Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Caregiving: Managing, Waiting, & Doing The Best I Can

It's been about 25 months in arrival, but now it's official and on record. I'm now Mom's caregiver. After all the many years, and countless ways, when she was there for me, it's my turn. She depends on me. What an honor, but how frightening at the same time!

A very cursory Google search told me that, as of mid-2011, there were an estimated 15 million unpaid caregivers (friends and family members)for patients with an Alzheimers diagnosis. What about the numbers taking into account other age groups, and other physical and mental conditions? By what factor would this number increase?

Yesterday was Mom's 88th birthday. She acknowledged it with her continued good humor, especially when she met, for the first time, with two of her Los Angeles Hospice workers, the registered nurse and the home health aide. As a psychotherapist, not a day goes by that I don't strongly emphasize the need for clear, honest communication. These gentleman promise to be the best -- respectful, professional, and attentive -- to Mom, and me, as well. They seemed appreciative of our professional insights (Mom had a 25-year career as an LVN, and as a nursing home staff member before that).

I am so grateful to Mom's primary doctor for referral for these services, just when my tether of physical and emotional energy was becoming frighteningly frayed. I am thankful for the Medicare funds that are providing these for her care and comfort, and enabling her to remain in the home in which she's lived since 1964. And I'm proud to be a baby-boomer and AARP member, with our strong, insistent chorus, advocating for rights for which we (and our elders) worked so hard.

In trying to "practice what I preach," I'm displaying my skills of assertion. Samples of words that have become permanent parts of my vocabulary:

"I'll be right there, Mom!

"Sorry, I can't afford it right now."

"Now is not a good time." (Said to many telephone callers)

"What's your cell number? Here's mine...and don't hesitate to use it." (Said many times over the past two days to Los Angeles Hospice staff. They're now on my cell contact dial list)

Aside from my increase in assertiveness, I'm trying to shore up patience--of which I've never possessed much. When I fall short, I try to forgive myself and move on. Again, this is something contrary to my basic nature.

My cell phone, my computer calendar, and my organizational skills help me maintain some illusions of sanity and control. I'm also holding fast to the few family members I have, and numerous empathic friends, because I'm now even more aware of how precious human connections are.

When I'm home from work, and the house is quiet, I try to write in my private journal while I'm still conscious. I shed private tears, and frankly acknowledge how scared I am of the future.

And then I recover my hope when I remember the gifts I have.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Note to My Dear Readers

I want to do a follow-up to my 12-16 post regarding Newtown, from a psychotherapist's point of view.

Because of recent private challenges, this post was placed on hold, and will be published soon, as it contains issues near to my heart.

Technology--a Very Uncertain Tether

How many of you have seen the TV show "Revolution?" Competing responsibilities have taken me out of the viewership lately, and I miss watching the show. The premise of how vulnerable we--as a collective, and as individuals--are with our reliance on electronics, is both intriguing and frightening.

Such dependence may have put me at recent risk for an ulcer.

I'm talking about my cellphone. I first began using one in 1997, when I became a case manager. It was an agency-issued phone, and looked similar to the one above. As bulky as it was (it took up much room in my always big, overstuffed purse), it provided so much security, especially given the areas of town into which I had to drive alone, often late at night, in my already-aging Honda. After I changed jobs, I began using a series of cellphones which I bought myself, learning as I went along about the confusing, daunting world of competing wireless carriers.

Nine days ago, I was marooned. I'm "back," but the return trip wasn't easy.

Fed up with AT&T's over-pricing (and under-service), I saw an ad for a bargain phone and plan in my AAA Westways magazine. What a mistake! Yes, the phone is cute, $29.99, with its QWERTY keyboard for texting, and its array of caller id sounds for incoming calls and text messages. Quite a departure from my old "dumb phone," as I called it (and got laughs from my younger clients with their "smart phones").

The wireless plan (Affinity Cellular) was less than user-friendly. They ported my number in short order, severed the AT&T tie, and sent me an email message. So, now it was a simple matter of completing the programming process, and begin enjoying unfettered communication, right? WRONG!

From there, it was a maddening three-day struggle, involving no less than six customer service phone reps, and phone calls of at least 40 minutes each. And all this time, I was totally cut off from my clients--and my increasingly frail mother when I was away from the house. Despite now being with Verizon, several of these reps suggested that I wasn't in a "good coverage area." Strange, since Affinity's website clearly showed that Verizon is a strong service in my neighborhood. It was the last straw when an Affinity rep asked me, "Can't you wait another couple of days?"

Ahh, no...

I finally cut my losses and gave my business to Page Plus, recommended by a friend who is, shall we say, a most demanding customer. I still have the cute phone, which plays "Beethoven's Fifth" when Mom calls me, "Ode to Joy" when Chuck is on the line, and a jazzy choo-choo train melody to alert me to my son's calls. And $40.00 a month is a hell of a lot more palatable than the $139.00 I was shelling out before. My son thinks AT&T must have sold me a data plan, which I never had use for. I couldn't even get AT&T--the phone reps or the kids in the local store--to help me resolve why I couldn't quickly check my email!

Hey, all I want to do is talk, text, and take a very rare photo. I'm a busy person, so games and a plethora of apps aren't my thing. Sometimes, I get nostalgic for the Ma Bell/Baby Bell days, but I can see where a fierce, competitive market can benefit folks like me.

*Fingers crossed* All I know I'm able to have my lifeline of communication. Being cast adrift is not a feeling I want to experience again.