Not Dead Yet

Mark Twain once famously said:

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”

after an obituary for him was mistakenly published.

Dear Old Dad found himself (thankfully) laughing and saying much the same last weekend.  It’s been a rough few weeks for Dad following a bout of septicaemia, from which he recovered.  A trip by ambulance  to Emergency in the middle of the night, followed by requests for Advance Health Directives (he was not expected to survive), a week in hospital and two weeks in rehab, and he is almost ready to come home.  I’m not sure who will be happier – Dad or Oscar!

My brother was visiting Dad last Sunday, and sitting playing cribbage with him.  His daughter sings in the choir at a church in Brisbane and called her father to tell him that after the service an elderly priest stood up in the congregation to announce with great sadness that Dad had passed away the previous week, and she had to stand up and say that in fact her grandfather was alive and that she was seeing him that afternoon.

About ten minutes later, my brother received a Facebook message from a friend in Sydney passing on his condolences on the death of our father – his name was on the prayer list at a church in Sydney, praying for the repose of his soul.

There was a mad scrambling of texts, messages, emails and phone calls between me, and  my brother and sister- we debated whether or not to tell Dad but on balance thought he would probably find out, so my brother had to break the news to dad of his untimely death.  My nephew thought we should wait three days to tell people that “on the third day he rose again”.  It was all very Monty Python-ish, and fortunately Dad could see the funny side, and we could too.  It was good for him to have a belly laugh. The Archbishop kindly sent out an email advising all clergy that Dad was alive and while not 100%, was recovering nicely and could they all please pray for his continuing recovery.  Perhaps that did the trick in getting Dad to the stage of being able to come home.  I am certain it contributed to Dad’s 7-2 thrashing of my brother at cribbage.

Dad in hospital

The downside?  I and once again embroiled in the merry go round that is My Aged Care, who seem to be fixated on making sure the elderly can’t use the services to which they are ostensibly entitled.  More to come…….

 

 

 

In the News

Andy Warhol once famously said that everyone in the future would be world-famous for  15 minutes.  Well Dear Old Dad has had his share recently (well, not really world famous, or famous at all… but you know what I mean) courtesy to me agitating incessantly about the pathetic funding available to enable the elderly to live in their own homes, and once approved the wait time for the package.

We appeared on the 7.30 report in January along with other people who had been approved for home care packages and were still waiting (12 months for Dad this month). The transcript of the program can be read here.  An on-line article featuring Dad came out after the program.

Following that I received a call from Alison Houston, a journalist who had seen it and wanted to interview Dad about his life and in particular his time in the country.  It has appeared in a few places but the best place to read this is in this issue of Gold Coast Seniors Magazine, pp30-31.  One part is about Dad’s life, the other about Home Care packages.

 

Always ministering

Yesterday was the 67th anniversary of Dear Old Dad’s ordination to the priesthood.  That is 67 years (plus his years of training), so let’s just round that up to 70 years, of living his values and vocation.  A vocation is defined as a ‘calling’ and an occupation regarded as worthy and requiring dedication.  And this has certainly been a vocation for Dad.  At the age of 96, he still attends mass weekly and is often asked to preach the sermon on special occasions.   Dad’s father, my grandfather,  came from Hastings in Sussex, and was himself ordained in Durham Cathedral and came to Australia as a missionary.  He was to serve as a priest for more than 60 years in the diocese of Rockhampton so in a way history repeats itself.

After leaving boarding school at All Souls, Charters Towers, Dad began working with the Commonwealth Bank prior to the commencement of World War II.     He was called up to serve in the Australian Army but was to be discharged at the request of the Commonwealth Bank, much to the disgust of his Sergeant, as the bank was having difficulty maintaining service with a shortage of staff.   Dad had, and still has, a good head for figures.

After the war, he was ‘called’ to the priesthood.  Dad recalls telling his parents and the emotion they felt, as they told him then, that they had dedicated him, their first-born son, to the priesthood at his baptism.  Just yesterday he told me that at the age of 27, when  he entered St Francis College Brisbane, they must have been giving up hope.  He  graduated with honours in 1950.   He was ordained a Deacon in the Diocese of Rockhampton in December 1950  and ordained Priest there in 1951.  He met Mum there.  Mum recounted playing the organ in church and their eyes meeting  during church one day, and the rest is history.  Theirs was a true partnership as well as marriage with Mum serving many unofficial roles as support to Dad wherever he went – she was a Sunday school teacher and church organist; a member of the Mothers Union for more than 50 years; a member of the Australian Board of Missions auxiliary; and for a time the formidable secretary of the Clergy Wives Association.   She was forever making cups of tea for visitors, parishioners, and those in need who knocked on our door.

Dad served God and the people of many different parishes. The first parish Mum and Dad could call their own was the Parish of Springsure  , then Callide Valley, centred upon Biloela, then Oakey (where I was born) and Roma, during which time he was appointed Rural Dean for the West.

I remember much about Roma, and often it was being in trouble.  I recall being referred to as ‘our youngest and naughtiest’ but it was always with a loving smile. There was no worse punishment than being called into Dad’s study to me told he was disappointed.  Dad describes Roma as their happiest parish – they made good and life long friends there, and were very sad to leave at about the time our secondary schooling was about to start.

Mum and Dad moved to a Brisbane parish and there endeth the somewhat carefree days of living in a country town for us.  After another period as a parish priest he was appointed as the Queensland Organising Secretary of the Australian Board of Missions, Queensland, which he loved, getting to see and minster to many parts of Queensland, PNG, and the Pacific Islands.  It is a standing family joke and  a firmly held legend, that one advantage of the ABM work was that he only had to have three sermons since he was in a different church or place each Sunday! He then had one last stint as a parish priest in Brisbane before officially ‘retiring’.

His official retirement in 1990 did not lessen his life of service by much.     He continued and to this day continues to preach, officiate (not so much now), and assist and over many years and to this day he continues to collect and organise stamps to raise money for ABM.

He was appointed Canon Emeritus 2008.

I have been privileged to see the public and personal merge during his active ministry and in his retirement.

Dad has married each of his children and baptised each of his nine grandchildren.  Two of those grandchildren have been married and Dad has officiated at their weddings.  Both of his great-grandchildren have now been baptised by him, and at each occasion he has worn his father’s hand embroidered stole, embroidered in the UK before he left for Australia.  It has been a very special moment, allowing his father in some way to be involved.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have also been privileged to take Dad and watch as he has given the last rites to people close to him – including two of his and mum’s best friends, my Godmother, and one of his own brothers.  Even for those without faith, you could not helped but be moved seeing this ceremony performed.  In each case the person, while unconscious, gave some indication that they knew he was there and what was happening.  And in each case, Dad performed this beautiful rite professionally, allowing the tears to come only when his task as priest ended, and he could once again become friend and brother.

No day of Dad’s has commenced or ended without prayer.  He prays for us all and remembers those whose anniversaries fall each day.

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Tournament of minds

We have always been a family of card players.  From the earliest days of my life, I was taught to play all manner of card games, and our evenings were often full of laughter and tantrums depending on the outcome for the particular player.  Being the youngest, I never learned to play 500, unlike my elder siblings as it is a game for four people.  This still burns to this day.  “Suffering Tomcats” when the hand was not good or “it’s not a concert” if we started to sing, and “a fast game is a good game” when someone deliberated too long over which card to discard.

Some might say we are a competitive lot – it’s genetic, as we get it from Dear Old Dad. A running joke in the family is that when playing a particular card game, Dad would always read the scores out when he was winning; silent when not.  So many happy memories of card games  litter our conversations about the ‘good old days’.  Victories and losses, points scored are remembered.

One of the games we played was, and is,  cribbage – either two, three or four players.  It is a fast paced game, combining skill and luck.  It requires a pack of cards, a cribbage board, pegs to score, a good sense of humour , an ability to add up to 15 and 31, and a competitive spirit.

After Mum died and I started spending a lot of time with dad, we somehow started playing cribbage every day – it has become our ‘thing’ and we both look forward to our games.  Dad more than me usually as he wins more games than me, the crafty old fox.  In April 2011, I started keeping score – of who won, and the winning margin. I am now on to my second book.

We have had some hilarious times – a game consists of 121 points and the biggest winning margin belongs to me at 65 (two streets for those familiar with the game).  Man, that was sweet!  There have been games which have been so close the lead kept changing and the final score was one or two; games where one of us just didn’t get the ‘turn up’ to enhance our hands and games where we had hands with no points at all.

As of today, we have played a total of 1773 games of two-handed cribbage.  There have been many three-handed and four handed games when other members of the family have been with us, but I have only kept the scores for our games.  Of those 1773 games, Dad has won 919 to my 854, winning 65 games more than me.  Which technically is not a lot over more than seven years.  His total point score is 14993 to my 14510, giving a winning margin of 483, an average of only 7.4 per game.  Just 12 months ago, the average was 9.5 so he is either losing his touch or I am getting better at it.  It is definitely not the former.

We have played cribbage at his house, usually with Oscar, Prince of Cats for company, and using his father’s triangular cribbage board, until a lovely wooden board from his brother in Wales arrived.

dad and oscar

We have played at my house with a second-rate board, but pegs from a velvet pouch.  We have played in Townsville, Roma, Springsure, Woodgate on the deck at the beach house, and Sydney.  We have played in restaurants, cafes and in hospitals.

Dad in hospital

 

Neither of us has scored the perfect score of 29, but have each, once in that 7.5 years, scored the next best thing of 28 – great excitement.

cribbage

Dad once asked me if I thought we would ever stop playing and I said “only when one of us dies’, which sometimes I think may well be me, at the rate he is going.

Here’s to the next 1000 games. May I win most of them.  And get ‘one for his hat’ more often than not.

jack

A Week In The Life

“Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up I noticed I was late”

Dear Old Dad had five days in hospital recently.  That dreadful ulcer was doing OK, but his foot had started to go a bit red, and then became swollen, so having seen cellulitis on his leg before (which resulted in almost a month in hospital), before he could say ‘Gosh that doesn’t look too good’ we were at the hospital emergency department of the hospital where he previously received treatment for his cellulitis (why DO these things happen on a Sunday?).

He was sent home with oral antibiotics, with instructions that if it was not better in 48 hours, to come back.  So come back we did on Tuesday afternoon and he was admitted to go on to IV antibiotics.  Phew. He only needed to be in for five days (much to his delight – I’m sure he worries that any reason to go into hospital can’t be good and he might not come back out).  I raced home to feed Oscar and pack a bag with all the necessary accoutrements for a hospital stay.  I found myself explaining to the cat what was happening and had to talk myself out of the notion that I was going completely mad.

Many well-intentioned people thought this hospital visit was good for me – it will give you a nice break, they said. You can relax a bit, they said.  But it was not to be. While I didn’t have to cook his meals (he quite enjoyed the three course dinners with choice of meals), I still had to visit every day, feed Oscar twice a day (thanks to my spouse for doing the morning cat feeding routine).  Actually I didn’t HAVE to visit Dad at all; I wanted to. It can be lonely in hospital; plus I had to check up on what the nurses were doing with his ulcer dressings.  I’m possessive and neurotic about that ulcer.  And we had to keep the daily cribbage tournament going.

Dad in hospital

Hospital Cribbage – Still Smiling

But it got me thinking about the things I do for Dad, and decided to keep a running diary – while he was in hospital the things were a bit different from the norm, but here is a summary of the week that was:

Friday (day 4 of hospital)

Feed Oscar
Collect paper
Visit Dad in hospital – deliver paper, wondering if he is more pleased to see The Australian or me
Get beaten at cribbage
Meet his carer from Five Good Friends for a sneak clean and tidy of the house
Hose out his garage because #filthy
Take out Oscar’s chicken breast dinner from the freezer (spoiled brat)
Water new trees on footpath
Take home and wash doona and doona cover
Wash woollens – jumpers, vests

Later that day…


Collect mail
Wash dishes in sink that had been there since Tuesday
Empty bins
Meet carpet cleaning man
Go back and rearrange house after he’s been
Feed Oscar and give him some love and attention 

Saturday 

Feed Oscar
Collect paper
Go in to collect DOD from hospital – he is READY TO GO but we have to wait for the doctor
Change ulcer dressing because nurses are too busy (rolls eyes)
End up calling nurse as the man in the bed next to DOD was clearly distressed and some bodily function was happening.  Grateful for curtains if we can’t have walls
Game of cribbage while we wait for Dr to visit
Dr thrilled with DOD’s progress and signs him out with a ‘keep on keeping on instruction’
Pack his bags
Help DOD to main entrance
Collect prescription from pharmacy
Go to car park and drive back to
 front entrance
Get out of car and help dad in
Buy milk on the way home
Drag suitcase and other stuff up stairs
Unpack bag and put away contents
Make him a sandwich for lunch
Recharge his emergency alert
Make bed with fresh linen
Email DOD’s brother in Wales to let him know DOD home 

Later that day…

Take down dinner (no three course meal or choice of mains)
Game of cribbage
Check account from hospital emergency department  and call re discrepancy
Post letter
Pay carpet cleaning man

Sunday 

Put DOD’s hearing aids in for church
Drive him to church
Buy new mop and bin liners on the way home
Buy paper for TV guide for DOD .
Confirm with private nurse that he’s home from hospital for Monday afternoon wound dressing
Confirm with cleaner to come following Monday 
Put bins down on road
Wrap birthday  gift for my spouse
Provide card for DOD to go with gift

Later that day…

Collect DOD to drive to my house for dinner
Help him out of car, readying myself to catch him on the slope of our driveway
More cribbage.  I think I may have won a game
Drive him home
Rub lotion into his back (worst job in the world)

Monday

Drive to Dymocks for book shopping – his brother wants to me find soe books for DOD for his birthday
Try to ignore instructions from passenger seat on how to drive
Cup of tea and raisin toast at the shopping centre
To shops for bananas
Order more ulcer dressings accoutrements
Phone call to vascular specialist to confirm appointment for Wednesday
Texts with nurse re dressing change
Cook vegetables to go with sausages for dinner

Later that day…

Take dinner down
Game of cribbage
Write emails to three charities on his behalf telling them politely  to bugger off – someone gave his address to a commercial list seller.  Bastards

Tuesday 

Print off email from his brother in Wales
Take dinner down in afternoon with email
Take down his birthday presents with strict instructions not to open until the morning
Change ulcer dressing
Bring his ironing back home for my ironing lady to do
Suddenly remember to call carer and cancel her visit Wednesday afternoon because he’s coming here for dinner

Wednesday 

Happy birthday call to Dear Old dad – 96 today!
To his vascular specialist for check up – hearty congratulations and cheering on state of ulcer, which is much improved
Pat self on back
Call local chemist to see if they do compounding – no will have to go back to the hospital chemist to get prescription filled
Drive DOD to church and stay for mass because #birthday
Drive to Cathedral to collect donated stamps for him to sort and value
To shops for apples
Home for a cup of tea and cribbage
Post letter
Put rubbish in bins
Various texts re visits from carers
Text nurse with update from doctor 

Later that day…

Collect DOD for dinner at our place for his birthday
Take him  home after dinner

Thursday 

Woke up feeling ill with a cold – thanking goodness not much to do 

Take dinner down in the afternoon
Take DOD to physio
Take dog the size of small horse with us so I can take him to the park while DOD at physio
Call to make follow up appointment with hospital doctor
Back to physio – 
Make next appointment
Take DOD home
Beg off cribbage because #sick and don’t want to lose again

Friday 

Cook small roast dinner and take down to his place
Cribbage (two games!  Winner!!)
Change dressing – remind dad days nurse is coming (not Fridays any more)
Water trees on footpath
Take home typewritten letter to his brother and scan and send

Saturday 

Cook a weeks worth of meals – two casseroles
Bake cake for freezing in quarters for DOD’s morning teas
Take dinner down
Cribbage
Change dressing
Console him about expected cold weather

So there you have it – some routine some not; some fun, some not; some necessary some not but all done with love

He’s Not Benjamin Button!

Readers may recall I have written about my frustrations with the My Aged Care system before.  If you’re so inclined you can read all about it here (Part I), then Part II, then Part III, a story of Hope and Redemption, and Part IV here  (I kid you not).  My Aged Care is not user-friendly.  I still maintain that whenever we read about emergency services finding an elderly person dead in their own home, we should just assume that they didn’t have a daughter to make calls for them and that they died either waiting on hold at My Aged Care, or for a home care package to become available.

Dear Old Dad has a level 2 Home Care Package which gives him about 5 hours a week care.  A lovely woman comes twice a week and takes him to the shops, chemist, barber, library (not each time obviously) and manages to fit in a game of scrabble once a week.  She even wins occasionally, much to Dad’s horror.  I suspect her of practising online in between visits.  I like that.

Anyway…some months ago, Dad had yet another ACAT assessment and was assessed as being eligible for a level 3 home care package.  Part of this, I read in the report, was due to high levels of carer stress.  Remind me not to play poker.

Shortly after this the Federal Budget was announced and contained more funding for home care packages.  Excellent, I thought.

Because of holidays and visits from his brother, we were not using up all the hours allocated under the level 2 package and had a ‘pool’ of hours we could utilise while we waited.  So we did.

Today, I rang My Aged Care to check on progress.  Here is how the conversation went after the usual pleasantries and identification process:

MAC – “There is currently a 12 month waiting list”

(pause while this sinks in)

ME – “Really?”

MAC – “Yes”

ME – “Dad is 96 next month – he has to wait almost 18 months in total to get a level 3 home care package?  He will be 97. That can’t be right”

(pause while MAC representative no doubt rolls his eyes, and points at the phone to his colleagues and mouths ‘we got another one’).

MAC – That is the wait time at the moment, unless he has deteriorated.

(Me, in my head, screams ‘well he’s not Benjamin Button getting younger, healthier and fitter each month you moron’.  He’s 96 next month)

ME – “Well he is becoming more frail and unsteady on his feet.”

MAC – “Well I can organise another ACAT assessment to get his package updated. This will take approximately six weeks”

(me, rolling my eyes so far that I can see the back of my head)

ME – “Right.  Even though he has been assessed as level 3 he needs another assessment during which he will be asked the same questions AGAIN to get the same result”

MAC – “That’s our process”

ME – “Fine”

(This is a male to whom I was speaking.  I don’t think he realises that when a woman says ‘fine’ nothing is actually fine at all).

MAC – “let me just put you on hold while I do this”

…10 minutes later..

MAC – “Ok, that’s all done.  Is there anything else I can do for you?”

ME – ‘Nothing.  There is literally NOTHING My Aged Care can do for me.  But thank you”

MAC – “you’re welcome”

Phone calls followed to the Aged Care Assessment Team, Five Good Friends, my local Federal MP, my sister ( regular listener to post MAC phone call rants).

And it’s too early for wine.

Skeleton

 

 

“They Just Love It”

Because one can suddenly change moods from ‘everything is fine’ to ‘Oh my God what if the worst happens’ in a nanosecond, my sister* came to stay for a while and we spent some time investigating both respite and nursing home care options.  Just in case.  For those of you reading this who know my Dear Old Dad, you should, you know, shush.

Of course we visited the loveliest and most expensive option first.  It was all downhill from there.  But the one that was the most hideous experience was not the most hideous looking of the aged care homes.  Close,  but no cigar.

It was the one which didn’t allow visitors to call and make an appointment to have a look around.  Tours were conducted at 11.30 on Tuesdays.  Only 11.30 on Tuesdays.  It also bore the same name as a psychiatric hospital in a Law and Order Franchise.  Perhaps this should have been a warning.  We arrived a little early, desperate for a cup of tea.  I asked the receptionist if there was a cafe where we could make a cup of tea. ‘Oh no’, she said, the coffee cart only comes on Mondays.  OK then.  That, too should have been a warning.

My face must have been a bit of a giveaway, because shortly after this, she offered to make us a cup of tea.  Lovely!  What appeared was what could only be described as frightened milk.  Now, I know that many old people don’t mind a cup of tepid tea (my old person is not one of them and I am certainly not), but this could not be described as tea.  I did manage to drink some out of politeness (I know, I know that’s not like me) but the half full cup was put on the floor.  My sister’s remained full.

At the appointed hour when about eight women were gathered for the tour ( it’s always women isn’t it), Julie, the owner and tour guide  appeared, coiffed and perfumed, wearing sensible shoes, with a fixed smile and hands that indicated they didn’t get dirty very often.

The guests were all there for different reasons – we to explore respite, two sisters whose mother had dementia, another whose mother was in hospital and who didn’t know what a RAD was (my sympathy for her was high because one needs a maths degree to understand it all) – but the tour was the same.  And it started with the laundry.  The laundry and the types of labels we were to use were of GREAT IMPORTANCE.

We then walked up the corridor and looked out the window to the neighbouring property – where goats lived.  Julie told us breathlessly that once a week she drove the bus HERSELF to take a group of residents to visit the goats.  “Oh they LOVE it’ she said.  ‘They just LOVE it.  Such fun’.

At this point I wanted to leave, but I was encouraged by my less judgemental sister to stay the distance.  We have yet to speak of this.

Next we went past a common room where residents were seated gazing at someone at the front of the room speaking.  Julie explained that one of the activities the home organised was ‘reminiscing’ – that the old folk may not remember much of what happened yesterday but loved reminiscing about the old days. Today they were talking about the Brisbane trams.  My sister and I exchanged a glance, and I knew what she was thinking, which was the same as me – our Dad had asked that morning if one of us could find out from the budget papers in due course the total interest on national debt, as he ‘had some writing to do’.  Hmmm – talks on the tram system in Brisbane were not going to be his thing.

Then we went to meet Eileen.  Eileen loved having people being shown her room as she had a special quilt on the bed.  Unfortunately Eileen was on the toilet when we popped in and Julie quickly shut the door so that was not part of our tour.  Eileen’s husband was also a resident in one of the larger rooms – $1.1 million in RADs there so of course when Julie explained how she had driven Eileen to watch her grandson row at Kawana one day, and did her hair every morning, I understood why. ‘Oh she just LOVES it’.

Julie then told us lots of stories involving herself, and how the residents loved it.  Every Monday Julie herself personally made 55 cappuccinos for the residents when the coffee cart came.  Imagine!  ‘Oh they love it’, she said. ‘They just LOVE it’.

We had an explanation of the smaller rooms and some which were a shared facility – those who share a room ‘just LOVE it’.  They become GREAT FRIENDS.

Ethel, whose mother was a resident but ‘got her angel wings’, continued to volunteer and made cakes and slices every week to bring in. ‘Oh they LOVE it’ said Julie  Again.  Apparently one thing that they didn’t love though was a glass of wine – wine and beer were not served with dinner.  Not necessary.

 

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We were ushered into the ‘Boardroom’ to have a chat and ask questions.  At this point I took out my ‘to do list’ and started working on it and wrote at the top of the list to never send my father here.  Followed by ‘speak to sister about gut instincts’.

On a positive note, we know what we don’t want for Dear Old Dad and we laughed and laughed in the car for a long time.  And had wine with lunch.

*Sisters are awesome

Faith in technology restored

Technology is great.  I love technology; when it works.

When mum died, one of the things we realised was that mum and dad only had phones that attached to the walls – one of the first things we purchased after the event was a phone with a number of handsets, so that dad had one in the bedroom, and a handset he could take around with him, and an emergency alert, which hung around his neck.  The idea was that if he was in trouble or had a fall, he could press the button and it would call five numbers in order; mine being the first.

Periodically, I would check that this still worked – in various rooms of the house and out at the clothes line. However, in the last seven years, on the two occasions he actually needed to use it, both recent, it failed.  The first time he fell and broke his wrist and had to crawl to the lounge from the kitchen to call me.  The company told me that the base station was too close to the phone which interfered with the system.

The second time he fell on the pathway to the clothesline and had to crawl to the stairs and pull himself up the stairs to get into the house.  Mercifully nothing was broken.  This time the company asked all sorts of questions including if the neighbours had installed any antennas that could interfere.  I couldn’t live with the anxiety of wondering if it would work or fail should he fall again.

Technology has improved over the last seven years and my sister found a new alert pendant, which operates via the 4G and GPS system.  It is kind of like a mini phone which hangs around dad’s neck.  Once purchased, five phone numbers are pre-installed into the SIM card.  If he presses the alert button it calls those numbers in sequence, and can talk into the device when the call is answered.  It is GENIUS.  AND – because it operates on GPS it will recognise a sudden fall and each of those five numbers receives a text alert from his pendant, saying his name and the words ‘Fall alert’.  Again – GENIUS.

Unless of course, there has been no fall.

So…last Friday my husband and I were engrossed in a new (for us) and gripping Netflix TV series called Broadchurch.  It is a murder mystery set in Devon.  We had previously finished one called The Fall set in Northern Ireland which required a lot of concentration because if the thick accents.  We like Devon much more.  Easier to understand.

Anyway, as I said we were engrossed, as it was reaching a climactic moment, when both our phones beep with the message “:Fall Alert”.  We both leapt up from the couch and bumped into each other (our couches were all crammed into the centre of the room because of painters having been in).  Me, panicking about getting to dad,  also with a broken toe going “ouch” a dozen times, almost falling over the dog,  to rush to the key hook to get my car key.    My phone then rings from the emergency alert and I answer but dad is not talking into the pendant.   Meanwhile my brother and sister, having both received the alert, are both texting me, and trying to call as well. So I am shouting at my husband to text them to tell them I’m on my way, at the same time as trying to speak to dad via his emergency alert.

My stress levels increase to the max as anxiety girl here manages to leap to the worst case scenario in a single bound, imagining dad at the bottom of the stairs.  So I hang up. Which then causes the cascade of phone calls to my husband, sister, brother and brother-in-law.   My husband and I are both in the car at this point, it’s pouring with rain and I speed down the driveway and then down the road.  Breathing deeply, gripping the steering wheel.  We get to Dad’s and my husband accidentally starts shutting the garage door as I am driving up the driveway.  More shouting from me.  Because it is pouring with rain, when the garage door is finally open, I hit the accelerator causing the wheels to just turn around on the steep driveway, so I have to back down and roar up again. My husband helpfully says something like ‘Well, that’s one way to get up the driveway”.

We race up the stairs and unlock the study door.  There is Dad, shirtless and without his alert button, sitting in his chair watching TV.  “What’s wrong” he said – “I wasn’t expecting to see you tonight”.  Husband and I both collapse into each other.  It turns out that with the hot weather we have been having, Dad had taken his shirt off and thrown it on the bed.  With the alert.  Which triggered the fall alert.  He was oblivious, even to the screeching of wheels, slamming of doors and a bit of shouting.  We started laughing.  He started laughing. We messaged the others that all was well.

As we drove off back home my husband just said “I bet you wish you hadn’t given up drinking this month”.  Never a truer word was said.

Still crazy here.

Fall alert

2017 in review

What a big year we have had.  Dear Old Dad is still going strong even though he said last Christmas that he thought it would be his last, and also said he didn’t think he would make his 95th birthday, and yet he did.  When I say he is still going strong, there is an almost imperceptible increase in his frailty, demonstrated by more caution when walking.

The  small ulcer on his left ankle has been gradually diminishing.  It has been such a big part of our lives that I feel it is almost time to give it its own name.  Ursula the Ulcer perhaps?  Ulysses?  Whatever, it celebrated its first birthday just a few weeks ago.  My sister suggested a cake with a candle.  But I dislike Ulysses/Ursula the ulcer intensely.

At the beginning of the year I had XYZ Care Pty Ltd coming to do the ulcer dressing change – bit this did not end well.  I keep saying it until I am blue in the face – the one thing aged care providers need to understand is that their business model needs to be based on the needs of the client, the elderly person, not the needs of the form filling bureaucracy they have created.  A different nurse came every time; at a different time, and there was no consistency of care.  So I became chief nurse – I could tell if it had changed, or was becoming infected.  And it is almost healed.  Fingers crossed it will be cleared up at the end of January.  That would be a lovely start to 2018 for both of us.

There were challenges at the start of the year, once again demonstrating dad’s resilience.  He gave up driving at the end of 2016 (although I keep joking that he has only given up driving from behind the wheel – he likes to drive from the passenger seat).  Shortly after that he had a fall and had a small fracture in his right wrist which temporarily  limited his movement – but not his ability to win at cards and scrabble

Five Good Friends has been godsend to both me and Dad – every Tuesday and Friday, a lovely woman comes, (the same person, at the same time) to take dad to the shops, library, barber, bank and any other local place he needs to go.  She also fits in a game of scrabble on a Friday.  Dad wrote to friends at Christmas to tell them about Five Good Friends and his own Good Friend who had become a dear friend, with a small ‘f’.

Our cribbage battle has continued throughout the year. Since I started keeping score in April 2011, we have had over 1500 games – when Dad wrote his Christmas letter it was  808 to him and 758 to me.  Crafty old fox.  I am not a particular fan of scrabble, however note that the two games we have had this year have each been won by me.

 

One of my neighbours loves scrabble and pops around on a Monday afternoon to have a game with him as well.

I put a call out on the neighbourhood Facebook page to see if there was someone local who could take his paper up to the front stairs and the call was answered by a lovely man who lives down the road.  In the same vein, the postman gets off his motor bike and puts Dad’s mail on a stand at the top of the stairs near the front door.  With all the horrible news in the world, there is a great deal of kindness as well.

Dad’s brother, our uncle, visited again in April this year. It is so lovely to see them reconnect after many years of not seeing each other.  My siblings and I are also blessed to have him in our lives, and I was privileged to be able to visit him in the UK in September, as was my sister earlier in the year.

 

Most importantly, at 95, Dad has continued to practice his faith and continues his Ministry – attending church twice a week, and doing intercessions on Sundays.  In the space of ten days in October, he gave the last rites to a dear friend, preached at her funeral, and travelled to Sydney for a weekend to baptise his second great grand-daughter, my sister’s grandchild, all of which he does in a manner which inspires respect and admiration.  It takes it out of him, he says, as he uses up a lot of energy doing these things, and yet it is these things which give him focus and purpose in life (apart from beating me at cribbage).

He celebrated his 66th anniversary of ordination this month.

He was awarded the Coaldrake medal by the Australian Board of Missions in November, in recognition of his work with missions, both in his time as Qld state secretary in the 1970s, and his continuing work raising money for their projects by analysing, sorting and selling stamps donated to ABM.

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Purpose trumps everything in my view, and Dad has it in spades.

Happy New Year!

Not Looking After Dad

Last week was National Carer’s Week. Apparently. I found this out quite accidentally when someone mentioned it at church after a family baptism (more on that later). 

*Makes mental note to contact Carer’s Association about their PR*. 

Apparently,  we were meant to be celebrating carers. Which is odd, because the people being cared for most probably can’t organise anything,  even though they are very grateful, and those doing the caring are just too damned tired to organise their own celebratory morning tea, or shout it from the rooftops. 

However in the spirit of acknowledging carers week, I like to think I celebrated early because for three weeks before this I was NOT looking after dad, and had a little holiday. 

I needed a break, and a long one; not just a long weekend. I needed not to have to think about ulcer dressings, transport to and from church, buying special cheese, trips to the doctor and physio, cooking meals, and all the other things I do for dad.

I needed not to be looking at my watch at 7.35am, hoping that Dad has just forgotten to call at 7.30am as he does every day (just to let me know he is up and about!).

I went overseas.  To a different country, and a different timezone. It would not have been possible with my village – but especially my sister, who came to stay for all but the five days of the three weeks I was away.

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She, together with the regular help from Five Good Friends, and additional help from them on those extra days, and my husband, I had a complete and total break form the ‘every day’.  I went away with a friend, both abandoning husbands and children, for three weeks in the UK.  The bonus is that most of that time we spent with Dear Old Dad’s brother, my Uncle, in Cornwall and Wales. It was heavenly.

I read a quote once that said something like ‘You don’t know how heavy the burden is, until you no longer carry it’.  And that is true.  I look back on the photos of that holiday and I see that in the first few days my smile did not reach my eyes.  By week two that had all changed.  I felt lighter, and definitely more relaxed.

You see in order to get away, the preparation and organisation required was enormous- even for a very prepared and organised person.  The week before I was to go away Dad’s ulcer had become infected and a whole new dressing regime was required – so I was typing out instructions with photos of the different steps required in the days before I left.  He needed a new phone, so I set up all his regularly called numbers and SOS call button.  Plus a colour coded tabulated document with day by day activities and phone numbers of every person who may possibly be needed.  [Plus I had a dated, colour coded day by day itinerary for my holiday – naturally].

The best things about the holiday other than me just having one, sharing it with a friend and my darling Uncle – watching boats in the harbours of Cornwall, and the beautiful scenery in Wales, visiting the birthplace of the Mitford sisters, having afternoon tea at the Wedgwood factory (OMG!), lunches at two Michelin star restaurants (I won’t go on)?

One is that while Dad was anxious about me going away, and being alone for a few days, it was good for him to have a change of scenery in terms of people seeing him every day, and he coped very well with all the changes. Resilience is still one of his strongest character traits.  But the best thing is that I came back refreshed, and ready to get straight back into life at home, including caring for Dad.  I arrived home from London at 8am; by 9am I was down at his house, changing his ulcer dressing, and telling him about my trip, and good times with his brother, my Uncle.

 

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