My caregiving skills were challenged this past week when I had to help my father prepare for a colonoscopy and my mother ended up in the hospital. Handling both of my parents and their needs took some prioritizing and finally asking for help.
As wonderful as medicine is, it can also be a menace, the way I see it.
Both my father and mother have been hospitalized due to the side effects of pain medication. Most recently, it was my mom. A painful lumbar sprain—the result of a couple of falls—was treated with a pain reliever that included codeine. After a couple of weeks on this medication, she experienced pain that was worse than her back pain.
The cause? Bowels severely overloaded with stool. Ugh.
Until the doctors could figure out what the cause was, she was administered morphine, which intensified the cause of her pain. Just as my dad became confused and delirious from pain medication after carpal tunnel surgery earlier this year, my mom also experienced delusion and unrest.
I know that the elderly do not fare well when hospitalized. I also know their aging bodies do not metabolize medications as efficiently. The combination of being in a new environment and being medicated can intensify their symptoms. How true that was for both my mom and dad.
But the ordeal wasn’t over.
Running between the hospital and home, I helped my dad prepare for his colonoscopy. Planning for the worst was the best thing I could have done, although it caused a great deal of stress leading up to the procedure. However, my dad drank the dreaded concoction like a trooper (his taste buds don’t work so well, which helped!), and completely took care of himself after the mixture started taking effect. In the meantime, I got plenty of exercise running up and down the stairs to their apartment, coaching and checking in on him.
Dad came through the procedure with flying colors. Thankfully, nothing was found, in spite of prior concerns. I could see the relief on my dad’s face as I delivered him home.
That same day I got a call from the hospital that my mom was finally being discharged to a rehab center. After just two days in the hospital, she had lost the ability to simply stand on her own. Prior to her release, I had visited several facilities recommended by the hospital’s social worker. I chose the one that I felt my mom would feel most comfortable in by judging the environment, the staff I encountered and my simple gut reaction.
Her first night in the rehab center did not go well. She was scared, disoriented and had a bad encounter with one of the aides. She called me several times in a panic. She didn’t want the door to her room unlocked, much less left wide open—she thought it led directly out to the street, in spite of my assurance that it didn’t! She didn’t remember that she had a call button and would resort to yelling for someone to help her. I did not sleep well that night—but then, neither did she.
The director and administrator did everything they could to reassure her and me that they were concerned about her well-being and wanted her to feel safe. Regardless of their efforts and mine, my mom began to distrust me also, and insisted that she would not stay another night. She wanted me to find another facility—or better yet, take her home. I was beside myself and torn between what was reasonable and how I could help ease my mother’s fears. I truly considered bringing her home—what a disaster that would have been! But by refusing to side with her, I felt like a traitor.
The facility director’s advice was to “give it a couple of days.” Her tone of voice and body language helped put me at ease and allowed me to trust her. I followed her advice, but compromised by staying with my mom all day and slept (uncomfortably) in the recliner in her room; she slept peacefully all night. I roused her at 8:00 am, letting her know I was going to go home for a while. I reminded her to use her call button if she needed anything, and asked if she knew where she was. Looking around, she said, “I’m at that place I don’t like.” I smiled, she went back to sleep, and I went home to sleep in something other than a recliner for a few hours.
What a difference my presence and some solid rest made. Mom was like a different person. Later that day, I brought my dad to visit her and she smiled from her bed saying, “Who is that handsome man you brought with you!” I could feel layers and layers of stress slip away.
I could not have gotten through this time without prioritizing my tasks, letting go of the things that didn’t matter, and practicing slow breathing in my car rides to the rehab center. Thankfully, I found a young lady in my community who has helped me with laundry, errands and meals so that I could focus on my parents.
I know that medications and admission to hospitals and rehab centers can play havoc on the elderly—often making a simple illness or condition much more serious than it should be.
This next week should be calmer. I will need to continue to prioritize my days, focus on what’s most important on my to-do list and take time for plenty of therapeutic walks. Hopefully, this experience has provided me with the skills I need to handle the next storm when it arrives.