A Different Version of Sandwich Generation Living?

Black cat
Top Seniority Cat, the grande dame of our household.

 

Can I consider myself back in the sandwich generation if my kid who lives at home is now 21 and the elder in my care is a cat?

The 21-year-old, M, is an adult who is working on starting a business. Yet I have to issue chore reminders, plus figuring him into groceries and meal planning. Also, he’s experiencing nagging health issues and likes for me to go to some appointments with him to take notes.  So there’s some parenting going on.

Meanwhile, top seniority cat, Luna, still has some spunk at age 17. But she is sometimes confused, about half deaf as far as I can tell, and increasingly needy. Her thyroid levels are up, so I have to administer a drop of cream to the inside flap of her ear once a day. She does not care for this and hides under a bed if she knows it’s coming. Luckily for me, her hearing loss means I can sneak up on her.

Unluckily for all of us, she’s taken to yowling at top volume at various times of the day and night, until someone shows up to pet and comfort her. She sounds like she’s being murdered. This happens if she finds herself alone in a room and/or we’re all asleep when she needs our love. It’s a lot like having a baby, really. “Who got up with her last time?”

Often, I’ll find her in what is now our spare bedroom, sometimes with her nose nearly to the wall, as if she can’t remember how to get out of the place. Maybe she wants to come to us, but can’t find the door?

We love her, but being awakened multiple times per night frays the nerves of everyone in the house. So I’ve started following her thyroid medicine with a “reward” of wet food containing tuna…and DRUGS. I drug her at night. After that, we’re good to go until around 5:00 in the morning, when the yowls commence. Getting up once at 5:00 — that I can do. So much better than the previous 3 or 4 times per night.

Not that I baby her. Oh no. Well, maybe. I really want to tear out the old, disgusting carpet in the spare bedroom and convert that space to my office/writing area. But I keep putting it off, because the cat spends so much time in there, and it might upset her. Poor thing is already confused.

Basically, she has her own bedroom. Where we cater to her needs and her whims, all day and all night, whenever we’re at home. She’s an old lady, after all. She deserves some comfort and ease.

 

 

Undoing My Mom

Today is my last day of bereavement leave from work and I spent most of it canceling out my mother. I’ve spent the last four years keeping her current, making sure her Social Security money kept coming and was accounted for, updating her Medicare coverage, renewing her newspaper subscription, arranging doctor’s appointments, changing the calendar page in her room each month, replenishing supplies of her personal items at the care facility, maintaining her presence in the world.

Even with the funeral planning, it was about getting her cared for. Picking out her outfit, her favorite poem, the hymns she loved, getting her buried between my dad and one of my sisters, Mom’s baby girl.

And now I’m undoing it all. Erasing her. Canceling her out. She’s no longer on the Social Security or Medicare rolls. Medicaid and supplemental insurance have removed her from coverage. I still need to go to the bank and close her account. I never realized how many people I would have to tell, “My mother died.” How many times I have said it this past week, and it’s a wrench every time.

All of the clothes she’ll never again wear, her empty wheelchair, her calendar –they’re all sitting in my house waiting to be sorted and repurposed. And after that’s done, then what? I don’t know. I really don’t.

 

Orphaned at 51

I know I’ve never had a huge readership on this blog, but I know a few people read regularly, because they bring my posts up in discussion.

I don’t have many words today, but for my few readers who have shared the sandwich generation journey with me over the past four years, I want to let you know that my mother passed away yesterday afternoon.

She did not suffer long and she went peacefully, holding my hand. As it happened, it was just the two of us in the room at the time. It was a great blessing to be there.

Two of my siblings arrived today and we packed up mom’s belongings from the nursing home. We’re in the midst of funeral planning now.

So now I’m an orphan.

College and Medicare and My Superpowers

Hey, look at this. WordPress is loading on my Mac again. It hadn’t been for a while. I kept meaning to check into why, the same way I mean to check on why my mom’s phone doesn’t work sometimes. Somehow it always starts operating again, so I cling to hope that I’ll never actually have to invest time in finding a solution.

yvonne_craig_batgirl
Batgirl giving me an encouraging smile.

November and December this past year were full not only of holiday busyness, but also with helping two kids through the process of researching, deciding on and applying to college. The older kid is transferring from community college. The younger one will (we hope*) graduate from high school in May and start college in the fall.

Also, my mother was forced to change prescription drug plans with Medicare. New plans had to be sussed and matched with her medications list and area pharmacies. All of the deadlines hit at once.

And there was a trip to visit the in-laws in Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, followed by a week with a bad cold. Right at deadline time.

My kids, who can be a little, shall we say haughty, at times about their online knowledge versus that of middle-aged adults, had no cause to crow as I was the one who demonstrated the ability to detect links to things such as “transcript requests” and “enrollment requirements.” I might let them live it down some day. In the far distant future. Possibly when I’m old and disabled and dependent on them for my care.

Speaking of which, Medicare. Due to having no assets and barely a handful of pennies in Social Security income, my mother qualifies for extra help on her prescription drug plan. She pays $0 for her premium and close to that for a copay on medicines. It’s a helpful benefit and I’m grateful. But. Every year they make her switch drug plans.

They send a letter saying to go online or call to compare plans and switch. Every year I experience amnesia about the fact that the phone number gets me nowhere. I call it and a computerized system offers a bevy of choices, none of which sounds like what I need. It’s voice-activated, and eerily similar to a badly constructed philosophy lesson. Basically a whole litany of if-thens. “If you want abc, then say xyz.” But changing plans was never a listed option. I tried saying it anyway, which reset the whole process back to the beginning. I also tried, “Speak to a human” with similar results. So I went online and hoped I wasn’t screwing things up too badly.

The only easy part of it was that my mom remains unaware. With the whole college thing, I not only had to deal with my own anxiety and confusion and time drain, but also my kids’ elevated stress levels. My mom has no idea about how her stuff gets paid for and I don’t worry her with it.

As the new year settles in, the status stands thus: My firstborn, who will continue to live with us for now, begins classes for a Fisheries and Wildlife degree at the University of Missouri this month. My other child has been accepted a couple of places, including Missouri S&T in Rolla. That’s Missouri University of Science and Technology, or as we affectionately call it, Geek School. He’s interested in computer programming. We have a visit scheduled for next month, after which a decision will be made. And my mom’s new prescription drug card arrived in the mail, with a letter stating her premium remains at zero.

All of this achieved while simultaneously battling my arch-nemesis, Perimenopause. I can only conclude I have superpowers.

 

*Two words that lead to a whole story in themselves, but I’ll save it for another time.

 

Gratitude App

Some time back, I put a journaling app on my phone. Then I discovered I don’t like writing much on my phone. It’s tedious and slow and I have fat thumbs. I make even more mistakes than I do on my laptop and have a harder time correcting them.

But I’ve put the app to good use, nonetheless. I’ve come to think of it as my gratitude app. I don’t compose long accounts of what’s going on in my life. But it’s a good place to note, on a regular basis, my appreciation for my blessings, big and small. I find a small note of gratitude is the exact right amount of phone typing for me.

Often it’s as short as “New shoes.” Sometimes it’s longer. “It’s good to have a safe place to sleep at night. Bed, pillows, blankets.” Once I mentioned fresh fruit and then noticed I’d done the same thing only a couple of days before. And I had an epiphany. It’s okay to express gratitude more than once for the same thing. I’m allowed to feel appreciation every single time I eat fruit. In fact, it’s good if I do.

So, looking back, what has merited my appreciation this year? A partial list:

*We need this rain.

*Husband repairing the bedroom door hinge.

Latte

*Tea

*My journaling app has begun to stalk me. It’s a little creepy. (Oh, okay, not so much gratitude there. I ran an update and suddenly every evening at 8:00 my phone dinged and asked me “How was your day?” Just fine, HAL)

*Figured out how to change setting on journaling app so it doesn’t creep me. Yay!

*It’s nice to have glasses rather than stumbling around, groping my way through life.

*My $5 bread machine and thrift stores.

*Citizens who care about society

*Piano tuned!

*My old lady cat is thirteen years old and still going strong

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Old lady cat.

*I discovered a TV show called “The Librarians”

*Fresh garden spinach

*My weigela are loaded with flowers

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Weigela

 

 

 

 

 

*Fun game of Crazy 8’s with my mom and my oldest kid

*Found eight forever stamps I forgot I had

*Everyone got along on vacation

*I have a huge supply of ink pens

*Good checkup at the dentist’s today

*At work, I sometimes get paid to write

*I could have cake later if I want. I mean, the option is there.

Isn’t always a day to be grateful when you know you could have cake? Seriously. Happy Thanksgiving.

Always Zebras

Zebra

I’ve heard medical students are told “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” Meaning whatever symptoms they see are more likely to be explained by something common than by something exotic.

I’m here to tell you that with my son, a medical appointment often turns into a safari. It’s always zebras.

It started with his teeth, which came in early. We saw the first pearly buds when he was four months old and we had our first visit to a pediatric dentist five months later, since some of his teeth erupted with visible holes in them. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s baby bottle mouth (which can also be seen in breastfed babies, so what the heck is with the name?) He was breastfed and no, the holes were not from any substance – formula or mother’s milk – eating away at the teeth. The dentist found no signs of decay. The enamel simply wasn’t there. Ever. His teeth came without all of the advertised features. While the dentist was probing with his little prober tool, a chip of tooth went flying across the room. They were that fragile.

“What would cause it? What would make his teeth be all wrong?” I asked. Among the possible answers, one stood out. If a pregnant mother runs a fever during the stage of fetal development when the tooth buds grow, it can cause dental problems, including incompletely formed enamel. Ah, yes, I spent a large part of the pregnancy ill. Two different intestinal viruses, a series of head colds and a nasty, lingering sinus infection. Zebras prenatally. We opted for baby oral surgery to cap the teeth a few months later.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks before my boy’s tenth birthday. It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for planting flowers, riding bicycles, enjoying the glory of life. I decided to plant flowers and enjoy the glory of life. My husband and son decided to take a bike ride together.

Picture: Mother with her garden trowel, adorning the family yard with festive petunias, waving happily, heart swelling at the joyful sight of her husband and their child bonding in a healthy activity. And know that in a horror movie, this is when the ominous music begins to play, warning viewers that things look a little too perfect now, don’t they? Within ten minutes the father-son duo arrived back home, excursion truncated as the son was experiencing too much pain from his helmet pushing against the bump on his head.

“Bump on your head? Where?” he pointed to a spot just behind the hairline and above his right eye. I felt it with my fingers. Yep, big old goose egg.

“Did you hit your head on something?”

“Not that I can remember?”

“How long has this been here?”

“I don’t know. Two or three weeks.” (As an aside, my son had a very poor grasp on time for a very long time.)

“Why didn’t you say something?”

Shrug.

What’s the opposite of hypochondria? That’s what my second-born has. Tumor on the head? No biggie. Why raise a fuss?

And, oh yeah, it was a bone tumor. We became well-acquainted with the town’s only pediatric neurosurgeon, who eventually took charge of his treatment. After many tests and appointments and scans and x-rays and more scans, it was determined that he had only the one tumor, but it had already eaten away a spot in his skull right down to the meninges of the brain.

One neurosurgery, a bone graft and a biopsy later, we had a diagnosis. The good news: it wasn’t cancer. The weird news: it was caused by an extremely rare auto-immune disorder that can mimic cancer – Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. This is a disease so rare that the biggest risk factor is being a fictional character on a TV medical drama. In fact, it was the disease of the week once on “House.” LCH affects four or five people out of one million. My son’s doctor might never see another case in her entire career. My son might never have another tumor or symptom from it. Or he might. It’s so weird and rare it’s impossible to say. He’s had no more problems from it so far.

But there was another thing with his teeth after that. What to say about his teeth? I could fill a book with details of his dental woes. When his permanent teeth began showing up, his baby teeth were reluctant to leave. He kept getting more teeth but not losing many, so they came in wicky-wacky. We had some baby teeth removed by his dentist. I honestly think she could have lost every patient but him and still made a pretty good living.

I was overjoyed though, when I saw his top front permanent teeth were strong and complete, even if a little crooked. That lasted a few weeks, until he chipped both when he fell off the jungle gym on the school playground. We would discover many years later that one of the teeth sustained severe permanent damage. This came to light when he got braces at age twelve.

One of the aims of the orthodontia was to bring that front tooth down in line with the others. It had been riding high, never descending completely after getting whacked on the monkey bars. But the tooth didn’t move down. Instead, all of his other teeth started moving up to meet it. Wait, what? I know! That’s exactly what we said, too.

A super-duper futuristic 3-D x-ray revealed the root of the problem. The tooth was ankylosed. This is an uncommon but not unheard of complication that can happen with injured teeth, especially in a human whose bones are still growing. The tooth had fused to the bone up above. It wasn’t going anywhere. Well, not until an oral surgeon cut it out and the orthodontist built a fake tooth-on-a-retainer (like pizza-on-a-stick except a tooth on a retainer) to take its place. The hope is to get an implant if the kid ever stops growing. We’re on hold with that issue for now, but sometimes…

I can’t keep my mind from leaping to TUMOR. For instance when my son and I are sitting in the living room, both reading, as we were a couple of weeks ago, and he says “I hate it when that happens.” And I say “What?” and he says “When I can’t read because the center point of my vision disappears.”

WHAT???!!!!

“Has this happened before?”

“Only a few times.”

“How often?”

“Not very often. It’ll be, like, a few weeks sometimes between one time and the next. And my vision always comes back before too long.”

And he hadn’t thought to mention it. What is the opposite of hypochondria?

The good news this time: still not cancer. Not even a tumor. The weird news this time: it turns out you can have migraines without the headache part. Ocular migraine – that’s what he’s experiencing.

It’s like the Serengeti around here. Always zebras.

zebras

A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found

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My son is 17 1/2. He’s had a driving permit for quite some time and we completed his required practice hours weeks ago. But every time I looked at the calendar and found a time when he and I were both available to go to the DMV for the driving test, something interfered. Once he came down with a bad cold. Another time there was a thunderstorm.

I’m in a launch frenzy with my two young adult kids, frantic to get them through a check-list of steps to competent adult life. I’m pretty sure the driver’s license is more important to me than to my son. Continue reading “A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found”