Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Disheartening Phase

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While Mummy lay in bed for her thigh fracture to heal, the leg had been getting shorter. Finally when she could be lifted and helped to try and walk this became a real impediment. So then Denis did some research and drove to meet a cobbler who made orthopaedic shoes in the old city of Hyderabad. He made her two pairs of shoes, one with a four inch thick sole and one a flat sole. This made the difference between a bad limp and a slightly shaky balance while using the walker, but it was a help nevertheless and Mummy could be encouraged to get to the living room or the dining room or the verandah to sit out there for a while, with greater ease. It was something to listen to her grumbling and often refusing out of hand to even try. Coaxing her out of unwillingness has been a large part of her care!

She liked being outside if people were with her. Never did she like to be alone, either in her bedroom or anywhere else. This got to be a strain on everyone and especially my father who spent most of his time with her. He was a person with many interests and hobbies, always liking to make things or be on his computer.
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Everyone felt it was fine to leave her alone in the bedroom once she was safe in bed though she was never left unattended while sitting in her wheelchair.

After many months we had left for Pune ensuring that a daily routine had fallen into place though things were not ever felt to be perfectly satisfactory, but somehow things got done. Denis would usually leave her sleeping in her room and go out to his carpentry workshop which was separate from the house. I forgot to mention that many years ago Denis had lost hearing in his left ear after some over diligence in cleaning with cotton buds. All the same he happily worked with loud drills and saws and other power tools revelling in the sawdust and sound effects. He worked there making furniture and shelves and picture frames. He was a person who worked out energy through happily immersing himself in things he liked doing. Mummy, who had a habit of calling out loudly to him, apparently woke and finding she was on her own set up a hue and cry and by the time the Swamis heard and summoned Denis she had somehow rolled off the bed. It was a low bed, not even two feet off the ground but the impact of her fall was hard enough to break the humerus cleanly. Denis found her, after a heart stopping moment of thinking her missing while she lay between their two beds, a broken end almost penetrating the skin of her upper arm.

And so another operation was in the works to put right this damage. She had steel pins inserted to hold the bones together and weeks of recuperating permanently in bed yet again meant loss of practice of using the walker. Eventually it looked like she was healed again when to our shock and dismay an x-ray showed that there was still a gap, no bonding had taken place. The steel pins were obviously too light as they were bent and useless. Back she was wheeled to the operation theatre, and this time a large steel plate was fixed with some difficulty onto the almost by now brittle and crumbling bones. She spent months and months immobile and this disheartening phase passed slowly while we, who had made the journey there again, tried to cheer her up as much as our cheerless selves could manage, much of the events and stresses gone from memory by now. I can only remember that we were preoccupied with a dread of more misfortunes. It became bearable by doing things to fix up and prettify the house of a by now really elderly couple – beginning to show neglect. With these daily diversions the large house my father had built in a village they really loved took on a more refreshed air.

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Denis wasted no time during the period when my mother had her first bone setting operation to build side guards on her bed which he fashioned from aluminium pipes, elbow joints and nuts and bolts. These fitted into metal slots bolted on to the wooden sides of the bed for easy lifting and placing back. Now she was really much safer than before but she did not like the guards and every so often would hold and rattle them. But with time she got used to this caged feeling and sometimes one could go in there and find her sleeping like an innocent child. She missed the times when she sat out with us. It was sad to think of her not being able to see the variety of birds,
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the plants and trees flowering and fruiting,
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the illuminations of the changing skies,

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the silly dogs running about,
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the rain making the starving grounds green again,

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the ripening limes falling with a thud to the ground, as the months took their toll on her ability to accept what was happening to her.

Staying Sensible

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At first my mother was eating whatever everyone else was but her notoriously lazy digestive system, compounded now by having to while away life in bed, made a special diet imperative. I read recently that food is the most abused and exercise the least used of our options for a healthy life. Experience tells me how true this is.
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Creating a diet meant for someone who was a wonderful cook herself but who had a rather indifferent approach to her own ingestion of food was quite a task. She had to have four meals or four times of eating and drinking something.
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Breakfast was the obvious place to start….daliya, which I love lightly fried in ghee, then given one quick whistle in the pressure cooker, and eaten with milk and sugar was rejected outright. This was sad for me because there is something of her indifference to balanced food in me too and I wasn’t going to make it for myself if she didn’t want it. Muesli was OK by her but not everyday. Cornflakes, same. But Quaker Oats was just fine. Over the years it has come to be a staple, served with a mashed banana, milk and sugar. She never really liked egg/toast/bacon and suchlike. Occasionally, she doesn’t mind idli/dosa/sambhar but we reserve it for other meals because porridge is never totally and utterly refused.

For lunch it was a meal any middle class Indian family has. But Anglo Indians are meat curry and rice eaters. This was a dilemma at first but both she and my father took to eating vegetables, dal, chapatis, salad, and curds. Denis who thought that self-respecting vegetables were only potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cabbage or cauliflower would blanch at the sight of bhindi, turai, karela or baingan but he would try. Chicken was fine too and cooked often but Mummy for many many years had been eating vegetarian food so she liked this new stuff being served up. She did not like rice and anyway, white rice, the polished variety we all eat is useless compared to whole wheat chapatis. So that was lunch.

In the evenings she had milk with some Complan, a diet supplement added, and some cookies or cake.
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And finally dinner was vegetable soup with a cheese sandwich, a pasta dish or just about anything because by this time of the daily routine plenty of vegetables had been added. Oh yes, dessert at both lunch and dinner included fruit and usually Icecream.

Oh I was so proud of myself because she not only had no problems, she ate well and put on a slight bit of weight and had a smoothly functioning digestive machinery. It was fine to relax this, not be totally inflexible about it because the regularity mattered but did not mean a few meals could not be different. Shepherds Pie, or brown stew, or Vindaloo sometimes.
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Denis had taken to cooking after his retirement because Mummy retired from cooking, and did turn out perfectly Mummylike Anglo Indian stuff. He would eat brinjals only in the form of the sweet-sour vinegar based pickle and made it fabulously. But now he retired from cooking too because a lot of the everyday load of physical caring was shared by him. The two home help were NCs (non-combatant men who were assigned tasks like cooking and cleaning in the armed forces. The two assigned to work for him because of the fact that he retired as the Chief of the Indian Air Force were from the nearby village but being males, we did not get them to do any of the work for Mummy. They helped to prop her up while using the walker later, though and were always willing to do more). The NCs, both called Swami and therefore known by their initials became well known by the relatives, grandchildren, friends and visitors.
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But my attempts to get them to learn how to make meals for Mummy really tip top was such a losing battle that it just meant my sisters and me going in relays there to see to the cooking. We still do the cooking for Mummy ourselves. Not for the sake of hygiene, or trust issues, but because we know her tastes and also because we know on a day to day basis what and how much she has consumed.

The Daily Grind

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Mummy was not the easiest person to deal with in this new situation. She still scolded and fumed at us as if we were kids, not women in our late fifties. And, of course, Denis really got it, but he was still good natured and determined to cope in these early days, expecting that her tongue lashings were only part of her feeling of frustration and helplessness. There was nothing to do but acknowledge her imperious eldership as we always had. And once, during a terrible clean up accident she insisted on taking all the blame and responsibility by trying hard to help herself. Speech, emotional communication, whether angry or happy is almost the only power left to bedridden people.
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She very soon, though, could do almost nothing for herself and rapidly declined into dependency for most physical and emotional needs. She had to be sponged daily, a very wet towel and some suds helped keep her hair and scalp clean. Powdering and moisturising helped with her skin’s psoriasis problem as well as kept her sweet-smelling. Figuring out the use of discardable things like newspapers, cotton wool and cloth wipes made from old clothes to assist in clean up processes – every day and every difficulty brought on a new idea of how to manage. It didn’t take long to get used to, if still to dislike, cleaning bedpans and sometimes vomit. Her digestion suffered for eating in bed and getting no exercise.
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In time the thigh fracture healed. Only, it left her leg a good four inches shorter than the other and it became quite a nightmare to think of how she would use the walker. It meant full assistance with this as her sense of balance was completely skewed with her limbs mismatched. Now however, she could be helped into the bathroom for showers and even though it was a task in itself, made everyone feel better about the fact that she was moving about, even if it meant two people on either side of her, propping her up, but her weight would mostly fall directly on the walker.
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All the same, she wasn’t getting enough exercise to keep her system functioning smoothly and regularly. Suppositories and laxatives were ghastly and are not helpful in the long run so the next most important thing became to work out a healthy, fibre filled diet for her. This regimen carried on till quite recently, when she started refusing to eat solid food. But we can come to that later.

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Incident in Brahmanpalli

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Mummy fell by tripping over the living room carpet, in Brahmanpalli, the village in Andhra Pradesh, where my parents had lived for twenty three years, before my father passed away, and she shattered her right hip bone. Tali, my daughter and I, went to Singapore in the first week of January 2007. Mummy had her fall on the 10th of January 2007.  A dire message was waiting for me when we returned to Pune where I live. Tali left for the States where she lives, and I ran and booked myself onto an Indian Airlines flight for Hyderabad. Jeanne, my sister, called from Bombay and decided to change her flight to the same one I was taking. She came down to Pune  and because of all her professional connections we had a car waiting for us at the airport when we landed. But Mummy had already had her hip replacement surgery at the Secunderabad Military Hospital.
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Deborah our youngest sister, was already there. The three of us sat at the dining table, with a sense of  anxiety mixed with the hope that my father had received from the doctors that she would be walking again soon. Mornings in Brahmanpalli were always beautiful with birdsong and coolness.  After breakfast we were setting out for the hospital about 56 kilometers away in the town. Then the phone rang.

Mummy, they told us, had taken a toss while attempting to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night And had fractured her thigh bone, the same side as the hip injury. That was that, there was nothing to do now but for her to lie in bed and wait for it to heal over a couple of months. This was the start of her bedridden years, till now, February  2014. We stumbled about in those first days and weeks, trying to figure out how to go about caring for her.
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My father, Denis, bought her a wheelchair, a walker to assist her recovery in the future, other things like a portable toilet, clothes that could be put on and removed easily. It wasn’t possible for everyone, but since my husband Uday worked in Nigeria and my children both grown now, lived in the US,  I could, so I stayed on for about four months’

So this blog is going to be about this. How we, individually, or together, worked out how to care for my mother. There have been tremendous changes in these last seven or so years. What do I talk about? Not just her health, her diet, her coping , her temperament, stress, our ideas and abilities. The strain my father went through. How she actually did not, for the longest time, get that this was going to be the rest of her life for the longest time.

Next time some details of things we did and still do, to cope. Longevity, seniority, venerability, so so much. Maybe because I have a living parent my own age doesn’t seem such an issue. Or who am I fooling?
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