Tag Archives: Assisted Living

Help! I’m out of practice and can’t keep up with the Nursing Home Improv.

I drove the sixty miles to Crazie Town this weekend to visit my Aunt Betty Lou at the nursing home. When I pushed open her hospital door, she was asleep, curled up underneath a tattered K-State throw.

I touched her shoulder and said, “Hi, Aunt Betty Lou.” And, because I’m never certain she’ll know who I am, I added, “It’s Teresa.”

She lifted her head, blinked twice and said (as if we’d seen each other a day ago,) “Hi! We’re on our way to the grocery store. Want to come with?”

“Um. Well.”

Evidently this visit we’re going to be living in 1999.

“Sure,” I said.

“Help me put on my shoes.” She sat up, dangling her legs over the edge of the bed. “Of course, you’ll have to drive because I don’t have a license any more.”

Our conversation had just jumped to 2013, because up until the time she moved to the nursing home, she had a license.

I helped her into her wheelchair. “Of course I’ll drive,” I said.

“Honey, don’t forget my glasses. They’re on the dresser.” She pointed to the empty space next to the head of her bed.

And, now we’re back to 1999.

I glanced at the swivel hospital tray at the foot of her bed. “I don’t see them.”

“Well, that’s where I always put them.”

I looked around her tiny room. “Here they are, next to your sink.”

She looked at me like I was crazy – suggesting there was a sink in her bedroom.

p_v11agy64zae0472_rAunt Betty Lou had never had any children. Up until 1999, she and her husband, Harold, lived in a tiny wooden home that was frozen in 1951 – the year they married.

From a child all the way through adulthood, I remember walking into their narrow house, through their living room (with the mid-century modern nubby green couch) and past the formal dining room (perpetually covered with a starched tablecloth,) into the kitchen.

I’d sit down in one of the red vinyl-covered chrome chairs at the boomerang patterned Formica table and Uncle Harold would offer to cook me whatever I wanted. “Eggs and bacon? No? How about some fried chicken? I was just getting ready to make some.”

While he ran through his repertoire of menu items, Aunt Betty Lou would fill an aqua blue aluminum tumbler with milk, put three cookies on a matching melmac plate and place them in front of me.

Unable to sell me on any of the Carte du jour, Uncle Harold waited until Aunt Betty Lou was out of the room and then refilled my plate with more cookies.

Twenty years ago Uncle Harold suffered a stroke and although he survived, he changed into a gruff, stingy old man. After that, Aunt Betty Lou lived in the bottom of a bottle of gin. She kept her stash out in the detached garage. One wintery day she slipped on the ice and lay there for several hours until Uncle Harold got hungry enough to go looking for her.

They moved to the nursing home together where Betty Lou joined Harold in the Cranky Old People Club. A few years ago Uncle Harold passed away and because I still remember the aunt of my youth, I try to make the drive to visit her every other week.

Lately, I haven’t made the commitment and now it’s been several weeks since I’ve been to see her.

I pushed her wheelchair up and down the halls of the nursing home hoping she’d forget about our imaginary trip to the grocery store.

“Will I need a coat?” Aunt Betty Lou looked up at me through her oversized glasses.

“I, uh. No.”

“Is John getting the car?” she asked.

I paused, struggling for a good answer. “Maybe,” I stuttered. “Maybe, we should stay here because…because there’s a big snow storm going on outside.”

“Good idea, ” she said.

We sat in the waiting room and she asked “ Have Aunt Lorena and Uncle Henry been able to get out of their house yet?”

Uncle Henry has been dead for 60 years.

“Um. Why would Aunt Lorena and Uncle Henry be stuck in their house?” I asked.

Aunt Betty Lou gave me the “Are You Crazy?” look again. “Because of the snow storm.”

“Oh, right. Yep. They’ve been able to get out.” Including a bit of color commentary to my performance, I added, “The snowplow came through today.”

“Snowplow?” she asked.

Staring at the ceiling I struggled to come up with an appropriate reply. Had our conversation moved so far into the past that snowplows hadn’t been invented yet?

“I’m ready to go back to my room now,” she said.

I wheeled her down the long hall, slipped off her shoes and arranged her in bed. Lifting the K-State blanket into the air, I let it settle over her tiny body.

“This was your dad’s,” she said, smoothing the fabric over her legs

“Yes, that’s right.” I smiled, realizing she was back in the present. I pulled up a chair thinking we’d be able to have a pleasant conversation. “Remember when Dad got that?”

Aunt Betty Lou patted my knee. “Honey, I want you to get home before the roads get too bad from the snow.” She took off her glasses, handed them to me and closed her eyes.

Continuation of a Mid-Life Crisis

I woke up one day and none of the clothes in my closet were mine.  I’m not making this up.

Okay, maybe I am, but that’s the way it felt.  I tried on 90% of my closet, and nothing seemed to fit – neither my body or my personality.

Over the next several days I bought and returned dozens of items.  A geometric print maxi-dress seemed fine in the store.  Maybe a bit “young” for me, but I was sure I could still pull it off.  And then I got it home, where I realized that, NO, I couldn’t pull it off and back to the store it went.

I’ve done this time and time again.  I’m in some sort of Limbo (the Catholic kind, not the game) where I’m too old for average women clothes and too young for old women clothes.

Last week, I hit bottom.  I gathered all my strength and walked into what I’ve always considered The Old Woman Clothing Store.  As I flipped through the racks of shapeless dresses and baggy capris, I had a running conversation with myself.

“I’m too young to wear these clothes!”

“No you’re not.  Look around at the other women here.  They’re not much older than you.”

“I don’t belong here”

“You do belong here.”

“I DON’T!”
“You Do!”
“Fine! I’ll try something on!!!”

I picked several items off the racks and trudged to the dressing room.  Just as I was stepping into my first outfit, hoping to god I wouldn’t look in the mirror and see my grandmother, I overheard this conversation in the store, right outside my dressing room door.

Salesclerk:  “Here we go.  I’ve put you in the largest dressing room  – where they’ll be plenty of room for your walker.”

Customer:  “Why, thank you dear.”

I ran out of that store so quickly I almost broke a hip.
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Bonus Blog Post

While I was working on the blog post above, this email conversation occurred with one of my brothers. Caution – I’m leaving in the strong language.  I know, can you believe it?

Mike:  So FYI, I am officially a middle aged woman trapped in a man’s body.  In addition to frozen shoulder, it appears I now have varicose veins.  I found two cysts in my calf this weekend and went to get them checked.  The doctor is 99% sure that’s what it is.  I have to get a sonogram to confirm. Did mom have that?  Fuck!  Getting old sucks!

Teresa:  Well, yes she did, as do I.  But I didn’t think it was worth a dr. appt.  What will they do about them?  Are they dangerous or something?  FUCK YES, I hate getting old.

Mike:  He did not seemed concerned at all and what I can find online seems to say the same thing.  I think there are some cosmetic procedures to make them look better, but I will probably pass because looking good in heels is down on my list of worries.

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Enjoy your Fourth of July.  Here are the Crazie Town safety rules from last year, just in case you need them.

Anatomy of an Aunt

I recently committed to visiting my Aunt Betty Lou every other week in her nursing home.  Wait, before you oooh and aaah over how sweet that is, I have an ulterior motive — I always come back with a great story for Crazie Town.  This visit was no exception.

When I arrived I found her in the dining room – by herself – waiting for supper.  It was 3:00 in the afternoon.  I said hello.

“OH!  I’m so glad to see you!”  She smiled and clapped her hands together.

“Me too,” I said.

“Now, remind me who you are again?”  Fortunately the smile remained on her face even after we cleared that up.

It was a beautiful day so I asked if she wanted to go for a walk.

Her eyes got wide and she said, “Are you crazy?”

Once I explained that I’d be doing the walking and that she’d be riding in her wheelchair, she decided it was a splendid idea.  I pushed her through the nearest exit, which sounded the alarm.

She said “Keep moving!”  So I did.

A few years ago, the nursing home installed a gazebo and “pond.”  (Being a farm girl, I have to put that in quotes as a pond is something four times as large, but I digress.)  We rolled out to the gazebo and I set the locks on her wheels.

We sat in silence for several minutes while I struggled to find something to talk about.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” I asked.

“The other day the tree trimmers came.”    (I’ve learned over the years that although we’re having one conversation she reserves the right to switch it to a new subject at any time.)

“Tree trimmers, you say?” I asked politely.

“Yes, they worked all day, cutting down limbs.”  She gazed around at the trees and smiled.  “And then the next morning when I woke up, the nurses had covered me in tree limbs.”

“Uh huh…wait, what did you say?”

“Yep.  Tree limbs.  They thought it would be funny.”

A million thoughts zoomed through my head.  “Would someone really think that would be funny?  Did it actually happen or was she confused?  If it was true, was my aunt some sort of favorite patient that they joked with?”  But she was already on to the next conversation.

“One time at work a woman came in asked for her check.”

Aunt Betty Lou worked for about 100 years at the Topeka City Clerk’s office.  I really had no idea what her job entailed so I answered, “That’s nice.”

She screwed up her face.  “We don’t give people checks at the City Clerk’s office!”

“Oh.  Well, I guess she was in the wrong place then.”

“I told her I didn’t have any check for her and she said I did.  I told her I didn’t and she said if I didn’t give her the check she was going to cut out my gizzard.  Right away my supervisor called the mayor’s office, who sent down his guard.  And then guess what happened?”

“I don’t know, what?”

“Well, all I can say is – she doesn’t have her check, and…”Aunt Betty Lou leaned back in her wheelchair and patted her stomach.  “…and I still have my gizzard.”

Now, I’m no doctor so when I got home I looked up to see where a person’s gizzard is exactly.  Turns out, only birds have gizzards.  Then again, maybe Aunt Betty Lou is part bird and she really did wake up in the tree limbs.

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I don’t want to threaten you or anything, but if you don’t give me a subscribe or share, or a “LIKE” I might have to cut out your gizzard.

Oh yeah, thanks for visiting Crazie Town!

I Can’t Believe She Threw Me Under The Bus

Running Away to Aunt Lorena’s House

I took a drive to Crazie Town last week to visit my Aunt Betty Lou in her nursing home.

Every few months her facility schedules a family care meeting.  It’s an opportunity for them to explain how their $7,000 a month fee is being used to make my aunt’s life better.  The meeting is good, because if you ask her, they use the money to find new and interesting ways to irritate her.

I walked into her room to find her sitting in her wheelchair, arms crossed across her chest and a major pout on her face.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I told them I didn’t want to use the walker, so they deserved it,” she said.

“Uh, oh.  Deserved what?”

“That woman came in to help me to the bathroom and the whole time I was telling her I didn’t want to use the walker, but she said (and here my aunt scrunches up her face and talks like a baby) ‘Your family says you’re supposed to use the walker.’  So, I didn’t really have a choice, did I?”

Now my face was scrunched up.  “And what choice was that?”

“I threw my walker across the room.”

I chuckled.  I mean really, what’s funnier than a tiny old woman throwing a temper tantrum?

“Come on,” I said.  “We better get to the meeting.”  I let Aunt Betty Lou stay in her wheelchair (I’m no dummy) and rolled her into the conference room, which was filled with staff from the facility.  Immediately she assumed the arms-crossed, defensive position.

When we all settled in, the head nurse smiled at my aunt and asked, “How are you?”

Betty Lou snorted and then replied, “How am I supposed to know what day it is?”

“No.  I said, How ARE you?”

My aunt paused, looked at the ceiling and then lowered her gaze.  “I don’t know how old I am, but I was born in 1926!”

Aunt Betty Lou sat quietly through the rest of the meeting while they talked over her, telling me that “Miss Betty” liked movies but hated bingo, she loved having dessert with dinner then often came back later for a second helping and that she’d gotten into a bit of a kerfuffle with another resident when the woman had tried to cut in line for a manicure.

Flipping through pages and pages of documentation, the nurse noticed there was an item left blank on her form.  She leaned across the table and shouted, “Betty, do you brush your own teeth?”

Aunt Betty Lou paused and looked around the room in terror.  “Well…I, well…”  And then her gaze landed on me and her eyes lit up.  She reached out, pointed a crooked finger my way and said, “Teresa ran away from home.”

A room full of accusing eyes turned my way (well, except for Aunt Betty Lou’s.  Her eyes were filled with satisfaction.)  I couldn’t believe she’d throw me under the bus like that.

I was six-years-old and really mad at my mom, so I packed up my little suitcase – yes, family, I’m going to tell the truth  (for some reason, they love this part of the story) – I packed my suitcase with every pair of underwear I owned.  That was it.  No clothes.  Just underwear.

“I’m going to Aunt Lorena’s house,” I said.  “Because she loves me.” I stomped off, up the driveway and out onto the dirt road in front of our house.

I’d made about 10 yards when Mom came out onto the porch.

“You know,” she said.  “It’s a long walk to Lorena’s house.  Maybe you should eat some lunch before you go.”

I stopped walking but didn’t turn around.

“We’re having some of Betty Lou’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes,” Mom said and then I heard the squeal of the screen door as it opened and the sharp bang as it slammed shut.  Within two minutes I was back inside, sitting at the table on my chair stacked with telephone books, shoveling mashed potatoes into my mouth.

As I sat in the nursing home looking around at those accusing faces I thought for one second about throwing Aunt Betty Lou under the bus by bringing up the walker-tossing event.  But I realized that, much like a 6-year-old, an 86-year-old just needs to throw an old-fashioned temper tantrum once in a while.

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Old People Could Rule The World

I’m blessed (as a writer, anyway) to have a family filled with colorful characters.  My mother-in-law, Althea, is a perfect example.  We joke that she never had a thought in her head that didn’t come out of her mouth.  But, I always know where I stand with her and I love her very much.

One of my favorite stories about Althea happened on a holiday at my house. I was giving thanks for how well we all got along even though we had such a diverse group.

“We have people that are old and young, black and white.  We have democrats and republicans, gay people and straight people…”

“Wait one minute,” Althea shouted from the back of the group.

Everyone froze – except the gay couple who were inching their way toward the exit.

“I want to know which one of you is a democrat!” she demanded.

That would be me, by the way, but I have decided to stay safely in the closet.

Since then, Althea’s had a stroke and is living in an assisted living facility near us.  I can only imagine how difficult it is for someone as independent as my mother-in-law to be told when to wake up, when to eat, when to shower.

I went to visit her earlier this week and arrived at shower time.  As the nurse was undressing her, Althea asked that the nurse scratch her back.

“I’ll do it when you get in the shower.”

As Althea inched her walker from the bed toward the bathroom she asked again.  “Scratch my back?”

“When you get in the shower,” the nurse repeated.

Althea made it to the entrance of the shower and stopped.

“Scratch my back,” she demanded.

“I told you, I’d do it when you got in the shower.  Now please, just get in and sit down.”

Althea looked the nurse right in the eye and said, “I’ll get in the shower when you scratch my back.”

The two adversaries stood glaring at each other.  Finally the nurse reached out and scratched Althea’s back.

Score:    Naked Old Lady-1/Nurse-0

I’m hoping I’ll be half as strong-willed as she is when I’m 87.  How about you?