Monday, February 10, 2014

Getting “The Call”

red phone

I haven’t posted since the beginning of last week and there’s a reason for that. Those of you who have elderly parents have probably already guessed the meaning of this post's title. I got “the call.” For those of you who have no idea of what I’m referring to, “the call” is what a (usually) middle aged person dreads with all the strength of their being. It causes chills along the spine of an otherwise strong, “got it going on” person. And it breaks everyone’s hearts. It’s the phone call/email/text from a family friend/relative/acquaintance/perfect stranger that there’s something seriously wrong with your elderly parent.

In my case, it’s my father. Last Tuesday afternoon, his friend in Florida called to let me know that he is taking my Dad to the emergency room. The issue, at the time, was potentially serious and needed to be dealt with right away. I had already planned on traveling that week to see my parents and check out some troubling reports I had received about their health/abilities to care for themselves. Fortunately, United Airlines made it easy to travel a day earlier. Within four hours of the call, I was on an airplane, headed to Florida. When I walked in the door at 1:30am, Mom was still awake and family friends were looking after her. My parents (as well as my brothers and I) are very fortunate to have such great friends. They have really saved the day in so many ways.

I’ve learned a lot about people in the past week. The level of compassion and concern has been overwhelming and so appreciated. It’s truly a blessing to have so many wonderful people in our lives. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the “shady” side of this issue and it’s not what you may think it is. It’s that my father truly does not recognize the precarious situation he is in, does not understand (or refuses to understand) my mother’s inability to take care of herself (let alone a husband with a life threatening illness) and, doesn’t really appreciate the sacrifices that his family has made in order to enable him to live the independent life that he (currently) leads. I saw this last Spring when my mother was initially diagnosed with dementia (while in Florida), when she was diagnosed with a seizure disorder (on a cross country trip to CA and back) and during the holidays, when my father insisted that I adhere to HIS schedule in getting them to Florida for the winter (I got him to adjust his plans somewhat but it still involved missing Christmas Day with my family). Now I’m seeing it again on the eve of, literally, the fight of his life.

My agreement with my father is that I can spend time with them in Florida (or wherever they happen to be) as long as I can work just as if I was working in my home office. That includes eleven to twelve hour days on the phone or working on the computer as well as business trips from wherever my “home base” is at that time. If I can’t do that, I can’t spend significant time with them whenever they want me to. Fortunately, I work with great people and my job is such that I can work from “wherever.” I’m also married to a saint of a husband, who is very easy going with the craziness/level of activity that I naturally bring to the relationship. My job requires not only long hours but significant focus and concentration.

What I “saw” this past week was my Dad’s implication that my career is not as “important” because I am female. Never mind that I hold a significant level of responsibility in my career and that I support a family; Dad made it clear that he didn’t expect my brothers to “help me out” because they had “jobs.” Hmmmm. Okay. I guess I can chalk that up to his age (84) and that he has always been part of a “traditional” marriage where he ruled with an iron hand. He says he’s always been proud of me, particularly of my education, my drive, my work ethic and my earning potential (weird, but true). Dad also takes special pride that I am more “like him” than any of my brothers, even though I’m female (not sure that’s such a compliment!! ;) ). But his attitude has truly shown me what he really thinks, and there’s more.

female caregiver

Because my mother should never be left alone (which she often is at home), I hired a home healthcare aid to be with my mother so that I can work. Her first day was last Friday and her presence not only allowed me to get back to work, it gave me real peace of mind that Mom was eating and drinking properly, taking her medication, that there was someone to take the dog out (Mom’s 100 lb Lab can easily pull her over) many times per day, do the light housekeeping jobs that Mom can’t do (and that I don’t have time to do) and just generally be a companion to my Mom. Mom constantly laments how lonely she is and it’s heartbreaking. The home health aid was a godsend!

Today, though, my father began telling others that I have been “spending too much of his money” and that he and Mom don’t need anyone at home. Right now, that’s apparently because I am here. He tried to con his doctor into letting him go home. This is from a man who can’t get up and go to the bathroom by himself (as of this afternoon). But he can take care of things at home. Yeah. The doctors are, truly, trying to get his nutritional health back up to par before he undergoes a very serious operation next week but his physical issues run deep and I believe he’ll need more care at home than what a home health aid can manage. Nonetheless, he’s informed everyone (except me) that he won’t have an aid once he’s home. If it comes to that, that’s when I get my butt back on a plane headed to Virginia.

Now, before anyone accuses me of being selfish, uncaring or a “bad daughter,” I can assure you that I am none of those things. Anyone who knows me “in real life” will tell you that I have bent over backwards for my parents and that I often help people without expecting any kind of recognition (I have often helped others-- and provided financial assistance-- anonymously). What I’m experiencing with my parents is actually a very common occurrence---the elderly parent who refuses to “give in” to the realities of aging. Those of you who have been thru this know exactly what I mean and for those of you who haven’t, well just wait! The level of heartache, stress and frustration can be overwhelming and, unfortunately, I think this mostly falls on the shoulders of female children because traditionally, it’s been the daughters who bear the brunt of the care giving. My advice to anyone with elderly parents is to try to get a care plan in place before it is needed. My brothers and I have tried without success and now it’s coming back to bite all of us. My oldest brother, who has seen almost the exact same thing happen with his in-laws, tells me it will probably take a fall or some sort of an emergency to get our parents to understand that they can’t live on their own anymore. We thought this experience would do it, but I guess not. My presence here may just be that of an enabler, at this point, so it may be necessary to take away the crutch that keeps my Dad from doing the right thing.


Time will lead us to the eventual outcome and my Dad has quite a recovery ahead of him. At this point, we don’t have a prognosis but I can tell you that my brothers and I are committed to getting my parents the best possible care with or without my father’s cooperation. If you’re going thru something similar, rest assured that you are not alone. Send me an email if you’d like to trade notes.