Friday, January 7, 2005


Our hours have been settling, for the last three or four days...

...into my mother's favorite hours. Even on Wednesday, when I thought I was going to be able to get to bed early, no such luck, my mother was heading into the bathroom as I was going to bed, telling me she was "wide awake" and interested in "watching a little TV". Which we did. More than a little. And talked, and watched an episode of Deep Space 9. I haven't been entering anything in here the last few nights because either she's stayed up or reawakened and we've accompanied one another through the wee hours. You'd think I'd be celebrating this. I'm not mourning it but I'm used to those wee hours as my alone hours if I "chose to accept them" rather than going to bed. Although there is a certain magic to our relationship that only reveals itself during these hours that my mother likes to think of as "forbidden", I'm feeling a bit journal deprived.
    Immediately after breakfast yesterday morning I found myself staring out over our snow valley through the kitchen window while washing the skillet and thinking:
"I wish I could have one weekend, just one:
  • From Friday night to Monday morning, all by myself, in my home, not in some motel someplace, with my Little Girl and my stuff around me;
  • to catch up on writing, on movies, on sleeping;
  • to sleep whenever I want;
  • to hang out in the yard without worrying about what my mother's doing inside [I can get her out there in the summer if she's feeling good but it's "nothing doing" in the winter];
  • to cry at will in order to relieve a little of that chemical caregiver emotional back-up;
  • to spend no more time in the bathroom than the time it takes for me to use the bathroom on my own behalf;
  • to not find my head stuck between my mother's legs four to five times a day changing her underwear, cleaning up leakage if necessary and smelling her urine;
  • to not have Animal Planet blaring through the house most of the day or prime time shows I'm not interested in blaring through the house at night;
  • to not having my fore concentration interrupted by my constant hind concentration on my mother.
    Hmmm, I thought, additionally, I guess my vacation wasn't really a vacation after all...just a slowing of the work schedule.
    There are times when I'm aware enough of my self (those two words are separated on purpose) that I attempt to lash myself by inviting my internal devil's advocate to take on the guise of one of those thoughtlessly sentimental folks saying, "Yes, but, how will you feel after your mother dies and you will not ever, again, have intense, concentrated time with her?"
    Usually I ignore the advocate and don't think about my answer but yesterday, through the kitchen window, I faced the advocate. I realized that I won't be forlorn or grieving over time we didn't spend together, primarily because we've spent so much time together in the last 11 years, most concentratedly in the last six years. My attention has been so closely focused on her that it will probably take a few years after her death for me to feel as though she is no longer around. Our relationship long ago passed the point where it means anything to wonder if one or the other of us has "had enough" of the other. No such state is any longer possible. I am she and she is me and...we are both together. In this state, one can have neither too little nor too much of the other. I don't long for her death but neither do I long for any unusual extension of her life. I figure she will die when she's ready and until then neither of us is ready for her to die.
    What would my imagined vacation-from-caregiving weekend be like for my mother? If it was with one of my sisters' families it would be stimulating, enjoyable, I'm sure. What would it be like for the family? Enjoyable and hectic as they discovered both the joys and the limits of having an Ancient One in the home who requires intense attention of all types.
    What would it be like for my mother if I was able to put her in a skilled nursing facility for a few days? She'd endure it in fairly good humor, consider it a chance to sleep all the time unhindered, she'd be a little confused and miss me and be very glad to be home when it was over.
    What would the days following the nursing home weekend be like for me? I wouldn't want to experience them. They'd involve all sorts of triage including, I'm sure:...nah, not worth it.
    It wouldn't be bad if she returned from one of my sister's homes, though, as I expect they'd drive themselves crazy being as meticulous as they could manage. Her blood sugar might be a bit high, as I'm sure they'd all take advantage of this time to let her eat what she wanted and/or what they had handy, but this is never a problem. The variety of food would be good and healthy and I'd tell whomever she was with not to bother with testing her, just administer her prescribed pills when necessary and test her only if they have a reason to worry about her. She'd probably be tired, but happily so, probably having moved a bit more than she does here, certainly having her powers of perception exercised, perhaps even a bit more exercised as she worked hard, for three days, to prove that she was more mobile and agile than she feels the need to prove around here.
    I've noticed over the last few days that I have to work at entering the zen state I normally and automatically inhabit when handling my mother and the chores connected with her maintenance. Lately as I bathe her I have to hold myself back from anticipating the next limb, the next wash cloth, the next stanza in our Washer-ing Women song. I'm sure I'll return to "normal", but it seems I'm still in need of an Overwhelm-ment Outlet. I suppose I'd be better off if zenning was a discipline for me rather than a talent which I can apply when I feel like it. But, you know, I like who I am and wouldn't want to miss out on the ecstacy or the despair of allowing myself to remain spiritually undisciplined, at least not right now.
    This morning as I was setting up the dishwasher and thinking about cleaning the skillet I found myself thinking, "All I want to do today is eat bacon (the gods only know why my food desire today was for bacon, but it was), watch my favorite movies, most of which are not my mother's cup of decaf instant coffee (although, as I've noted, she sometimes surprises me), stuff like Once Upon a Time in America, Scarface (both the 1932 and the 1983 versions), Waking Life, American Splendor, Anything by Peter Weir and, oh, yeah, Finding Nemo, and laugh and cry whenever I feel like it."
    I ate two extra pieces of bacon but I doubt if the rest is going to happen today.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005


Tonight, Mom suggested that we leave the small fiber optic Christmas tree up all year.

    As I recall, last year we left it up through April. She loves Christmas decorations. I have to admit, this one is a treat. At night before I retire I like to turn off all the surrounding lights, stare at the tree out of focus and let the changing colors and intensity of the fiber optics transport me.
    Maybe I'll get to bed early tonight. That would be wonderful. In the meantime, I think I'll trot over to Essaying the Situation and see if I can't make some headway on the essay on which I'm working over there.
    I did manage to perform some stat ketchup tonight on the above mentioned site, for those of you who drool over the medication, bodily and food statistics of Ancient Ones.


Exceptionally slooooow day for Mom, today.

    Although I was in her room for her wake-up call around 1130, it took a good half hour of conversation, joking and help from The Little Girl for her to offer me her hand for blood sugar testing. Yet another hour passed while she arose, bathed, dressed and I placed breakfast in front of her. She's been surprisingly active during our two snow days. She enjoys looking at the snow up here, which is a different experience than the one branded into her brain in childhood: Iowa snow...flat white on flat land. We've spent a good portion of the last few days discussing how snow is more "interesting" falling on young, craggy, boulder bedecked mountains dressed in evergreen. Despite her dislike of cold winter climates, I think seasons do her good, particularly mild seasonal venues, such as this place.
    I went out in it yesterday, of course, twice: Once to get supplies in the middle of the stormy period (nothing quite as exhilarating for me as being surrounded by a storm) and once after the storm to do "yard work". I know, sounds crazy, but we're still having problems with our pyracantha canes bowing over the driveway. Not that I expected visitors but I had such refreshing memories of cutting them back during our last legitimate snow experience that yesterday I couldn't resist. We have an especially provocative snow-yard with all its wildness and the rocky wash that sings along the western side of our property, adding an inspirational touch to the snow scenarios when one is outside.
    By yesterday night, when I joyously plowed the garbage cans out to the curb, we'd had about a foot of snow. We have a street light just opposite our property, the lone light on our entire street. It's one of those pink shadow chasers and its peculiar light applies glistening magic to snow cover. Yesterday I couldn't keep myself inside for any length of time. Today I'm firmly inside. The snow isn't disappearing as fast as usual, which normally would have me out in it, but our temperature at this elevation hasn't risen above freezing. When I went out this morning to upright the recycling bin that had blown over in the night I noticed that beneath the snow the entire landscape is gripped in ice. My ass noticed this as well, twice. We're supposed to get one more clear day, which is good. We're just about out of paper underwear so I've got to make an almost-emergency run to Costco tomorrow. Then, rain is predicted for four days, which will probably apply to this elevation, as well, considering the temperature predictions.
    Day before yesterday she went through a Driving Miss Daisy fit. One of the movie channel franchises played it three times throughout the day. She caught it halfway through the first run, had me look it up to see if there were any repeats, which there were: One in the early evening and one at 2245. She watched both, staying up until Hoke fed the last piece of "Thanksgiving Pie" to Miss Daisy. Although Mom had a lot to say through all three showings, some of her comments made a particular impression on me (not necessarily in chronological order):    There. I've been meaning to record these for a little over a day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005


I just happened to notice, and read...

    This post has been transferred to yet another journal of mine which debuted some hours ago: Ieyeayeai. I believe it resides more appropriately there.

Monday, January 3, 2005


Caregiving Procedures

    I've been meaning to create this post for awhile. My purpose is to list procedures I follow through the day and the reasoning behind them. I expect this post to be dynamic, expanding as I remember procedures or they develop on their own. I'm hoping this will be valuable to other Caregivers of Ancient Ones. I'm including this post in the links section to the right for easy access so that it doesn't matter how this journalizing facility shuffles it into the archives.

Plastic Sheets:
  • First I spray the plastic sheet with a 3-1 solution of white distilled vinegar and water. I air dry it for at least an hour. If the humidity is high and there's a chance my mother will want to nap before it's completely air dry I turn a small fan on the bed, backed off enough so the solution doesn't dry too quickly. It takes a full hour for the vinegar to act as a disinfectant and neutralize odor.
  • I follow the vinegar/water spray with an isopropyl alcohol rubdown. I don't skimp on the alcohol. I use about 1/2 cup of splashes in three areas on the sheet for her twin bed. I rub the splashes around the top and sides of the plastic sheet with paper towels, which absorb much of the excess.
  • I wipe down the plastic pillow cover (which doesn't get the vinegar treatment since her urine shed never reaches the pillow; the problem with the pillow is drool).
  • I didn't always use the alcohol rubdown. I initiated it when we were having trouble with urinary tract infections. I wanted to make sure no bacteria was left on her sheet that could track back up her urethra while she was sleeping and shedding urine.
  • I continue to use the vinegar/water spray because alcohol does not neutralize the odor of urine, it masks it and then only for awhile. So her plastic sheet gets the full treatment at this time. I'll probably continue to do this for the rest of her life.
Bathroom Tactics:
  • I always follow the same procedure as we wash her. I've discovered that this operation doesn't respond well to change. Although she appears to not remember the what, when and why of our bathing order, I've noticed that when I change the order she becomes confused and any automatic movements upon which I think I can depend to accelerate the bathing process disintegrate and I end up having to explain everything. Doesn't help.
  • I use a special cleansing agent for her groin area: Aloe Vesta 3-n-1 Cleansing Foam, which I also use to shampoo her hair. I use this on her groin because if I don't manage to rinse all of it off it isn't irritating. Irritation is what we try to avoid in this area so that she doesn't compromise her skin by scratching it open. It advertises itself as not needing to be rinsed, but I do anyway, including when I use it on her hair. It has a peculiar odor which isn't unpleasant but that I've come to associate with the smell of my mother's urine.
  • The trash can I use for her diapers is small, thus requiring that I empty it and change its liner often in order to defeat odor. It also does not have a lid. About a year and a half ago my mother became confused about how to use trash can lids and began piling her soiled underwear and other bathroom trash on top of the lid, at which point I determined that a lid was worse than no lid.
  • I use very fragrant soaps and lotions in her bathroom. It helps mask the odor of her used diapers as well as encourage a pleasant bathroom experience.
  • I now see to it that I don't use fragrances I particularly like on my mother. I discovered a couple of years ago that once I smell those fragrances mixed with her urine, which inevitably happens, they no longer hold the same fascination for me because I can't seem to keep myself from remembering this peculiar fragrance-urine odor mix when I use them on myself.
Bathroom Comfort:
  • I leave the bathroom door closed both summer and winter, day and night and leave the bathroom heater on most of the year, day and night (thank the gods we can afford this) since this is the one room wherein she is usually half to fully naked and exposed to water. Making sure she's warm keeps her humor up through the variety of intimate procedures that take place in this room. There is nothing worse than trying to clean an Ancient One who is shivering.
  • Because my mother is no longer capable of cleaning herself after elimination in a thorough and sanitary manner I see to it that no paper products are in view within the bathroom. She'll use anything she can get her hands on if I'm not immediately at her beck and call after an elimination episode and she's spry enough to flush the item down the toilet before announcing her coup to me.
  • When we're done with whatever bathroom episode is taking place I make sure all products are stowed or far enough behind the toothpaste so that she doesn't mistake a variety of other products for toothpaste.
  • One procedure I haven't yet initiated because I keep forgetting to look for this item when I'm at a store that might carry one is to attach a bell to the bathroom door so that I know when she's entered and I'm in another part of the house. This should relieve some of the pressure of constant eye vigilance in order to keep her from hunting down and using whatever she can find to clean herself.
  • My mother has been known to be both a coffee and tea drinker. I've discovered that tea of all types, whether caffeine free, herbal and/or fruit preparations or containing actual tea, cause her to shed urine at a phenomenal rate so I give them to her as rarely as possible and then heighten the frequency of our bathroom visits when she drinks tea. Instant, freeze-dried decaffeinated coffee isn't nearly as perilous from the point of view of water shed.
  • I do not serve her ground decaffeinated coffee. I'm not researched on the specifics but observation and experience have taught me that something remains in the ground decaffeinated type that stimulates her bowels to discharge with little warning. The freeze-dried instant type of decaffeinated coffee doesn't have this ingredient and doesn't promote dehydration the way ground coffee of both types does.
  • I always make sure she is up and close by when I'm cooking. The aromas trigger her appetite, which needs as much help as it can get.
Food Storage:
  • I keep the refrigerator arranged so that things like pickles, olives, raw vegetables, cottage cheese, deli meats and cheeses are toward the front and condiments, raw meat, sugary and starchy items are toward the back. If I'm not close by and she decides she's hungry she won't rummage far into the refrigerator, she'll go for the first thing she sees. I make sure all vanguard items are blood sugar friendly.
  • Everything that won't be used immediately and/or desserts are frozen immediately and thawed just before use.
  • Anything that needs preparation and doesn't require refrigerator/freezer storage is well out of reach and sight.
  • Occasionally my mother remembers that she used to be able to use the microwave and thinks she still knows how. She doesn't, but has been known to lead herself, food items and microwave ovens into awful fixes trying to heat up things, including her coffee. If I know I'll be out of her immediate area for awhile (like, at night when we're sleeping or when I run an errand) I unplug the microwave. She blew up one of our microwaves a couple of years ago attempting to warm some soup in a metal pan. She also severely compromised another by continually heating up cups of coffee with decorative metal rims in the microwave until I finally figured out the problem and stowed away all such cups.
  • Thus, I also try not to leave her to her own devices too long when she's awake and make sure that she has everything she needs in front of her, well warmed or cooled depending on the item, almost before she knows she needs or wants something. Luckily, my mother has never been much for cooking. While she often offers to "help", which she likes to do, it's easy to discourage her from helping me cook. She'd rather watch, with permission.
  • Although my mother takes far more supplements than medications and, even including the supplements, takes far less medication than most people her age, she takes an interest in both medications and supplements, often quizzing me about the purpose of each pill she takes. I no longer store pills in those handy-dandy pill storage containers that hold a week's to a month's worth of pills at a time. I discovered a few years ago that these are far too fascinating and my mother was apt to go through them when she ran across them and accidentally redistribute the pills. As well, there aren't many ready made devices that easily handle all her pills. I now use small glass jars, one for each meal, that I refill in the evening. She considers these uninteresting even though the pills are visible and leaves them alone.
Clothes Storage:
  • Although she has a dresser that's not where I store her often used clothes. Everything she frequently uses is either hung in plain view in the closet, which is kept open, or is in a see through set of plastic drawers, also in plain view. A while back she began to find the search through her dresser for this or that confusing and maddening and didn't like needing help to find things. Now, although I usually set out her clothes for her before the following day, on occasion she decides she wants to select what she wears. Making sure she has easy eye and hand access to her clothes keeps this procedure from frustrating her.


Mom wasn't in the mood to arise...

...although her eyes were open. The under-the-weather weather has begun and it's hard for her to pull herself up face to face with grey skies. I prevailed, though, without too much trouble.
    We're not getting the 'pretty' weather, yet. Although it's been snowing at this elevation, the rain from last night left everything too wet for the snow to stick. At any rate, between show showers we're engulfed in a mist.
    Looks, as well, like we'll be getting rain and snow through the week with a cold, bright break on Thursday. I'm keeping the house warm and bright, which, if it is only working mildly on my mother, is delighting the spiders who are coming in out of the cold.
    Although she's feeling the weather in her joints she's not yet interested in acetaminophen. I'm respecting this. I expect it to be a quiet day. I'm hoping to get the essay of which I spoke earlier finished and published and do a little more writing. But, first...see the next post.

Sunday, January 2, 2005


The holidays are officially over.

    Our phone message is no longer intimidating. I changed it today to our bland, "We're out, we'll be back, leave a message if you wish after the tone."


This, I think, is going to be a disjointed post.

    Although I arose early after a late retirement, my mother's late retirement brought her to 12 hours at 1300. As I did chores and wrote on my essay and handled bills my mother took her full compliment of sleep. When I decided, you know, this is it, it's been 12 hours and slipped into her room she was up on one elbow, bright eyed, gathering herself for a well anticipated day. It's possible today will be a short day for her; not because yesterday was a surprisingly long one (surprised both of us when she continued alert and interactive well past midnight) but because the sky is gathering for a storm. Her right knee awoke performing reconnaissance on the low, enough so that when I asked her if she wanted acetaminophen her response was, "I think I could use some of that stuff this morning."
    We've had a lively and conversational 'morning'. Her first question to me after we'd begun her bath was, "So, what have you been doing that's new and exciting?" This is a standard question of hers, but she asks it only when she's in medium high to high spirits. As it turns out, I've been working on an essay which is somewhat reliant on our experience on Guam. I knew she'd find this interesting and would have much to contribute so, as we bathed her we talked about our experiences on Guam and the possible meaning of some of them.
    One of the reasons I went to bed so late last night (it was almost 0300 this morning), is that my left leg, primarily my knee but accompanied with shooting aches down the outside of my left calf, was so uncomfortable I was afraid I wouldn't be able to sleep. I'd taken ibuprofen all afternoon and evening, was nowhere near my last dose wearing off and continued to have so much discomfort that going to bed seemed torturous. Finally I was too tired to concentrate on anything, both physically and mentally (my leg feels better when I'm moving so I keep moving as much as possible). I headed for bed.
    As I'd suspected, making myself comfortable enough to sleep was torturous. None of my previous manipulations with pillows, blankets and positions was working for more than a few seconds. In addition, The Little Girl, who always sleeps with me, was sitting in my window waiting for me to settle down before she picked her pleasure. After a half hour or so of my unsuccessful maneuverings I guess she'd decided, "Enough is enough! I'm too tired to wait for her to settle down, so I'll take care of it." I was in a position that is usually comfortable and soothing when my leg is bothering me but which was, this time, aggravating the ache. Before I was able to move again into another attempt at comfort The Little Girl jumped onto the bed and settled herself on my aching leg, all over it from knee to ankle, stretching out so that I could move only if I was interested in disturbing her. It's not unusual for her to sleep on my back, my stomach or my hip but she's never stretched herself out over my leg. Oddly, within less than a minute of her positioning herself into her desired sleeping posture my leg stopped hurting. As I drifted off to sleep I recalled that I often refer to having cats sleep with one as being a "healing sleep". Funny, I thought, I guess it actually is. I thanked The Little Girl for this favor just before unconsciousness closed over me.
    Thrilled that my leg wasn't bothering me this morning, when I greeted Mom at the beginning of her day and noticed she was in such a good mood I began to relate this story.
    Before I got to the part that includes my assumption that The Little Girl healed me my mother exclaimed, "The heat from The Little Girl's body soothed your leg! Do you suppose she 'knew' this would happen?!?"
    Sometimes I am blown away by how it is that my mother and I not only show up on the same page at the same time but she reads something into that page that I've missed. Of course. It was The Little Girl's body heat that acted like a low level heating pad and soothed my leg. Whether she understood this is objectively beside the point, only fit for personal conversations of a Twilight Zone nature. More comforting is that my mother remains in very close, very accommodating quarters with me.

All material copyright at time of posting by Gail Rae Hudson

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