April 28, 2016
Most of you know I help care for my friend, Carl. He is 89 years old and lives down the street from me. I have brought him to church a few times. He has not been interested in going for a long time. I have noticed Carl declining over the last few months. What Carl wants out of life during his final years is simple. He wants to stay in his home with his beloved dog, Daisy, and go to Denny’s every night for dinner. He wants to read on his couch all day every day. He wants to nap in between reading, something he denies doing. Carl has told us all, “I don’t nap ever because as a kid I HAD to take a nap and I hated that. I have not napped since.” This is funny to me because sometimes I come in and he is bleary eyed because I woke him up. I do not let on that I know the truth here. I have been the main morning person for the last two years. I wake Carl, fix his breakfast, make sure his oxygen is on and his level is ok, he takes his medication, and that he is set for the day. Ben and I trade evenings with another person. We take him to Denny’s, make sure he takes his medicine, check his oxygen, and stay until he is in bed at night.
Carl is seriously about the nicest person I know. He is always polite, so appreciative, and just a pleasure to be around. We visit easily, laugh often, and have grown to be family to one another. Laura considers him a grandpa, helps walk Daisy, and will walk in and grab a Coke out of his fridge with the ease and comfort of a family member. I love this man. He is my friend, my sounding board, my advisor. I have cried with him over the aging of my own parents, the loss of loved ones, and the things that happen in everyday life. He is a wise man. I have shared the joys of parenthood with him as well as the pure happiness in being married to Ben, the most patient and loving person I know. Ben is much like my own father in that way. He is always there when you need him, so gentle and kind, and the best dad ever.
Carl has leveled me with a few statements when I needed it. An example would be when I needed surgery to rebuild my face after my big seizure. I could not breathe out of my nose at all. The day before I was having second thoughts and Carl simply said, “Well, you can either do the surgery and feel better and breathe well for the rest of your life, or you can cancel and continue not breathing right for the rest of your life. It is a choice.” Wow. Ok then. Nuff said. I laughed and did not cancel the surgery. There are a million examples like this. Sometimes Carl gets confused about things, may read the same book every day for a month etc., but then he turns around and hits you with a dead on zinger. He is a true friend.
Over the last month in particular, Ben and I have noticed a change in Carl. It takes him sometimes 2 hours to make it to the table for breakfast. Self-care is becoming increasingly difficult. He was getting weaker and having a harder time getting places even with his walker. I had promised myself when I began caring for Carl that when it became an issue with my MS, I would discontinue. By this I mean, my balance is off, I am not super strong, and sometimes I have a hard time getting my own self ready for the day. If this ever became a problem with providing safe care for Carl, I would do what was right. That’s a hard deal.
Last Wednesday Carl could not stand up to go to dinner. He literally could not stand. It took three of us a long time to get him to bed. We did not go to Denny’s. Instead, 911 was called. The paramedics came and evaluated Carl, determining his vitals were fine. Seriously? No one checked if the man could walk, which he could not. So, then on Friday evening the other caregiver called and was really scared. She and Carl were leaving for dinner and he went down in the garage. He did not fall, it happened kind of in slow motion and she was able to brace him and place him carefully on the garage floor. Nick and I drove down immediately, catching Daisy who had run off on the way. When we got there it was heartbreaking to see him there on the garage floor, his head on a pillow. I held Daisy up to him and asked if she looked familiar. He smiled and said yes, he knew that dog well. I asked if he was ok and he said things could be worse.
That is Carl for you. There he is on the garage floor, for crying out loud, and things could be worse. I agreed and said it would be much worse if he had gone down in the parking lot of Denny’s. He agreed. We decided to wait until Ben got there so that Ben and Nick could safely get him into the house. Nick, the other caregiver, and I were able to get him up enough to sit on the bench of his walker. We were not going to attempt to get him into the house. Nick got him a Coke (the only beverage he is at all interested in. He takes two sips of water a day. The sips are when he takes his pills). He was shaking so badly that it spilled all over. He shakes all the time anyway, but this was more than his usual tremor. The Coke splattered everywhere. I sat on the step in front of his walker and held his hands steady. I asked if he wanted me to dance a jig or anything. He laughed and said he would not be making me do that today. I told him I was really relieved as I don’t know how. I would fake it for him, but only for him.
I could see the fear in his eyes, something I had never seen. I told him that it was going to be ok. I said I guess his body really was 89, even though his mind, heart, and spirit are more like 50. Those knees were old and angry. He is outliving his body, as is my Mom. He calmed down a little, Nick got a cup with a lid and straw for his drink, and soon Ben arrived. Nick and Ben got him to the kitchen table and I got him a banana. What good was a banana going to do? I have no idea, but he was so weak he was drenched in sweat and shaking like a leaf. I had no other way to be helpful, so I got him a banana.
He did not go to Denny’s that night. I wrote to his daughter explaining that I would no longer be able to care for Carl by myself. Ben will continue to take him to Denny’s every other weekend and on Wednesday nights for now. This is only because since that night Carl has improved and is walking again. I will do those weekend mornings as Ben is home should I need him. As far as doing every weekday morning? I discontinued doing that on the spot. I did not give notice, wait to figure it out, or see if he improved in a few days. Had either of those spells happened when I was alone, I could not have done anything. We would both go down. I would not transport Carl anywhere ever again. Getting him in and out of a car is not something I will be responsible for. Wow, was this hard for me.
I will continue to be family to Carl. I will continue to see him on a regular basis. Laura will walk Daisy. We can all go to Denny’s sometimes. I know, though, that it won’t be the same. That makes me very sad. I did the right thing, though it was very hard. This aging thing is really strange and it happens so fast. It really does.
I am now the age that we found our parents to be so embarrassing. Yep, that is me. I do things like yell, “Make good choices” when the herd of girls gets out of the car at school. Part of me does it on purpose, you know, to make Laura roll her eyes. Part of me just really means it. Make good choices. Every time she leaves for school on her bike the last thing I say is “Be careful, watch for cars.” She says, “I KNOW, Mom.”, and off she goes. I mean it. Be careful and watch for cars. I know they don’t always do that because I have spied on them. She would die if she knew that. Truth is, they don’t always watch for cars.
I am a dork and old on many levels. I don’t understand the need for tweeting, Instagram, snap-chat, etc. when I know how to text. Why is it so different? I don’t really even understand what tweeting is and I don’t really care either. Laura has explained it a million times, but I don’t see how she would even know because she is like the ONLY child on the planet with no cell phone yet. Poor baby. I tell her that her friends all have one so I can reach her that way, so all is fine. She does not find that a bit amusing. I also find that with each passing year I care a lot less about what other people think. I realize that life is too short to worry about what everyone else thinks.
Physically I know all too well that my body is aging. MS aside, I cannot do the things I used to do. Even if I didn’t have MS, I would not be able to do some of the things that we can do in our youth. I am creeping towards 50. How did that happen? My Dad says, “Heck (ok, he didn’t actually say ‘heck’, but the other word. It is a Christian place, so I am sticking with heck), you are just getting to the good part.” I love that he said that and think about it all the time. How can that be? I guess time will show me.
My family has something that happens with age. It is called the McGuirk frown. This is from my mother’s side of the family. It is a deep crease between the eyebrows, much like the one you get if you furrow your brows. Picture Bert, from Bert and Ernie. What a frown. He always looks like he is frowning, even if he is laughing. I am not sure how that guy got it, but he has the McGuirk frown. My Grandpa had it, my Mom, both brothers, and my sister have it. Well, mine has started. Noooooooooo. Am I so vain to consider botox should it really become the depth of most McGuirk frowns? Yes, yes I am. If it was a smile, a laugh line, that would be different. A frown is not something I want to have permanently on my face. It isn’t there yet, but I am just sayin….
My dear friend Carl is just outliving his body, that is all. His body is tired. It has carried Carl around for 89 years and done a pretty good job of it. Carl smoked for the biggest chunk of those years, leaving him with COPD. All things considered, that body has done a good job of housing Carl the last 89 years. I pray that for the remainder of his days he can have Daisy at his side. I know that it would absolutely break his heart should he have to move somewhere that he cannot have her. The garage floor night was hard on Carl mentally. He was really grouchy (something that he never is) and quiet the rest of the night. He held Daisy close. I don’t blame him. For now, I hear the plan is to keep him at home and increase the level of help he is getting. I hope that works, but if it doesn’t, I hope that everyone can be strong enough to do what is best and safe. We had to do it with my Mom. Yes, she is still mad, but she is safe. I think if Carl has Daisy and his loved ones at his side, he will continue to be happy. He is the happiest person I know. He is strong. He is strong in the way that matters. Maybe he knows that he is just getting to the good part.