A Newbie’s Report – the personal version – part 1

I was actually in Las Vegas primarily to be on-call for my Grandparents (the G’s) while Mom went on vacation. I G-sat Wednesday-Sunday, then attended the NCTA conference (see previous post) Monday and Tuesday.

It was an exhausting week of pure culture shock jumping between the highly oxygenated, slow-paced halls of the assisted living facility, to the smokey casino floors and Armani clad businessmen who populate the cable TV industry – not to mention a brief time-travel back to high-school curfews.

Part I – Hangin’ with the Homies

The G’s are in an assisted living facility in Las Vegas. The are both near 90 (on one side or the other). G’pa has heart trouble and Parkinson’s. G’ma has heart trouble and lung cancer. Mom has been helping them for several years now and has actually let go of the rope when it comes to patience (in other words beyond being at the end of her rope). She needed a vacation desperately so I agreed to hold down the fort in LV so she could get a little R&R.

Right before Mom’s vacation, G’ma started having a bunch of problems, including falling out of bed and extreme confusion, and was moved to the 24 hour care wing of her building where most of the folks have Alzheimers. Mom also signed G’ma up for hospice care at this time. Mom was crazed and yelling at everyone. She was going to cancel her vacation, but I forced her to go.

I spent my first two days trying to sort out a bunch of the miscommunications/confusion/power struggles that occured between Mom and hospice care. While doing this, I spent a bunch of time in the Alzheimer’s Wing.

Alzheimer’s people love me. They always have. Frankly, I kinda like hanging out with them too. One lady in the wing grabs onto a phrase from her environment each day. When I arrived she was yelling “Happy Easter!” over and over (this was on a bulletin board near her room). On Bingo day she grabbed onto “G29″ and just said it over and over. She made me laugh, and if I just returned, “Happy Easter!” or “Hooray! G29!” she was happy too.

One day I was writing some notes from a conversation I’d just had with the hospice nurse and I overheard this conversation which I found highly amusing:

Old Guy 1: “I tell ya’ I don’t like that new male nurse.”

Old Guy 2: “Oh yeah, he kinda rough with ya’?”

Old Guy 1: “Oh yes, when he is dressing me he is just way too rough. I told him to stop but he doesn’t listen.”

Old Guy 2: “Wait a second – someone dresses you?!!”

Old Guy 1: “Oh yeah, don’t they dress you?”

Old Guy 2: “No!! Geez, I have to dress myself every day!”

Old Guy 1: “Well, that just isn’t right. It isn’t fair! You shouldn’t have to dress yourself!”

This just cracked me up because it was so backwards. Most of us dread the day someone has to dress us, yet to these two guys the unfairness of having to dress yourself was worse than the initial complaint about the roughness of the nurse. It is a matter of perspective, I suppose.

Maybe I like hanging with these people because they are just their raw selves and I don’t have to worry about figuring them out. Plus, it is easy to make them laugh and it feels so good to see them laugh.

Another thing I noted is that a lot of Alzheimer’s people I’ve met are stuck in their college years. More often than not, the stories they tell me are about where they went to college or their college graduation. Why is that? Was it the happiest time of their lives or maybe the biggest time of change going from the shelter of home out into the real world? Was it their proudest accomplishment? You’d think with all the alcohol consumed in college those braincells would be gone, but they seem most resilient after all.

I hung out with the nursing staff after everyone was tucked into bed and we’d swap stories about G’pa and his pants. He is very particular about his pants not being pulled up too far — probably because of the atomic wedgies Mom gives him when getting him into the car. She lifts him by his belt loops. It’s forever made him very nervous about anyone helping him with his pants.

Grandpa and I explored the ins and outs of dog ownership, the price of gasoline (years ago he arrogantly claimed to his golfing buddies that gas would never go over 50 cents a gallon. Boy, when he is wrong, he is really wrong!), Dan and Louis Oyster Bar in Portland (This is where the family would always eat when they were in Portland. G’pa asked me if the name of the family who owns the restaurant is Wachsmuth. I looked it up and indeed it is! He couldn’t believe it. He said with a sheepish grin, “Now how did I remember that? I can barely remember my own name most of the time!”), wood floors vs. carpeting, the benefits of HD TV, his gambling philosophy, and his famous BBQ grapefruit recipe –entirely at the top of our lungs because he doesn’t hear too well. He also regaled me with stories of the nurse who bathes him and their ongoing battle over how one ought to wash one’s face. All in all, I was highly entertained (and I’m not kidding — his battle with this nurse is epic and freaking hilarious!)

G’ma was confused when I first arrived (she thought the President was Truman – but hey at least she named a President – a war-time President at that – which is better than what reportedly a lot of American high-school students can do these days) but steadily improved while I was there. By the time I left she had her appetite back and remembered where she was and why she was there, as well as the previous days events. I gave her a banjo lesson on my travel banjo, and I learned that she played the violin at one time in her life. All these years hanging out with her and I’m still learning new things about her!

In my spare time I kicked around Mom’s house, made a brownie recipe I heard on NPR that is supposed to be Katharine Hepburn’s recipe (they were really really good), and experimented with Splenda. Yikes! I’d been hanging out with the old-folks too long!!

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