26 June 2009

The child is becoming the parent

Am tired. Am so very, very tired. (Started with a typo of "I'm tied". At least then, I might be able to be stuck in a dark closet somewhere where no one could find me and I could at least sleep!).

The usual suspects are still making me tired: working at my regular job plus learning the opening business of our restaurant so I can come in on Saturday mornings and allow the Spousal Unit at least one day where he can sleep in past 5:30. I'm getting there - the lunches and dinners are easier somehow and I don't know why. I can make lattes and coffee well enough but I have to think about the breakfast items a little longer, be a little more deliberate whereas the coffee drinks are, mentally, much more of a 1-2-3-done kind of deal.

The thing that is really exhausting me, though, is my mom. I knew there would be caretaking involved when my dad died in 2007 simply because my mom has never really been on her own in her entire life. She met my dad when they were 14, she went straight from high school to nursing school to marriage at age 20. Then, through a combination of my dad's own particular issues and her acceptance of them, she learned basically nothing about the requirements of running a home and paying bills beyond the basics of groceries, laundry, cleaning, etc.

Now, before I go any further, I need to express a caveat for myself if nothing else. Those things she did all through my growing up years and working as an OB/GYN RN on top of it were important things. I am utterly grateful to her for them. But the fact remains that there was a lot she was very content to let my dad take care of and was largely an observer of life in general.

While she's certainly made fantastic strides in learning how to deal with things like taxes, home maintenance, et cetera, she is still remarkably, almost aggressively, passive about her own life. My brother and I work on making her get out of the house for something besides a grocery or post office run, but since he is an hour away and I am across the country, it is unfortunately easier for her to ignore our efforts than we would like.

I think she gets that we are wise to her attempts to be a hermit so now things have turned to matters of her health. She sees a doctor every few months for bloodwork, checking up on her diabetes, etc. However, she also has a host of other symptoms that are worrying: random vomiting with no apparent trigger, bowel issues, incontinence issues, and sleep issues. It took me a few months to get her to mention these issues to her doctor at all after several iterations of this basic conversation:

Me: "Mom, make a list of these things. Take it to the doctor and ask him the questions."

Mom: "Well, it's just stuff. It doesn't happen all the time/it went away/other random excuse."

Me: "Mom, take the list to the doctor. Ask him the questions. I will call you after the appointment. If you didn't ask the questions, I will call your doctor and have this conversation with him."

The latest struggle has been over her potential sleep apnea. The Spousal Unit has it so I'm familiar with the signs and she has many of the same symptoms; has her whole life. I can remember her snoring like a house afire from the time I was a wee hermit. I finally got her to agree to ask the doctor about it, telling her that the CPAP device had helped with the SU's sleep, memory issues, fatigue, etc; all things she was experiencing. What does she tell the doctor?

Well, my daughter thinks this might be what I have but I won't wear a CPAP.

Cue now-slightly-bigger hermit banging her head against her desk in frustration. When I talked to her on the phone, I wanted to say, "So, you'll bitch about this ad nauseum to me but you won't do anything that could take care of the issue and improve your quality of life?" What I did say was, "You know, mom. That's your choice. I think you would be much happier getting a full night's sleep but obviously that's up to you."

Because, really, short of hogtying her to a bed and supergluing a CPAP to her face? There isn't anything I can do. And that's probably one of the hardest things to deal with as this one-eighty from child to caretaker-parent continues to take place. As a former health-care provider, I know she cared deeply about her patients and their care. She would fight doctors if she felt what they were doing was incorrect, not enough, or that they weren't providing a high enough standard of care. But, as herself, as a 70-year-old woman mired in depression who has just...given up, she doesn't care enough about herself to fight for the things that could help her.

It's so frustrating to watch this. Both my brother and I are physically limited in what we can do based on time and distance. Plus, she is not at a stage where we feel we can or should make decisions for her living arrangements and care that force her into a situation she is not ready for. That will only serve to alienate her and make her feel like we're trying to push her off somewhere where neither of us have to deal with her anymore. But, dammit, it's so frustrating to be constantly met with a wet blanket of learned helplessness that she stays in because it's comfortable and it's what she knows. "No, I won't..." is her mantra. Won't learn how to hit "reply" on an e-mail (so she reads e-mail only and that took a year to get her to do), won't listen to voice mail on a cell phone (so don't bother to ever call it), won't ask her doctor for tests or help in diagnosing issues because "they go away", won't get estimates on work because she "doesn't know how to do these things" and continually tries to put these things off on me or my brother...but refuses our help if we offer it in the first place.

I am...emotionally drained. But I can't give in. I need to keep calling her every night to talk to her because I'm pretty much the only human interaction she has during the day besides the drive-thru clerk at McDonalds or the cashier at the grocery store. I need to keep trying to be there for her because there is going to come a time where she is no longer able to be on her own, to keep the house up, to take care of herself and will need the resources of both myself and my brother to help her move on to that next stage.

But it's hard.

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