I know three families, including ours that had an elderly relative fall and make a trip to the hospital last week. Fortunately, none of those folks was seriously hurt. Mama J. ended up bruised in several spots and has a lingering case of Neosporin hair because she needed three stitches to the back of the head. And won’t we ALL be glad when she gets back to the beauty shop for a wash and set so she’ll quit worrying about her hair and nails thank you Jesus. She was in and out of the ER that morning in a record two hours, so that little spill didn’t seem nearly as bad as some others. We’ve actually had three ER visits in our immediate family in the last month. It’s just something that happens when folks get old. Janjanmom’s step dad fell the same day as Mama J., and she posted about how she thinks it’s probably a good idea to get showered and dressed early each day in order to be prepared for those potential trips to the ER. She’s right. We’ve learned over the last couple of years that the Boy Scouts had the right idea when they declared “Be Prepared” their motto. It does pay off. We’ve made all sorts of trips to the hospital in various states of undress and filth. We’ve learned to shower as soon as possible, to keep decent clothes within arms reach and to keep our underwear on because you just never know when you’re going to get a call. And while we are no experts, we’ve picked up a couple of other tips along the way that I’ll share with you here in case you are caring for a senior citizen, too.
1. The list of medications for Mama J. and Papa T. is long. So is their surgical history and they have trouble remembering all of those numbers and dates. Every so often I type up cards for each one of them that list their medications and dosages on one side and their surgical history on the other. They’re the size of a credit card, and I laminate them so they can carry them in their billfolds. In an emergency we can whip them out and hand them to a nurse without having to worry about forgetting something or screwing up the names or dosages of their medications. They’re also handy when going to a new doctor’s office that requests that information. It’s easy and accurate.
2. We keep copies of their house keys and car keys on a key rack near the back door of our house. That way we don’t have to fumble or search for their keys in an emergency. We also installed a keypad on their garage door and memorized the code.
3. Mama J. is prone to falls. Our house is next door but too far away for an intercom system. Papa T. sleeps like the dead and is almost deaf without his hearing aids. He never heard Mama J. fall or us come into the house, pick her up and load her into the van last week. He is of no help in an emergency, so Mama J. has a small cell phone that she pins to her nightgown within arms reach every night. That’s what she called us on last week and prevented her from laying in the floor for a few hours without help.
4. We keep enough gas to get to the hospital and back in the cars at all times. Who wants to stop at the Shell station on the way to the hospital with a bleeding cut or a broken bone?
5. I haven’t used this one yet but probably will in a few months as Papa T.’s dementia gets worse. I read somewhere about a lady who printed business cards that stated “My father suffers from Alzheimer’s. Please be patient with him and us.” She handed them discreetly to waiters and others when taking her father out to eat or to an appointment. She said it made a big difference in how they were treated in public, and she didn’t have to embarrass her dad by telling people out loud that he suffered from Alzheimer’s. I think this is a swell idea.
6. We keep copies of their living wills and powers of attorney papers in the glove box of our vehicles. You just never know when you’ll need them, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had an ER visit that occurred during regular banking hours when I could get into the safety deposit box. Our local hospitals have copies of these papers on file, too.
7. Develop a good relationship with your pharmacist. We do not use the big box pharmacy for our prescriptions. We use the corner drug store, and it has paid off time and time again. Like the time Papa T. got all the way to Cincinnati on a Sunday night and discovered that he had left ALL of his medicine at home. It is critical that he take some of his medications on time. Meekly, I called our pharmacist at her house. She was out but her husband called her on her cell phone. She called me back and agreed to stop by the drug store on the way home and fax his prescriptions to the closest 24 hour Walgreen’s. Within an hour and a half he had all of his medication in hand and was getting ready for bed. You just don’t get that kind of service with Wal-Mart or another big name. Also, that pharmacist has been instrumental in heading off mix-ups and complications with their medicines, except for that time they both had colonoscopies in one week and their preps got mixed up. Yee haw. That was fun. We love our pharmacist.
8. Get used to seeing them naked. The sooner you get over this hurdle the better because there are going to be times when they need help getting dressed, undressed or ready for a particular medical test. And sometimes they just like to lift their shirt or drop their pants and say, “Would you take a look at this” or “Does that look swollen to you?”
9. Finally, when headed out the door to the ER grab a piece of fruit or some snack crackers and a bottled water or soda. You never know how long you’re going to be there, and often you don’t want to leave the room in case the doctor comes in. Somebody in the group is going to have a Barney Fife sugar low before the night is over, and it’s probably going to be me, so I take snacks.
If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please do so here. I’d love to hear them. We need all the help we can get, and based on last week’s fall count, we’re not the only ones who could use the tips.
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