it’s been a wakeup call for all of us that is for sure. We need to pay more attention. To everything. I just hope we can wind our way through all this without any additional stress on my mom.

I realize we are not the first family to have to care for an aging parent or one that falls ill. But when it happens to you, it is overwhelming. There are lots of organizations and websites and articles and phone numbers, not to mention emotions, that we need to weed through.

We just want to do what is best for her.

But it sure can’t be easy on her — the caregiver becomes the cared for.

Anyway, hopefully my mom doesn’t disown me for sharing this. But since she knows I am a writer, and I need to write, perhaps she’ll make an exception and keep me in the family. I know she won’t be reading this, cause she isn’t connected, but don’t tell her, just in case.

So I am sure to be sharing some updates. I am sure I’ll need to vent, too. I’ll try to blog about other things if I can.

But right now, this is life.