MY FIRST PATIENT
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 again...at 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.