Life can be ugly and unpredictable: Pick a husband who will last — and laugh with you — a lifetime


The first time I introduced Skip to my parents, I knew I wanted to marry him.

It was October 1998 and my future husband was not in peak form.

He — like his mother and most everyone on her Hungarian side of the family — had developed a painful cyst at the base of his spine. A few days earlier, a doctor carved a 4-inch zig-zag incision, scooped out the culprit and sewed Skip back up with what looked like an embroidered lightning bolt emerging from the top of his butt crack.

It wasn’t pretty.

And Skip was in pain. By the time we pulled into my parents’ driveway, he was ashen and sitting side-saddle because leaning against the driver’s seat hurt too much.

My mom, I had warned Skip, had no social boundaries. None. She was nosy, touchy and, at times, a wee bit raunchy. But she could also be witty and disarmingly charming.

When mom saw Skip limping up the back stairs, she greeted him with a smile and an innocuous question: “What’s the matter?”

Skip explained about the cyst.

And before Skip could shake my father’s hand, mom walloped him with round two — the inappropriate question, the one I was certain would come even though I couldn’t predict the circumstances or the timing — “Can I see it?”

Skip, without hesitation, unbuckled his belt, dropped his jeans and let mom peel down the dressing so she could marvel at his wounded anatomy.

“Herm,” mom said to my father, “come here, you have to see this.”

My dad, politely averting his eyes, declined and asked Skip — in manly solidarity — if he wanted a beer.

Skip and I were in our early 30s then. My parents were in their late 60s. None of us could have imagined what the future held. But that moment — and the hours that followed — set the tone for all the years that followed, including the past three since my parents moved in with us.

Many readers of this blog have left messages and sent emails of encouragement to me. They say I am brave to help my parents and that my parents are lucky to have me.

But the truth is, my parents are lucky to have my husband.

If Skip didn’t support me — financially and emotionally — I couldn’t help my parents. He also pitches in daily to get things done. Today, on his day off, he took mom on a field trip to the library and listened patiently as she yammered on with two people she knew — even after those people seemed to lose interest.

How many books and movies — both comic and tragic – have been penned about Romeo and Juliet relationships doomed by quarreling or misfit Meet the Focker families? There’s a reason.

Even if you find a soul mate, a lover, a best friend, you’re destined for trouble if your match doesn’t fit with your family. Yes, couples can muddle through. And, for some, family isn’t as important. But I knew, particularly as an only child, that my husband would need both the right mindset and sense of humor to not only cope with my family, but to be happy with me.

I was already in love with Skip before I took him home to meet my parents. But as that day wore on — without tension, only laughter — I knew I would be his wife.

After mom re-bandaged his incision and Skip hoisted up his jeans, mom, who has no science or medical training, told Skip that his cyst wasn’t hereditary.

It was, she declared, his unborn twin.

Mom, now with dad on her side, told the story of a man they knew in Florida who had the same sort of cyst. When doctors operated, they found hair, tiny teeth and bones. Doctors concluded that the man’s body formed the cyst to expel the remains of a twin he had unknowingly carried with him for decades since birth.

Skip didn’t argue. He didn’t talk about all of his family members with the same issue. Or that, thankfully, his doctors did not report finding any teeth lodged above his butt crack.

Only later, when we were alone, did we laugh, not realizing at the time that his lightning-bolt scar would forever be known in our family as “twin.”

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.

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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.

What happens when someone with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s is admitted to the hospital?


It’s 6:30 a.m. and dad hasn’t called yet demanding to come home.

I’m surprised.

He was admitted to the hospital after midnight following several long, boring hours parked at urgent care waiting for a bed to open. He’s in no immediate medical danger, but he’s weak from unexplained blood loss and that’s left him especially wobbly — both on his feet and with his thoughts.

This if the fourth time he’s been admitted to the same hospital over the past four years and, each time, his mild/moderate dementia ramps up — especially the anxiety.  Unfamiliar surroundings. Strange sounds. And the inability to reach for that red box of Pall Malls, his adult pacifier, adds up to trouble.

When I made the urgent care doc aware of dad’s dementia issues, he pushed me to meet my dad at the hospital, saying  I should “tuck him in.” (Luckily my husband was with my mother at home, who has more severe dementia. What happens to other caregivers who don’t have backup?)

At the hospital, I handed the nurse a printout of dad’s medications. She patiently listened as I ticked off a list of dad’s needs: A walker, a bedside commode, a nicotine patch, lots of water — sans ice — at every meal to help him swallow.

But when I brought up dementia, she looked at me — just a quick sideways glance — and then back at her notes and asked where I was going to be. I told her I would be at home, just a mile or two away, and gave her the numbers of both my husband and myself.

She said nurses would put a bed alarm on dad — a simple device that clips to a hospital gown and alerts nurses should a patient start to get out of bed. And that — and the hospital’s ability to reach me — was the only dementia help provided.

I’m not naive. Any dementia patient must be a pain in the butt for nurses who are often already struggling to take care of a full load of sick, non-dementia patients.

But a demographic shift looms. People with dementia will fill more and more hospital wards — people whose children don’t live nearby or whose caregivers have other obligations that make it impossible for them to be on call 24/7.

What happens then?

It’s been a deadly week for senior citizens in Northeast Ohio: Are we, as a nation, doing something wrong?


The bad news here started before daybreak Monday.

A snow plow driver found a 94-year-old woman dead from hypothermia outside an assisted living facility in the Cleveland suburbs.

A few hours later, a 78-year-old man hit the gas instead of the brake on his SUV and plowed through the front of strip mall diner, hitting two women inside, including a 76-year-old who later died.

And a search Wednesday for a couple — ages 88  and 79 — missing from their home in a tiny town ended within 24 hours when a passerby spotted their charred 1986 Pontiac on a dirt road about 30 miles away. Police said the bodies of the man and his wife were burned inside the car, but authorities don’t yet know how they died or who killed them.

The only thing connecting these incidents, other than proximity, is age: Everyone involved is between 76- and 94-years-old.

And it’s made me wonder what we should be doing differently since the U.S. senior citizen population — now more than 43 million people — will nearly double over the next 35 years.

I don’t have those answers, but I have questions:

Why isn’t there a thorough, dependable, free, up-to-the-minute Internet-accessible rating system for all senior citizen living facilities and care agencies? 

Martha Jendrix, 94, died of hypothermia outside of Elmcroft of Sagamore Hills. She had a first-floor apartment in an assisted living section of the facility. Another part of the facility houses residents with dementia.

Police don’t suspect foul play, but they are still investigating how Jendrix ended up outside.

Four years ago, that Elmcroft location faced similar scrutiny after a patient with dementia wandered away from the facility twice, according to

The first time, a motorist pulled over, stopped traffic and saved the man who had wandered onto a major highway. Two weeks later, the same man wandered outside, but apparently never left Elmcroft’s campus.

The state ultimately cited Elmcroft for failing to come up with a plan to ensure the dementia resident stay inside.

Since then, reported state of Ohio inspectors have documented other issues at Elmcroft, including:

–A residential assistant was fired after grabbed a dementia patient by the throat

–Insufficient staffing during night shifts. No one licensed to administer certain medications, oxygen and insulin was on duty even though 42 patients could have needed that help.

–Failing to monitor a 93-year-old hospice care patient with dementia after she fell twice in the same month and fractured her ankle.

Is Elmcroft doing better or worse than similar facilities? Who knows.

Caregivers trying to find a good place for their loved ones could pull state records. But that takes time. And even then, those records can paint an incomplete picture — for good or bad — because what is measured and reported may not be one of the family’s top priorities (like a particularly tender caregiver or an activities director who refuses to give up on a patient).

Online, Elmcroft consistently scores four out of five stars on three Websites where users can rate care centers.

And those ratings, of course, can be skewed because reviewers are anonymous. Anyone from spiteful former employees to the director of a facility trying to boost numbers can post a review and rating.

Should states re-test senior citizen drivers? And, are some seniors less likely to surrender their licenses — even though they know they should — because there are no transportation options available?

As soon as news broke about a senior citizen crashing through a diner, on-line commenters began calling for wholesale re-testing of senior citizens renewing driver’s licenses — or even an all-out ban on drivers over 80-years-old.

In this case, 78-year old Thomas Herrick told police that he (along with his wife and their dog) was pulling his 2014 GMC Yukon Denali into a parking space in front of the diner when he accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. The SUV smashed through the brick building and plate-glass window where two women in their 70s were eating.

One of those women later died, but her cause of death has not yet been made available.

Was Herrick’s age to blame for this incident? We don’t know.

To renew a driver’s license in Ohio, most seniors only need pass an eye exam. If a senior reports a medical condition, there may be other forms to fill out and driving limitations, but that is usually based on the driver ratting himself/herself out to the state.

The state doesn’t test reflexes or the driver’s ability to turn her neck so she can use all the mirrors to see what’s around. The state doesn’t test for dementia or night vision or scores of other important things that help keep drivers safe on the road.

From my own experience, no senior citizen wants to give up driving. I clearly remember my parents — dressed all in black — sneaking up to my grandparents house in the 1980s and “stealing” my grandfather’s car after my dad noticed how many nicks, dents and scrapes were on it.

My parents took the car because grandpa refused to give up driving — not only because of pride (although that certainly played into it), but because there were places he wanted and needed to go.

Once his car was safely hidden from him in our barn, grandpa agreed that buying a new car at his age — about 86 at the time — was impractical. That was true, but it wasn’t easy. For the next three years — rain or snow — he walked four miles every day he couldn’t find a ride (most days) to see my grandma in a nursing home.

But he also needed to go the grocery, the pharmacy and doctor’s appointments. There was no bus service. No taxi service. No concierge. That burden fell to family, like it does for many today.

Many seniors who can no longer drive can no longer walk either — at least long distances.

If we are going to strengthen the testing for driver’s licenses — and I think we should for all drivers, not just seniors — we need to come up with excellent sources of alternative transportation.

Should there be laws that carry extra penalties for hurting or stealing from senior citizens,? What else can we do to protect the old among us?


Doyle Chumney, 88, and his wife, Lillian, 79, were supposed to drive their son to a nearby airport early Wednesday.

When the couple failed to show up, their daughter went to her parents’ tidy Strasburg — population 2,608 — home and found it ransacked, their car missing.

After the Chumneys’ bodies were discovered Thursday in their burned car in another county, police said they are looking for more than one suspect, but they haven’t speculated on a motive for the crime or whether the Chumneys may have known their attackers.

What a nightmare — for the Chumneys and their family. My sympathies to them.

This crime follows scores of other reports about criminals preying on seniors.

Often its an unscrupulous family member, caregiver, lawyer or financial advisor who drains a senior’s life savings.

I remember the case of David Dadante, a crooked Cleveland broker who destroyed the financial lives of more than 100 investors in a $58 million Ponzi scheme. Some of the retirees impacted said they had to go back to work as Wal-Mart greeters or some other similar job.

Just last year, the duped investors got their money back through a federal civil lawsuit — but it took 8 years. I’m guessing not all the older investors lived long to benefit.

Meanwhile, Dadante — a cocaine user who snorted and gambled much of that money away — is more than half-way through his 13-year prison sentence for fraud. It seems a small price considering the huge destruction he caused in so many lives.

Then there are the violent attacks. Nursing home abuse, domestic violence, rapes, robberies and murders.

The still-unsolved Georgia slayings of Russell Dermond, 88, and his wife Shirley Dermond, 87, sticks in my mind.

In May, after the Dermonds failed to show up for a Kentucky Derby party, friends in their gated community went to check on them and found Russell decapitated in the garage. Shirley’s body wasn’t discovered for weeks. It had been weighted down somewhere in the 30-acre lake behind their million-dollar home.

If police ever solve the case, the killer(s) would likely face the stiffest penalties under existing law since murder is the most serious of criminal offenses.

But why were they targeted and what can we do to protect the most vulnerable among us?

History repeating itself? Echoes of guilt, fear and resentment among my grandparents, my parents and me


I used a wheelchair for the first time yesterday to take my dad to a doctor.

He’s walked with a cane for several years to take the pressure off of a hip he’s had replaced three times. But this week, something went wrong and that nagging hip pain — which he never complains about — skyrocketed.

As we sat in the tiny examining room waiting for a nurse practitioner, dad started talking about his own parents and his struggle to care for them 30 years ago, unleashing echoes of guilt, fear and resentment that we both were experiencing now.

“One day, grandma just refused to stand up,” dad said, an edge of anger and exasperation creeping into his voice that surprised me.

“I don’t know why,” he said. “I still don’t know why, but it changed everything.”

Grandma, like dad, had hip replacements. And dad, like I was doing now, had taken her to doctors to figure out what was causing new pain in her hips.

X-rays taken shortly before she refused to stand showed nothing was wrong, dad said. And X-rays taken after showed nothing wrong, either.

Dad said he assumed grandma was faking it, a last-ditch ploy to get away from my grandfather who for years raged against old age and any weakness that came with it.

When grandma couldn’t climb the steps to their bedroom and only full bathroom on the second floor, he put in a stair lift and insisted she ride it even though she was terrified.

When grandma couldn’t carry things or reach canned goods because she used a walker, he invented things to keep her going — a wallpapered shoe box wired like a basket to the front of her walker, a modified pair of kitchen tongs that worked like an extended arm with a hand (this is before most people had ever heard of such devices).

Even after grandma caught a skillet on fire and fell — sprawled helpless on the floor while flames crept over the kitchen — he insisted, once firefighters were gone and they bought a new stove, that she continue to cook meals.

All of these things are hazy memories for me. I was disconnected, in high school and then away at college and my first couple of newspaper jobs.

But this history is etched into the mind of my dad — an only child like me — who had the lonely responsibility to figure out what to do. My mom, who took care of her own mother in our house for more than a year before she died, refused to do the same for my dad’s parents.

So grandma ended up in a nursing home, where she lived nearly a decade. She never walked again.

When the nurse practitioner knocked on the exam room door,  I was so distracted over my dad’s memories that I jumped.

But I welcomed the diversion. Michele, the nurse practitioner, always radiates warmth, optimism and good humor and I was glad she was there that day.

The exam was inconclusive. She said dad’s pain could be arthritis, a muscle pull or, worst case, something had gone wrong with his hip revision. She told us to continue with the Tylenol he had been taking, prescribed Tramadol for pain if needed and ordered an X-ray.

If nothing improved in two weeks, she said dad should see the orthopedic surgeon who put in his hip (the third replacement on that hip).

When we got home — before we found out the X-ray showed nothing wrong and before I picked up the Tramadol — dad reached for his cane and started puttering about like he had before this new hip pain sidelined him.

The Tylenol helped, he said.

But I wonder how much talking about his own parents’ struggles — and his own, as their caregiver — pushed him to carry on.

My Dad, for now, is refusing to sit down.

Haunting moment: What happens when you’re old and alone?


Most of my caregiving life I feel like I’m failing.

My house isn’t clean enough. Meals I cook aren’t tasty enough. And I often wonder whether I push doctors hard enough for answers to my parents’ ailments — or maybe I push too hard.

Yet a chance encounter two weeks ago gave me new confidence that I’m doing OK.

It happened when I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with my father,

Most schools were closed that day because temperatures weren’t climbing above 5 degrees. Only two other people were in the waiting room — a frazzled-looking woman in her 50s and a frail, older woman bundled in a coat, scarves and a blanket sitting in a wheelchair.

I assumed they were together, caregiver and parent. But when a nurse called for the woman in the wheelchair to come back, neither woman moved. The nurse called the woman in the wheelchair’s name again and this time, she responded,.

“Someone is going to have to come get me,” she said in a raspy, exasperated voice. “I can’t move myself.”

The nurse in the doorway grimaced, rolled her eyes and sighed while another nurse pushed by to help.

At that moment, and even looking back now, those few seconds seemed to drag out over minutes.

Why didn’t I jump up to help the woman in the wheelchair?

Why didn’t I chastise the rude and unprofessional nurse who rolled her eyes?

Why didn’t I wrap my arms around the woman in the wheelchair and give her a hug of encouragement?

I wish I had done all of those things and I’m still not certain why I didn’t do any.

A few minutes after the wheelchair woman was rolled away, the same snotty nurse called my dad’s name and I shadowed behind him as he slowly inched forward using his chewed-up wooden cane to support the hip joint he has already had replaced twice.

Dad hadn’t visited this doctor, a gastroenterologist, in a couple of years so I gave the nurse a computer printout of my dad’s medication list, along with emergency contacts, names and numbers of his other physicians and his pharmacy information.

I also provided three pages of medical history.

When the doctor came in, he wisely focused on my father, looking at him even when the doctor knew some of the answers — especially the ones involving times and dates — had to come from me, the caregiver.

In the end, we left with appointments for two out-patient medical procedures and a few new prescriptions to pick up.

As I drove home, my dad safely seat-belted next to me, I kept thinking about that woman in the wheelchair.

How did she make it to the doctor? It was very unlikely she could drive and there is no public transport in that suburb.

Who answered questions for her when she met with the doctor? And how would she get prescriptions at the pharmacy?

When dad and I got home, I opened the door from the garage into the kitchen and the winter wind lifted a tiny tumbleweed of pet hair — we have two cats and a dog and my parents have a dog, too — from the hallway baseboard and blew it across my boots onto the white tile floor.

Another failure. But it was small. It didn’t matter as much to me as it would have before seeing the woman in the wheelchair.

I still can’t get her out of my mind.

Today I went grocery shopping and found myself daydreaming about what will happen to my husband and myself when we get old.

We don’t have children — not that having children is any guarantee that they can or will act as caregivers.

And I’m an only child and my husband is the youngest of four, so there will likely be few relations we’ll be able to depend on when the time comes.

I’ll forever regret not helping the woman in the wheelchair that day. But I hope to make it up to her and others who must depend on strangers.

Next month, my dad has a follow-up appointment with the same doctor and I vow to track down that rude nurse and politely explain how difficult it must be for older patients traveling solo.

Pride and dignity are important to everyone and many older patients have likely sacrificed a bit of each just to make it to the doctor’s office. There’s no reason to steal more.

If the nurse is receptive, that’s the end of it. But if she isn’t, I will raise this with her supervisor and the physician.

And in the future, no matter where I am, I won’t hesitate.

Before anyone has time to sigh or roll their eyes, I will jump up to help and to say, without words, you still matter.

Tax break proposals for middle class appear to ignore caregivers: Short-sighted & stupid


President Barack Obama is floating a package of tax increases on the rich to pay for tax cuts for the middle class and poor.

The cuts are aimed squarely at families, with the bulk of the money going to triple the tax credit for child care, along with a  much smaller tax credit — up to $500 — for married couples who both work.

Caregivers are overlooked.

That’s short-sighted and stupid.

I’m writing this on the fly after reading news about the tax proposal just now. But even using outdated numbers, consider that caregivers provided $450 billion in care to adult parents and loved ones in 2009, according to AARP.

That’s $450 billion — or close to it — that caregivers saved the government, and thus taxpayers.

And that was six years ago, when the wave of elderly was just beginning to surge. That government savings must have soared since.

I’m an Independent and my politics hover somewhere in the middle, but it seems clear to me that Right, Left and Center could all agree on this: Supporting caregivers is not only the morally right thing to do, but it makes fiscal sense.

We as caregivers are often invisible. We’re barely able to keep up with our daily chores, let alone take up a battle.

But this is a battle worth fighting for ourselves and millions of caregivers who will come after.

I’m no policy expert, but it seems there are many tax incentives that could help caregivers — like a respite care tax credit — not unlike child care credit — or money to fill the Social Security gap caused when caregivers leave the workforce.

We not only deserve these tax breaks, we have earned them by saving the government and our fellow taxpayers trillions of dollars.

Wheelchair lunacy: Even a new medical center and docs can’t get it right


My mom and dad’s doctor moved into a stunning new medical building about three years ago. It sits up on a hill, surrounded by woods. It has its own helicopter pad, a full-service emergency room and a chemotherapy wing, along with offices for dozens of physicians.

Yet — the wheelchairs provided in the lobby of the building don’t fit through the entrance doorways to the doctors’ offices.

How stunningly stupid is that? A medical facility — where almost half the parking places are designated for handicapped, oncology and expectant mothers — that doesn’t match its doorway widths to the wheelchairs it uses.

I should point out that all wheelchairs provided are super-sized, about 40 percent wider than standard.

The easiest fix, of course, is to provide some standard wheelchairs, too. But the proper fix is to widen the doorways for those who do depend on the larger chairs.

As it is, overburdened caregivers like myself (or worse — the elderly trying to care for their more fragile elderly loved ones) must lift their own wheelchairs in and out of their cars to visit a building of healthcare workers who should be attuned to the needs of their patients.

I don’t know what patients do who need the wider chairs. Do doctors examine them in the hallways? Sad.

It could be worse, of course. My parents’ longtime podiatrist put his office in an older home that sits on a slope off of a mostly residential street. No wheelchairs are provided. It’s a small building, so I understand why.


But the challenge here is gravity: Getting mom from inside the car, to a wheelchair and then into the office (and the reverse) is  more of a battle. And if I forget the wheelchair brake or it slips, there could be disaster — a runaway wreck into a manicured flower bed between the small parking lot and the street.

I thought my parents’ gastro doctors got it right in their relatively new three-story complex. At the entry, there’s a large button to push which is supposed to open the doors so someone in a wheelchair can easily roll through.

That button hasn’t worked since my first visit with my parents — three years ago.

Misadventures in caregiving: Just when you think everything is under control…



The past few days at Casa de Mom-and-Dad-Move-in have been about nothing but water: Getting it, keeping it and making sure everyone — including our dog — gets enough to stay hydrated.

It started with Lake Erie, the glorious fresh water source that supplies Cleveland.

We’ve had a January cold snap where daytime temperatures sometimes struggle to reach 5 degrees and nighttime temps sink even lower. That means the lake is freezing over, but so is the water in the pipes leading from the lake to the shore-side processing plants.

Ice clogged the intake pipes last year, too, so I was prepared with a couple of cases of Costco water when the first warning to conserve came out. But with four adults, two dogs and two cats that all need to stay hydrated and clean, that can go quickly.

At the same time, one of our dogs had surgery on his right eye to remove a small growth on the lower lid. He came home wearing a green cone of shame — sometimes called an e-collar — to prevent him from tearing at the stitches.

No dog likes these cones. But our goofy 70-pound mutt especially despises the collar and refuses to eat unless we hand feed him piece by piece. He refuses to drink water altogether.

To keep him hydrated, I started soaking dry kibble in water until it swells to about five times its size. Then, piece-by-piece, I feed our stubborn dog the soggy, stinky pieces of spongy, dripping food, using a rag to wipe out the mess that runs down into the cone, getting matted in his fur.

And then, diarrhea struck — a human, not the dog. In a separate post below, I wrote about what I’ve learned about how to handle that with the B.R.A.T. diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast).

But it’s rarely an immediate fix.

So today, the dog is still being hand-fed, the B.R.A.T diet is still on the menu, but the water is flowing through the pipes again and I know tomorrow (or maybe the next day) will be a little better.