Unhappy advice

In the last 15 years, I’ve had occasions to take care of old people in terms of health issues. Like my parents. One is dead, the other is currently wasting away in a home, now completely and irretrievably in the grip of Alzheimer’s. Through my experiences, I’ve learned a few things that could be helpful. One of these days, you might just have to take charge of a health situation involving parents or another senior. If so, here are some basics to remember.

1. If that person is 70 or older, there is no such thing as a “routine” surgery. Every procedure, at that age, is serious stuff. Every procedure/surgery, can quickly become a life and death situation. There is nothing, at that age, that can be taken lightly.

2. If an oldster is sick or injured, and he/she isn't drinking and/or eating as he/she should, that's serious. Seriously serious. You have to get them to eat or drink. If they won't/can't, you have to take charge. You have to get professional help. That person ain't gonna make it if he/she isn't drinking or eating. Makes sense, right? Don't be surprised if he/she just won't cooperate on this front. Eating and drinking takes energy, and often, old people will just sorta blow it off and be dangerously nonchalant about consumption of food and water. When my dad was home at age 77 after surgery, I found one, and only one, way to get him to drink water. Mix it with a blast of vodka. Ultimately, this approach was not particularly productive.

3. If you find that your desire to please the patient is getting in the way of his/her proper care, you have to recognize this. You have to recognize that your desire to please is getting in the way of good care. After you recognize this reality, you have to suck it up and do the right thing. Even if it pisses mom/dad/beloved senior off.

4. One thing we never think about and never prepare for is that at the very end of life, the dying person is often too sick or deranged to communicate. This is brutally disappointing and utterly sad. We all have this cheery image of the family gathered around the loved one's death bed, all trading final thoughts, emotions, and so forth. Well, that's all fine and dandy and if your scene plays out like that, that's wonderful and lucky you. But there's no law in this often cruel universe that says it's gonna go down like that, that you're gonna be in the middle of a scene from a Hallmark television special or some sappy movie. What we never think of, but what is more common than you might think, is that the dying person is quite literally incapable of communicating. It's monumentally frustrating and heartbreaking. So don't assume that you'll be able to say last words and farewells with someone who can hear you and actually talk back. Many times, if you wait too long, you'll be talking to a the human equivalent of a black hole. Whatever it is you need to express or clear up, don't procrastinate too darn long. Say that stuff before the surgery, for example.