Caring For The Elderly: An Inside Story, pt 2.
Norman with his wife Ramona in the background, their last photo together
I was well aware of my step-dad’s issues such as his diaper deal and pissing in bed but I was more concerned with his bi-polar disorder or what ever the politically correct term is these days. The last 2 years were writhe with incidents where the ole boy would call the ambulance ‘for a ride’ or complain because he thought his bowel movement was not sufficient. The list of antics was beyond limits and harmless for the most part but 911 authorities were less than amused. If being a senior citizen with a loaded diaper in public were a crime, I guess he would have been a wanton criminal but to us he was just Stormy Normy or Bam-Pa to the grand kids.
Other than being razzle dazzled from staying at the nursing home for a couple weeks and the absents of his bride of 54 years, ole Norm was none the worse for wear. Well he did have a score card at the home and failed miserably to conform to their regulations. Frankly the old Scotsman was never much on authority anyway so it was of no surprise to learn of his antics whilst I was away. In any event the old bird was more than ready to be liberated and made a bee line for the car, before anyone changed their minds…lol.
Once at home we established a schedule likened to mom’s routine. This is when I noticed my mom’s complex time table to follow whence Norm woke up in the morning. If she planned to get his bed clothing washed and ready for the following evening as well as wash down the bed everything hinged on the day beginning promptly at 6 am, Ten hut! Norm would be up and chipper demanding to get out of his urine soaked bed. He would be hollering down the hall way, “Ahoy, Ahoy, I’m taking water mid-ship”. In land lubbers terms: “Yar, I pissed me bloody bed aye”. Of course, a morning shower was always in order, and that needed to be done before 7- ish. After all, breakfast was the order of the day whence Norm was out of the shower and all ‘shiny’.
Yup, Ole Norm was our ‘Incontinental Human Sprinkler/Manure Spreader’ and needed to wear a diaper 24/7 for at least the last 3 years. The Ka Ka Drill: For my mom and I, it was an occupational hazard since we chose to keep our Norman rather than send him away. So he crapped his britches, he owned the pants he was wearing as well as the carpet he crapped on. Surely working ¾ of a century bought him a little slack in life where he could crap himself once in a while without being sent to a nursing home. Granted, he also had emotional issues that dated back to his childhood where English/Saxon boarding schools used to deliberately beat the devil out of Scottish & Irish kids as a ‘Rule of thumb’ with a ‘cat of nine tails’, holay!
The ole boy was still haunted by the absolute prejudice the Brits bestowed the Scots back in the early 20th century. This made a lasting impression that haunted him his entire life, and the tales he told reflected the barbarity and racial hatred back then in Jolly Old England. Norm was not a fan of the ‘Royal Boils’ as he called them. Apparently the Crown has and always will be an equal opportunity hater and now the Crown has turned on the Saxons, “Hey Liz, your Teutonic is beginning to show”, I should yell when I see Frau Queen Elizabeth’s royal entourage. Course feces laden projectiles also comes to mind eh. I lovingly call them ‘Maggie Pies” for dubious reasons, but that’s another story, “Tiocfaidh Ar La!”, eh…
Norman’s family was summarily tossed off their ancient island homeland by the British Crown decimating families, destroying their way of life, culture and erasing them from the annals of history. “Alba gu bràth!” (Scotland Forever), Norm would say whenever Scotland was mentioned. He was a walking time machine & witness since you could ask him about anything that occured on any specific day for the last 80 years. In a moment, for instance, you would be whisked back to 1937 and he will tell you what gruel he was eating at a boarding school or the news of the day and the general public opinion. His uncanny ability to have total recall of events a bazillion years ago made him a priceless resource and a wealth of knowledge indeed.
By and large Norm was a good egg, went to semenary school back in the 50′s and I found it quite refreshing to discover that the biblical teachings of his era were of love and honesty, not of hating Muslims and killing for God and Corporation. Norm spoke of the ‘era we live today’ many times in the past and I know he was eager to see the next round of events as prophesid within his dogma. We shared many visions and core moral & spiritual concepts. His knowledge of the Bible and Christianity as a whole was equally unsurpassed. He could resite passages as they pertain to global events with a clear and uncontaminated perspective that is simple to grasp, no decoder ring needed here boys and girls. His idea of Christianity was to emulate and walk in Jesus’s foot steps, not cast them in gold then kill in the name of his father for more gold. We both agreed we are living the time of his ‘Anti-Christ’ and my ‘Time of Change’.
So here we are several weeks along and Norm is getting up and washing himself, with a little assistance. It’s more like a Burmese Buddhist Water Festival since he is trying to scrub one way and I’m trying to blast all the big chunks off, ew ew ew. It’s no biggy since I dress in a homemade slicker to get wet in so it all works out. He gets showered, all Spic & Span shiny and clean then it’s to the livingroom and HIS coveted chair. I get breakfast done, bathroom washed down and get all the laundry washed then hung out to dry, two loads. Dryers use way to much energy for us and the sun is still free. Then at 11am I get a break, my mom did not tell me that part. Gads, in about an hour I will need to start preparing supper, gather and fold cloths, make the bed then ‘Check & Change’ ole Norm for ‘seepage’, hopefully by 2 pm or so, then the cycle begins for the evening meal, C&C and the whole nine yards till bedtime and hopefully Norm had a pleasant and dignified day.
I even became a ‘Messenger of Romance’ between these two elderly love birds. Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s all sweet and special but gawd, I have to relay all these special and private words of endearment since I commute to my mom’s hospital. Just glad they were not exchanging photos’ or ‘sexting’, gads. Norman truly missed his wife and It was quite moving to see how strong their bond of love was after 54 years of marriage. He would stare at her portrait and weep, followed by prayer then he would read from his Bible then sing from his old song book. I would join him in the prayer since I was also tied up in knots with worry about my ma ma. After all, she was the one who was ‘officially’ dying from a witches brew of toxic meds and had to be rushed to a hospital. One family crisis at a time boys and girls and someone please turn the channel because there is way to much drama on this channel, holay!
During the days I would call my mom and let her chat with Norman. He would get the biggest kick out of this and they would chat for hours on the telly. When I would hang up the phone Norm always had tears in his eyes because of worry for his bride. He proclaimed when they both were out of ‘this mess’ they would go back to Scotland and this time he would even take my mom in the Chunnel then onto Paris. My mom cared little about being under the English Channel last time, “Me, underwater? No, I don’t think so” she said.
Norm was studying the atlas and plotting their next ‘Grand Vacation’ as he called it. For him, his dream was to take one last ocean journey with my mom to see Paris maybe Rome then stay the remainder of their lives in Scotland since he was still a British subject. The mailbox was filling with pamphlets and package deals from travel agencies all over Europe and USA. For every sight or attraction he discovered in the mailer he had a story. Merry misadventures in Paris and antics in England, Norm had stories from around the world and when my mom got out of the hospital he was going to take her on ‘The trip of a lifetime’. After all, their Passports were current and so were Norman’s dreams.
Weeks roll around to months and I notice Norman is begining to loose motor skills, ever so slightly though, but his appetite was still good and I didn’t have any issue with him drinking enough fluids. Fact is, I think I need a floatation device. One morning after a shower I was dressing him when he acidentally crapped on my head, oh boy. At least it was confirmed he did not need a stool softener and the fecal cream rinse did make my hair more managable, just did not have that fresh clean smell. Personally, I’ll stick to Suave.
The next week found our Norman deteriorating even further. I had to carry him around the house because he lost the ability to walk. His hands and feet were turning dark red, his toes and fingers were getting contorted to the point he could no longer hold his ‘sippy cup’. His face was getting gaunt and the sparkle was disapearing from his eyes. I really had to consentrate hard when he tried to speak for his speach was very labored and hard to understand. With all the effort he could muster, he thanked me for assisting and caring for him. I told him that I loved him and it was my duty to care for him until mom got back, then he would get back to normal and take that ocean voyage he was planning. At that point I was struggling to hold back the tears because I knew in my heart he would never see his beloved Scotland again in this lifetime.
Previously I bought all of Norman’s favorite foods and made sure to have ample supplies at his disposal. I even got him a bottle of his favorite wine; ‘Ruby Port’. Sadly, he began to reject some food in the begining. Then in relatively quick succession he started rejecting some fluids . He would mumble something about ‘the angels’ and shake his head no. Fortunately a hospice provided critical medical input as well as nurses and doctors 24/7 so I was not completely alone to cope with the growing medical concerns I had. I must have read 30 books on the elderly and all the finite details in caring for them under a host of adverse situations and conditions over the last few years. But nowhere did I find a chapter that taught me how to stop Norman from dying.
As Norm slid deeper into the abyss of transition, he was monitored by professionals, not just me. I made sure to schedule doctors & nurses visits to staggar visits by technicians and other hospice people. Then one day he stopped eating and drinking no matter what I did or prepare for him, he simply stopped and turn to me with his teary eyes then lipped; “I love Ramona”, his wife. I finally got him to eat a few tablespoons full of food and a half sippy-cup of juice. He appeared to be drinking his water bottle a little better than the day before so I saw a glimmer of hope.
The next morning I woke up eager to see how Norm might have progressed. Since he was eating a little and taking some fluids I hoped he would take more food and beverages, then I would not need to call the doc for an intravenus fluid and food fix before the weekend. That was my plan of action for the day if Norm was to weak to rehydrate and eat or at least I thought. As I turned the corner towards Normans bedroom I could hear his labored breathing and he was shaking his head ‘no’. I came to his side and tried to communicate with him but he was not lucid. Suddenly he looked towards me and made a gesture with his atrophic hands towards the ceiling and tried to form words but his lips were quivering so much I could not make out his words.
I went to the livingroom to chat with the nurse on the telly. The nurse was made aware of Norman’s situation and we were in the process of charting the days events when I heard Norman arguing illegibly so I hung up the phone and ran to his side. As I approached his room I could see Norman with both hands out stretched towards the ceiling as if people had a hold of his arms. He was also way up in the bed but in a flash his arms and body flopped back down onto the bed just as I caught him. As I held him I heard his very last breath and his body fell limp. I looked into his eyes and I saw the fire go out in the boiler, as that old Scotsman Norman would say. I kissed his forehead and closed his eyes then I made a prayer within my tradition and within his for his journey back home.
Then as I got up to get his Bible I looked around and told Norman to remember what we talked about when I discussed my near death experience. I saw my body laying on the ground when I almost kicked the bucket so I wager ole Norm was still hanging out with his chums when I was speaking to him. Its not every day a loved one drops dead in my arms so I made every effort to make sure his journey was a good one just in case some douche bag spirit tried to pull some smack on my loved one. You only have one crack at this stuff so I did what I was taught within my tribe when someone crosses over, I pray for their journey & protection and burn some cedar provided there is no oxygen in use. If you don’t check for oxygen, your smudge stick will be more like a sparkler on the 4th of July.
What the @#*&%# was I going to tell my ailing mom in the hospital?? It’s not like I ate the last piece of fry-bread, her husband of 54 years, the love of her life, died on my shift. What a sad ending to their 54 year love affair. The last time Norman saw my mum was a couple months back, he was in his chair watching the news when her and I left for the clinic. Little did I know this would be the last time I would see them both together and little did Norman know that this was the last time he would ever see his wife. The last words he spoke to his wife in person were; “I love you Ramona and please get me some chocolate when you get back”. But sadly, Ramona never returned and now I must inform her that she is a widow.
As for me, I’m dodging the emotional bullet because my job is far from over. I still must make some command decisions about the estate, Norman’s remains as well as some hard decisions about my mom’s grave medical condition. For my mom, her epic struggle for survival has only just begun.
‘Alba gu bràth Norman and forever your memory will reign in the hearts of those who love you’
Your Devil’s Advocate
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