This is part nine of Notes from the Problem Child, Arthur Roeser’s caregiving story. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, and part eight.
Johnny was at the house. He had calmed down, thank goodness, but was still upset about the lack of headway at the hospital.
“Let’s do something then! Let’s go buy some cleaners and clean the kitchen and bathroom floor while they wait for something to happen at the hospital,” I said. He was all up for it— he could channel his frustrations toward dirt and grime. Together, we would make this kitchen and bathroom right, the way it ought to be, the way that good people deserved to have it be. I think for both of us, anger was a driving force in our determination to clean up. For years we had tried and tried to get our parents to act on things and they kept refusing, insisting they didn’t like to be told what to do and making excuses. Now we were changing the game. We were opportunists.
It was that bad. The kitchen linoleum was dark and crusty with long-hardened dribbles of spilled food. The powder room floor was stained with dirt and urine. Johnny and I got on our hands and knees and went inch by inch over the entire area, scrubbing by hand with hard, plastic bristle brushes caked with Comet cleaner and then mopping with Mr. Clean and drying. We moved all the tables and chairs in and out. We moved all the appliances. The floor under the fridge and the wall behind it were dark with mold.
But after several hours, the place was spotless.
Now, I have had knee problems for years and have had two knee surgeries. I am convinced that the afternoon I spent scrubbing the floor has contributed to my current, debilitating knee pain and, what will soon be, my third knee surgery. Not to mention the sudden occurrence of shoulder and elbow tendinitis. This the price one pays to get things done, to get some satisfaction. But it felt so good to be able to do this. We were so proud of ourselves.
I think it was then my family realized, and accepted, that I was going be the one taking charge.
Johnny didn’t have the self confidence– he didn’t trust himself. He still beats himself up for having had a mental illness, which is too bad because he more or less gave up on himself. Annie is the oldest but she’s still the little girl, unable to spread her wings and be the full, mature, capable adult who can make decisions in front of my parents.
“I still feel like a child whenever I come visit,” she once confided to me.
I had shown mom and dad that I was a little bit different– I could negotiate through politics and get things done. They had actually begun to respect that. Better late than never.
A year ago, I had come to an impasse with their clogged kitchen sink.
It had been stopped up for months and mom had to run water into a basin in order to wash dishes, then dump the basin water outside or down the toilet. It was ridiculous. Dad wouldn’t call a plumber and for some reason wasn’t able to successfully snake the drain. So why not call the plumber then? Because dad thought he could solve the problem himself by dreaming up some ingenious alternative way of removing a clog. He just never got around to it. Fed up, I visited them and brought my electric drill and a $20 snake I bought at the hardware store.
“Hi,” I said when I walked in the door, and after a quick hug, I marched down into the basement with my drill and snake. “I’m going to fix your drain.” Predictably, they tried to protest but I didn’t even give them a chance. I just moved right past them, found and put on an old pair of coveralls. I looked like Mr. Green Jeans from the old Captain Kangaroo TV show. I unplugged the cast iron pipe and wailed away at the clog with the snake. It wasn’t too difficult to get the clog removed, it just took some muscle and a little time. But then jet black, slimy water suddenly came gushing out and splashed all over my coveralls, got into my eyes and mouth. It was everywhere. I gagged as I fetched a bucket and collected the remaining black tide. I was a mess. Now I looked like Mr. Green Jeans meets the Creature from the Black Lagoon and there was black slime all over the basement floor. But I didn’t care. I had fixed the problem and it was so satisfying. I gave them their sink back. Mom could now wash dishes like a normal human being.
I gave mom some relief. I’d made her life easier. I was able to help. What a gift that was!
“You saved me Artie,” dad said. Yes, I did.
When we returned to the hospital that evening, dad was asleep. He had been taken back for another CT scan and had been given Ativan to relieve any anxiety. Regardless, he had woken up midway through the scan and been agitated so they couldn’t get a complete test. He would have to go back tomorrow and mom was told that his GP would make his rounds in the morning. The neurologist would be available then too, as well as the speech therapist.
In the meantime, a feeding tube was discussed.
We determined that there was no way dad would accept it without a fight. It seemed like a harsh and undignified thing to do to him. Plus, there was the real chance that it could harm his stomach, where he had battled a lymphoma recently. The risk of scarring, or an infection, was too great. The parenteral nutrition bag was ordered so he could be fed intravenously. He needed nutrition and he would get it through a PICC line inserted into his vein. That was on its way. The doctors had okay’d it but it was expensive and had to be approved by insurance.
This was another variable. Dad’s insurance was through his former employer, which recently was cutting benefits for retirees. We weren’t sure what would be covered and what wouldn’t be. A decision was made that we would proceed with whatever needed to happen regardless of what insurance might cover and we’d figure it out later. It was at this point that I realized I had an opening to start discussing my parent’s finances with mom, something she’d always held close to the vest. But that would come later. For now, we were making progress but it was painfully slow.
Yes, dad had dreams. Too many of them. Before he went into the hospital he would sleep all day in his living room chair.
He once said to Johnny, “There’s so much I want to accomplish but the only time I seem to get anything done is when I sleep.”
Please be sure and check out my next post as we continue my journey. Thank you for reading. I hope you are all well and continue to stay well.