For About and By Caregivers
Nearest Doorknob

By Jane Hoppe


Wednesdayís red blouse and black jacket hang from the bathroom doorís inside knob. Thursdayís teal sweater and scarf hang from the bathroom doorís outside knob. My lavender jacket never made it into the front closet; it is still on that doorknob. Wednesdayís beige canvas tote bag and Thursdayís Monetís Water Lilies tote bag remain suspended on my office doorknob.

A quick scan of our houseís doorknobs hints that last Wednesday and Thursday still haunt my mind and challenge my energy level. My motherís unexpected hospitalization and my fatherís nursing home care plan meeting made for two emotionally and physically draining back-to-back 12-hour days that reverberate into this week. Today, four days later, sheer determination to move on, to have a life (what is it I do, again?) hangs my clothes properly in closets or tosses them in the dirty clothes basket. Deciding what to do with the contents of the two tote bags will be more difficult.

In one bag, a skinny note pad contains notes I scribbled in my motherís internistís office, where we went last Wednesday so that he could clear her for knee replacement surgery in two weeks. There my mother reported to him that sheíd had heart-attack-type symptoms that very morning. With that game changer, we were on our way to the hospital. But not before the doctor had patiently explained cardiac vs. coronary, leg swelling, and unstable angina. The doctorís and my motherís pronunciation of the cardiologistís name left me wondering how to spell it, so I got that and his phone number and wrote that down, tooójust in case.

Now what do I do with these notes? Iím thinking I need to organize and update the file folder I began several years ago with contact names and numbers for my parentsóand it may be time to keep this folder in my car, not in my desk at home. The medical explanations Iíll compose into an e-mail to my siblings, file the e-mail in my Mom and Dad folder online, and pitch the little scrap of paper. Okay, on to the next note pad...

A little wider note pad has my note to self to go to my motherís house and bring back a medication the hospitalís pharmacy does not carry, her shawl, and her dental floss; the cardiologistís case for searching for a blockage and time of Thursday morningís angiogram; and Momís questions I will need to ask nursing home staff at Dadís Alzheimerís care plan meeting Thursday afternoon. In this tote bag, I also find an extra photocopy the nurse took of my motherís list of medications.

Same basic decision on these notes: Share the cardiologistís info with sibs and keep the meds list with me for future hospital visits when my dear, brave mother might not be able to give this information herself. I hope that day never comes, but with recurring heart attack symptoms now in the picture...

A full-sized sheet of paper holds Momís and my questions for the nursing home staffóand their answers about Dadís condition. The back holds the hospital nurseís detailed discharge instructions for my mother. When she can shower next, how often to vary positions, when to start doubling one medication, what time of day to take another Ö and if a hard, black bruise shows up, call the cardiologist, but if she feels pain in her calf, call the internist. Itís too muchóeven now, this list overwhelms me. My mother is mentally sharp; I hope she remembers all this advice, and from our phone conversations since Thursdayís homecoming, she seems to have. She probably conscientiously read all the papers in the thick yellow discharge folder, just as she had read all the knee-replacement-prep papers.

Whatís the best destiny for this paper? In todayís phone call to Mom, Iíll review the discharge advice, just in case. And although I relayed the report on Dad to my out-of-state siblings when I called them Thursday to report on Momís angiogram, I think Iíll put it down in an e-mail, too, and pitch the paper.

Last but not least, I fish the hospitalís Visitor Guide from my tote bag. Wait, two Visitor Guides, one leftover from Momís hospital stay last month for a different issue. (Sigh.) These definitely go in the wastebasket; with all the eldercare health scares of recent years, Iíve memorized that hospitalís map and cafeteria hours.

After an intense event such as hospitalization, the processes of re-entry into normal life and assimilation of new information and new circumstances remind me of corporate experiences like coming back from a marketing conference with 3-inch 3-ring binders heavy with workshop notes or like leaving a management meeting with new directives. You have to figure out changes, new routines, new approaches, and often you donít have energy left for such thought. For me, eldercare has been like a side job whose hours increase as my parents hobble toward their mid-90s. Those of you whose parents live with you have a full-time job (perhaps in addition to a paying full-time job). Whether part- or full-time, the job entails figuring out what to do with the stuff hanging on the nearest doorknob.

I havenít even talked about emotional stresses hanging on my heartís doorknob after last Wednesday and Thursday. Just a few examples...

  •  Seeing my motherís cheek muscles pulse and eyes tear when her internist told her he wouldnít clear her for the knee replacement she had so hoped for
  • And Thursday morning before the angiogram, seeing her clutch her forehead due to severe pain caused by a medication
  • Hearing my normally unbelievably courageous mother wonder aloud why she couldnít just fall asleep and not wake up
  • Sobbing with my mother Wednesday night over Alzheimerís robbing her of having her husband at her side in her times of need over the past nine years; instead her needs have had to take a backseat so she could be at his side for all his dementia-induced crises
  • Choking on the thought that perhaps the most loving thing to say to Dad now might be, ďWeíll take care of Mom,Ē and to Mom, ďWeíll take care of DadĒ to free them from holding on. Yet their very holding on is such a transcendent testimony to love. Are we even ready to take full responsibility for one of them without the other? Only by Godís grace will we be ready for the inevitable.

Amid disappointment, helplessness, and grief last week were also moments of joy and laughter. My one local sisterís presence Thursday was an absolute godsend. Strong emotions linger, but without my sister to share the load and encouragement and the prayers of friends, my doorknobs would still be burdened with last weekís detritus.

Jane Hoppe is a seasoned freelance writer and editor who has also authored one work of womenís fiction, Beyond Betrayal. She is blessed to be able to come alongside both her elderly parents in this season of long good-byes. Hoppeís mother, 93, lives in a retirement community, and her father, 92, lives in an Alzheimerís wing of the nursing home on the same campus.


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