And ever so much more eloquently than I can at the moment (or, likely, ever). I’m not sure why that woman occasionally pays good money to see a therapist because she gets it all out there without helps or prompts.
“But goddamn fuckity fuck shitty shit mcfuckster WHY WON’T THEY LISTEN TO US? WE’RE SMART AND WE KNOW THINGS. Last summer, and my brother and I elected ourselves to go have a Serious Talk with them about moving while they were still relatively healthy, BEFORE there was a health crisis. They were dismissive and annoyed with us.”
Around here, it took a stroke and a long dark night in the snow on the freezing ground to pry Bud loose and really, at that point, what could he say? “Please don’t airlift me to the ICU 150 miles away because I have to fill the bird feeders and install a new pump today?” No, he could not say that. He couldn’t speak. There’s probably something sinful about being glad your parent is so incapacitated and near enough to death that you reach the ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER OPTION phase. Bud was as close to the proverbial ‘float ’em out on an iceberg’ as one can get. And now? Now he’s pissed at those ‘rat bastard’ neighbors who, by some miracle, happened to choose that morning in three months to wander the half mile over to his place with a plate of cookies and discovered him blanketed in snow. When I commented on this bit of good luck Bud replied, “Ya, and they turned me in.” Turned him in? I guess that’s what you call carrying someone into their home, calling 911, submerging them in warm water and washing off all of the shit while waiting for help to arrive out there in the wilderness. They brought him some cookies and then turned him in. The crime?
The crime seems to be growing old. As much as we fling elder jokes through our e-mail lists, as much as we are charmed by purple hat and red suspender societies, as much as we swear we will do it with grace and style and energy, wit and good humor- well, I don’t believe it any more. What really happens is just what is happening to Mary’s parents and Bud and that whole dining room of wobbly, drooly, largely senseless people at Evergreen and Bella Vista retirement homes. And there’s nothing green about growing old and there’s no good view ahead, so even the names are a lie.
Here is the latest, in a very long series, of Catch-22 situations. First, a person (in this case, Bud) has a stroke. He has insurance-Medicare and supplemental BCBS- that pays for exceptionally wonderful treatment. State of the art. They float him in a cocoon of warm water, bring him back from hypothermia and frostbite and begin physical rehabilitation so he might regain some of the use of his right side. But from the first few days, it becomes clear that the family needs to find a longer term care facility. Hurrah! Laurel finds a very nice place right near her in Oshkosh. It is 400 miles from his home so Lost Loon Lodge gets drained, shut off and shut up and the decrepit cats come live at Laurel’s, much to the delight of her dog and two cats. So now, the GOOD news is that Laurel can work 45 hours a week with nary a sick or vacation day left this year after spending so much time in the hospital with him, she and my brother-in-law can leave work and go spend every single evening helping Bud adjust to his new place. She spends her lunch hour on the phone with nurses, therapists, Social Security, Veteran’s Administration, BCBS, doctors. She spends her late nights filling out paper work. She spends her weekends taking Bud on outings and looking at other possible places for him to live. Because, once he runs out of the 120 days of therapy that are covered by his insurance he needs someplace he/we can afford.
The cost per month, once off insurance, is 7500. Bud gets 2400 a month between SS and a small teacher’s pension earned for a lifetime of teaching. If Bud only got 2200/mo he would qualify for Medicaid and they would pay for the balance of his expenses. But he makes 200./mo too much. So he doesn’t qualify. For anything. Laurel searches, searches, searches and finds another really nice 1 bedroom assisted living apartment and takes Bud over to see it. “NO. The people here are snobs.” (He hasn’t met any of them but he just knows that they are. He refuses to move and now Laurel becomes the ‘rat bastard.’ Not really. Bud knows how much she does and he loves her dearly but now the issue is that he doesn’t want to move again.
As hard as it was to leave Lost Loon Lodge he now knows the staff and some residents where he is. He likes his therapists. In fact, he would like to marry a couple of them. (who was it that recently wrote, “cuckoo, cuckoo,cuckoo”? Why, the eloquent Miz Mary!). He has people to talk to for the first time in almost three years. He likes his modest little room right near the dining area and the nursing station where he can see everyone come and go. He has a “job” where he pushes newly admitted stroke and rehab patients down to the PT room, almost never getting lost. And they like him- enough that they are working hard with Laurel to try and find a spot for him in the same facility that he can afford but still, he will have to move to a different unit, an assisted living unit. Another Catch-22. He can’t go to assisted living unless he can adequately handle all of his own nursing care himself and for Bud, that means stoma care since he lost his bladder to cancer 25 years ago. Bud insists that he has been and can continue to handle this on his own but we all now realize why he was having repeated urinary tract infections and skin break down while living up north. Duct tape. Yes, you can never have too much duct tape and apparently, as far as Bud is concerned, it works well on all kinds of plumbing.
Daniel went with me to Oshkosh after his concert in Chicago. He had been feeling upset and guilty about not seeing his grandpa for a long stretch because of his tour schedule, and he just now sent me a note on Skype thanking me for taking him up. He has no idea how grateful I was to have him along. Poor Dan. Not only was he drop dead tired after 7 countries and 70-some cities but he arrived in Oshkosh to discover that Bud had arranged a marriage for him to his speech therapist. Laurel had warned us on the phone but we had no idea how far advanced Bud’s agenda was. We arrived mid-afternoon to find that Bud had been nervously pacing around all day waiting for us and hovering over Casey to make sure he could introduce her to Dan. His aide said he skipped lunch in anticipation. At some point he had expressed concern to Laurel that we might have to get another hotel room for Casey because it might not be appropriate for them to sleep together the first day they met. Cuckoo.
The thing that I find so compelling about Mary’s post about her parents is that she is precisely right on every count. “How mean is it to be mad at these two sweet old people? And they really are sweet, and so grateful for everything we do for them. And I know, I KNOW that just a few weeks ago I was all “Oh, it’s a privilege to care for my elderly parents” and the thing is, I TRULY BELIEVE THAT.”
She’s right, too, that your siblings will be your salvation in these matters. Being able to talk with them, cry and laugh with them- that will be your salvation. The circumstances of my life were such that I had my father and then I had Bud. My father was, literally, lacking in many ways for a number of years and Bud filled in- to an ungrateful and somewhat resentful teenager. Then my father came back around and was a wonderful grandfather for a decade before he dropped over dead at an early age. During that time my children also enjoyed Bud as a grandpa. In the final years of my mother’s life, Bud cared for her in all of these ways that he is needing care now. He cooked for her and cleaned her and loved her until her last 10 days. So, even if I didn’t love Bud as a father, I owe him. But I love him dearly. And I feel guilty and sad that I can’t ease Laurel’s burden very much. And pissed that he isn’t able to be more cooperative. He’s started crying when we say goodbye and then he’s embarrassed about that and doesn’t know why he can’t control his emotions better. Laurel is happy to have this time with Bud and makes no bones about feeling blessed that he is close to her now. But I can see her fatigue. And I saw Daniel’s anxiety and when he writes me now, “god by the end of that I felt like everyone was old” I know exactly what he means and what he fears. He and I spoke on the way home about better scenarios for elder care and families, different possibilities, a more sensitive and less bureaucratic system of health care that is going to be essential, considering the changing demographics of our society.
Today, I’m resting up, unpacking wool, cooking for Rich, snuggling in with him and the cats and feeling happy to be home after such an intense week. And there’s a little part of me that is wandering around putting away the groceries and muttering, “Lord, just take me now.” Oh, and Mary? You know how sometimes you sort of fall in love with your therapist? Thanks for the session. I mean it.