Wednesday, October 26, 2011



     I went to the living room to bring her to see her nice new room.  I opened the door to show her our handiwork.  I said, “Here you are Mother, a nice, big room with your own bathroom.  How do you like it?”
     She looked around and answered, “It’s not big enough.  Where am I going to put my refrigerator and all the kitchen things?  Where am I going to cook?”
     At that point, I was so angry, frustrated, and just plain tired, that I wanted to hit her--so bad I could taste it.  I turned and left her and went into my little room and hit the bed instead, while big tears streamed down my cheeks.  Here I was squeezed into a small bedroom, with so much furniture and clothing that I could hardly move, while she had a big, beautiful bedroom that she didn’t seem to appreciate one little bit.
     We couldn’t jam our clothes into the small closet, so we split everything into two rooms.  We bought two more single beds, one for my husband and one for me.  this meant that we wouldn’t be able to sleep together, but there was nothing else to do.  It certainly wasn’t the best arrangement but we vowed to adjust.
     Having someone else living in your home is rough to handle, even for a short period of time, but this was a permanent arrangement.  It meant that we had no privacy, no time alone, and there was certainly no whoopee made in our house for a long while.  The problems seemed endless.  As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, she was also depressed and angry about her lot in life.  I realized her attitude stemmed from giving up her freedom and her home and relying on someone else for everything, but knowing that didn’t make dealing with her any easier.  We decided that this was the way it was going to be and we had to make the best of it.  We tried to make her as comfortable as we could.
     We moved as many of her personal belongings into her room as would fit, including her toaster oven, microwave, coffee pit and small refrigerator to keep her snacks and milk fresh.  The room was filled to capacity, but she could do a little cooking for herself.  Unfortunately, nothing really made her happy.  I realized that her pain was affecting her actions most of the time, but this knowledge didn’t make it any easier to swallow.  It seemed that the frustration of dealing with her was slowly dragging my husband and me down.
    It didn’t help that menopause was plaguing me with hot flashes and mood swings.  Tears came easily and I cried myself to sleep many nights.  Eight hours pent at my job followed by eight hours of caring for her was wearing me to a frazzle.  I knew that I needed an outlet for my anger and frustration, so I started keeping a journal.  Looking back, I realize that it saved my life!  The cathartic act of putting the words on paper somehow made it easier to forget my problem and get on with the work at hand,namely caring for her.  It seemed to me that once the words were written, they would leave my mind, giving me the opportunity to replace them with more positive thoughts.
     Before my mother-n-law moved into my home, I always thought of myself as a positive person.  I could usually turn negative thoughts or situations into positive outcomes with a little effort, but this predicament was a real challenge.
     When I talked to her doctor about her attitude, he suggested that I give her something to do.  He suggested that even little tasks like snapping beans, cutting up vegetable for a salad, or peeling potatoes would go a long way toward making her feel that she was needed. I tried his suggestions, she thought that I was making her work for her keep and became upset.  I tried to explain to her that I just wanted her to feel welcome and a part of the family.  I guess she didn’t see it that way.  But, I tried to ignore her attitude and just keep including her in everything we did.
     We did all the adjusting  from then on.  We tried to please her and give her the things that she wanted, or thought she needed, even when it strained our budget.  As her condition worsened she spent more time in her room, and she decided it was too dark in there.


     In the beginning I thought it would be easy to take my husband’s mother into our home and care for her.  After all, we had always had a good relationship.  She lived right across the street when I was growing up, and when I was fourteen, I used to help her around the house quite often.  I don’t know why it is more fun to do chores at someone else’s home, but it is.  Maybe because they thank you more often than your own family does.  Anyway, we were friends and our families were friends, as well.  It didn’t hurt that I was attracted to her son, either.  I liked being at his house when he came home from work.
     He was four and a half years older than I was and probably thought I was a baby but I was determined that he was the man I was going to marry.  Little did I realize that eventually is family would come along with him.  I loved his parents, so when we had to take care of them, I didn’t think it would be bad.  Boy, was I wrong!
     This was probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to do.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved my mother-in-law, at least I did when she was living in her own home.  She was a different person then, sweet, easygoing, and caring.  Illness changed her into someone I didn’t know.  I tried to make allowances for the illness, but it wasn’t easy.
     Caring for the elderly is a heartrending task at best.  It’s as though they become children again.  They often crave constant attention and resort to strange actions to get the attention they need.  And sometimes they seem to enjoy sending you on a guilt trip.  Ultimately, these changes may take a toll on your relationship.
     When Wayne’s mother moved in she had a bad case of shingles in her ears and mouth and on one side of her face.  Her doctor explained that this condition was very painful.  She also suffered from an advanced case of emphysema, brought on by a lifetime of heavy smoking.  This was almost too much for her to take.  Her frail, little body was wasting away.  But she needed help and we were determined to do what we could to make her comfortable.  The first step was to set her up in our spare bedroom.
     In the beginning, she wanted to be in the living room all the time.  I understood her need to be near our family so she wouldn’t be so lonely, but I couldn’t understand why she needed to be in the thick of things when we had guests.  She would lug her oxygen hose, pillow, blanket and many medications into our living room, all the while choking, coughing, and spitting out phlegm into issues that would land everywhere.  I would find her tissues in the darnedest places.  Now, I can take a lot, but it was difficult to entertain guests amid all this mess.  We tried to coax her into her room, but she wanted to be in the front room.
     Because her living with us was supposed to be a temporary measure, Mother was occupying the extra bedroom that was a mere nine by nine feet.  After she had been living with us for awhile, she decided it wasn’t big enough for all her things.  We tried to soothe her by explaining that the situation was temporary and she would soon be home again, in her little trailer.
     It wasn’t long before we realized that this wasn’t going to be a temporary stay, so if we wanted her to be happy we were going to have to give her a  bigger room.  We decided that our best option was to move out of our room and give her the master bedroom.  It was thirteen by fifteen feet and had a bathroom with a walk-in shower that would make it easier for her. It isn’’t what we wanted to do, but it was all we could manage at the time.
     We took her to her trailer so that she could pack her belongings and select the things that she wanted to keep with her.  Most of the trinkets and small items would be sold at a yard sale and the rest of her belonging could stay in her trailer, so we could rent it furnished.
     I wanted this big room to be special for her. I wanted to make it as much like home as possible, so I moved everything out and painted the walls and ceiling in the bedroom and the bathroom.  This make it fresh and clean, and light.  We moved our queen-sized waterbed (my pride and joy) to storage, since it wouldn’t fit in the smaller bedroom.  The large dresser was too big for any other room, so we left it for her things.
     The mirror had a china closet along one side to display her special treasures; the nightstand beside her single bed provided storage space and a drawer for her medications.  We chose a single bed to give her more room  I bought a new bedspread and curtain to match, in green and yellow to brighten up the room.  We placed her coffee maker in the bottom of the end table (she drank coffee all day) and her dishes in the china closet.  We hung her favorite pictures on the wall and placed her husband’s picture on the nightstand, along with a reading light.  I added a comfortable rocking chair that I thought would be perfect for her to sit and crochet.  The room really looked fresh and clean, and I was proud of the work we had done.  I just knew she would be excited and happy when she she it.  Wrong again!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Betty Boop: CHAPTER 4 MY FIRST PATIENT: MY FIRST PATIENT My caregiving career started out slowly with a part-time patient, my father-in-law, E.T., who I affectionately ca...

Saturday, October 22, 2011


     My caregiving career started out slowly with a part-time patient, my father-in-law, E.T., who I affectionately called “a cantankerous old was an intelligent man.  He and I debated many an issue.  You had to have all your ducks in a row before coming up against this man, for he knew his subjects well.  Good research would make a good debate with him.  I knew him before I knew his son Wayne.  They lived across the street from us in Pasadena, California. I spent a lot of time at his house, even before his son came home from the service.
     I set my cap for his son and after we were married, we lived near his parents.  Eventually, we went into business with them for about fifteen years.  A few years after moving to Boardman, Oregon, we opened a garage, where the farmers got their equipment repaired and we would service cars that broke down on the highway.  Boardman was a town of 153 people at that time and it was culture shock, moving from Pasadena to Boardman, but we took it in stride.  When the John Day Dam went in, we moved our business to the new highway and together we owned a service station and auto repair shop.  It took me a long time to get used to small town living, but now I love it.
     my father-in-law believed that his way was always the right way.  When we started our business, he tried to tell me how to keep the books at the service station.  I listened to what he had to say, but the Union 76 representative showed me how they preferred to have the books kept, so of course, I followed their system.
     One day my father-in-law came in and was giving me a bad time about my bookkeeping method,,,again.  I’d had it up to my ears with the constant chatter and his suggestions.  I asked him if he wanted to sit own and do the books, instead of me.  When he declined, I told him to either sit down and do the books or get out of my office and let me do my job, my way.  With that I pushed him out the office door and slammed it shut.
     I guess that did it.  I had asserted myself and he must have respected that, for he didn’t give me a bad time ever least  not about the books.  Even when we were on vacation and he had to do the books for me, he did it my way.  That astounded me!
     When my father-in-law retired from the service station, it wasn’t long before his health began to deteriorate.  On day in August 1983, he had a heart attack; in fact, his heart stopped completely.  His wife called 911 and the ambulance responded with the Emergency Medical Technicians, who struggled to resuscitate him and get his heart started again.
     He was in the hospital for a week then home for a few days.  It didn’t last long---he had a gall stone attack that put him back in the hospital for surgery.  In a couple of weeks he was home giving his wife a bad time again.
     She worked hard at taking care of her husband, but didn’t complain until she entered the hospital with congestive heart failure in October.  The burden of taking care of her husband, was beginning to show in her health.
     While she was hospitalized, my father-in-law moved into our house for a while.  Then my mother-in-law joined him in a week, when she was released from the hospital.  I had my hands full since neither one was doing too well but we got through it.  They were able to do some things for themselves during convalescence, so it didn’t interfere with our work day.
     During this time, my parents planned to drive from Sequim, Washington for a visit, so we moved my in-laws to my daughter’s house for a while.  We didn’t have enough room for both couples, and they weren’t ready to go home yet.  Casey kept them for a few days, until my mother-in-law was back on her feet, then they moved back to Boardman and their little trailer.
     My parents stayed with us for two weeks, and just after they left to go home, we brought my father-in-law back again.
     This time he was suffering from a ad case of hiccups.  We drove to Boardman to bring him to the hospital.  He was given an injection to relax him, but it took effect before we could get him home to Boardman.  He went limp, really knocked out.  His body was like a rag doll, all floppy and loose.  Too loose!  The relaxant must have been too strong, because he started vomiting all over the bed.  He collapsed and we took him to the hospital again.
     He was out of the hospital in a week and back in Boardman.  However, after this incident Wayne’s father went downhill fast.  Mother kept him in a hospital bed in the front room of their trailer and cared for him as best she could.  When the task got too much for her, she would bring him to our house so we could take over and she could rest for a while and regain her strength.  We drove to their house often to help my mother-in-law and visit over dinner.
     By the beginning of January in 1984, Wayne’s father became seriously ill.  His wife again brought him to our house, where we cared for him for a few days.  This is when I learned my first real lesson in caregiving.  Always use  rubber sheet or  draw sheet on the patient;s bed.  He was resting in bed, before going to the hospital for three days in preparation for entering the nursing home, when he lost control of his bladder and his bowel.  Wayne and I struggled to get his soiled clothes off, while Mother Kuhn stood nearby apologizing and sobbing.  She was so worn out trying to care for her husband that she was close to a breakdown.
     Finally we got the bedding off the bed, scrubbed the mattress and flipped it over, bathed him, dressed him and took him to the hospital.  I’ll never forget the look on my mother-in-law’s face.  It was as if her world was coming to an end and she could do nothing but watch it happen.  
     Looking back at what he endured for his last six months, it might have been wiser to have let him go during the first heart attack.  Wayne’s mother said that if she had known how he was going to suffer, she would have told the paramedics to let him go.  His life became hellish, and he was forced to depend on a nurse for everything.
     Accustomed to being in control of his life and his family for more than eighty years, he was now dependent on someone else for everything, including his bodily functions.  The indignity of his situation tore him up inside.  He couldn’t even eat by himself, and the food wasn’t to his liking either.  Finally he simply gave up.  His wife sat with him for long hours, every day, watching the man she loved die by inches.
     He was admitted to a nursing home of January 18.  He finally had another heart attack during the night of February 11, and my “cantankerous old goat” left this world with its pain and suffering.  the whole town turned out for his funeral.  This gruff little man was loved by all who knew him...including me.
     We knew so little about caregiving in our home back then and we did many things wrong.  The one thing we didn’t do wrong was love and care for my husband’s father.

Friday, October 14, 2011


     We had a loving family when I was growing up and I believe that the new family created when I got married was just as loving.  Our two girls, just like most young people, were full of fun and busy with school.
     My husband, Wayne, has always been a wonderful husband, although he found it hard to show his feelings.  He loves to tease and put his arms around me, so even though he doesn’t put it into words, I know that he loves me very much.  That wonderful feeling when he touches makes me tingle clear down to my toes...even after forty-seven years of marriage.
     We lived modestly, saddled with a large mortgage payment and a car payment.  With two children including one in college, we didn’t have much saved.  Like many families, we lived from paycheck to paycheck, but we managed.
     When our children married and left home to start their own families, we concentrated on saving everything we could toward retirement.  We had plans to spend the winters in Arizona, close to his relatives and childhood friends, and summers in Hermiston, Oregon, where we would be close to our youngest daughter, Casey, and our two grandchildren, Nikki and Cody.  Casey’s husband Gary, is a rancher and quite a businessman.
     Our oldest daughter, Pamela, lives in Connecticut, where she pursues a career in opera.  Her husband Chris works for a large bank in risk management.  We visited them in 1983, when they lived in London, but haven’t been to Connecticut, at least not yet.  Our plans were to return to London while they were still there, but things kept getting in the way.  She and Chris travel all over the world in their respective careers.  it’s an exciting life that we love to hear about when she and Chris comes to visit, and we look forward to the tapes of Pamela’s performances.
     Wayne and I both loved to play golf and played at the drop of a hat, or should I say visor.  Of course, Wayne’s played on Sunday, men’s day, and I played on Wednesday, women’s day, when I wasn’t working.  We loved sports and liked to be outside in the fresh air as much as possible.
     All that changed when Wayne’s mom moved in.  Our carefree style had to accommodate caring for his mom, with one of us at home all the time as her condition worsened.
     We adjusted our lives around her needs.  Our plans for retirement were put on hold and we used much of our savings to buy the equipment we needed for Mom’s room.  The free time we used to have was gone.  Golf tournaments were for one of us, not both of us, dinners out were few, even company was curtailed because of Mom.
     We tried our best to adjust, but it wasn’t easy.  It wasn’t easy to stay home on Saturday and Sunday, when we wanted to be out golfing with our friends.  It wasn’t easy either to work nine hours a day and come home to a complaining mother-in-law.  But, the worst thing was watching my husband’s health deteriorate as he worked all day and took care of his mother too.  It was hard on Wayne to lift his mother from the bed to the chair, while she fought  against him every inch of the way.  His back suffered along with the rest of his body.  But Wayne loved his mother and would do anything that was necessary to keep her comfortable and happy.  
     His own health wasn’t good.  He was headed for renal failure and grew progressively weaker as his kidneys shut down.  Wayne decided to retire early, at sixty-two, to help take care of his mother.  He would care for Mom in the daytime, while I took over during evenings and weekends.  I came home at break time, plus at lunch to fix the noon meal.  It was a busy schedule, but we managed.
     My boss told me to go home any time I was needed.  He realized I was doing a balancing act with all my responsibilities and gave me all the time I needed.  Even though I knew that it costs a business when an employee is off the job too much, I appreciated my boss’s consideration and tried to give him extra time to make up for it.  That was before the Family Leave Act was in place.
     I wished I had someone to guide me though those years.  I know now that I tried to take on too much.
     It took its toll.