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June 27, 2010

A Day in the Life of Caring for Aging Parents

Four days ago, my 89-year-old FIL fell out of bed and hurt his neck and back. Today, my MIL asked me to help take him to the doctor. I couldn't imagine a worse way to spend a day, but naturally you have to say yes. Inheritances are at stake.

My husband is not an only child, but he is the youngest of four, and all his siblings have long ago left Memphis. That has left the responsibility of caring for his elderly parents solely on his shoulders. It's the one guilt I have about Elijah being an only child, that he alone will have to deal with the aging and passing of his parents. Hopefully, by then, he, too, will have a gracious and supportive wife to help him pick up the slack.

I arrived at the in-laws at 1:15 to pick them up for the 1:45 appointment. Mom had worked herself into a frenzy yelling at Dad, who was laying in bed in his boxer shorts, refusing to get dressed. It took 20 minutes of my best persuasive powers — all the while, my MIL's grating voice yelling in the background, "Jerrrrr-eeeee! Get out of the damn bed!!" `— to get him up, dressed and in the car.

I made my MIL ride in the backseat. My stress level was high enough already, the last thing I needed was to suffer the driving of an 86-year-old woman. I couldn't bear it. This turned out to be a mistake though, when we got to the doctor's office and she was unable to climb out of the backseat of the two-door car. She ended up with her legs out the door and her fanny on the floor of the backseat, lacking the strength in her legs to pull herself upright. It'd be hilarious if it weren't so...sad.

Once inside, the receptionist gave Mom six pages of paperwork to fill out, even though the same office saw Dad last year when he fell and broke his foot. Apparently, just updating the paperwork isn't sufficient. They need all 90 years of medical history re-recorded. AS IF IT'S CHANGED. The worst of it is, they didn't put Dad into the patient rotation until the paperwork was complete, and it took Mom a full hour to fill it all out. Two hours we sat in the waiting room, a 90-year-old man with an injured back trying to sit in a chair, my MIL forcing me into inane and pointless conversations. 

I was starting to see why Dad didn't want to get out of bed.

By the time they called Dad's name, his back had completely locked up and he was unable to stand. "Does he need a wheelchair?" the nurse asked me.

"I don't know if he needs a wheelchair," I scowled at her. "He can't even stand. This is what happens when you leave a 90-year-old man with a back injury sitting for two hours."

"I'll see if I can get some help," she said, not really caring about my FIL or his back.

"That would be great," I sneered.

Two nice boys in scrubs came out to help Dad into a wheelchair. It was extraordinarily painful for him. Mom continued to chatter on about how the entire waiting area had practically cleared out or some such unnecessary observation. The doctor came into the exam room in rather short order, poked Dad in a couple places to determine the extent of the injury, and ordered x-rays to rule out any fractures. "Can he stand? We'll take them on the table."

"He's going to need help getting onto the table," I told him.

"Yes, well we don't really have the resources here to help with that sort of thing," the doctor said. "You probably should have gone to the ER when he fell."

"Yes, well he wasn't in nearly this bad of shape when we arrived," I informed him. "This is the result of sitting in your waiting room for two hours."

At that point, the two previously unavailable orderlies returned to help Dad onto the x-ray table. They were really very nice boys. The most friendly part of the day actually. 

The x-ray tech asked me to come with her and we spent 30 minutes taking pictures of Dad's back and neck. It was torturous. Poor Dad cried out in pain as we tried to arrange him in such a way that the films would show the doctor what he needed to see. I had to hold Dad in positions he was unable to support himself. It seemed to go on forever.

Back in the exam room, Dad kept saying, "Take me home now," as though he still had some control over the situation. Mom just yelled at him. This is apparently a rule for 60+ years of marriage: If your husband no longer listens to you, YELL REALLY LOUD. CONSTANTLY. The doctor came in to talk to us. Mom kept interrupting him with needless information. "He has Alzheimer's." (He does not.) "He fell last year, too." 

The gist of it was, he didn't think there were any fractures, but 90 years old, plus osteoporosis, plus an injury so close to the head...he'd feel better if we got a CAT scan. And we've made him an appointment for tomorrow. I laughed out loud. "Oh, he's not going to get back out tomorrow," I said. "Not after today." 

I graciously allowed Mom to drive home. She provided an ongoing narration the entire time about the traffic and the weather and who lived in this house and the sprinklers in that house...seemingly oblivious to the fact that people would prefer not to hear chatter when they are stressed. 

I texted my husband: "Going to fill Dad's Rx & bring it back to him, then will be home."

When I got back with the pills, Mom asked, "Why didn't Chip come with you today?"

"He's working, Mom."

"Oh, that's too bad. I was hoping he could put together the bed rail."

I texted my husband: "Scratch that. I'm going to assemble your dad's bed rail and *then* I'll be home."

Six full hours after it all started, I finally made it home.

"Oh baby, I'm so sorry," Chip said, coming toward me.

I gave him the hand, the universal sign for STOP. "Do not talk to me," I said. I tucked my six pack of cupcakes from Muddy's Bake Shop under my arm and headed for the bedroom. I was not angry at him. I was traumatized. 

As I sat in my bed, eating cupcakes and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I wrote a living will for my son. It reads like this:

"When life is no longer fun, and we become more of a burden than we are a joy, you have my permission to put arsenic in our tea."

This is an original 50-something Moms blog post. In spite of the difficulties that aging parents present, Kalisa loves her in-laws and would never write about them on her personal blog, .