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Family Dynamics and Caregiving : Getting Dad to the Doctors

Medical exam

Family dynamics and caregiving go hand in hand. I thought I would share from my journal, my experience.

Getting FIL to the doctor

During a phone call with my husband, my mother-in-law asked him if I had talked to his dad’s doctor. (Technically speaking, no. I talked to the nurse.)

He said no. As far as he knew I had only talked to the Nurse Practitioner when I took his dad in a couple of weeks ago… why was she asking?

Well, the doctor’s office staff called last week. And told them that FIL has an appointment with the doctor for next Monday. MIL was curious as to why they’d done this.

My dear, smart husband said, “Well, I guess maybe they saw something when he was in that got them thinking… they’d better get him back in and check him out.”

He couldn’t have made a better response if I’d coached him!

It’s hard when you have to take a circuitous route; it feels to my husband as if he’s “going behind their backs”. But sometimes you have to just grit your teeth and do what needs to be done. Even though my husband knows this, it’s still hard for him.

Recognizing that your parent needs a neurological assessment is one thing. Admitting it is another. And acting on it – that takes courage, to face your own fears of mortality, for your parents… and yourself.

Postscript: 11/15/2012 While Doug took his dad to get a haircut, I was able to talk with MIL. I told her about the letter, and that I had been wanting to get FIL assessed for the past year. She was a bit startled, but all in all, she is glad that I did this, as it was very obvious to her that something was wrong. She has put all of their medical care in my hands now.

The doctor’s appointment

Today my father-in-law’s doctor recommended that I take to a neurologist. For a mental assessment for dementia.

This strong, silent, sweet man has been my father-in-law for over 40 years. It’s hard for me to see him so obviously failing.

To see and hear him trying so hard to understand simple things. And to try to remember something that was just said 5 minutes ago.

But it’s even harder for my husband. This is his father. His dad. Always there, always strong… and now, so confused and uncertain. And so scared. On some level he knows that he’s losing part of himself to some form of dementia, and it terrifies him. And that’s the hardest thing of all to see.

Sometimes I think about the years to come.

Dealing with in-laws who are frail, growing more and more dependent. Having to take on the burden of caregiving again – and all the driving.

We’re already getting tired of those 47 miles that lie between us, and it’s only going to get worse.

Sometimes I think, “Hey, I’ve already served my time! I took care of my mother for all those years! And my dad before that, and even my uncles. I’ve earned the right to stand back now!”

But then I realize how precious a gift it is when my husband’s parents put such infinite trust in me – me!! – to do whatever is best for them. And I see how much it hurts my husband to see them needing so much help.

And I know that I will do whatever I can.

FIL’s trust

Yesterday I took FIL to his PC doctor because of continued weight loss and lack of appetite. He frequently complains of stomach pain, and has been unsteady on his feet. My husband decided to come with us, because he’d never met Dr. L, and wanted to do so.

(SIDE NOTE: While the nurse was doing the usual stuff;

check the vital signs

Go over medications

and history

I had a chance to double-check the medication list with her AND with FIL, something I haven’t had a chance to do lately. So I got that up-to-date.

This is something it really is vital to keep current, and I was lax on it.

I’m glad my husband met his dad’s doctor. And that he likes Dr. L. But I’ve suggested to him that he not go with us in future, when I take his dad to the doctor. His father still instinctively puts on a brave face for everyone. Especially for his wife and son.

He actually tries to “protect” them, and avoid showing any weakness in front of them. Which makes it a bit harder for him to say everything to the doctor in front of them. MIL agrees with me on this, and after thinking about it, so does my husband.

As for me, once we’re in the doctor’s office, FIL regards me… not so much a member of the family as another nurse, sitting in the corner, taking notes.

He doesn’t have to put up a brave front for me, and doesn’t try.

It’s a curious feeling; I’m honored by the pure trust and confidence in me that he shows, and humbled by it, too. To know that a person trusts you so very much that he can just be his real self… with no pretenses or bravado… that’s an incredible gift that person has given you. Sometimes it’s hard to live up to, frankly – but I do try.

I love to bake. FIL does still have a sweet tooth. So I try to bake goodies to take to him. Yesterday’s was sour-cream coffee cake, loaded with pecan filling and topping. While the cake was baking, I searched my closet for that old cane.

This cane dates back to the 70s..when the bottom of my blind grandmother’s beautiful – but slender – black walnut cane broke off.

My dad bought her a sturdy, thicker cane with a rubber tip – she hated it, but oh, well. My dad later used that cane during his battle with cancer.

My mother used that cane when she got older (and didn’t want to use a walker…).

And now I have it out again, for my FIL to use.

I expected a bit of an argument, but he was actually glad to get it, and used it all day.

Between the cane and the coffee cake (did I mention it has LOTS of pecans?) he was in a pretty good mood, in spite of the medical appointment.

Which made it a good day.

Meet Judy Morton

Caregiver Relief: A Stress Management Guide


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Judy became a family caregiver when her father was diagnosed with cancer some 30 years ago. Since that time, she has helped care for most of her family as they dealt with various medical issues, surgeries, and the exigencies of aging, as well as the legal and practical issues that need to be addressed. It became a family joke that she "inherited her nursing skills from her grandmother" -- who was, incidentally, one of the first 100 registered nurses in the state of Texas! Caregiving has been one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, things Judy has ever done. After learning the hard way about Durable Powers of Attorney, Medical Proxies, Advanced Directives, DNR forms, Wills, Estates, Judy now shares her caregiving experiences in the hope of assisting others who are now on that same journey. Judy spent some time in a couple of on-line support groups for caregivers, eventually becoming one of the moderators for one group. She then founded the Facebook group "Senior Caregivers" as a way of reaching out to the many other caregivers out there who need encouragement, support and advice.