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Archive for November, 2012


By now, Mike was engaged, and his wedding was about a month after our beach vacation.  His fiancée, Tanya, was going to join us for the weekend at the beach, and then we would have Mike with us for the rest of the week.  We realized what a turning point we were in our lives, and were really looking forward to this vacation.  Two weeks before our trip, I found out Clara’s one daughter and husband at the last minute were able to book a trip to Italy.  It amazed me how their vacation time again coincided with ours.  The other daughter was going to be in town and she was going to care for her mother while we were gone.  Since Tanya could only join us for the weekend, she came up to our house Friday night after work so we could get a very early start on Saturday to the beach.  I explained to Clara that I would be coming over earlier than usual and that her daughter was going to come later in the morning to pick her up for the week.  When I went over in the morning to care for Clara before leaving, I said my usual, “Good morning.”  She turned her head to look out the window.  I thought maybe she didn’t hear me so I repeated myself and she turned her head again.  I could not believe what a baby she was being, not speaking to me because we were going away and leaving her.  As I stood there in the kitchen in my disbelief at her behavior, looking at her in her Lazy Girl chair I realized she kept turning her head straight then to the left.  Then I realized something was very wrong, it was as if her head was involuntarily turning back and forth.  When I stood in front of her I knew, she had had a stroke.  The first time when she went into a diabetic coma I incorrectly thought she had a stroke, but this time I was absolutely certain.  She had a blank stare in her eye, and drool was coming out her mouth, her head kept turning back and forth and she made mild grunting noises.  At that moment I thought all of my care, all of my hard work came down to this, Clara was now a vegetable.  I remembered reading articles on stroke victims that they can hear you even if they cannot respond.  I calmly told Clara it would be okay and that I would get her help although I was shaking on the inside.  I used a tissue to wipe her drool away, and my heart just broke seeing this shell of a woman.  This situation was pathetic.  I told her I had to call for help, but I would be right back.  I didn’t want her to hear me calling 911 on her phone and hearing me describe her status, I thought it would be better to use my phone.  When I walked through the door to my side of the house, Mike and Tanya were getting ready to head out to the beach.  I explained what was going on and asked them to go and watch Grandmom while I called for help.  I didn’t know if she could fall out of her chair or not, and instructed them to talk gently and calmly to her.  After calling for help, I informed my husband who was upstairs finishing packing his clothes for the trip, and then called her daughter.  I went back over to Clara’s, and Mike asked if they could still leave for the beach.  At first his question took me aback, your Grandmother is sitting in the chair grunting and unable to move and you want to go to the beach?  I thought for a moment, and realized whether he stayed or left, it would not change the fact that Clara was now a vegetable.  I asked if he could stay until the ambulance came to help keep the dog out of the way, then he, Tanya and Zack could leave.  He readily agreed.  Once the paramedics arrived, they tested her sugar and the level was fine, which confirmed my belief it was a stroke.  As they loaded her on the stretcher and got her in the ambulance, Clara’s grunting got louder.  Minutes later her daughter arrived, with the ambulance still sitting in my driveway, I was getting worried that she was in some sort of distress.  I knocked on the back of the door of the ambulance and they said they were just trying to get an IV started.  With Clara’s condition from dialysis, getting IV’s started was always a challenge.  Clara was mumbling now, and didn’t seem as vegetative.  From my description on the phone and seeing Clara for herself, her daughter said, “She’s not that bad.”  She was just moments earlier.  Andy and I drove in one car, her daughter wanted to drive over in her own car, and we followed the ambulance to the hospital.  By the time they got her settled in and allowed us back, Clara was back to looking vegetative.  It was hard for Andy and his sister to witness.  Clara was paralyzed on the right side, when the nurse picked up her arm it was as if it was dead.  I secretly wondered if Clara was going to be one of those people that lived for years as a vegetable since her heart was strong.  I knew I would not be able to completely pick Clara up to care for her as she would now need.  The thought of her in a nursing home in that state made me sick to my stomach.  Tests were run and it confirmed that she had a stroke.  A neurologist was called in and treatment options were explained.  A clot busting medicine could be given, but since she was already on blood thinners, she could bleed internally causing her death.  Without this medicine, she would remain in a vegetative state the rest of her life.  Even though I was the most involved in Clara’s daily care, I felt it was important for me to yield to Andy and his sister, they should make the decision.  They both agreed there was no choice and approved this medication to be given to their mother.  There was only a small window of time that this medicine can be used following a stroke, and we were just about out of time.  The doctor called the pharmacy to quickly get this medication down to the emergency room, and the nurse started the necessary preparations for Clara to receive this medicine.  The doctor also ordered a blood test.  The nurse inserted the needle to withdraw the blood and when she attached the tube to collect the blood, Andy noticed his mother scratching her head with her right hand, which moments earlier was completely lifeless.  Apparently, the vacuum effect of this sealed tube for collecting her blood moved the blood clot and blood flow was returning to Clara’s brain.  Just then the clot busting medication arrived and the doctor halted its administration for a few moments to observe.  Within minutes Clara was speaking, her speech was quite slurred, but her thoughts were coherent.  Her paralysis was mostly gone, but she was more limited on her right side than before this stroke.  She said she heard everything the paramedics were saying and they were annoying her because they were hurting her inserting the IV.  We were all in disbelief.  The doctor said Clara would be admitted to the hospital for several days.  I knew I had even more work ahead of me once she was discharged and I was thinking that I really would like to relax on vacation before having to face that.  How could I ask Andy if we could still go on vacation with his mother lying in the hospital hours after suffering a stroke?  I excused myself so I could go get a cold drink, it was now five hours since I had awakened and had nothing to drink or eat.  I needed to think.  On my way to the cafeteria I was racking my brain as to how to approach the subject of our vacation without sounding like the most selfish person in the world.  When I came back to the room, Clara was resting comfortable, and her daughter had gone to call home to inform her family as to her mother’s status.  Andy said to me, “I don’t want to sound rude, but I still want to go on vacation.”  Ahh, my dilemma solved!  I told him we knew that she would be getting care at the hospital, and with cell phones, we were only a phone call away, and less than three hours away at the beach.  When his sister returned we told her we were going to head out soon for our vacation, and she had the same look I think I had when Mike first asked me if he could still go to the beach.  Clara woke up and I made sure she understood what was going on and she did.  She was in a great mood.  We told her we were going to head out for the beach and she said to go and have a good time.  On the way to the beach I would get calls here and there with questions about Clara’s medication or history so I still felt connected to her care.  I battled with feelings of guilt for still going on our trip.  The next morning I called the hospital and Clara was in the intensive care unit.  The nurse offered to take a phone over to Clara.  It was unbelievable, Clara wasn’t even slurring her speech anymore, her speech had returned to normal.  As word spread of Clara’s stroke to our friends, some went over to the hospital to check on Clara.  None could believe how chipper she was.  My sweet Clara.  She needed to stay to receive some intensive physical therapy before returning home since the use of her right arm was still limited.  Her daughter would go to work each day and then stop at the hospital on her way home and stay for hours.  I know it had to be hard on her, but I thought of all the times I had that duty.  I wasn’t feeling mean spirited about it, but the reality was the bulk of the work was going to fall on me once she was discharged.  By Thursday we still had two days of our vacation left, but by now I felt like I was being greedy.  I told Andy that I just didn’t feel good about staying any longer at the beach since we had not seen his mother in five days.  He said it was getting hard on him too, so we cut our trip short and headed home.  My sons stayed at the beach.  We drove right to the hospital and Clara was delighted to see us.  She asked why we came home early and we told her it was because of her and she laughed and said, “No really, why did you come home early?”  I don’t think she ever completely believed she was the reason we came home early, which perplexed me based on the care we regularly gave her.  By now Clara had been moved to the rehabilitation section of the hospital.

I was Clara’s full time caregiver for 8 years.  I mentioned earlier in this blog that I am posting exerpts from my book, Life with Clara – One Caregiver’s Journey.  My goal has always been that my experience and honesty could help others in this life changing role.  My entire account is available at www.createspace.com/3469034

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Could getting away be more of a headache?


I would  give Clara’s daughters our vacation schedule at the beginning of the year so they would have plenty of notice, so that wasn’t a worry, or so I thought.  A young man that we had known for some time agreed to stay at our house the week we were away to care for the dog.  He worked outside and said he would welcome the break of being out in the summer heat all day but he was not comfortable taking care of Clara too.  I assured him that Clara would be at her daughter’s house for the week, it would just be him and Carly, and we agreed upon a price.  Two weeks before our vacation, I got a call from Clara’s daughter that they were not going to be able to care for Clara; they decided to go on vacation the same time.  I didn’t know what to do and Andy was furious when I told him.  He said we made arrangements for the care for his mother while we would be away, and they were it.  If they wanted to change the arrangements, then it was up to them to make alternative plans.  I told him in theory that sounds great, but the reality was they could get in their cars and leave.  We could not get in our car and drive to the beach for the week leaving his mother to fend for herself.  That was the reality of our situation.  Now I had to figure out how Clara was going to get to and from dialysis, her meals for the week and her care.  Fortunately, Alice was still her aide that would come to bathe Clara three days a week.  That woman was a gem.  She agreed she would come prior to dialysis and bathe Clara, feed her lunch, then take her to dialysis.  I arranged for someone else to pick her up and bring her home.  Then each day I had a different friend of mine bringing her food and checking on her.  This was the vacation we took with my family, so they were not home either to help out.  Having the young man staying at the house to care for our dog gave Clara confidence in the evening that she wasn’t all alone.  Once we returned home, Clara had nothing but complaints for the meals she received; they were not what she had in mind.  Eye yi yi!!  Clara had come accustomed to me revolving my life around her and her needs, and didn’t like to accept anything less than that.  By the following January, I again sent a letter to Clara’s daughters, letting them know the dates we would be away and would need their help in caring for their mother.  This year was more than usual, a four day weekend in April away for our anniversary, five days in May for a trip my husband won through his work, and then our annual week long beach trip in August.  I received the letter back with notes next to the dates saying in April they could only help two days, May, one or two days, and in August they were available, but that was subject to change.  From my perspective I wasn’t asking too much and was frustrated by their response.  My mother and sister-in-law Maria were always willing to volunteer to help me with Clara, but I felt like I should not have to depend on my family.  When it came down to it, they were the ones that made it possible for us to get away for those extra trips, and I was very grateful for that.  We had not heard anything about the August trip, but I was holding my breath based on what happened the year before. 

I was Clara’s full time caregiver for 8 years.  I mentioned earlier in this blog that I am posting exerpts from my book, Life with Clara – One Caregiver’s Journey.  My goal has always been that my experience and honesty could help others in this life changing role.  My entire account is available at www.createspace.com/3469034

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How to subscribe to my blog


If you would like to subscribe to my weekly blog, I believe this will be successful.  On the upper right side, click on FEEDS, click on POSTS, you will see Caregiver Support Blog, then underneath is an option to SUBSCRIBE TO THIS FEED.  I hope this helps, and thanks everyone for your support. 

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When Clara would be in the hospital from time to time, Carly would look all over the apartment for her and as soon as Clara would return home, the routine would continue.  Even though things improved after we stopped putting Carly in the crate, it seemed like three hours was her limit with being left home alone.  If we weren’t home within that time frame, something of ours would be chewed up when we returned home.  I asked Clara if I could just keep the door between our house and her apartment open while we were out, so if Carly felt stressed being alone she could come over to see her.  Clara still refused.  I continued to try some of the techniques I read to lessen Carly’s anxiety, and eventually got to the point that she could be left for five hours.  You can imagine when it did come time for us to go on vacation, it wasn’t just a matter of having someone stop in and check on the dog.  We actually had to pay someone to stay at our house during the day and spend the night.  Since she was more anxious as a result of us being gone, the person could only leave her for a couple of hours each day.  So now my life revolved around Clara’s schedule and Carly’s schedule, but I did not mind. 

I was Clara’s full time caregiver for 8 years.  I mentioned earlier in this blog that I am posting exerpts from my book, Life with Clara – One Caregiver’s Journey.  My goal has always been that my experience and honesty could help others in this life changing role.  My entire account is available at www.createspace.com/3469034

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Carly


Carly

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When I was home during the day, Carly had so much love to give us that I quickly bonded with her.  After several weeks of her hysterics when we would leave and return home, Andy said he thought we would have to get rid of her because she was doing too much damage to the house.  In my mind I thought if that was the criteria for staying or going, that his mother should have been gone years before!  I was smart enough not to say it, but told him I would check with the veterinarian for suggestions.  The vet said Carly had separation anxiety and gave us some reference material to consult.  I tried all the techniques, one by one, without any success.  So Mike and I worked out an arrangement that when we went out as a family we always found a reason to take two cars.  One of us would find an excuse to leave ahead of the rest of the family, get home and clean up the evidence from the dog before Andy got home so we could keep her.  Whoever was left behind was to stall Andy to give the person home as much time as possible to clean up.  I could not believe that my life now revolved around an old lady and a dog!  It became evident that this crate training was never going to work for us and I took a big risk in going out one evening and leaving Carly free reign of the first floor.  I didn’t know if I would come home to our furniture being chewed up or something else destroyed.  Knowing that Andy would have never agreed to let the dog loose unsupervised in the house, Mike and I continued our technique of one of us always beating Andy home.  To my great surprise and relief, the first time home there was no damage, and no poop to clean up.  She was still hyper and hysterical when we would get home, but we would take her outside and let her run out her energy.  Of course, that didn’t mean I didn’t still come home sometimes to Clara having a poopy mess.  At least now, I was back down to only having to clean up after one family member.  Only after a month of successfully letting Carly free reign of the first floor, did I let my husband in on our secret.  By then he had stopped talking about getting rid of the dog because he had bonded with her too.  It was nice not having that pressure of one of us always having to beat him home.  Each time I would go over to Clara’s apartment to care for her, my new shadow, Carly would be right behind me.  She would put her front paws on the arm of Clara’s chair and give Clara a great big lick on her cheek.  Clara would laugh with delight.  A few times, Carly took advantage of Clara’s limited vision to steal a few crackers from her.  Clara would treat Carly as if she was her grandchild, laughing at her antics and sharing her food.  It became our morning ritual that after taking care of Clara, I would give Clara a handful of Wheat Thin crackers and she would feed them to Carly one by one.  Carly would take each cracker very gently and every morning Clara would say the same thing, “I can’t even feel her teeth…good dog, you take food so gentle.”  Then when all of the crackers were eaten, Clara would say, “Where’s my kiss?”  With that Carly would jump up and give Clara a big wet kiss on the cheek and Clara would laugh.  That was a nice part of my morning with Clara.  Although my reign as the food police had ended, there were still some nights I would cook for Clara.  I would put thought into what I made and tried to make something pleasant and mostly healthy.  Especially since the food she ate from restaurants was usually high in sodium.  Some of those nights Clara was the only one I was cooking for since we would have plans to eat out.  After putting forth that effort, Clara would occasionally say, “I don’t want that, feed it to the dog”, I would be infuriated.  I know she didn’t mean to sound so ungrateful, but it was hard not to take it that way.

I was Clara’s full time caregiver for 8 years.  I mentioned earlier in this blog that I am posting exerpts from my book, Life with Clara – One Caregiver’s Journey.  My goal has always been that my experience and honesty could help others in this life changing role.  My entire account is available at www.createspace.com/3469034

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