Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Tale of the Gimpy Aunt

A month ago, my Aunt JoJo fell ill and had to go to the hospital. My cousin, Rosie the Militant Lesbian (whom you may remember from here, here, and here), calls my mother and announces that she had a heart attack and is in the ICU. Mom freaks and calls me from work. In my experience, "heart attack" and "ICU" conjure up an image of someone who is getting ready to transfer to the Eternal Care Center.

But Rosie has a penchant for the dramatic, and all JoJo had was an irregular heartbeat that can cause some big problems if left untreated. Mom and I race to Bob's Community Hospital and Hot Dog Stand, to find JoJo awake, alert, and watching General Hospital. She didn't look so great, but she apparently had been feeling crappy for a while.

JoJo was sent home not even a week later, leaving me to question her spotty care at Bob's. Two weeks later, she is readmitted for the same thing. This time, she gets a smarter doctor who does all the things that should have been done the first time. One thing I notice is that her lower body is sorely de-conditioned. Then I find out that while she was at home, she fell twice, and was stuck on her toilet for six hours because she was too weak to get up on her own. I called and told the nurse that her strength needed addressed and that she could not go home alone until she had rehab.

So naturally, Bob's Community Hospital and Hot Dog Stand send her home less than a week later. She fell twice the day she was discharged.

During the second admission, Mom had invited her to come stay with us for a couple weeks for some R&R. Meanwhile, JoJo swears up and down she is completely independent.


A friend of the family brings her, and we physically have to carry her up the short set of stairs to get into Mom's house. She has a walker, a stool riser for her toilet, and a gait belt. Mom has a crapped out shoulder and hip, and doesn't have the strength to get her from a sitting to a standing position. Nor does she even have the slightest inkling on how to move people without injuring yourself. But what has two thumbs and is trained to care for sick people? This nurse.

The first challenge presented was an ice cube tray, which made no sense because Mom's fridge has an ice cube maker. No, the ice cube tray is what JoJo used to sort out her medications. The home health nurses who used to visit were nice enough to write down on slips of paper when she should take certain meds in certain slots: morning, noon, night, bedtime. It was a huge overdose waiting to happen. The first thing I did was go buy a proper pill organizer, then I sat at the dining room table and sorted her pills for an entire week. One of those meds was Bumex.

Why this is important is that Bumex works like Lasix. It helps you get rid of excess fluid by making you pee like a racehorse. Now remember, no one but me can lift her from a sitting position to a standing position. Didn't matter, day or night. Every two hours, I would get a phone call from Mom..."she has to go again". So, I would put on my slippers, stagger over to Mom's house (usually in my pajamas), get JoJo off the couch, wait for her to walk to the bathroom and do her thing, help her off the toilet, and make sure she made it back to the couch without faceplanting on the carpet. Every. Two. Hours. (One time, a whole hour elapsed between phone calls.) We couldn't go anywhere unless someone was there to be with her.

You try waking up every two hours for this while working a three-day stretch of 12-hour shifts and see how you feel by the third day.

Mom felt bad. JoJo felt bad, but I couldn't help but harbor some resentment because I found out later that she lied to the doctor and said she was completely mobile when that clearly wasn't the case. She also thought that the two weeks at Mom's was going to be like a vacation. I have no idea what the hell she was thinking. It was a huge emotional strain on everyone.

So, four days pass and we bring in her son, who doesn't have a job and is kept under thumb by his sociopathic sister (i.e. Rosie). Because he has no real obligation, he can spend the week at Mom's house assisting his mother, save for the one day he has to go home. This is helpful because JoJo has to go get labwork done, and we have to physically carry her in and out of the house because she is still too weak to manage stairs. The next day, I could hardly get out of bed because I hurt so damn bad.

During that one day her son has gone home, I am assisting JoJo to the bathroom when her legs fold under her like a cheap suit. I had a hold of her gait belt, so she wasn't hurt as I lowered her to the floor. It was then that she realized a couple things: she was worse than she had previously admitted to herself and she couldn't rehab at home the way she thought she could.

At the hospital, we occasionally get what we call "Social Work Admits". Basically, the family brings in a loved one and says, "We can't take care of them." Said patient is admitted, and they hang out with us until a social worker works their mojo and gets the patient placed in a facility...whether it be nursing home, skilled nursing, or rehab. It's a huge waste of resources in a hospital setting, not to mention that it sounds mean of the family to seemingly "dump off" their loved one.

After a week helping with my aunt, I finally understand the bewildered desperation of the family members who bring their loved ones in for a Social Work Admit. The system is complex, and it is hard to know just where to begin, who to ask what questions to...not to mention the guilt you feel for "giving up" on your loved on. I've never dealt with this on a professional level...I've always just put in for a social work consult.

Thanksgiving comes and goes. The family is there, and Mom has outdone herself with the dinner. The following Saturday, "the fall" happens, and JoJo makes the decision that she really does need inpatient rehab if she expects to go home and live independently.

With that, calls are made, and the family friend (who is a former rehab nurse) makes some calls and JoJo gets a place at Bob's Rehab Center and Balloon Animal School. I suggested a place closer to us, but JoJo was firm that she wanted to be somewhere closer to home.

So, she left the following Monday. She was grateful for the time she got to spend with us. It gave her hope that there were family members who actually cared for her (Rosie sucks, and I will be blogging about her again). JoJo got the emotional recharge she needed, and entered into the rehab facility with hope and determination. Not to mention a threat from me that if she refused any of her rehab sessions, I would personally kick her ass from one end of the facility to the next.

She's been in for about a week now, and so far she is optimistic. She discovered that she has friends who are also there, in a similar boat...which is nice because they can work out together. She was also excited that they offered bingo. I think the social aspect of her stay will also benefit her just as much as the physical. Because up until now, she's just been a hermit and not leaving her house.

I have come out of this with a better understanding of just what families go through in situations similar. I can now relate to their feelings of frustration.

Who knows if this rehab stay will be the fix-all. Who knows if JoJo will be able to return home. I guess that is just a bridge we will have to cross when we get to it, but for now we remain hopeful.

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