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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Voice of Reason Bina 2010

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Title: A Voice of Reason

Byline: As told to Debbie Shapiro

Lead in:

My parents are wonderful people, and they're the most adorable, loving couple you've ever seen, but they are absolutely – completely and utterly – impossible to reason with. They just don't want to accept the fact that they are getting older.

My father is eighty-nine; he has had both a knee replacement and a hip replacement, and he has pins holding together his other hip. He also has prostate cancer, a pacemaker, and a shunt in his brain to keep the fluids from building up. On top of all that, he is suffering from dementia and forgets things very quickly.

My mother is eighty-three. She has had at least one stroke and two heart attacks and is battling bladder cancer. In the last two years she has fallen several times. One time she broke her shoulder; another time she broke her hip. A third time, she hurt her back and ended up in the hospital for a few weeks.

The problem is that they both believe that they are functioning perfectly.

Although my father is often so confused that within the course of a few minutes he can ask the same question several times, he still – believe it or not – drives a car. He loves driving, and he needs to get out and do things, to feel that he is still part of the world and that he has a reason for living. Unfortunately he often becomes disoriented and forgets where he's going. Then he impulsively tries to correct the situation so that he won't feel foolish, and does something really dangerous, such as making a U-turn smack in the middle of a busy street or going down a one-way street the wrong way. 

At my most recent visit, I told my father that when he drives, he's endangering other people. His response: “I've been driving for seventy-odd years, and I've never once gotten into an accident.” I didn't give up and continued pointing out the dangers. He argued, he cried, and finally he told me that I was right. Then he took my hand, put it to his lips, and kissed it, thanking me profusely for being so concerned about his welfare. The next morning, before I left to catch my flight home, he kissed my hand again and said, "It's hard for me, but you did the right thing. Thank you." Three weeks later, I found out that he was driving again.

My two siblings and I are constantly on call. Whenever there's a crisis, one of us flies down to Florida to help out. It's not easy; in addition to being a wife and mother, I hold down an extremely demanding job. But as busy as my life is in New York, being with my parents is exhausting. The last time my mother was in the hospital, there was so much to do – visiting her in the hospital, shopping, cooking, caring for my father – that I simply could not manage everything. Whenever my sister returns home after spending time with our parents, she is so exhausted that she devotes two full days to doing absolutely nothing – she calls them her “pajama days.”

My father is constantly misplacing money. Whenever he needs money, he goes to the bank and takes out a few hundred dollars. But he's worried that someone might steal it, so he hides the money in different places throughout the house, and then forgets where he hid it. Sometimes he leaves little notes to himself, to help him remember, but then he forgets what the note is referring to. One time, for example, I found a note that said "checker" on it – and after playing detective, I discovered the money in the pocket of his checkered suit!

My sisters and I have spent hours researching ways to make our parents’ lives safer. They live in a high-rise building with a long hallway leading to their apartment. Theoretically, if one of them were to fall in that hallway, it could take hours until someone discovered them. And then, of course, there's the same concern when they're inside their apartment. So we bought them panic buttons – a necklace and bracelet with buttons for them to press that will alert people that there is an emergency – and they promised to wear them, but they never do. We gave them special super-simple cell phones, so that when my father leaves the house, he can call my mother if he gets lost. Again, they thanked us profusely and agreed with us that it was a great idea. But the phones are still lying in their box, unused.

We spoke to my father about using his walker, and he promised us that he would. But when we came to see them, it was folded up in the corner of a room where it had stood since the last visit. Each time we come, we organize my father's many pills for him. Then he “checks” that we did it right and often rearranges them. Since he really isn’t clear and is constantly forgetting things, he might easily end up either overdosing or not taking his medicine at all.

My parents are constantly falling. Baruch Hashem, the last time my mother fell – it was just a few weeks ago – she didn't break anything. But when my father bent over to help her up, he also fell. They somehow managed to crawl to the phone (that's why we want them to wear the panic buttons!) to call for help. It took two men to get my father up! One time when I was visiting, my father entered the house and stumbled over something. Again, we had to call for help to pick him up. Is it no wonder that every time they phone, I feel dread in the pit of my stomach and wonder, what now?

My siblings and I would like our parents to move into an assisted living facility. There is an excellent one right next to their apartment building. At the moment, they are probably still well enough to be able to get in, and once they're there, even if one of them needs to move to a more specialized care area, they will be able to spend most of their day together. The last time my sisters and I flew down to Florida to spend a long weekend visit, we read them the riot act, explaining that we are really concerned for their welfare and that they must move into a residence. They agreed that we were right and that they must move into a more protected environment, but once we left, they had a different story – that they're not moving, and that there is nothing to discuss.

My sisters and I try to be a voice of reason, but they don't want to listen to us. We've come to the realization that their lives are their own, not ours, and that we can't take responsibility for them. At this point, all I can say is that Hashem is watching over them, and I daven that they continue to be safe. 

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