Just before Christmas in December 2005 my god-sister Gladys had a stroke. She was 78 years old and living alone in Philadelphia. Gladys is a widow with no children and no siblings.
One of her neighbors had missed her at church and Gladys had not returned her phone calls. The neighbor had a key to the house so she finally went to check on Gladys. When she got to the house, Gladys was lying face down on the kitchen floor. The neighbor called to let us know what she found and that an ambulance had been called.
As it happened, my husband, Fred, my daughter Anita and I left Atlanta to attend a friend’s funeral in Delaware and decided to stay in Philadelphia the rest of the week and spend the holidays with Gladys and our daughter Nichole (Nikki) and her family. Since I had Gladys’ Power of Attorney and could make medical decisions for her, the timing for our visit couldn’t have been better. Some might say we were lucky but we believe it was divine providence.
Fred and I had just returned from the funeral when we received the call. We were actually getting ready to go visit Gladys. So we rushed over to the house and got there just in time to get into the ambulance.
We had a difficult time figuring out when the stroke occurred and how long Gladys had been lying on the floor. From information we gave the doctors based on a phone conversation that Nikki had with Gladys three days earlier, they guestimated that she could have been there as little as six hours or as long as three days. The one thing they knew for sure was that the stroke had caused a domino effect of conditions: including a seizure and a heart attack.
At 78 years of age and quite overweight, Gladys had been relatively healthy. She only had two prescriptions: one for high blood pressure and one for diabetes. But according to Nikki, Gladys did not take her medicine like she should. Nikki said she would call Gladys to see if Gladys needed her prescriptions refilled but she always said “no” that she still had enough medicine.
Road to recovery
After the stroke Gladys could not move her right arm, had limited mobility with her left arm and she was barely able to walk. Additionally, her doctor prescribed 10 different medications and we began to notice some dementia. Gladys spent about a week in the hospital and a couple of weeks in a rehab center. She had to re-learn to use both her hands and learn to walk with a walker. The doctors told us that she probably would not be able to live alone again but it was a wait and see situation.
Nikki, Fred, Anita and I spent most of Christmas day at the hospital with Gladys. We had gifts for her and the girls took her a Santa Claus hat. Gladys’ pastor came by to visit and that made her happy. None of us knew what our futures held; we just knew that we would make the necessary sacrifices to keep Gladys living with us and out of a nursing home.
How our lives have changed
Since Gladys move in with us our lives have changed. Fred and I were empty nesters who had recently downsized and purchased a town house. With no yard work and outside maintenance, we pretty much came and went as we pleased. Because Gladys has mild dementia and is not very mobile our main challenge is always having someone with her. Now we have to schedule everything: errands, business meetings, doctors’ appointments (hers and ours) and grocery shopping.
I have to prepare meals daily and make sure that they conform to a diabetic/high blood pressure/high cholesterol diet. Time has to be scheduled to bathe Gladys and prepare her clothes for the next day and we have to allot extra time in the morning so we can take her to adult day care before going to work in the mornings.
Since I work at a church and have to be there at 7:00 on Sunday mornings, our youngest daughter who lives about 4 miles from us has taken on the responsibility of coming to the house at 6:30 AM on Sunday mornings to get Gladys ready for our 10:45 AM church service.
Why we started the blog
We started this blog to share our lives as family caregivers. There are millions of baby boomers out there with aging parents and family members who will need care. By telling our story someone out there may be able to use this as a guide to get started on their caregiver’s journey.
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