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

boytree

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.

Advertisements

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

  1. This post hit home as my grandfather also suffered from Alzheimers. We were lucky that he got some assistance, but it still was very taxing on my grandmother. I also live on a very busy street so I don’t even know how I’d handle such a situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a tough call, how to handle this…and depends so much on the situation. Even in facilities, people with dementia aren’t always safe. A woman who wandered out of a place near us was found frozen in the snow this winter. So sad.

      Like

  2. I do not have any experience with Alzhiemer’s, but I do have a son with autism that is at risk for elopement. I feel your pain. It can be very difficult to keep him safe. We almost got him a dog to assist us in not losing him. You may want to google ideas on autism and safety. Some people end up (out of necessity) putting a lock on bedroom doors. We do not. Alarms/different locks we have used. We use key locks for the front door and we keep a key on us. Just a few thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, bfontaine. I’ve received lots of helpful advice from people who are caring for people with other conditions — like autism. Clearly, there’s an army of caregivers out there. Wish there was a great way we could all share information….

      Like

  3. ohh so hard. does she get to a stage though it is as if she is a child and wouldn’t know what you have done but what was acceptable back then to the young would almost definitely be wrong today and to an older person. At the same time, you want to keep her with you, better than putting her in a home.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I understand the dilemma anyone could face if both of their elderly parents are not only weak because of aging but also sick.Sometimes I tell my friends jokingly that I rather have my legs cut off than have dementia/Alzheimers.Anyway I am really curious what response “Baby Walter ” gave to question -How do you prevent someone you love from running into traffic and getting killed?” I hope the answer will be in your next article.

    Like

  5. I understand the dilemma anyone could face if both of their elderly parents are not only weak because of aging but also sick.Sometimes I tell my friends jokingly that I rather have my legs cut off than have dementia/Alzheimers.Anyway I am really curious what response “Baby Walter ” gave to question -How do you prevent someone you love from running into traffic and getting killed?” I hope the answer will be in your next article.

    Like

  6. Hi Amanda, my mother does not have Alzheimer but she has other issues. She is 92 and lives with me. She is fragile but a sharp mind. What I am dealing with now is her loss of appetite, she does not want to eat so we have lots of discussions of why she has to eat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I responded, but I can’t remember. This is HUGE in our house. I’ve sort of caved on many things…My mom will eat anything sweet…so I sneak protein powder into her cheesecake…and she eats a Zone bar every day, convinced its a chocolate candy bar…

      Like

  7. Hi Amanda, my mother does not have Alzheimer but she has other issues. She is 92 and lives with me. She is fragile but a sharp mind. What I am dealing with now is her loss of appetite, she does not want to eat so we have lots of discussions of why she has to eat.

    Like

    • Hey Pat, we’ve had the eating discussion a million times. Mom essentially lives on sugar and butter. She has toast and jam for breakfast with a cup of coffee with LOTS of sugar in it. For lunch, she’ll have a bite of something, followed by ice cream or cheesecake and more coffee/sugar. For dinner, another bite of something with ice cream and coffee. I try to compensate by sneaking protein powder into things. I’ve also convinced her that dark chocolate Zone bars are candy bars. My mom has always been tiny…and, looking back on it, I think she’s always had a horrible diet. I’m not going to change her now. We’re down to about six things she will eat (none of which I will eat, by the way): a sunny side up egg on fried bread; hamburger in mushroom soup with green beans over mashed potatoes; a baked sweet or regular potato with fixing; potato or split pea soup; chicken or egg salad. She’ll also eat any fruit but citrus…and anything with sugar on it or in it (oatmeal, graham crackers, cookies). I’m with you. Not easy. Don’t beat yourself up too bad. I take my mom to the grocery looking for ideas…ask her what she’d get at a restaurant if she could have anything…but none of that has worked. You’ll get your half-dozen standards…and then work around that. Good luck!!

      Like

      • Hi Amanda, thanks for your response. My mother is diabetic so I really have to make sure she eats. I am happy if she eats little but I make sure she eats more than three times a day. At least you can take your mother to the grocery store and that might open a little her appetite. Sometime by looking at food it opens the desires. Mina, my mother, is fragile but we keep trying.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s