An Unplanned Exit, pt 2: Stage Right

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July 21, 2009 by David Gillaspie


You know you’re living next to a family caregiver when the transportation parked at the curb changes from car to carpool, elder bus to wheelchair van, ambulance, fire trucks, police cars, and the hearse.   

My neighbor stops in to explain:

“You’re not sure what to expect if you ask a loved one to take a seniors’ driving review.  By the time you find enough nerve they’ve already enrolled, learned the signs of when to quit driving, and passed the test.

It’s different when they don’t drive.  The carpool still leaves an elderly driver for their cruise.  You remember how it felt watching your kids drive away for the first time?  You get dizzy, then start breathing again.

The elder bus and wheelchair vans turn routine into adventure rides.  If you really want to get someplace, they’ll get you there.  Strap in tight and hang on.

Any of those guys at my place get there by mistake. 

I take my old man out in the car.  He could walk to it, but we wheel to save strength for the chair-to-car move.  If you’ve only got so many stand-ups in one day, you want to use them at the right time.

Like a lot of guys, he runs on a medication clock.  Eight in the morning, eleven, three, six, then a night-hammer cocktail.  Parkinson’s takes a lot of pills just to keep up.  An hour after each dose is as good as it gets in the later stages.  Planning moves around those times is important, reduces the fall potential.

A Parkinson’s guy might die from pneumonia.  They get it when the swallowing changes.  You’ve got to watch the food consistency. 

They’ll die from falling.  Watch for those two and you’ve eliminated everything but neglect, er, lack of care.

Neglect is a harsh term.  It’s not fair to claim neglect when you start with unreasonable expectations.  For example, when you review the standing and walking program you do for your loved one with a care-advisor and they send a small woman who nails a last smoke in your driveway, it’s not neglect. 

Realistically she’s the best person available.  She shows she can’t get him from his chair to his feet.  You could put him to bed at three in the afternoon.  They could watch television together.  She has the schedule memorized from other jobs.  You make the best call you can. 

When you’re with someone all the time you don’t notice the changes they go through as much as someone seeing them once or twice a year.  Through good times and bad, he never looked like he did the last day.   I could see the lights flicker.  I told everyone to say what they needed to say to Grandpa.  Someone said I was over-dramatic.  I probably was. 

A feeling of farewell came over me earlier in the day.  I didn’t think it was farewell at the time, more a dread.  My old man was sleeping in his auto-recliner like normal.  Like I did when my kids were young and I felt something I didn’t understand, I woke him up.  I held his hand in mine.  The lights flickered again.

After he went back to sleep I finally called a mortuary and asked for advice on an expected death.”


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