So you Want to Be a Caretaker
( Part Two )
Dear reader, hello again. As you know this is a two-part blog. For that reason, I strongly encourage you to read part one first. Doing so will provide you with the proper context for what you will read now. To review last week’s post, I wrote about the challenges of being a live in caretaker. I mentioned the month I spent making this house liveable and hygienic and tending to the long-term neglect of repairs and maintenance. Essentially my first month here back in March (2022) was a rough one that also included having to create a space for myself from scratch to include removing all of the previous occupant’s possessions from the room I now occupy.
I did my best to paint a picture of what it took , but it was impossible to share the endless minutiae to be dealt with that first month and all the loose ends that took a bit longer to reveal themselves. This included a phone call to the fire department to help us discover a smell that was connected (unbeknownst to us) to the broken fan in the furnace. They were thankful I called and let me know that had I waited, we would have had a fire on our hands. It also lead me to discover that the smoke alarms were outdated and that there was an absence of a carbon monoxide detector, which I quickly took care of. I also bought a small fire extinguisher as the one here was outdated.
The street I live on is literally a dead-end street. When I first arrived, every time I saw the sign I thought surely it must be a sign from the universe. Sometimes, I still wonder. The next challenge I faced with Ken, were his repeated comments on my derriere. This was a battle that lasted about three months. It did not matter what I said, what boundary I set, or the intimate reasons I gave him - he refused to stop. I shared with him my violations by men in the past to include rape - and still it continued. At some point I became incensed.
I let him know that if he did it again, he would be preparing his own meals and snacks for the day. It was the only thing I could think of, and it worked! Meanwhile, while I was busy saving my ass, I was busy saving Ken’s too. Almost as if by magic I seemed to pass by Ken every time he was about to be phished. Like all of us, he gets inundated with junk emails. I lost track of how many times I ended phone calls between he and someone he was on the phone with trying to help him “recover money” that he did not spend. You know, those emails that someone posing as PayPal sends you with a receipt for the $600.00 you just spent at Walmart?
They give you a 1 - 800 number to call in order to “get your money back” if in fact it was not you who spent the supposed money at Walmart. Ken also loves or shall I say “loved” to shop online - like so many do. Unfortunately the sites he was choosing to buy from were hacking his information and making charges to his account. I was able to take him to the bank and get the charges reversed and get him a new debit card. After three times, I realized nothing was going to stop this from happening. I spoke with his son and his son agreed we should not get another one. Together we found a solution and put it in place.
Now when he gets on the phone to call about supplemental health insurance, inspired by a commercial he just saw on t.v., I never have to worry that they are going to take his money, because he doesn’t have a debit card. It’s a strange world we live in. Sometimes it seems like a bad Sci-Fi movie or an episode of Black Mirror. Have you ever stopped to think of all the ways that the elderly get snagged by a false flag hailing from a virtual world that they are unaware exists? It’s a sad reality.
Ken is not alone, he like many people the world over gets whisked away on the internet for hours checking his junk emails, hoping today will be the day he wins the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. No matter how many times you tell him it’s a scam, he will always go back for more. Hope springs eternal. That’s where Silver Singles comes in.
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Ken has agoraphobia and so needless to say he does not do a lot of socializing. Having lost his partner to cancer a year ago, his main form of human connection is gone. It’s been a hard blow for him. Besides myself, he has one friend who comes to see him about once every three weeks. He speaks with one of his sons almost daily and the other on occasion. In the time that I have been here they have both come to visit briefly. The son that lives closer has come twice to give me a few days off.
He came and brought Ken home for the holidays so I could have a much needed respite after having had only nine days off in nine months. Tomorrow he returns. One of my top priorities before his son leaves tomorrow will be to help his Dad renew his subscription to Silver Singles, as it expired a while ago when we decided not to get him a new debit card. I am hoping this will help him to socialize from the safety of his own home. Previously I worried about some young vixen posing as a silver fox would try to get money from him. Now that he has no debit card the concern is gone.
I have also spoken to his closest friend here and asked if they could have more frequent visits, to which she agreed. I even offered my car for their outings as Ken’s knees and back will not allow him to get into her truck as it is too high up. I too have been short on human connection since I have been here. There is a next door neighbor who I pop in on a couple times a day to say hello. Right up the road from me is a friend from high school who I go on outdoor adventures with once a week (weather permitting). Recently I made a new friend and we have seen each other a few times so far.
Though I am a hermit by nature, human connection is very important to me and the people with whom I am the closest all live far away. I often long for the days when we all lived in the same town. Naturally, I really feel for Ken having lost his sweetheart. However, it is not stopping him from wanting to meet someone, but he feels self conscious about his teeth as they have endured a lifetime of neglect and the evidence is hard to hide.
The Denture Adventure
Last week I said I would share why these past two months have been so challenging. I believe it was discovering Silver Singles on the internet that moved Ken to want to do something about his teeth. That and the fact that one of his teeth was giving him some trouble. When I moved here I found a dentist that I was very impressed by who I had adopted as my own dentist and I recommended him to Ken.
Upon his first consultation it was brought to his attention that only a few of his bottom front teeth were salvageable and the rest were beyond repair. On the second visit, he had five teeth pulled and was to return in December to have the remaining seven pulled. On the day he was to have his last remaining teeth pulled, he was not feeling well. I looked at the log of his bowel movements that I had been keeping and realized that he had not had a full evacuation for four days.
Due to his long-standing condition of diverticulosis I was concerned. Long story short I took him to the ER where we waited eight hours to see a doctor. They ruled out bowel impaction and diagnosed him with a mild case of diverticulitis. They gave us a day’s worth of antibiotics and some scripts to fill and sent us on our way. The doctor was kind enough to allow me to record her voice on my phone explaining the importance of water and how a lack thereof had played an important role in this current scenario.
The entire time I have been living here, I have been unable to convince Ken to drink enough water.Before I arrived, none of his beverages were plain water, not even while he was living with his son. Long story short, upon his ER visit he was given instruction to drink eight glasses of water a day ( 6 minimum ) . This was to help him recover as well as prevent future complications. The first couple of days, it was very hard on both of us. He was stubborn and I was not about to go back to the ER, so my encouragement was relentless.
By day three, I realized we were going to start resenting each other very quickly. I found a half gallon glass jug in the kitchen, filled it with one glass of juice, some electrolyte powder and seven glasses of water. I let him know that it was up to him to finish it by bedtime. I was done monitoring and butting heads. He could either drink it or not. My only job was to track everything he was eating and drinking as well as his bowel movements and antibiotics. I let him know that the log I was keeping would help him understand why he either avoided having to return to the hospital or not.
My large task prior to leaving Santa Fe, coupled with my first month here and only none days off in nine months, left me raw and depleted prior to my recent two week respite. Add to that two months of trying to make sure that Ken had proper nutrition, fiber and water while he was switching from teeth to dentures, He has not had solid food for close to two months now as he has hardly any teeth left. On January 10th he will get the remaining teeth pulled and it will be another two weeks or so before he will be able to properly chew with his temporary dentures.
Had he not ended up with diverticulitis, he would have had his teeth pulled on December fifth, so everything got pushed back a month. Honestly, this is what I was hoping to avoid during the transition. from teeth to dentures. You can lead a horse to water. His son informed me that he is finished with his antibiotics. It will be another month before he can have solid foods. His son has not been keeping a log as I was, so I really have no way of tracking what went on while they were gone which is a bit unnerving.
There is so much more to say. I feel like a piece of elastic that has been so far stretched that I am not sure if I will ever return back to my original state as far as my willingness and capacity to do this job for any length of time. We shall see. I will observe my own well being and health and if I need to move on, I most certainly will.
I never imagined what I arrived to , nor did I imagine the denture adventure. I certainly did not imagine Ken pulling his pants down ( he does not wear underwear ) without any warning to show me the rash on his legs that resulted from his antibiotics followed by a “ I do not know what you are giving me! “ proclamation. Nor did I imagine peering into the toilet to see his bowel movements so I could track them in a log. Apparently I was doing something even his own son would not do.
In any case, I sure am glad that I just happened to make a doctor appointment for him far before his trip to the ER. It just happened to fall on the day after the great rash reveal and one day prior to his son’s arrival to pick him up. His doctor was able to replace the antibiotic that was giving him a rash and his son was able to fill the script the following day.
Though I can not give it the time and attention it deserves here, it must be said for the record that so much of what Ken’s end of life report card is revealing is a lifetime of neglecting his body. I say this with compassion , not judgement. I think almost every single human being without exception could be treating their body better - including me! You can not give from an empty well and yet it is a real catch - 22 sometimes when you are already so depleted by taking care of someone else.
Since taking on this role, I have a new reverence and awe for parents and caretakers alike. That is for sure! Lord - my eyes have been opened! Back to the trauma. Learning what I have about Ken’s childhood has lead me to believe that so much about him , especially his self-neglect can be directly traced to trauma. Trauma is a real buzzword these days. Collectively we are still dealing with the trauma of living through the chaotic nonsense of the Covid nightmare. Beyond that, I believe we know more now about trauma than we ever have in the past and we are continuing to learn. Trauma shapes all aspects of us; our perceptions, our choices, our bodies, our minds, our spirits.
Bless us all. We are always doing the best we can. May we be gentle with ourselves - and compassionate. May we be that way with others. Part of that means knowing your own limits and boundaries and respecting and honoring that without compromise! I think for now this is my takeaway - to know my limits and not to compromise. I can only show the next person as much compassion as I can show myself. Also, more patience for and less judgement of Ken as well more patience for myself and less judgement of self will be needed in the days to come. I am in Earth school and this role is an assignment. May I graduate with flying colors, never to repeat this grade - lol! And so it is!