Happy Stitches

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Extreme old age and infirmity December 4, 2010

Filed under: General Musings — happystitches @ 13:06

This is the first day of the rest of my life. My suitcases are unpacked and stowed away for a few months; I’m back from the season’s traveling. I feel rather guilty, because visiting my mum is such a short-lived contribution to her care, and then I just return to my normal life. (This is certainly one of the drawbacks of a having a widely scattered family!)
Poor soul, she has gone from independent to assisted living, and now to be being utterly dependent, all in the last 15 months. It’s so hard for everyone, particularly for mum and my sister, who lives nearby. Mum can no longer stand on her feet and the prospects of recovering any mobility are looking pretty slim. I cannot imagine what it feels like to lose hope. I know that she is far from alone in this predicament, and it is a fate that awaits a large number of us. Care for a dependent person is a major challenge. The extended-care home she is in  is doing the best possible job it can, I do believe. But it is tough for both the carer and the caree. Many of the staff are wonderfully young and empathetic, yet it is impossible for them to imagine what it must be like to make this transition to total loss of control.

Those being cared for can only release their irritations in verbal recounting of their discomforts and frustrations, which makes the situation even tougher for the caregiver. Who amongst us hasn’t requested permission of our friends for a 5 minute rant now and again? Having little to distract one from the frustrations and pain makes the situation far worse, not to mention that the total lack of physical movement just adds to the discomfort and unease.

After the initial challenge of each daily visit, during which I acted as mum’s arms and legs to show her what was in her cupboards and drawers and to adjust them more to her taste (she was moved to a new more accessible room during her hospital stay), I would then read out loud from a copy of Pam Ayres’ poetry, which we both enjoyed; this would often set off a stream of family reminiscences in which we both felt more like our regular selves.

I find it very difficult to put myself in another’s shoes. I just don’t see things that others do, and I’m sure it is the same for the staff. It makes me wonder if training for care-givers should include a compulsory day, from bed and being dressed, to in a chair with feet up (including a diaper), to being prepared for bed at night, all at the tender mercies and convenience of others. It’s a sobering thought.
Sitting around all day sounds pretty good to a knitter, but what happens when you need more yarn?

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15 Responses to “Extreme old age and infirmity”

  1. Since reading your previous post, my thoughts have been very much with you and your mother. I think old age must take enormous courage and patience. I’m sure she appreciates that you travelled such a long way (and in pretty bad weather, for the UK).
    I’ve been really enjoying reading “Cool Knitters Finish in Style” – even on the bus home from work, believe it or not. Your writing style is delicious, right up there with Elizabeth Zimmerman’s. I laughed out loud when you said (re. neckbands) that for a child to pull on a pullover shouldn’t be like being born all over again! Thanks for such an informative and pleasurable read.

    • Lucy Neatby Says:

      Thank you so much – I always feel that I’m such a mundane writer compared to Stephanie, Cat or Clara!
      Traveling from Canada was a small thing compared to the everyday care and worried that my sister bears but the best I can do.

  2. Peg Says:

    My thoughts are with you and your Mom, Lucy. I remember my Mom in NS and me here in BC. Letters and phone calls were the best I could do most of the time, but I can only begin to imagine the frustration of depending on another person for all our care. Can’t even go and pee by yourself – bummer!!
    I agree, spending a full day in a bed/chair would be helpful to make an able bodied person even begin to imagine the frustration of the disabled person. Often, the caregivers think that because the person is physically disabled that they are ALSO mentally disabled and that must be the most difficult thing for a human to feel that they look inadequate of making even a simple decision or carrying on a reasonable conversation.
    I also agree that sitting does make for lots of knitting time, but where are the extra hands when you want another ball of yarn.
    Peg
    PS It is a beautiful sunny day here on Vancouver Island, and the sea lettuce scarf is 99.9% completed!

    • Lucy Neatby Says:

      It’s an almost impossible situation and such a sad way to end a wonderful life. No wonder old folks live in the past. So glad to hear that your Sea Lettuce is taking shape. We have at last had a cold snap here – but it is not set to last.

  3. Gramma Phyl Says:

    Lucy, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your Mum. It is hard enough to deal with aging parents but the distance makes it even more frustrating.

    I am lucky to still have my Mom at the age of 97, but I had to place her in a nursing home after she fell and broke her hip when she was94. The anesthesia and a series of small stokes brought on senility and I could not continue to care for her in my home. Fortunately she is close by and I visit her and we knit together even when she believes me to be her baby sister. At least that is one skill she still remembers and enjoys. The solution I found for her on here her yarn was was to place the entire project together in one bag. And when she gets close to the end of the project I put together another separate bag and put that in the large carry bag she has hanging on her wheelchair.

    • Lucy Neatby Says:

      It is wonderful that your mum can still knit, it’s relaxation and a feeling of achievement all rolled into one ball. I remember my grandmother becoming unable to knit – I now understand what a trauma it must have been.
      Your mun is lucky to have you to facilitate this. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. LynnH Says:

    Oh, Lucy. You say you have trouble putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. I think you nailed a bit of it very well.

    Love to you and your family. My mom, at 76, still wins ballroom dancing awards, leads exercise classes for peers, and rides her bike miles to volunteer at an elementary school. I dread the day when she loses her self-sufficiency.

    Age is rough. The body does let us down, and it’s a sobering reality.

    Love you,

    ColorJoy LynnH in Michigan, USA

    • Lucy Neatby Says:

      I can’t seem to do it on an everyday basis but I’ve spent a long time pondering this situation. So glad that your mum is still going strong right now and long may it continue.

  5. Hester Sturrock Says:

    Back in my prior life, I was an Occupational Therapist. Occupational Therapy means working with the activities of daily living – not occupation as in a job. We had to participate in a lesson in our training that was called an empahty experiment. From a hat we drew a piece of paper with a handicap of some sort written on it. We were supposed to go for 24 hours being limited by that handicap. It was an eye opening experience that I have never forgotten. When I worked in a nursing home, I set up a training experience wherein all the aides had to be fed by one of the other aides. That was certainly an eye opening experience for the aides.

    I wish your Mom and your family well. I don’t know who really started the expression, old age isn’t for sissies. I don’t mean to be flip about it, but not being able to care for yourself is certainly one of the greatest indignities in life. Sending you my good thoughts and prayers. Hester

    • Lucy Neatby Says:

      It is good to know that this kind of experience is used in training. Even thinking about being fed by another is a daunting prospect. Thanks for your thoughts Hester.

  6. MerryKarma Says:

    Dear Lucy,

    I like your idea of allowing caregivers the opportunity to spend a day in the shoes (or slippers or even just socks) of a dependent person.

    I am very lucky that my momma is still able to tend to herself, albeit in my home, at age 87.

    Hugs to you.

  7. Yes, you’re right I think they would greatly benefit from the type of training you outline.
    My mom spent some time in a large city hospital before going home to our small community. While she was in the city many of the nurses talked her using baby talk. Because her health was failing they seemed to think her intellect was also. Well, it wasn’t and their treatment of her was deeply insulting.
    Most nurses are dedicated, devoted and caring. I only wish many more showed tact as well.

    • Lucy Neatby Says:

      Unfortunately I think it takes age to understand this, except in the case of a few exceptional young people. It’s very hard to be a carer too because you never met your customers when they were in their prime. I became curious to know a little of the history of the other residents even in the short time that I was there.

  8. PainterWoman Says:

    Transitions are hard. I’m surprised to find myself retired and “of retirement age.” I tend to read about how other people manage… So far I like Irwin Yalom’s Staring At the Sun most. He’s a 75+ year old Jewish psychotherapist (pretty well known in the field, actually!) and novelist. He doesn’t sugar coat stuff, but he has some valued suggestions about being realistic AND making a commitment (or assessment) to living a life of value to onesself.
    Best wishes.


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