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Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop


Every time my phone rings, flashing a number from my hometown area code, I hold my breath. You know the feeling. If there’s a senior out there counting on you, calls from home often mean trouble.

When my 91-year-old dad moved into independent living in my hometown 170 miles away, the care community really wanted him to wear a medical alert pendant in case he fell. He didn’t. End of story.

So when the call came and I heard the words, “Your father has fallen,” I wasn’t totally surprised. Terrified but not shocked.

Because of his severe arthritis, Dad had made a habit of sleeping near the edge of the bed to allow an easier exit for nighttime bathroom trips. About 3 in the morning, he just rolled out of bed, with no phone within reach nor – did I mention – a medical alert pendant. In the process of this early morning roll out of bed, he gashed open his eyelid on the bedroom dresser.

I guess when you’ve spent 25 months as a Marine in the South Pacific fighting for your country in a world war, rolling out of bed is no big deal.

Dad said he hollered for a while, then thought, “Well, I’ll just sleep on the floor until morning.” So he pulled a pillow off the bed and prepared to hunker down for the rest of the night. Seems the floor wasn’t too comfy, and the hollering resumed. After about 90 minutes, the night nurse heard him.

They got him up, he dusted himself off and said, “Sorry to bother you. I’m fine. Go back to bed now.”

Fortunately, the care community wouldn’t hear of it and off he went to the hospital. They fixed his eye and confirmed nothing was broken. But doctors discovered he had a touch of pneumonia, so he spent a couple of days in the hospital, no worse for the wear.

After he was home, I had that unsettling feeling after my nightly phone calls with him that all was not well. I could tell he was still a little short of breath. Just a day before my husband and I were to take him to a regularly scheduled doctor appointment, another call came. This one potentially more ominous than the first. “Your dad can’t breathe.”

Our trip to Dad’s that time around was fast and furious, and full of dread. But medical staff at my hometown hospital got him turned around in less than 24 hours. The next day we took Dad to his scheduled doctor appointment 60 miles from his home where he had his medications adjusted. He’s almost as good as new, again.

I admire Dad so much – his self-determination, grit and never-give-up attitude. He’s still hanging tough, getting around on his own, managing his medications and bills, and even maintaining a social schedule, although most of it is now within the confines of his care community.

I am hanging tough, too, and I have the white knuckles to prove it. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Will my work schedule survive if I have to make a sudden getaway? Will my husband starve if I need to rush off and the cupboard is bare? Will my friends understand why I’m AWOL again?

I’ll bet you’re on the edge of your seats as well, waiting for the next caregiving emergency. I’d love to hear your stories.

Dad’s wearing the medical alert pendant now, and sleeping in the middle of the bed. And I am keeping a close eye on my other shoe.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. March 14, 2016 at 12:02 am | Posted by Kathy Nelson

    I am one of 4 siblings with parents who are both in extremely poor health. They are in Senior Living, but will have to move over to assisted living and possibly skilled nursing in the same facility. I live 7 hours away, work full time and am a sole provider for my family. Two of my siblings live in the same town as my parents and have assumed almost all of the resposibility for managing their care. I try to get over to see them as often as is possible, but a 450 mile drive is not easily accomplished when with a full time job. The hardest part is the guilt I feel that I cannot be with my parents more often - and the two siblings who are managing their care are severly critical of me and accuse me of not doing more. Are there other people here who experience this kind of helpless feeling? There are terrible instances of hurtful accusations, untruths and withholding of vital information. It's killing me.


  2. January 15, 2016 at 12:16 am | Posted by Victoria

    I have this waiting feeling as well, though I'm not one of my dad's caretakers. I live a 12 hour drive away from them (mom and brother live with dad and take care of him), but now that my dad has invoked hospice services by saying he didn't want to go to hospital if something else goes wrong, I am in a constant state of worrying when/if he is going to pass! Today I just accepted a job offer for a summer teaching job in Costa Rica, but several hours and a conversation with a friend later, I realize that I am too worried I'll be stuck down there if I get the call that it is time! (It is a job where I could not leave the country even for the weekend for emergency because I while I have students there) I just don't know what to do with the waiting and worrying. It's like, I'm less worried about his actual passing, which will come when it is his time. But a) I just don't want him to suffer and b) I feel a little paralyzed, like I don't want to go to far away (to another country for work) while he's in this ending days. He doesn't have any specific prognosis, it's just that he had a sudden relapse of his condition which included a hospital visit that was so traumatic in itself that he want's no more of that. Sorry to go on so much, thanks for having this forum


  3. December 10, 2015 at 9:57 am | Posted by Hida

    I am my mother's second daughter - and she lives with me and my husband. He is very kind and generous with her, but I'm finding that after nearly 5 years, my nerves are shot. I've tried to analyze why, but there is no clear answer. She had had two strokes, is 88 years old, can't remember anything that happened two minutes ago. But she is otherwise healthy. She is always full of questions every day and asks the same questions repeatedly and when I answer, she has complained that I'm a 'know-it-all'. She doesn't trust anything I say, yet the questions never end. She doesn't like anyone, complains of folks mistreating her, is afraid of being alone [in case of a home invasion] and is generally very unhappy with everything. I was recently laid off, so I'm home all day and ready to help her, but she's too proud to accept. I just found out that her hand trembles and when I asked her how long it has been going on, she said a year. I asked why she didn't tell me - I could take her to the doctor for a check - she said that she's ready to die. There's a lot of faulty thinking that goes on and I don't know how to deal with it anymore. My older sister has basically refused to come to our home from across the country to give me and my husband a break. Both my younger brothers work and my mother says she can't live with her two daughters-in-law. My next plan is to find a support group to help me deal with some of the symptoms I've having as her sole caregiver.


    • December 11, 2015 at 4:45 pm | Posted by Mary Lou

      It amazes me that we have such similar stories but so different in many ways. My mom is 87 years old, along with the Alzheimer's she is wheelchair bound. In some cases this is a blessing, 1- she can't wander too far, she doesn't have strong upper body strength. 2. She doesn't drive so we don't have to worry that she will drive off somewhere. Funny how somethings are now blessings that before were inconveniences. My mom had 8 children, one is deceased. And when we found out that mom had Alzheimer's everyone agreed that she needed our help and they would all chip and do their share. It didn't really happen that way. The home we lived in for almost 40 years was not warm - it didn't have insulation and she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. The weekend we moved my mom to my brother's house the temps dropped into the 30ies. Her doctor said that she could have died. My brother was not very welcoming, we moved out after 1 month. We haven't spoken in 2 1/2 years. My other siblings help when they can, but some don't even call her or visit. The reason that I can be with her, is due to medical issues I lost my job and I decided that I would be her caretaker. Just last month, we found out dad in in the early stages of Alzheimer's, too. My siblings will need to step up for sure. One day at a time is a pretty good mantra to live by.


      • December 14, 2015 at 6:44 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

        Hida and Mary Lou, Your lives sound so challenging. Respite care (extra help) could make a real difference in your situations. Try to find people and resources outside your family that would enable you to get a break. A good resource that is available in most communities is the Area Agency on Aging. They should have a good idea what is available in your area.


  4. November 27, 2015 at 1:52 pm | Posted by Lorali

    My mom is 89 years old and still living at home. (My dad died a while ago.) She's weak and home bound now. She can no longer use the senior bus to get to the grocery store or several other medical appts. We live 45 min. apart and I work 6 days a week. I have no other family in this state and my one sister lives 17 hours away. My biggest problem, besides time and distance, is: From the time my sister was born, our mom was an extremely emotionally abusive alcoholic. The alcoholism stopped a few years ago when she had a stroke. My sister and I suffered immeasurably all those years. I've had 2 nervous breakdowns because of my constant "worthlessness" to her. (this lasted 50 years for my sister and 52 years for myself) Now, I have to take care of her. She has never admitted to being an alcoholic and I know she believes this. I am constantly working on forgiveness, but it's hard. It is very hard for me to visit with her. But, she has no one else. I am grateful for Home Instead, but I need to convince her to use their services. It would relieve a lot of travel on my one day off and it would cut down on the number of times I have to go see her. BTW, is it "normal" for the elderly to act like little children? Is there anyone in a similar situation (unfortunately) with any advice, please? Thanks so much


    • December 3, 2015 at 5:34 pm | Posted by Georgene

      Your situation sounds so difficult, Lorali. I am not an expert. I am just a family caregiver like you. But I do know we need to take care of ourselves before we can care for others. You mentioned Home Instead. You might try telling your mother that it would be such a help to you and put your own mind at ease if she would consider caregiving assistance. That extra help would allow you to be a daughter again. Good luck to you and please take care of yourself!


  5. November 21, 2015 at 4:06 pm | Posted by Ed haddad

    I am a memory impaired man. You have to try and not flip out over every mishap. Pray more.


    • November 24, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Posted by Georgene

      That is certainly good advice. I am a big believer in prayer and I agree I should do more of it!


    • November 24, 2015 at 8:01 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Good advice, Ed! I do believe in the power of prayer. And I'm sure I would benefit from more of it!


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