The Alarms Of Care, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:32am


On Thursday, we moved Mom’s furniture, again. Why? Well, we’d originally set up a room in the Memory Care unit of her current facility. We kept it while Mom’s been on the Skilled Nursing side, as we hoped she’d move back in. Instead, this week we will be moving Mom to another place altogether.

Never mind. I wanted to tell you about beeping.

Moving the furniture required that we prop open not one, not two, but three alarmed doors. When open, the doors beeped, or chirped, or buzzed. Loudly. So loudly. There were three of them, all with slightly different sounds, all on slightly different timers. You could turn off the noises, for about 30-60 seconds at a time, by pressing a 4-digit code, but each door had a separate code box.

The movers carried furniture. I disarmed.

Imagine, if you will, a woman walking quickly from door to door to door, along a 30-foot hall, pressing a code rapidly at each station. Repeating the whole thing at, let’s say, 3 minute intervals, to intermittent very loud noise.

And that was the optimized process.

I wanted to tell you that at one point I thought, “These doors and this beeping is a metaphor for our whole experience with Mom’s care.” I might have used a silent expletive. I surely laughed. You may have gone through something similar.

See, when the alarms first started beeping I panicked, overwhelmed. Then I started responding with adrenaline every time something beeped. Then I sat down and pouted because I hated it all. Then I started, reflexively, trying to figure out the pattern of the beeps. Then I played a game, “Can I  keep these effing things quiet? Which one buzzes first? How long do I have before I have to push the code again?”

All we needed to perfect the care metaphor was a huge machine of metal and red light calculating dollars for every bit of beep, on one side, and the changing face of my mother on the other. Bewildered, cranky, beaming, lost. She is so innocent in this process. I am so responsible.

And then I wondered, “Wait, does it work if I press the codes PREVENTATIVELY?!?!” Yes it did. For a couple of go-rounds I walked quickly from alarm box to alarm box, keeping the beeps at bay.

Then I decided I just couldn’t care any more. So I disarmed at what felt like a reasonable rate and hoped we finished soon.

All of which is only to point out that a sense of humor and a desire to find meaning and mastery in any situation can do a lot to prevent overwhelm. Also, hence my absence. Beep beep beep. Have a good weekend guys.

 

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23 Comments

  • 07/16/16
    9:01 am

    Reply

    the gold digger said...

    I am sorry, Lisa. This sounds so, so hard.

    07/16/16
    11:42 am
    Lisa said...

    @the gold digger, Thank you.

  • 07/16/16
    9:35 am

    Reply

    Bungalow Hostess said...

    Oh moving is so stressful…and those alarms just add to the issue.

    Alarms in care facilities are essential…we deal with them at the entrance doors, hallway doors and at the elevators….I think that is why there are fish tanks near each alarm so that we can all try to remain calm….so far we have no reports of residents that have been able to walk out on their own.

    Hope you find some calm moments over the weekend.

    07/16/16
    11:48 am
    Lisa said...

    @Bungalow Hostess, I do understand the need for alarms – I wasn’t quite sure why this configuration of 3 was needed. And I thought the fish tank at this place was for the residents, but, yeah, I probably needed one more;).

  • 07/16/16
    9:38 am

    Reply

    RoseAG said...

    Ugh :(

    We moved my MIL around several times. It’s a pain. She’d gone into a continuing care community so we didn’t ever entertain ideas of switching places, she sort of went with the flow that they had. It may not have been perfect, but she had long-time friends there and we felt good about it.
    In retrospect I wish we’d called hospice, I think she might have been more comfortable. We stuck with what her choice had been and didn’t feel bad about it.

    It’s good you made the decision and did it.

    07/16/16
    11:49 am
    Lisa said...

    @RoseAG, I think continuing care places are good, if you start in the independent section. Moving in in the later stages – more tricky.

  • 07/16/16
    9:39 am

    Reply

    marsha calhoun said...

    I remember those alarms – my mother’s dementia-care facility was full of them, of course, and I inadvertently set them off from time to time. I must tell you how much I admire your humor and search for meaning and mastery (a fine, alliterative phrase I will remember) in this profoundly rough patch you are going through. You are wearing your heavy responsibility very well.

    07/16/16
    1:37 pm
    Lisa said...

    @marsha calhoun, Thank you. In fact I’m a complete mess, as many of my nearest dearest will tell you, but I find it immensely comforting salvage a tiny sliver of understanding gained, and bring it back here.

  • 07/16/16
    10:07 am

    Reply

    Sue Burpee said...

    Oh dear. All that running and beeping reminds me of a road runner cartoon.But not as fun. Glad you reached the “don’t care” point. I’m imagining myself in that situation… muttering expletives…audible ones… thinking these G-damn beeps WILL NOT get the better of me!!! I’m sure you were much more mature than that. In fact I was just saying to Mater/Frances over lunch when we met that I thought you were one of the most totally grown-up people I know. Or kind of know in a blogger-buddie way:)

    07/16/16
    1:38 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Sue Burpee, I am clearly Wiley Coyote in this situation. And I can be grown-up in the written word even when I am behaving like a blubbering baby in my real life. Thank you.

  • 07/16/16
    10:47 am

    Reply

    Anon said...

    You would think they’d have built in a way to disarm the alarms for just such a situation – moving.

    Seems like bad design.

    07/16/16
    1:41 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Anon, I thought about that.

  • 07/16/16
    11:18 am

    Reply

    dottoressa said...

    Oh, yes I could see all the phases…..it was like some kind of surreal experiment-you did it just fine :-)
    All the way,both responsible and innocent
    Dottoressa

    07/16/16
    1:50 pm
    Lisa said...

    @dottoressa, Thank you. It has to be good to have these occasions to see oneself as though in a laboratory, right?

  • 07/16/16
    11:19 am

    Reply

    Mardel said...

    Such a gentle story and a beautifully expressed metaphor. Hugs.

    07/16/16
    1:56 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Mardel, Thank you.

  • 07/16/16
    12:02 pm

    Reply

    Sandra Sallin said...

    Bless your sense of humour and humanity. This stuff is hard.

    07/16/16
    1:56 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Sandra Sallin, It is hard. And where would any of us be, absent a little humor and a lot of humanity. xox.

  • 07/16/16
    1:32 pm

    Reply

    Mary anne said...

    Can understand why alarms are necessary, but what a nuisance. Hope you can relax some this weekend. Also that you find beautiful renters for her beautiful house.

    We are with you in blog land if not IRL. More virtual hugs your way.

    07/16/16
    2:40 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Mary anne, Oh gosh thanks. If anyone here knows an LA family with resources who have said, on occasion, gee we wish we could rent a house in Santa Barbara, one with a black-bottomed pool and a beautiful view of the Pacific…send them our way:).

    07/17/16
    1:33 pm
    Anon said...

    I assume you are advertising the house in online vacation rental sites like VRBO or others?

  • 07/16/16
    1:54 pm

    Reply

    kaye55 said...

    Having been thru thus with my mom with dementia, and having worked in the industry, I can tell you that you can only make the best decision you can at that time. Don’t waste your time and energy beating yourself up about a past decision, move on and make new priorities. There are good aspects of dementia (and if you can believe it, funny ones) in that your mom won’t remember the moves. Chin up, you’re doing fine.

    07/16/16
    2:43 pm
    Lisa said...

    @kaye55, Oh thanks. My chin has definitely been dragging along the ground this last week. And we have had lots of funny moments, you are right. I’m just, so, tired.

  • 07/16/16
    2:05 pm

    Reply

    MJ said...

    So sorry you’re having to move her again. I hope it all works out as well as it can. Glad you figured out how to take a “mindful” approach to the beeping – you need to grab those small victories over despair and rage.

    07/16/16
    2:52 pm
    Lisa said...

    @MJ, Small victories are critical in maintaining some sense of a head above water. Thank you.

  • 07/16/16
    3:36 pm

    Reply

    Kristina said...

    Aw, man! Just gotta laugh sometimes to keep from crying when what feels like our worst moments are filled with such absurdities. Or maybe we’re just primed to notice how silly it all seems sometimes. Your description reminds me of something the Monty Python crew would have written.

    07/18/16
    7:47 am
    Lisa said...

    @Kristina, Absolutely Monty Python, or, more precisely, Terry Gilliam and the movie Brazil. It is a laugh or cry situation, as Dani says below, and I’d much rather laugh.

  • 07/17/16
    5:08 am

    Reply

    DaniBP said...

    What an exhausting and horribly ridiculous situation. As we often said to each other when my mother-in-law was going through her illness “Laugh Or Cry?” Sometimes crying just couldn’t be avoided. Thinking of you and hoping you can rest up and not have nightmares about the beeping. XO

    07/18/16
    7:49 am
    Lisa said...

    @DaniBP, Like a game show, “Laugh or Cry?” xoxox. I got some sleep this weekend. That is helpful.

  • 07/17/16
    6:03 am

    Reply

    K-Line said...

    Wow – this post is gorgeous. It says everything. I continue to give you all the strong daughter vibes. Life can be so fucked up sometimes. xoxo

    07/18/16
    7:51 am
    Lisa said...

    @K-Line, Thank you. And, yes, that it can.

  • 07/17/16
    6:04 am

    Reply

    jhf said...

    All my sympathy to you! When a loved one is declining it is a challenge to preserve ones strenght so that it lasts to the truly bitter end. And the big fear is to loose ones strenght to soon. You are doing a great job! It is a heavy labour of love.

    jhf

    07/18/16
    7:52 am
    Lisa said...

    @jhf, That’s been very difficult, to have thought we’d be done and breathing a sigh of relief in May, and to be still, almost three months later, in a state of flux and distress. It has been very hard to understand how to pace myself.

  • 07/17/16
    3:00 pm

    Reply

    Tracey said...

    Our of interest, sociologists are calling our generation “the sandwich generation”. That is, we are sandwiched between having just finished raising/educating our kids and then we are faced with the care of our elders. What I am interested in is learning what we, us, our generation, can do to make this process easier for ourselves and our kids when our turn comes – dealing with aged care, with or without dementia. There is an old couple still living in our complex, they have deteriorated badly in the last year that I’ve known them, and I felt a year ago that the wife should have been in nursing care, her life in the apartment is a misery, despite having the support of community nurses who come 3 times a day. She can’t hear and she can’t see. And her husband loses his temper with her, we hear it. Elder abuse? I don’t want my kids having to deal with this like you have, and I had to when my mother died years ago of MS after being housebound and requiring round the clock care. Cleaning her house out was a nightmare. My intention is to be pro-active. Too many people deny getting old and stay in their homes that are way beyond their ability to cope with or manage, and stubbornly stay there. Down size, give the clutter away, sell the furniture or give it to the kids and go to a retirement village that has 3 phase care so that you are already in the place before the need to find a nursing care place becomes urgent. Plan for the future, make a health care directive and make sure the family knows. Even better, have a funeral plan, write it down and store it with your will, it will be a great relief and comfort to the family to know what you actually wanted as your farewell. Have Powers of Attorney in place. We’re ignoring the obvious to live in denial that we too are going to age, and one day, our kids are going to be repeating the same scenario. We’d all like to be that little old man or lady who lives to 98 in their own ‘rose cottage’ and passes peacefully in their sleep after a full and wonderful life, but the reality is that is only a very small percentage of people.

    07/18/16
    7:54 am
    Lisa said...

    @Tracey, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t like the approach in which real life is considered to be only the time of good health, and the end times are sort of like trash in the corner. I wonder as you do, is it better to give up some freedom in the early late times so as to gain peace in the late lates?

  • 07/17/16
    5:41 pm

    Reply

    Megan said...

    In the laugh-so-I-don’t cry department, I’m reminded of my father-in-law, who, even with Alzheimer’s, was very resourceful & in pretty good physical shape, so he’d walk several miles to the store or the bank etc. (The police found him one time & brought him home to my worried mother-in-law & they asked him why he’d gone out & he told them, “Well, they took my car!” My mother-in-law wanted to keep him at home, but he kept going walkabout, so he was in a care facility & then lived with a very nice family who did senior care in their home–they became like extended family.

    07/18/16
    7:55 am
    Lisa said...

    @Megan, Until my mom fell, she too was in very good physical shape and loved to walk:(.

  • 07/17/16
    6:02 pm

    Reply

    Susan said...

    On my father’s memory floor, you had to punch in a code to have the elevator go down. Ever the gentleman, my father would always walk me to the elevator. This one time, he seemed as if he was following me in. I had to tell him that he couldn’t come with me. In a rare time of lucidity, he said he knew that. I died inside as the door closed. My father has passed. I feel your pain.

    07/18/16
    8:04 am
    Lisa said...

    @Susan, The heartbreak moments are always a surprise. I am so sorry your father is gone, and I feel your pain too.

  • 07/18/16
    5:40 am

    Reply

    amanda said...

    The ageing of our parents is so tough. I am still grateful at the care my father received the last two years of his life. I could not have been more grateful for his care givers and the respect with which he was always treated. I feel for you.

    07/18/16
    8:09 am
    Lisa said...

    @amanda, We are hoping against hope to be able to say the same thing some day.

  • 07/18/16
    6:56 am

    Reply

    LA CONTESSA said...

    I KNOW THOSES BEEPS!WE set them off THREE TIMES!But once the CODE was entered they stopped…………….I found it all VERY STRESSFUL then I too got to the point SO WHAT they know it ‘s us……………
    I have missed some of your posts how did the estate sale go?

    07/18/16
    8:11 am
    Lisa said...

    @LA CONTESSA, You and I have to get together.

    The estate sale was a success, except, very few of the dark wood European pieces sold:(. Anyone need a ginormous antique dining table?!?!?! 12 matching chairs?!?!?!

  • 07/18/16
    10:59 pm

    Reply

    PamB said...

    The truth of all of this that you love your mother – the independent, challenging, not always what you wanted person in your own right – and you are doing your best – better that many other could achieve (for whatever circumstance – including that you have economics on your side- not a judgement – just a fact – we alll do what we can – so celebrate that you can do more – but bottom line – loss is painful and I am so so sorry for your incremental loss. Love and integrity – you have that in abundance – And your family. You are both blessed and a blessing

  • 07/20/16
    11:29 am

    Reply

    Ellen said...

    I am a little slow on this, having been out of town for awhile, but here it is:

    When i still worked as a medical social worker, I found, one day, a photograph of myself on the office bulletin board, with the caption “When the going gets tough, the tough laugh harder”. Naturally I asked why, and it was pointed out to me that the worse my day was (and I must have been in a string of doozys), the funnier I got. Their point was, and it was meant with kindness and concern, that people often did not realize that i needed help with my caseload, because I made light of the burden. A fair criticism since I often tend to treat my life as a cosmic joke, and i do appreciate dark humor.

    Over the years, I have thought about that picture quite a lot, and realized that I often don’t give out the signals that I need help, or am overwhelmed, and am then disturbed that no one noticed… and how could they, really? I never let on.

    Dementia is an awful disease, and if you choose to face it head on, as we did, sometimes laughter is all you can do to survive, but be sure to remember to let people know you need their help and advice as well. Meanwhile, I hope the new situation for your mother will be more successful and that you will get a little respite.

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