How I became Sandwiched

Well, it’s been over a year since my mom moved to Pennsylvania to live near us. Have I ever told you kids how it came to be? No? Well, I’ve always meant to, so grab a cup of tea and settle in….

My mom had been living in a senior apartment building in the Chicago suburbs, in the same town where my sister lived. My family and I would come in 3 or 4 times a year for visits, but my sister was Mom’s primary lifeline when she needed errands run or a ride to the doctor. She was great with Chiquita, but she was also a busy single working professional. She averaged about 1-2 visits a week, mostly on weekends. Then she got a promotion, which involved frequent business trips to Atlanta, thereby making her even busier. Eventually, she was offered a full-time position in Atlanta, and after serious consideration, decided she’d go for it.

But what about Mom?

I knew it would be a pretty drastic change for all of us, but after some serious discussion with Mr. Hoagie, my mom, and my sister, it was agreed that moving Chiquita to PA would be the best option. The timing worked out well; for a while, my husband was considering a job change, but he’d just gotten a transfer to a new position that he liked, so that was settled.

There was a beautiful senior housing community that had just been built as we moved into town seven years ago, and we’d always had our eye on it. We had even visited a couple years before. It featured independent senior apartments and assisted living (plus an Alzheimer’s unit) all in the same building, with plans to expand into villas (townhouses for seniors). Twenty meals a month were included in the rent. I pictured happy Sunday dinners and folding Mom into the kids’ activities. It’d be great, right?

The only hiccup was that Mr. Hoagie and Chiquita were…well, not best buddies. I could handle it, though…I’d see Mom during the day when he was at work.

To make a long story short(er), arrangements were made, housing was procured, movers were hired, and the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2007, we piled the four of us plus Mom into the minivan, and headed for Pittsburgh.

So we packed a truck with Mom’s belongings, and we piled into our minivan to head for Pittsburgh from Chicago. After a quick stop at Target, that is, to buy a stepstool. Turns out our minivan was too tall for Chiquita to climb in unassisted.

We planned to drive roughly halfway, say to Toledo, before we stopped for the night. Around dinnertime, we had just cleared the Illinois state line and were sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. That was when Mom mentioned her chest pains.

For a woman who’d had a heart attack and several stents put in to keep her arteries open, this was NOT a complaint I took lightly. We’re stuck in traffic, I have a 6 year old and 3 year old in the car, and Ms. Cardiac-Patient-of-the-Year offhandedly mentions chest pains, in the same way she might have said, “Hey, how ’bout those Bears?”

Doing what I do best, I began to panic. Quietly, of course. I calculated the time to the next exit, and when we saw the restaurants available, I proposed a dinner break. If something were happening, at least we’d be stationary at an address to give 911. Plus, my husband and kids could eat while I rode in the ambulance.

Ha ha. Heh.

Ha?

In the meantime, I put in a call to my sister. She is much less panicky than I, and has the ability to see my situations much more clearly than I at times like this.

Couldn’t reach her.

So, we got off at the next exit and headed for the only restaurant available: Ponderosa.

“Here we are,” I sang. “Cardiologist’s choice.” That got a laugh out of Mom. We dropped her off at the door and went inside. Every two minutes, I quizzed her.

“How you feeling, Mom?”

“Are the pains gone?”

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“You really want a STEAK?!?”

In the meantime, everyone else was ravenous. As we ate, I stared at Mom looking for signs of discomfort. She insisted she felt better, that the pains were gone, and that she’d probably just needed a break. We finished eating, and, against my better judgment, climbed back into the car to get a couple more hours under our belts. We pulled off for the night at a Holiday Inn Express on the far side of Toledo.

I didn’t feel right ignoring it, but I didn’t feel very well equipped to deal with it, either.

Jeez oh pete, if the woman was gonna be hospitalized, I was hoping it’d be at our destination instead of somewhere in between.

It’s now day two of our cross-country road trip bringing my mom (aka Chiquita or Grandma Chiquita) from her home in Chicago to Pittsburgh to live near us. We packed up our rooms at the Holiday Inn Express and headed over to the lobby to grab some breakfast before we left (ever tried the cinnamon rolls there? FABULOUS!).

While we were sitting at the table, my cell phone rings. It’s my sister. The night before, I had called her, riddled with anxiety about Chiquita’s chest pains.

“We should really get those checked out,” she told me. The ROYAL we.

“Oh, but Mom’s feeling better now,” I said. The sun was out, we were well-rested, it was a new day. Maybe those chest pains were all a bad dream.

“I’ve talked with three different nurses,” she said. (She works with a company that staffs nurses-on-call-by-phone.) “They all said that considering her history and the circumstances, she could be in serious trouble.”

“She hasn’t had anything since last night,” I explained. “I’m sure if it were bad, something else would’ve happened by now.”

“Not necessarily,” my sister replied. “They said she might still be having the heart attack RIGHT NOW. Every minute that goes by, more of her heart could be damaged.”

“Oh, crap.” The anxiety, fear, terror, and dread came rushing back. I looked over my shoulder at Chiquita in the dining room having breakfast with her two granddaughters. They were laughing together.

I didn’t feel much like laughing.

So the next step was to decide: ambulance, or a ride. We decided to try to get to the next major city with a decent hospital, which was Sandusky. We exited the expressway and asked the nice toll booth collector which way the hospital was. I half expected her to call 911 or radio the state police or something. Maybe I’d get busted for elder abuse.

No such luck.

We found the hospital and the emergency room entrance. I took Chiquita in and explained her symptoms. A mess of hospital staff descended upon her: stethoscopes, syringes, blood pressure cuff.

In the meantime, Mr. Hoagie brought the kids in and asked the staff at the desk if there might be a fast food place nearby with a playplace where he could wait with the girls. Being Sandusky, there were four. He picked one and they left, making sure to turn on his cell.

I did my best to update the hospital staff on Chiquita’s myriad health conditions. Where to begin? Coronary artery disease, multiple stents, diabetes, pyodermal gangrenosum (a skin condition), incontinence, obesity….

With each condition I rattled off, their eyes got wider. Apparently it was a wonder she was still kicking!

They took lots of blood and hooked her up to several monitors. Once they’d done that, it was a matter of waiting for the test results.

And waiting.

Nearly two hours after we’d arrived, a doctor appeared to share the test results with us. According to her labs, she HADN’T had a heart attack. This time. But considering her medical profile, he’d typically want to admit her. We explained that we were halfway between her old home and her new one, and unless she was having a medical emergency, we’d rather just get back on the road and promise to see her new doctor when we arrived.

Of course, she didn’t HAVE a new doctor yet, but he didn’t need to know that.

So he sent us off, bending the rules a bit in order to print off her ER medical records for her new doctor. I texted Mr. Hoagie to let him know that we were almost done.

He texted back. Apparently he’d had a bit of an adventure himself. They’d gone to the playplace, and before they were even inside the restaurant (in the vestibule between the two entrance doors), Big Sis had vomited.

Outstanding.

So a few minutes later, the minivan pulled up to the ER entrance, and we loaded Chiquita in. Big Sis sat in the back seat, looking pale and tired. We navigated our way back to the expressway. By the time we picked up our toll ticket, Big Sis was asleep.

The rest of the drive from Sandusky to Pittsburgh passed uneventfully. Chiquita had no further chest pains, and Big Sis was extra tired that day, but had no more episodes of vomiting.

The next part of the story lasted nearly three weeks. We thought that Mom’s moving truck would arrive by the end of the week.

It didn’t.

It didn’t arrive the following week, either.

To make a ridiculously long story short (okay, I know it’s WAY too late for that), my sister’s friend’s dad ran a moving company. We went with them because they were family friends, yadda yadda. Mom’s stuff was now on a truck with other people’s stuff, and they were all due to be delivered first. Now, granted, Mom’s stuff was by far the smallest shipment on that truck (it was just a one-bedroom apartment), but by week two, we were tearing our hair out (mostly me).

Where was Mom staying, you ask? Oh, right. With us. In a guest bedroom on the second floor.

Did I mention there’s two flights of stairs between the garage and the second floor? Or that she’s not so good with stairs?

And at that time, we began to notice Mom’s fatigue increase. Understandable under all the stress, sure, but mostly because her anemia returned. She was due for a Procrit shot.

And did I mention that she didn’t yet have a new doctor? (Though the old one was good enough to tell us that Chiquita was in bad enough shape that the trip alone might kill her.)

So let’s recap: two flights of stairs a day (for an undetermined amount of time) for a weak, anemic, stressed cardiac diabetic who was not, at that moment, under a doctor’s care?

This was gonna be rough. I didn’t want her to kick the bucket the first week on my watch!

Whew!

Let’s recap, shall we? My sister arranges to move out of town, leaving my 68-year-old aging mom stranded in Chicago area.

Dutiful daughter that I am, my family and I decide to move Mom closer to us. We go to Chicago for a visit for Thanksgiving 2007, and on the drive home to Pittsburgh, we prop my diabetic, obese, cardiac-patient Mom (aka Chiquita or Grandma Chiquita) in the front seat of the minivan. Here goes nothin’.

Cue the chest pains. There’s a stop in the ER in Sandusky, Ohio; some vomiting by my 6-year-old; and then we arrive home. Where we wait nearly three weeks for her moving truck to arrive. My walker-and-wheelchair-using mom now has to climb 2 flights of stairs each day to her bedroom.

Here’s what a typical day looked like over those few weeks:

7:00 am: Kids and I wake up, get dressed and ready for school. Look in on Mom (or just check to make sure I can hear her snore)

7:30 am: Breakfast for kids & Chiquita. Kids eat at kitchen table, Mom gets a tray in her room. She’s so weak and diabetic, I don’t want her attempting the stairs before breakfast.

8:15 am: Leave for bus stop; stop in to let Mom know we’re going. Chances are, she’s still asleep.

8:30 am: Breakfast for me; make coffee for Mom and me. Park Little Sis in front of the TV so I can…

8:45 am to ?: Head upstairs to give Mom a shower and “treatment.” Of course, she’s still asleep. Once she wakes, I’ll help her with breakfast (not that she really needs the help so much as she’s so co-dependent she’ll take any help anyone’s dumb enough to give her…that’d be me). She takes her pills (13 at the time). Then a shower, and her “treatment.” I’ll spare you the details except to say that it involves washing & powdering her delicate skin condition.

Late morning: Help Chiquita down the stairs and get her settled in front of Fox News (*gag*), where she’ll repeat the day’s headlines to me almost incessantly.

Sometime before lunch (hopefully): Cleanup duty begins; head back up to her room, strip the bed and wash the sheets (wet from incontinence), her towels (one from shower plus 2-3 more for her treatment), her pajamas and the previous day’s clothes (she only packed enough for a few days). Bring down her breakfast tray and do kitchen cleanup. Start lunch; must be healthy because I’m feeding a diabetic cardiac patient.

After lunch: take care of my 3 year old (hey, remember her?), alternating with fielding “What are you DOING?” from Mom and losing my mind because I SO did not sign up for this howamIsupposedtocookandcleananddolaundryand groceryshopand handlemykidsandmyhusbandandnowmymomtoo!

3:45 pm: Pick up Big Sis from school bus. Great, now I have three people to take care of!

4:30 pm Start dinner; must be healthy because I’m feeding a diabetic cardiac patient. Must also be something that picky Big Sis will eat unless we want a battle at the dinner table. Allow extra time for incessant interruptions. As 6 pm nears and am interrupted for the 34th time, shout “DO YOU PEOPLE WANT TO EAT DINNER TONIGHT OR NOT?!?”

6:15 pm Mr. Hoagie gets home from work. Inwardly rejoice because the cavalry has arrived.

6:16 pm Heart sinks as he trudges upstairs for a “quick nap” before dinner. Inwardly seethe, slamming pots and pans, until I…

6:20 pm …remember that he’s epileptic so his neurologist has given him carte blanche on sleep. Say a quick prayer of thanks that he didn’t have a seizure driving home from work and kill himself and six other people and commence to feeling guilty that I inwardly seethed at all.

6:45 pm Start dinner for five. Repeatedly get up to get stuff for people. Listen to regurgitated Fox News headlines. Mediate kids’ arguments. Count bites for whiny, perpetually hunger-striking Big Sis. Eat cold food and start clearing table.

7:30 pm Encourage everyone to head up to bed, knowing that that’s the only way I’ll get any peace. Chiquita needs to go up before she’s too tired; we had several instances of wobbliness and near-falls over those weeks.

7:31 pm Chiquita turns Fox News back on.

8:15 pm Kids head upstairs; Mr. Hoagie puts them to bed.

8:20 pm Chiquita (reluctantly) heads upstairs, supported by me.

8:26 pm Arrive at top of stairs. Assist Chiquita in getting ready for bed, including (whoo hoo) another treatment.

9:15 pm Chiquita is tucked in and watching prime time TV in the dark. She invites me to stay and watch with her, but I weasel out of it (feeling guilty) because I. AM. BEYOND.DONE.

9:20 pm Curl up on the couch with Mr. Hoagie to watch The Daily Show.

9:30 pm Fall asleep on the couch.

10:15 pm Mr. Hoagie wakes me up so I can drag my sorry butt to bed. I get to do it all over again tomorrow.

So the weeks pass, and we wait for Mom’s moving truck to arrive from Chicago. The new apartment building leaves the moving blankets up on the sides of the elevator almost the entire time. There’s a welcome sign on her door weeks before she ever gets to see it. I stop over to stock the place with some groceries and supplies, and people stop me in the hallway, asking if I’m Chiquita’s daughter.

And then they ask if the moving truck got lost.

That was funny the first time, but by the time 37 silver-haired jokesters quit asking two months later, I was TOTALLY over it.

Finally, in mid-December, we get the call.

It’ll pull in tomorrow.

So bright and early the next morning, I drag my butt over to Mom’s new place. The moving truck arrives. I go over to greet the driver, and he tells me that the movers (sent over from the local moving company) are on their way. So we sit in our vehicles a while longer.

Eventually they turn up, and I go inside to let the front office know that we’re about to get started. The truck drives around to the loading dock, and I meet them there. It seems that the building’s bus is parked right in the way of the 18-wheeler trying to back into the loading dock.

I’m dispatched to the front office to find someone to move the bus. Of course, it’s a Saturday, so the receptionist is the weekend one, and no one is scheduled to drive it that day. But after being assured that they’re working on it, I head back to the dock…..

…To find the 18-wheeler about to try to back in the loading dock WITHOUT hitting the bus. I have time to wonder if Mom would be charged for the repairs to the nearly-totalled bus.

It’s tight, and that driver did some FANCY drivin’, but he got in there. Whew…it was CLOSE!

The guys start offloading Mom’s stuff. From the loading dock, to get to Mom’s apartment (almost directly overhead), there’s a looooong hallway, an elevator up one floor, and back down the same looooong hallway. And there’s only one hand truck in the building, though the movers have a couple other small ones (after they leave to go get them, of course).

Mom had paid for unpacking at the new place, so I mention it to the guys.

“Oh, you don’t want us to do that,” one of them tells me.

“I don’t?” I asked, sure that someone was trying to rip someone off.

“Nah. It just means that we take everything out of the boxes, unwrap it, and leave it sitting on the floor.”

After doing some visualizing, I agree with him. So I grab a knife and start slicing boxes open to unpack them. They haul it up, I unpack it. I’m going as fast as I can, because they’ll take all the empty boxes & packing material with them…which means that I won’t have to.

Eventually, everything is in, and I’ve unpacked all I can for now. But the truck has one more stop to make: my house.

You see, since the truck was coming to Pittsburgh anyway, my sister put her unwanted elliptical machine and a leather sectional sofa on to be dropped off at my place. So I lead the procession (my car, two cars full of movers, and the 18-wheeler) across town to my house. The drive was uneventful, if you don’t count the part where the 18-wheeler couldn’t QUITE make it around that tight corner and dug up some poor guy’s side yard. (Oops. I felt bad about that…maybe because we had to look at it until spring!)

The guys unload the sofa and the elliptical, thanking me for not wanting them up a flight of stairs (our basement is next to the garage at ground level). I distribute tips.

Next comes the hard part: Kicking Chiquita out.

9 Responses to How I became Sandwiched

  1. Holy crap. How did you survive all that?

    • Sandwiched says:

      You know, a year later, I’m still not sure. You just put your head down and put one foot in front of the other. Looking back, I see how the whole experience knocked me completely on my ass. I’m still climbing out of that hole. But the higher I climb, the better I can see what happened and the lessons I learned from it. Lesson number one would be I have to take care of myself first. You know, put the mask on before I help the people sitting next to me. Because when I run myself down like that, I am not only no good to anyone, but actually bad FOR everyone around me. I hate thinking about the way I treated (or ignored) my kids while I was so stressed out and depressed. THEY’RE the reason I got help.

      Wow…maybe this should be a blog post of its own. Thanks for reading.

  2. ElleBee says:

    You know, when you shared your link, you could’ve reminded me that we haven’t worked together in (gasp) ten years, so I just MAY have forgotten how funny you are. It might have given me ample warning to put my diet coke aside and NOT drink it while reading your blog. My MIL lives with us. We could share stories…

  3. Sandwiched says:

    Diet Coke through the nose. THAT will clear out your sinuses! 😉

    I think we need to share stories!!

  4. frumpfighter says:

    Enjoyed this very much. I’m putting you on my blogroll. – Angie
    http://frumpfighter.wordpress.com/

  5. Dana says:

    I just found your blog today & read the story about your mom. I thought I was the only one with parent with multiple medical conditions & no sibling willing to pull their weight.

  6. Sandwiched says:

    Hi Dana! Glad you found me.

    For the record, though, my sibling (@busybeebecca on twitter) is GREAT! She handled my mom for over 5 years on her own before Mom moved here; that’s when I was the unhelpful sibling (in my defense, I had NO appreciation for what she was going through until she handed Mom off).

    Now, @busybeebecca is a sister, best friend, confidant, psychotherapist, medical consultant…anything she can do from several hundred miles away, she does.

    Thanks, Beq!

  7. Laura says:

    Oh, so much of this sounds very familiar! Hi—I just found your blog on the BlogHer blogroll, and I had to stop by. Like you, I’m struggling with a young (2-year-old) child and elderly parents. I sometimes think it would be easier if my parents moved closer (they’re a 2-hour drive away) because of all the tough logistics of trying to help them out with my son in tow, but then I read stories like this and wonder if I want to open that can of worms! 🙂 Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading your posts and hope that you’ll stop by to check out mine. I’m still trying to find my footing in the blogging world, but it’s becoming an addiction!

  8. Pingback: Call Roto-Rooter… | Sandwiched

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