#TheDress: The battle over reality — white/gold vs. blue/black — is a free ticket to tour life in dementia-land


Everywhere I went today — the waiting room for my dad’s radiation appointment, the line at the pharmacy, the coffee stand at the grocery — everyone was arguing about “the dress.”

I don’t know what causes people to see the colors differently. I’ve read a couple of different theories. And dueling, over-educated baristas each presented me compelling, but opposing, scientific arguments while making my soy latte.

But I do know is this: The battle over whether the dress is white with gold stripes or blue with black is a free ticket to tour life in dementia-land — where perception and reality are frequently at odds.

My husband is a jukebox of bad jokes and cheesy puns and one of his standard oldies goes something like this: 

Q: Why is it so easy to have an Easter egg hunt for Alzheimer’s patients?

A: Because they can hide their own eggs. 

My mom — who has Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia — has always been my husband’s biggest fan and still prods him once in a while to tell the one about the Easter eggs.

But memory — misplacing things or forgetting someone’s name, even your own — is only part of the horror of dementia.

Just as bad, at least for my mom, is how dementia changes the way people view the world around them.

My mom studied art for a couple of years after high school and she has always considered her easel and paints more essential household furnishings than either a bed or a table and chairs.

She never tried earning steady money from her artwork until she thought I needed braces to close a gap between my front teeth. 

Dental wasn’t covered by my dad’s health insurance and my parents couldn’t afford the braces, so mom placed an ad in “Yankee” magazine offering to paint people’s homes on one of the hundreds of pieces of slate roofing someone had abandoned in our barn years before.

She did well. Word spread and it led to real estate agents and landscaping companies contracting with mom to paint watercolors and acrylics for their clients.  

Decades later, when mom and dad moved in with us, there was no room for her easel, but I’ve kept mom well stocked in art supplies. She has spent many afternoons on the couch sketching something from memory or painting a flower I snapped fresh from the garden.

But as her dementia advanced, her artwork has changed. 

It’s unrecognizable, gloomy now.

Part of it, mom insists, is because she can’t control her hands. She doesn’t have a good grip. And that appears to be true. The faces she draws are now generic, the veins in the leaves of her trees are missing or haphazard squiggles. 

Everything exists in a washed-out fog.

But worse, I think, are her color choices.

In mom’s dementia-land, the sky in no longer blue. Or, if it is, mom can’t recognize the blue pastel crayon or the blue paint to reflect that in her art. 

Her work is now dominated by darker shades of orange, purple and green — no matter the subject matter. 

I never mention this to her. Just the opposite, I try to oooh and ahhh over every piece because she needs to paint as much as I need to write this blog — these life-long passions of ours are keeping us each grounded during this time of upheaval. 

But mom is embarrassed. She gives up painting or drawing for weeks at time. She recognizes her sketches and paintings don’t represent her and she’s not even sure why. 

For a couple of years, I have avoided attaching the word “dementia” to mom in front of her or dad, as if that truth would somehow accelerate the disease. My head knows this is ridiculous, but my heart tells me otherwise.

Now, though, mom has started talking to me about it, trying to explain this mysterious phenomenon that has changed her perception of reality.

“It’s like floating above your body,” she told me yesterday, raising her arm and swirling it above her head. 

“I know I’m here with you and sitting on the couch, but I’m thinking about the past, living in the past,” she said. “What’s going on around me feels like it isn’t happening, like I’m watching a TV show.”

This, she said, has been particularly difficult since dad was diagnosed with cancer. She knows what is happening — dad’s prognosis is grim — but it doesn’t seem real to her.

She confided this after overhearing a phone conversation between me and a childhood friend, Brenda, who is dad’s oncology nurse. We were discussing some of dad’s symptoms and what would happen now that cancer has spread into his lungs. 

When mom first heard us talking, she thought Brenda and I were upstairs, young girls again playing a game in my childhood bedroom, something she had heard hundreds of times before.

Eventually though, with all the talk of cancer, mom said she figured out she was lost in the past and came crashing back to the reality of here and now.

Time traveling like this won’t always be possible for mom. And even now, it’s painful. 

I think of all of this during the great dress debate of 2015 and how passionately people are defending reality as they see it, even in something so meaningless — an ugly white dress with gold stripes vs. a just-as-ugly blue dress with black stripes.

Imagine being trapped in dementia-land, not even knowing for certain whether the sky is blue.

The Great White Hurricane: Following the yellow rope to make it home safely


I remember my dad leaning out the door — one boot on linoleum, the other on a snow-covered step — knotting a thick yellow rope around a lantern attached to the back of our house.

My mom, sobbing, clung to his belt as a screeching gust of wind unfurled a curtain of snow over our kitchen, swirling, swirling until it wrapped around him like icy fingers trying to lift him up and into the storm.

“It’s not safe,” mom cried. “You’re going to die if you go out there.”

It was January 26, 1978 and I was 12-years-old.

Local TV weathermen had predicted snow, but nothing like this.

The barometric pressure plummeted to 958 millibars, the lowest ever recorded in the United States outside a tropical region.

And we were trapped in what would become known as The Great White Hurricane.

Our rural Ohio home, built in 1843, sat in the middle of flat, open farm fields at the highest point in Medina County, a stair-step plot of 270,000 acres about 30 miles south of Cleveland.

The one-bathroom house was a humble man’s project. The beams and boards were held together by hand-hammered square nails, the walls insulated with nothing but ground-up corn cobs.

Unaccustomed to 100 mph gusts, the house snapped and popped in the whipping winds, but dad was certain it would hold.

His worry was the animals in the barn.

Our goat, Nanny, needed milked and my hand-me-down pony, Star — who had already been brushed, fed and ridden for 25 years by a dozen of my older cousins before arriving at our stable — needed fed. And both animals needed water because the troughs were almost certainly frozen solid by wind chills of -50 degrees.

The barn — three stories high and painted red — was only 90 yards from our back door, yet through the falling and blowing snow, we couldn’t spy a clue of its existence.

Dad had a plan: Tie one end of the yellow rope — the same rope he used to hang my swing from a black walnut tree the summer before — to the lantern on the back of the house and tie the other around his waist.

If he made it to the barn, he’d remove the rope from his waist and knot it around a beam, creating a sort of rope life line he could hold onto and safely journey back and forth in the blinding snow. If he couldn’t find the barn, he could at least follow the rope back home.

It seemed reasonable.

But dad wasn’t a farmer. He was a banker.

He had indulged my mother’s “Little House on the Prairie” phase during this time of their lives and agreed, more or less, that our family of three — mom, dad and me — should live off the land. He worked outside every morning and every evening. And in between, he wore uncomfortable suits and sat behind a behind a desk he never liked at the local bank.

His white-collar colleagues would hardly recognize him — the yellow rope wrapped around his barn coat, a ski mask over his face, a cigarette between his lips.

Mom and I watched from the window over the kitchen sink as dad disappeared into the whiteout after only a few steps.

It was the first time I considered life without dad.

And now, 36 years later, during the coldest February in local history, I am facing it.

You’d think a 48-year-old woman would be ready for such a passing.

Dad — who survived his trip to the barn that day and later watched, along with me and my mother, the National Guard in a full-size war tank smash through the 8- and 10-foot snow drifts that blocked our road for a week — is 83 now. He is a life-long smoker who spent decades consuming my mother’s not-so-haute cuisine, a witch’s brew of processed food she’d mix together on a whim, inspired by recipes she proudly never followed.

But I find myself ill-prepared for his death.

Dad was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago with esophageal cancer and yesterday we learned it is in his lungs.

I can hear him downstairs coughing now — a tight, unfamiliar hack — even as I type this at 2:26 a.m., a time when both of us should be sleeping.

He’s in week three of radiation now, daily treatments not aimed at slowing his disease, but at stemming the bleeding from his tumor, which robbed him of half his blood supply earlier this month.

The radiation has made it painful for him to swallow. Even soft food — like eating mashed potatoes — hurts.

Oncologists initially planned daily radiation treatments to last four weeks, but changed course when dad complained he was short of breath. A CAT scan revealed spots on his lungs and swollen lymph nodes in his chest. The esophageal cancer is spreading.

Next week, dad switches to chemotherapy in pill form. The drug, Xeloda, will attack the cancer wherever it is in dad’s body, doctors say. But the chemo won’t prolong dad’s life. It will merely help doctors manage his cancer symptoms.

Dad never complains

Today, my husband took dad to radiation and afterward, they went out for beers. Tomorrow, they plan to do the same.

When I was a girl, I thought dad was brave the day he blindly headed into the snowstorm with nothing to guide him back but a yellow rope.

Now I’m witnessing a different kind of bravery and wondering if I have inherited it like I have my father’s hazel eyes and hammer toes.

The key to coping with his death, I think, is finding my own yellow rope — an imaginary tether I can knot around the memory of my father, the love of my husband and myself, allowing me to wander bravely and blindly into the future knowing that I can forever find my way safely home again, if only in my mind.

Please remember: © Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In — from 2015 until present: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Feel free to re-blog on WordPress.

Would grandma and grandpa trade their driving privileges for private car service to the grocery, the doc?

Snow scenes on campus

Almost every day I take my dad to radiation, I spy an old person behind the wheel of a car or SUV who I suspect shouldn’t be driving.

I see men and women in their 80s and 90s emerge slowly from their driver-side doors, unfolding themselves and their walkers for agonizing and unsteady walks inside. Other older drivers unknowingly block the entrance to the medical building, parking at weird angles while waiting for another old person — usually even more feeble — to crawl into the passenger side.

I’ve also witnessed elderly drivers cut off semi-trucks when they pull out of the medical center onto the road. And I once saw an old man with wrap-around, goggle-type sunglasses turn left onto the highway like he was in London, staying on the wrong side of the road until a blaring horn prompted him to steer right.

Many old people have no options to get where they’re going. Others shun the options they do have (my parents, for instance, would rather independently ride a pogo stick through the snow than take a prescheduled public transport bus with strangers).

Today, Cleveland’s newspaper and Plain Dealer reporter Karen Farkas offer a different option that could work for some (here’s a link to the story: http://tinyurl.com/mjuqdjl).

The University of Cincinnati has partnered with a nonprofit group to pair its students with older people who don’t drive.

The students can bank credits for driving the oldsters to doctors’ appointments and groceries and anywhere else they need to go. And the old people get private, door-to-door transport by paying dues to a nonprofit for the service — dues that can often be paid in full when the old person sells his/her car.

The program, Driving Community Connections, is supported by the Ohio Department of Aging and the Ohio Board of Regents.

It’s only a pilot program at one university.

And the story doesn’t answer some important questions — like whether the student drivers are vetted or insured.

But it does raise the possibility of a new way of caring for the aged when people get creative.

Is it better to be tied to a tree than squashed on the freeway? Caregiver angst


Baby Walter — that’s what everyone called him since his dad was also named Walter and no one much liked the sound of “junior” — spent most of his single-digit years tethered to one heavy object or another.

His older sister Tina was one of my closest friends. We grew up in the 1970s and 1980s at different ends of the same rural road in Ohio, an unlined swath of blacktop connecting old farmhouses to the fields of green soybeans and sweet corn planted in between.

Baby Walter and Tina lived in the last house on the right before our road crossed over Interstate 71, the busy freeway connecting Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati.

And Tina’s mom — not overly protective of Tina or her older brother — worried constantly that Baby Walter would run down the slope of their side yard and onto I-71 where he would almost certainly be smashed by a semi-truck hauling automobiles or steel or some other heavy thing manufactured in Cleveland and destined for points south unknown.

Today, a doctor would likely diagnose Baby Walter with ADD and scribble out a prescription for a medication to calm him. But at that time, our patch of Ohio was stuck somewhere between “Hee Haw” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

We rarely questioned our fate and, if we did, we asked God via Jesus to help us, not some stranger in a lab coat. On rare occasions — like those Sundays when our preacher wrapped up his sermon in time to catch Browns kickoff — we knew God kicked in. But mostly, we fended for ourselves and worked with what we had.

That meant it was Tina’s job — and my job, too, when I was at her house — to keep Baby Walter safe by following instructions from Tina’s mom:

Tie Baby Walter to his bed for his nap.

Tie Baby Walter to the barn ladder while you’re in the loft so he doesn’t fall.

Tie Baby Walter to the tree so you all can play outside.

I know it sounds wretched now and certainly there were many what-ifs — like what if the house caught fire and Baby Walter was trapped, unable to leave his bed. But nothing bad ever happened.

Baby Walter would inevitably wrap himself around the tree like a tether ball to a pole, but it was fun — for him and for us — to unwind him until he wrapped himself around again.

He was happy, well-loved and well-fed and seemed to grow accustomed to the ritual, often waiting for someone to tie him, as if he, too, didn’t trust himself not to run into I-71’s siren song.

I’ve been thinking about Baby Walter — who must be 40 by now — all day.

This morning, before sunrise, before anyone else in our house was awake, when the temperature hovered at -16 degrees, my 83-year-old mother crept outside with her walker — wearing only a t-shirt, tennis shoes and a coat — and smoked a cigarette.

She made it back to the couch safely and we only discovered her crime when my father, who has cancer, went out for his first cigarette of the day and found an overturned coffee cup and a half pack of red Pall Malls scattered on the snow.

It frightened me, but it enraged me just as much.

How long does it take a 104-pound woman to freeze to death if she falls in the snow when its 16-below? Or how about our dog or two cats that always hover around the front door?

My mother has a combination of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia (caused by smoking). She also has spinal stenosis and scoliosis that leaves her bent at a 50-degree angle, unable to straighten, unsteady on her feet and challenged to hobble on a walker more than a dozen feet without sitting down.

Her physical frailty has in some ways made her mental frailty easier to deal with. I can almost always catch her before she runs amok. But it’s done nothing to temper her bullheadedness or nicotine craving (yes, I’ve tried and failed to convert her to patches and gum and e-cigarettes).

From the first week mom and dad moved in, there has been a single rule that has dominated our lives: Mom must never go outside — or even open the door — unless someone is at her side.

Her dementia has stolen much of her left brain, always her weakest side. She doesn’t know $5,000 from $5. But even now she knows the door rule and knowingly broke it for a cigarette.

Nursing home was my first thought. I’m nearing the end of my caregiver rope.

Standing by my dad as he negotiates cancer — an oncologist today decided to end his radiation a week early so he can go on chemo because the tumors in his lungs are leaving him short of breath — is exhausting. And it’s sad.

Lassoing my mother’s wants and needs at the same time is nearly impossible.

But here’s the thing: My dad’s final chapter is closing.

And even though my mom isn’t the woman she was — and both OG mom and dementia mom make dad bats — I know he’d rather have her close as he fades away.

So I’ve got myself a Baby Walter dilemma: How do you prevent someone you love from running into traffic and getting killed?

I have a tree, but I’m unwilling to use a tether.

Please remember: © Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In — from 2015 until present: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Garrett and Mom and Dad Move In with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Feel free to re-blog on WordPress.

Learning to speak dementia: Stop the pop quizzes, just let people talk — about the black guy nobody likes or anything else


I found out a couple of months ago that my parents’ annual physical exam now includes a 20-question pop quiz after a weigh-in and blood pressure check.

My 104-pound mom with high blood pressure tackled it first.

Doctor: What year were you born?

Mom: 1932

Doctor: Where are we?

Mom: Medina, I’ve lived here most of my life

Doctor: Who is the President of the United States?

Mom paused. She glared at dad, glanced at me and then rolled her eyes at the doctor and blurted: “I voted for him — you know, that black guy nobody likes.”

Her embarrassment exploded silently, flooding the tiny examination room with a muddle of fear and shame.

The doctor, who has taken care of my parents for decades, tried to paper over the moment with reassurances. But there was no consoling mom, who, against my father’s wishes, had hammered a gaggle of Barack Obama campaign signs into their front yard in 2008.

This doctor’s visit happened in December and I hadn’t thought about it much again until an Iowa-based gerontologist I follow — Elaine Eshbaugh — wrote about something similar in her witty, insightful, in-the-trenches blog “Welcome to Dementialand.”

In it, Eshbaugh described stopping to talk to a nursing home patient after the woman hollered to Eshbaugh that she had become a grandma.

When Eshbaugh asked the woman what her granddaughter’s name was, the woman — like my mother searching for an answer her brain couldn’t come up with — paused and flashed from happy to sad. She couldn’t remember.

Pop quizzes, it turns out, don’t only happen in doctors’ offices.

They happen daily and inadvertently when many of us talk to people with dementia.

When we ask grandpa if he recognizes us, or grandma what she had for breakfast, we’re quizzing them. And if they can’t answer — when they get that sad and shameful look — they know they’ve failed.

I’ve been too thick to realize how often I do this with my own family.

Mom, I ask, where did you put the newspaper? Dad, I prod, don’t you remember you had a stent when you were in the hospital two years ago?

Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if I found the newspaper without asking? Or recognize and embrace that I’m now, and forever more, dad’s medical memory?

Eshbaugh concedes, she, too, has unnecessarily caused angst in dementia patients — including the woman in the nursing home who became a grandmother.

“Instead of asking her to recall specific info about her granddaughter, I should have said, ‘Tell me more about your granddaughter’,” Eshbaugh said.

“She might have told me that she was 8 pounds when she was born, that she had blond hair, that she cries a lot,” Eshbaugh said.But she would be focusing on what she remembered rather than what she didn’t remember.”

That’s a good lesson for most of us.

My parents’ doctor, of course, doesn’t have that option. She is measuring memory function and a quiz is necessary.

After mom fumbled the president question in the office that day, the doc continued down a list of other queries, swapping out a World War I question for one she thought both mom and dad should know since they lived through it.

Doctor: When was D-Day?

Mom stumbled into an answer involving the 1800s and dad, trying to save her, reminded her that was the Civil War.

“Abraham Lincoln was a wonderful president,” mom said, telling the doctor she was confused now about dates because she doesn’t work any more and has no reason to keep track of time.

A few minutes later, as the doctor was typing into her laptop and the three of us were sitting quietly nearby, mom lit up.

She had found the needle buried in 82 years of memory haystack.

“Obama,” she said triumphantly, pounding her bony, little fist on the arm of her wheelchair. “His name is Obama.”

For anyone interested, here’s a link to Elaine Eshbaugh’s refreshing Welcome to Dementialand blog: https://welcometodementialand.wordpress.com

Update: Nursing home transport aides who not only drive residents to medical appointments, but handle their insurance and questions once they get there


Earlier this week, I wrote about the best nursing home in our county — and one of the best in Greater Cleveland — using its transportation aides to not only drive residents to doctors’ appointments, but to manage the residents’  insurance and medical questions once they get there.

Today, I saw this in action. The same nursing home resident I wrote about this week was back in the waiting room of the oncology center. She is having radiation to her brain and already, during her first week, has developed a bright red, raw-looking splotch on her temple.

A different transportation aide from the nursing home — it only has two — was with the woman today. He disappeared and came back a few minutes later, saying he had spoken with the oncology nurses, trying of figure out where he could buy a cream the resident was supposed to have to soothe the burned skin.

The pharmacy at the nursing home where the woman lived didn’t have it, the driver said. So the oncology nurses in radiation gave him some samples of the cream for the woman until he could track down a tub, he said. But he didn’t know where to go.

I bought the same cream for my father a few days before, so I shared the name of the drug store with the driver and the woman. The driver dutifully jotted down the information on his clipboard and both he and the nursing home resident seemed pleased there was a solution.

But again, I ask: Why are nursing home drivers tasked with medical duties? This is bizarre.

This driver was every bit as helpful and respectful to the nursing home resident as the other nursing home driver I met with her this week. When dad was through with his radiation today and I drove up and parked at the entrance to run in and get him, the nursing home driver even wheeled dad outside and helped me get him into the car.

But what kind of nursing home care system do we have when drivers are handing the needs of a radiation patient?

Suicide is painless: Damn you, Hawkeye Pierce!


“Suicide is painless” — I wake up humming — “it brings on many changes.”

“And I can take or leave it as I please.”

Cue helicopters.

No worries. I’m not offing myself. I’d have a much angrier theme song if suicide was my plan.

It’s just that song, that horrible TV theme song, is nibbling at my brain, sucking out my soul.

I’ve  been trapped in a 1970s, olive-drab time warp for weeks after Netflix released five years worth of M*A*S*H episodes.

Every night after dinner, my parents tune into Hawkeye, Hot Lips and Frank Burns (well, now Charles Winchester III).

And I’m suddenly thrust into this bizarro world where I’m doing dishes and waiting, hoping for them to go to bed….while my mom and dad are eating Oreos and giggling at the TV.

When M*A*S*H first aired, I was 6-years-old and the roles were most assuredly reversed. I prefer the role of couch-dweller.

Caregiving — a term I despise for myriad reasons, but have no word yet to put in its place — is slowly ruining swaths of pop culture and other joys for me.

When mom and dad first moved in, mom would often fall when she got out of bed. I had to come up with something to alert me before her feet touched the ground so I could help her.

There are a lot of devices on the market, but almost all depend on weight. They don’t sound an alert until the person is standing.

My solution? A driveway alarm that sounds if something (presumably a car) breaks a beam.

My husband mounted the part of the device that shoots the beam on mom’s bedside table. And every time mom swung her feet across the beam, the alarm — which I programmed to play my favorite song at the time, Rickie Lee Jones’ “The Moon is Made of Gold” — would play from a device on my bedside table.

“Don’t feel bad because the sun went down, the night has wealth untold,” Rickie Lee crooned, gently waking me for the first time each night mom was getting up.

“You just keep watching, and you soon will see,” Rickie Lee poked me awake the second time mom stirred.

“The moon is made of gold,” Rickie Lee’s chorus only arrived on my third wake-up of the night, usually drawing an exhausted single-word response from me: “Bullshit!”

This continued for months.

And now, I’m probably the only person in the world who gets visibly angry when she hears happy-go-lucky Rickie Lee Jones sing anything.

I’ve since learned to be careful mixing my favorites with anything caregiver related.

Can’t go to flea markets or antique shops because they all seem to have the same musty odor, however, faint, as my parents’ house when we cleaned it out.

Can’t stand the smell of gravy, a standard in dinners I cook for mom and dad. It makes me nauseous. My husband and I have gone vegan.

Can’t love my own, lovely front stoop — carefully painted and planted to be inviting — as my parents have seized it with outdoor furniture as smoking central.

Luckily, M*A*S*H was never a favorite.

I was a little nostalgic when mom and dad first started binge watching, but any sentimentality  evaporated by Season 3.

Now, pity Alan Alda should our paths ever cross.

One of these days, Hawkeye. Pow! Right to the moon.

I know it’s not made of gold.

Would you let a nursing home kitchen assistant negotiate medical care for your mom and dad? Some are.


When my dad and I were waiting for his daily cancer radiation treatment yesterday, a gangly, good-natured kid wheeled a woman into the room and parked next to us.

He was in his early 20s and could have passed for the woman’s grandson the way he doted on her, tucking a hand-crocheted blanket around her shoulders, making sure she had enough water to drink because a medical condition dried out her mouth.

But he was an employee at the nursing home where the woman lived — the highest-rated facility in our county and one of the best in all of Greater Cleveland. Hopeful residents each fork over about $5,000 to get on the facility’s waiting list and often spend years elsewhere before a space opens in independent, assisted-living, nursing or memory care units.

After a nurse wheeled the woman away for radiation, the young man told us he started working in the nursing home’s kitchen in 2009. A few months ago, one of the nursing home’s two transportation jobs opened up and he landed it.

He figured it would be a simple job, driving the residents — about 300 — to places they needed to go. But it has turned out to be much more complicated.

All of residents have lots of medical appointments and besides the transport obstacles — safely getting people on walkers, canes and in wheelchairs into and out of offices through ice and snow — most need help handling their insurance and medical questions and answers with doctors and nurses.

What? My face froze.

So you not only drive them, you act as their representative at doctors’ appointments, I asked, just to make sure I understood.

Yes, he said, shaking his head. It’s a shame, he said, how so many families absolve themselves of all responsibilities once a loved one is ensconced at a nursing facility.

A few minutes later, dad and I were sitting in another room with his oncologist. Dad told her he had started having pain in his esophagus near where his tumor is. She said she would write a prescription for a soothing serum to coat his throat that contained Benadryl as one of its main ingredients.

Wait, I interrupted, dad already takes one Benadryl pill every night before bed to help him sleep. Couldn’t that be a problem?

Yes, she said. Dad should stop taking the nighttime Benadryl because taken together, the serum and the Benadryl, could cause him to fall.

A fall — even though dad’s cancer is at Stage 3 and only being treated palliatively — is more likely to kill dad than his cancer, another oncologist told us after dad asked him how he would likely die (the other most likely way is aspiration).

So this seemingly simply Benadryl mix-up couple have been an early death sentence.

Would the good-natured nursing home transport driver have caught this potential medical mistake if he took dad to this radiation appointment? Doubtful.

I’m a veteran newspaper reporter — trained in both reporting facts and asking tough questions — and I have a difficult time managing medical care for my parents, two people I love.

How would a kitchen assistant turned driver manage this for strangers? And why should anyone expect him to?

No matter how good his intentions are — and they seemed exceedingly good — the nursing home driver has no medical training and far too many residents to know each of their medical needs and vulnerabilities.

Later, on our drive home, I asked dad if he was surprised how that nursing home depended on its drivers. No, he said, but he thought it sad, especially considering how much people pay for their care.

The nursing home driver told us the woman he brought to radiation that day shells out more than $8,000 a month. More skilled nursing care or the memory unit — a separate, locked-down facility for dementia patients — costs residents much more, he said.

What do residents get for that money? Some were on a field trip to nearby Harry London Chocolates that day to see how bon bond and chocolate-covered pretzels are made. Tonight, a group of residents is putting on a stage show open to the public.

And one day a week — the day many residents live for — the lobby is filled with therapy dogs who wag and lick away loneliness and fear.

All of that is fantastic. It’s also a clean, well-run facility where many residents feel a kinship with staff. I know. My aunt was a resident and I’ve been a visitor.

Yet none of this makes up for a kitchen assistant being promoted to a driver whose job also includes negotiating residents’ off-site medical care.

Caregiver gripe of day: Other caregivers, delivery drivers and morons hogging drop-off zone

wheelchairyouThe suburban medical building where I take my father for daily radiation treatments needs a traffic cop.

Drivers are selfishly and needlessly clogging the large semi-circle drop-off zone.

Today’s traffic included: A white delivery van parked with its flashers on for at least 20 minutes; An old man in a mini-van with a Veterans license plate parked, engine off, waiting for his wife; And a couple of SUVs idling for reasons unknown.

Not today, but often, there’s any number of small buses from area assisted living facilities jockeying for positions there, too.

This isn’t a design problem.

This is a user problem.

Drivers: It Is common sense and common courtesy to park elsewhere until the person you’re picking up is ready to go.

It’s simple. The person you’re picking up (or his doctor’s office) should call you when they’re approaching the entrance. Don’t park at the entrance and wait.

It’s bad enough I have to cart my dad’s wheelchair to this place because there’s no guarantee a wheel chair will be available.

But please, fellow drivers, give a gal a break: Leave room at the entrance for me park, pop my hatch, wrestle out the wheelchair and get dad safely inside.

I always do the same for you.

Beer cans littering your digital grave: Who would you trust to manage your online afterlife?


Teeth in, glasses off, nightgown on, no shoes.

This, my mother told me no less than a thousand times, is how she wanted to be laid out in her casket.

I teased her, just as often, that she better treat me well or it would be teeth out, glasses on, scratchy wool suit, pantyhose and pointed-toe heels — her version of hell.

Mom ended up choosing cremation, no viewing, when she pre-planned her funeral.

Was it because she didn’t trust me? Not especially.

She didn’t trust anyone to get things right after she died.

I thought about that this week when The Washington Post uploaded this story to its Website: “Facebook will now let you manage what happens to your account after you die.”

When I first saw the headline, I thought this was the most definitive pronouncement of the afterlife I had ever read in a newspaper — that we will somehow live on in digital heaven (or, depending on your view of social media, hell), Tweeting and Facebooking our way through eternity.

Alas, the story beneath the headline disappoints. Facebook is most decidedly limited to the earthbound.

But there is a significant change — Facebook users can now designate an heir to manage some parts of their accounts posthumously.

Facebook calls that heir a “legacy contact.”

People with this power can pin farewell messages (or anything else they like) to profiles, respond to new friend requests and update profile pictures and cover photos.

This could ultimately turn Facebook into a living cemetery — an idea that both worries and intrigues.

Choose the wrong legacy contact and your Facebook page could be littered with empty Natty Light tall boys and knock-knock jokes. There is no digital groundskeeper to occasionally sweep that crap away.

But done right, Facebook memorial pages could offer so much more than a marble tombstone ever could.

Insight. Images. Genealogy. Comfort, even, for those grieving, no matter where they lived.

This makes me re-think what I have posted on Facebook and maybe what I should.

My mom, who is 83, doesn’t have a Facebook page.

If she did, it would be crammed with images of her artwork and poetry, the hundreds of houses she sold as a realtor and way too many re-posts of puppies.

Would she trust me to maintain it?


But the powers behind Facebook clearly considered control freaks like mom with their new death policy because, if users designate no legacy contact, Facebook will delete their accounts after they die.

Mom, I know, would choose this option — digital cremation.