I’ve spent father’s day weekend looking at assisted living facilities in Austin for my mother. Currently, she lives in Houston, 150 miles from me, and 3 miles from my sister. Last Friday, her AL called me to let me know they were sending her to the emergency room due to mental confusion and high blood sugar. I was in San Antonio for work when I got the call. My sister didn’t answer her cell phone. I had to track her down through her daughter. Meanwhile, I drove back to Austin from San Antonio. Mom was stable, but had a nasty urinary tract infection that required IV antibiotics. The emergency room nurse also said mom had skin breakdown on her bottom, reportedly from not being changed out of wet diapers often enough.
The following morning, last Saturday, I drove to Houston and visited my mom in the hospital. She seemed to be doing well and was in good spirits. She was coherent and didn’t appear too depleted physically by the UTI. My sister popped into the hospital while I was there. During my visit, my sister and I discussed hiring a caregiver for my mom to keep a closer eye on things. (My sister is not interested in keeping closer tabs. Once-a-week pop-ins appear to be her limit, despite being only 3 miles away.) And then my sister, who is 58, said:
“We have to do something. Especially since I’m retiring next year and moving to Galveston with [husband.]”
Galveston is 85 miles and over an hour and a half away from my mom (and my sister’s current primary residence). Galveston is a 4-hour drive from my home.
“She can move,” I said.
“Yes, she can move,” she answered.
My mother needs to be near one of us. In addition to her plans to move to her beach house in Galveston, my sister advised she plans to spend her summers at my mom’s cabin on Lake Superior, six months of the year. I told her she’ll be splitting those summer with me, as I’ll be retiring within the next couple of years, myself. That caught her by surprise. I found some satisfaction in that.
So, my sister essentially advised me that she’s largely removing herself from our mother’s life beginning next September. Which means my mother will need to move from the neighborhood she has lived in for nearly 40 years. The neighborhood where her friends and grandchildren live. I, being her only living child other than my sister, am prepared to pick up the slack. Doing so, however, means my mother will need to move to Austin. Seeing as my sister plans to absent herself from the country for many months of the year, Galveston is not an option. It’s a 4-hour drive from my home.
Which is how I found myself touring AL facilities in Austin this weekend. The first one I visited greeted me with this sight:
The baby deer on the left was romping about as I approached, with mama standing nearby keeping watch. There are two baby deer in this photo. Can you spot the second?
Take a look at the next two photos for a hint on where he’s hiding.
At the end of the day, I got on a waiting list for one of the ALs I visited. It’s similar to the one my mom’s living in now, but the room is a bit smaller and the cost is quite a bit higher. The selling point is that they offer a higher level of care, and that my mother can “age in place” and not have to be moved again. They can also handle her insulin injections, something new that recently arose.
I don’t know if her need for insulin injections is a permanent thing, or if her blood sugar will settle down once the stress of the infection subsides. It’s been a cycle for the past year and a half, and it seems to be worsening. The UTIs cause the blood sugar to spike. The high blood sugar causes UTIs. And UTIs cause mental confusion, which is often the only symptom of a UTI in the elderly. On Wednesday, the mental confusion looked like this:
Mom: “What are you having for dinner?”
Mom: “Where did you get it.”
Me: “At the grocery store.”
Mom: “Oh, you didn’t catch it?”
Me: “No, no time for fishing this week.”
Mom: “Well, you could have gotten it at dad’s.”
Me: “What do you mean, at dad’s?”
Mom: “At dad’s house.”
Me: “Where is dad’s house?”
Mom: “You know where it is.”
Me: “Oh, OK, but I just got it at the store this time.”
I assumed it was caused by her blood sugar since they’d zapped the UTI with antibiotics while she was in the hospital. But by last night, the mental confusion looked like this:
Mom: “I’m going to tell you about my bed.”
Mom: “It has metal rails. And I have blankets. And there are four animals. And they are warm.”
Me: “What kind of animals?”
Mom: “I’m telling you about my bed.”
Me: “How are you doing mom? Are you feeling OK?”
Mom: “I called to tell you about my bed. I have blankets and the animals are warm.”
Me: “I’m going to hang up and call the nurse mom. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
She said this while breathing in little puffs. I hung up and tracked down the nurse, who assured me she was fine. I explained to the nurse that the mental confusion was not normal for my mother, and insisted they recheck to be certain the UTI had not returned. The nurse said they’d already ordered a urine culture for the following morning.
I hung up with the nurse and noticed my mother had called and left a voice mail. It lasted over five minutes. This is what she said. Just one word. Repeated slowly, over long intervals, for five minutes:
Steve is my brother who died in March 2013.
As this is happening, my sister is in Galveston celebrating father’s day with her husband. She has promised to visit my mother Sunday evening when she returns.
So here is my current conundrum: Do I move my mother to Austin when we are reached on the waiting list? (Assuming she is stable.) Or do I wait until we are closer to my sister’s move to Galveston? If I move her now to unfamiliar surroundings, it will be very disruptive. And being completely pragmatic, she may not live until my sister moves, so moving mom to Austin may turn out to be unnecessary. Also, her 80th birthday is in March, and I hesitate to move her before her birthday as all her friends and family (save me) who will attend the celebration are in Houston. On the other hand, if I wait to move her, and she declines further, then the move (assuming she lives that long) will be even harder on her, and perhaps, impossible.
I’d like to be closer to my mother. I’d like to spend more time with her. I’d like to spend more time with her while she still has her faculties. And I’d like to be able to keep closer tabs on her. (And her cat.) But is moving her here the best thing for her? Will she still be with us when it’s time for my sister to move to Galveston?
Does anyone have access to a crystal ball?
As I sort through the variables, I remain booze-free. Although it has occurred to me it might be nice to blot everything out with extreme inebriation, I haven’t. I also gave up sugar last week. I’m at Day 170 on the booze. Day 8 on the sugar. I’m fumbling around for an adequate coping mechanism, but I’m having trouble finding one. Other than writing. And soft, fluffy, purring cats. Those will have to do.