The Junk Food Fix is More Than One Person’s Bad Choice. It’s an American Problem.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Maurice Svay https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauriz/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Maurice Svay https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauriz/

My brave, witty and beautiful colleague, Katrina Fernandez, writes with the uninhibited gusto of a natural born wordsmith.

She has her finger on the pulse of the American condition. Her struggles with making ends meet as a single Mom in our current “jobless recovery” echo those of a lot of people I know, including my own family members. Her passion for Christ and His Church, her love of art and her fearless honesty make her one of the best reads on the internet.

Katrina has lately taken on the bugaboo of a whole raft of us working class Americans:  the demoralizing and doomed-to-defeat battle against overweight. Every word she writes, I can affirm from my own overweight life. Every defeat she encounters, every frustration and every small victory are experiences that millions of us have shared.

This topic of discussion fascinates a lot of us for the simple reason that Katrina is not alone in her predicament. Most of us live our lives in what Thoreau once described as “quiet desperation.” The difference is, in today’s world there is nothing quiet about our desperation.

We shout our frustrations for all the world to hear, but, despite our shouting, we do not comprehend them. How much of our food obsession and chronic widespread obesity is a reaction to the larger desperation of people who are pushed as far as they can be every single day of their lives?

All you have to do is leave this country and spend a few days in a place like Spain to come back and see and feel for yourself the driven, nerved-up atmosphere of our America. We are living through an implosion of our national wealth which is being siphoned off from the many and redeposited in the bank accounts of the very, very few.

We are, in fact and in truth, being systematically stolen blind by our government, which is the operative force in this theft.

What I’m saying is that we are getting poorer every single day. It is becoming harder and harder for ordinary Americans to make enough money to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and a running car in the garage.

We have splintered our families to the point that vast numbers of Americans are trying to row their boat with one hand. Single parents try to be two people. But they can’t. Not really.

We work long hours for low pay and fewer benefits every year. We send our children to substandard schools that throw them into contact with drugs, gangs and that teach them moral nihilism. Our tax dollars are used to manipulate our children into a valueless worldview that is anathema to us and to their futures.

We are forced to leave our children alone in our homes for many hours a week while we try to make a living. We face a future in which any chance of getting off the treadmill to retire is being challenged by politicians who work for corporatists who want this last big pool of money, which is the retirement savings of generations, for their own use.

We are tired to the point of exhaustion almost every day of our lives. We do not have the energy and leisure for reflection and thought. At the same time, the media bombards us constantly with one pounding crisis after another. We are propagandized, lied to and manipulated in a deliberate fashion on a constant basis by this same media.

At the end of our long day, we do not feel like cooking a meal. We are too tired to wheel a shopping cart through a grocery store. It is simpler and in fact less expensive to go through the drive-through at the local fast food joint and pick up a sack of something. We can be sure that this something will be heavily seasoned with fat, sugar and salt. We can be equally sure that it will not contain anything resembling a balance of food types and nutrients.

But we have learned to find satisfaction in the sledge-hammer hit of fats, sugar and salt. The carbs and fats hit our systems like a drug fix. They energize us for the moment and the powerful tastes assuage our longing for pleasure. Eating this stuff passes for a momentary time-out. It feels like comfort.

Food, used like this, is not about nourishment. It is not the pleasurable and relaxing experience of partaking of a well-balanced, home-cooked meal with family and friends. There is no lingering over the last morsel and laughing about the day’s problems.

This kind of eating is a buy-it-quick, stuff-it-down fix. We need the outlandish calorie counts supplied by all that fat and sugar to satisfy our hunger because the food itself is so low in so many essential nutrients. The sugar-fat-salt fix soothes our taste buds and raises our blood sugar so that we feel a short-lived high.

Of course, this doesn’t last. Unlike a real meal composed of good food, the high from this something we’ve bought at the drive through goes away in a relatively short time. Unlike a meal at the kitchen table with friends and family, it does nothing to relieve the day’s pressures and assuage the anxieties that keep us up at night, even when we ache from tiredness.

Before we have begun to burn the high number of calories we’ve consumed, the gnawing hungers, both physical and emotional, are back. Our bodies push us to eat again because they haven’t been properly nourished. Our minds beg us to binge because we need surcease from being, as Alcoholics Anonymous says, too hungry, angry, lonely and tired.

We have nobody to talk to. We have no other outlets in our time-starved lives where we can vent. We are pushed around, abandoned, scared and alone with our miseries. We really are too hungry, angry, lonely and tired to fend off that call for a junk food fix.

Our national problem with obesity is not so much a problem with food as it is that we don’t have healthy options for dealing with the many desperations of our existence. We live in a nation that has been at war for almost 15 years. Our country has been economically at war since around 1939.

Our government has been hijacked by corporatists who are draining the national purse as well as our private purses and taking the money for themselves. The government tells us that inflation is flat, yet every time we go to the grocery store or fill a prescription or guy a gallon of gas, we know that this is not true. Inflation is, in fact, running pretty high. The government has just cooked the books so it does not have to admit it.

The stock market has been going up and up, yet the people of this country can’t find jobs and when they do find jobs, they can’t live on what they are paid. They do not have retirements, the roads and bridges aren’t being repaired, tuition keeps going up and scads of people can not afford the health insurance being offered by the Affordable Health Care Act.

There isn’t time in most people’s lives to drop in at a gym and work out every day. Besides, people who never get enough sleep at night don’t feel like working out. The only pleasure a lot of people in this country get on a reliable basis is stuffing down that junk food they got from the drive through.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we will not solve the problem of widespread obesity in this country until and unless we solve the problems of lost community, no free time and fear of the future that haunts the American people. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s up to us to do this for ourselves.

Widespread obesity is a symptom of many huge problems facing the American people. If you find your community on the internet, instead of the flesh and blood people around you, if you are chronically exhausted from lack of sleep, if you ache all over from lack of exercise, if you can’t find a job or if you have a job, it doesn’t pay your bills, if you have no idea whatsoever where you would go or who would take care of you if you got cancer or when you grow old, then you are not living the American dream. You are living the American nightmare.

Is it any wonder that you find it so hard to give up the one pleasure you have? When a Big Mac becomes the best thing in your life, you won’t be able to stay away from it, no matter how hard you try.

We the People tamed this continent. We built railroads across the wilderness, created an industrial empire like nothing the world had ever seen. We won world wars and put men on the moon. We created a standard of living, not just for the few, but for a whole nation of Americans, that, again, the world had never seen before.

Now it is being taken from us. The only thing our government seems capable of doing is waging constant war. It will not spend our money on us. It does not build roads, does not provide decent education. It goes in your face against our values and needs.

The government has steadily siphoned off the wealth of this great nation for decades now. It has transferred monies that once enriched all the citizens of this nation into the hands of a few. It has exported our industrial base and the jobs that go with it. It has ignored the people on a consistent, bi-partisan basis.

Meanwhile, We the People tear our lives apart with senseless divorces, too much debt, increasingly splintered communities, zoning out in front of the computer or the television, and of course, those trips through the junk food drive throughs.

We are sitting by while we are being stolen blind by our own government, while our young people turn feral from no family life, bad schools and sicko social values and while we commit slow suicide from overeating, under exercising and constant sleep deprivation.

I am not speaking of these thing from the outside. I am one with most of these problems. I eat out too much, don’t exercise enough and so seldom get enough sleep that when I do I am astonished by how good I feel. Over-eating, under-exercising exhaustion is my normal.

I’ve decided I’m going to join brave Katrina Fernandez and blog about my own battle of the bulge. I’ve done this before when I published a series of posts under the title, Less of Me. I’m going to resurrect that title and post under it again.

I see overweight/under-exercise/lack of sleep as a widespread societal problem and a deeply humiliating and utterly defeating personal problem.

If there is a way out of this cycle, I have never found it.

If you want to read something like Ten Quick Fixes for Weight Loss, you need to skip my discussion and go somewhere else. However, I can guarantee you before you go there that it will not help you one bit to read those ten quick fixes. Because there aren’t any quick fixes. Because the problem itself is bigger than the individual. Because when an entire nation of people experience such a devastating malady as this, there is much more afoot than simple lack of will power and bad personal decisions.

The junk food fix and everything that goes with it is a societal problem. It is a maladjustment and a source of illness for tens of millions of Americans.

I am one of those Americans.

Let’s talk.

 

 

 

 

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Hundreds of US Priests Ask Church to Stand Firm on Church Teaching

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Jeff_Golden https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffanddayna/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Jeff_Golden https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffanddayna/

Catholic priests in the United States have joined their brothers in England in petitioning participants of the upcoming synod on the family to issue a “clear and firm” statement of support for traditional Church teaching on marriage and sexuality.

Nearly 1,000 American priests have signed this petition.

From Catholic New Agency:

.- Nearly 1,000 United States priests made their own a petition to the fathers of the upcoming Synod, originally made public and signed by nearly 500 English priests.

The statement’s wording is exactly that of the English version, and urges the fathers of the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family to issue a “clear and firm” proclamation of Church teaching on marriage and sexuality.

The organization Credo Priests has been circulating the petition and collecting online signatures, which are verified as U.S. Catholic clergy before appearing on the site. The signatory priests, sensing confusion among the laity after last year’s synod, said they wished to “re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.”

Among the U.S. signatures are seven bishops – three active and four retired.

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I Left the Legislature a Year Ago and Nothing Has Gone as Planned.

A year ago tomorrow, I cast my last vote …

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

… and walked out of the Oklahoma legislature forever.

I can honestly say that I have not missed getting up and going out there to do the people’s business in the year since. Not once. I have no nostalgia about the place, zero desire to go back out there and make those decisions, sit through those meetings, debates, wranglings and negotiations.

I can also honestly say that, while I’m loving my new life, I’m still working to get a handle on it. I didn’t stop being a Rep until the first of December. That’s when my true life of freedom began.

During that time, my mother’s dementia went from difficult to impossible to a living nightmare. Now, thanks to powerful meds, it’s moved back to a barely livable point somewhere between difficult and impossible. Taking care of her is just possible … just. If one brick falls out of the carefully-balanced wall between getting by and utter chaos, we go back in the impossible soup again.

Taking care of her has taught me something I didn’t know about before: The physical limits of me. I have found the break point in my own physical stamina, and I hate the thing. It’s not just the work of caring for her, though that is a mountain. It’s the stress and worry, the grief and guilt. Of all these, I would say that the grief is the worst. I miss my Mama, miss her with an ache that’s like a broken tooth in my soul.

In the meanwhile of my time, I’ve been trying to put together a writing life. If caring for Mama is the meat and potatoes of my life, writing is the gravy.

I don’t mean “gravy” in the slang use of the word to mean money. I mean gravy as in the fat, the seasoning, the oh-so-good part of the tough-to-chew-and-swallow that’s underneath.

There are days when I’m too tired to write. My brain is too mushy, my anxiety and worry readings too far off the chart, for me to make my brain work. Those are days when the physical/emotional limits I was talking about earlier have kicked in.

But most of the time, writing is a gift. I feel that God has gifted me with this work at this time. I thought at one point — as my ego-saturated little brain usually does — that I was the gift, that my experiences and insider’s knowledge gave me a message worth sharing. Now I realize that the gift was given to me, not the other way around.

Productive work that God has put in your hands for His purposes is always challenging and difficult. Or, at least it has always been such for me. It is also always a blessing.

The most important and most challenging work He ever gave me was raising my children. That truly is eternity work. It is also the hardest and scariest work I’ve ever done.

Now, I have the twin blessings of writing and seeing Mama home. He has taken me to a place where my ability to trust Him is challenged in ways I never encountered before. I had to re-learn about letting Him handle things with Mama, about trusting Him even when the road is going down, down, down.

My not-so-saintly self always wants to take charge and do everything. I want to be in control. I want to figure a way out of every corner, plan a path and set out on it. I am not a follower. Followership runs against my rebellious nature.

And yet my life is built around followership. I follow Jesus Christ, and often as not, I have to follow Him like a blind woman, hanging onto a rope. He teaches me this lesson. He taught it to me when I was a legislator. He taught it to me when I was raising my kids. Now He has to teach it to me all over again.

Writer’s block, which I’ve had a bit, is nothing more than an internal editor trying to run the show out of pace with the work. Putting the work in His hands does away with that.

The anxieties I’ve felt over Mama are just another dish of the same stuff.

It’s a trick, using all my existing skills and minting new ones to help her, and at the same time, leaving everything in Jesus’ hands. It’s even more of of a trick, minting entirely new skills to live a writer’s life and giving that work, like all the others, to Him entire.

On the surface, it sounds a bit like running a race while sitting in place; an unsolvable conundrum. But it’s not. Here’s what I learned as a legislator, a work that is nothing but unsolvable conundrums heaped on one another.

Get yourself prayed up, then go out there and fight with all you’ve got. Trust that He will be there and He will take care of you. It’s a matter of stepping out on the ice, ever single day.

It also works. If you pray and you trust and you just do your best In Him, the ice holds. You never fall through. And He will guard you in your ways.

Now, I re-learning that same way of living, only in a different manner. I’m not the saint who just does these things. I have to re-learn in every new situation how to work and trust, how to be the child of God that I am.

The key to all this is prayer, and the mass and Scripture. My way of getting through the legislature was simple. I prayed the Rosary every day. Read through the Bible every 15 months or so, and went to mass as often as I could. This held me together when I was a legislator and it is where I go now that I’m a caregiver/writer. Different problems: Same God.

Writing is the same as every gift that God gives. It is a gift, wrapped in a challenge, and it makes me a gift to others.

I think that is the meaning of vocation. Vocation is God, making us a gift to others.

God has gifted me with changing vocations as my life’s seasons change. He has given me every gift imaginable; life, love, health, family, home and work. But the greatest gift of all is that He has given me Himself. He gave me the great gift of His presence, His love, His Spirit, walking through life with me.

Every time God gives me a new task, which I think of as my vocation for my present season, it is a challenge. It is a gift with thorns, a velvet cross wrapped in eternal love.

I have not missed the legislature for one moment. The reason is probably because my life has been so full, the work in front of me so immediate, that my cup runneth over with wine that is both bitter and sweet.

I am seeing Mama home, seeing my young adult children into their lives (a parent’s work is never done) loving my wonderful husband and writing, writing, writing.

Eternity work. It’s all eternity work.

I had envisioned a much more leisurely time of it. I was going to write, travel, drink pina coladas and take up new hobbies. I planned on losing weight, getting in shape, joining the local camera club, taking up golf, maybe buying a horse, going on great trips and living the good ‘ole life.

Instead, I’m changing Mama’s diapers. I’m taking care of her because she’s my new baby. I’m also involved in my kid’s lives (their choice) in fruitful, loving and anxiety-making ways that I never anticipated.

It turns out that my grown kids want me around. They want to be with me, talk to me, share their joys and pains with me on a daily basis.

It’s all a gift, and a challenge. God has gifted me with so much that I’m worn out from it.

It’s been a year since I cast my last legislative vote. I had all sorts of things planned for my next life. But, as usual God had other plans. Harder plans. More important plans.

A dear friend of mine tells me that if you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him your plans.

I gave up planning a long time ago, because I learned that it does no good. Life has its own immediacies. Then, when I left the legislature, I forgot that lesson and made a caboodle of sweet and soft plans, marshmallow pillows all of them, for my glorious life of unending vacationing.

Silly me.

 

 

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We Need Caregiving for Caregivers of Parents with Dementia

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

A few days ago, I had someone praise me for my “witness.”

This person was referring to the fact that my family and I are taking care of my elderly mother. I wanted to interrupt this person and tell them the truth of it, which is that my “witness” is shot full of holes.

Caregiving for an elderly person with dementia can seem like a piece of cake early on in the process. But as it progresses, and more of their brain switches off, it becomes increasingly fraught.

On top of that, I keep getting sick. Not, terrible sick, but bad enough to suck all the life out of me and make every day feel like a march through knee deep mud. I’ve had two colds in two months. Colds aren’t much of anything, unless you’ve got asthma. But put a cold together with asthma and no sleep and all the rest of my life right now and you’ve got a recipe for lungs that just won’t work.

That’s what happened in March. I somehow did not get pneumonia, which the doc assured me was what happened to most folks. But I did get such a bad case of on-going, never-stop asthma that, as he told me, “Your lungs aren’t moving air.”  Enter the miracle of antibiotics and steroids, and I got all healed up and back in the race again.

Then, along came another cold. It sent Mama to the er last week. Now it’s gone down into my lungs and formed an alliance with the asthma. I’m probably going to have to do the antibiotics/steroids all over again.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to understand that my “witness” is a weak and faulty thing. When I’m lying on the sofa, coughing and hacking, I’m not exactly doing a good job as a caregiver. Mama, who can no longer follow a book or a plot on tv, and so is no longer amused by either books or tv, demands constant amusement.

When I’m sick, I can’t do this. Instead of working with her to keep her wound up and moving, I end up letting her sit on the sofa like a zombie, or I send her to her room where she falls asleep. That’s not good care of someone with dementia. But it’s all I can do when I’m sick.

I’ve never resented the spring storms the way I have this year. They set off my arthritis, and somehow or other the stress with Mama seems to make that worse. Plus, I feel the weight of taking care of her in a storm in a way I never felt the weight of taking care of the kids when they were little.

Compared to her, they were ez pz. When they were very small, I just picked them up and did what needed doing. When they were full-on kids, they did what I told them in difficult situations without argument.

But Mama is a never-comprehending rubics cube. She trusts me and will do what I ask of her. But if I’m not there, she fights whoever is trying to help her. That adds a dash of salsa to the storms that, for some reason, seems too much.

That’s what I’m dealing with right now: Too much. It’s all too much. And I’m not sure why.

I think I’ve solved the doctor thing. I simply went on a doctor hunt, and it turned out that I landed on the right square early on in the search. The doc and the staff at the er last week were kind, and they understood my situation almost without my telling them. That was a blessing.

Everything is do-able. Today.

That’s the only promise a caregiver for someone with dementia has: Today. Or, maybe not even today. It may end up that all you know is that things are going good right now. In an hour, it can change, and you are dealing with a full-on hallucination or making a fast trip to the er.

But for today, for this minute, I have loads of help from my kids, and Adult Day Care, and I have prescriptions that seem to be working with Mama and my only problem is that I Do. Not. Want. to go to the doc myself.

I would rather eat dirt than go spend another $160 at an urgent care place to get a script for antibiotics and steroids. But I know that primary care docs with their $20 copay take about 3 weeks to see you, and this isn’t worthy of an er (which is much more miserable than going to an urgent care facility, anyway) so, I have to do the $160 do to get a couple of scripts that, to be honest, I could write myself.

See how I whine? See how negative I’ve become?

That’s what I’m talking about when I say my “witness” is less than shiny bright and pretty.

In truth, Mama’s dementia is doing at least as bad a job on me as it is on her and I can’t figure out why. I hit some sort of wall when she stopped sleeping at night. I know part of that wall was simple exhaustion.

One of the two hardest nights of her dementia so far was last month, when I was sick and she would not stay in bed. I felt so lousy, and she was up and roaming and had to be managed all night long. Before these new meds, she argued with me and refused to go back to bed and had hallucinations that terrified her and made her unmanageable.

That night was about 30 years long, and the next day, I was so sick I had to get medical help for myself.

Then, when we put her in the in-patient diagnostic and she just slept through the night and didn’t do any of this for them so they could help us with it, I hit some sort of despair point. I cried for days and couldn’t stop crying. We finally managed to get a script that actually does help, that not only lets her sleep at night but clears the hallucinations.

Things should be all better now. In fact, they were looking up, then we got this blamed cold. The high wire act of dementia care is such that something as simple as a cold can cause everyone to fall off and into the net. That’s what’s happened to me.

The thing I hang onto is something a man whose name I never learned told me years ago. I taught a class at Youth With a Mission in Hawaii a few years back. It was a glorious experience, spending an entire week in that beautiful Christian environment. Everyone I talked to was a spirit-filled, all-in Christian who wanted to change the world for Christ.

One evening, I was sitting out, watching the sunset, when a man with a baby joined me. We got to talking and he told me the story of how he came to adopt this baby. Long story short, the baby had no one, and he was reluctant to take on raising a child at his advanced age. But when he and his wife did adopt the baby, the child blessed their lives with love and wonder as only a baby can.

“God only wants to bless you,” he told me.

I keep thinking of that comment when things are difficult with Mama. “God only wants to bless you.”

I believe that, and I know it’s true of me and my situation right now. Mama has been a blessing to me all my life. Seeing her home is not a punishment. It’s a gift. A blessing.

That thought is what dries my tears and pulls me back out of despair. I write these blog posts as unsparingly as I can because I think that as a society we need to face up to the fact that we not only abandon our elderly, we abandon their care givers.

Care for people who have dementia is a act of life and love. It is pro life for real. Euthanasia, which is being pushed as an “answer” to dementia and a “relief’ for caregivers, is satanic. It is from the blackest pit of hell.

What we need to do as a society is take off our blinders and help people who are caring for their family members with dementia. We need something like the Rain Teams that Christians once formed to help people with AIDs, only for families who are caring for loved ones with dementia.

Care of the care-giver is a forgotten piece of the equation of caring for our elderly. I can tell you that as the dementia gets worse the caregiver begins to need love and support every bit as much as the person they are caring for.

My “witness,” such as it is, is a call for us to do better. It is not a “witness” of my heroism and perfection. It is, rather, a witness of my weakness and failures. I am not a cheerfully self-sacrificing saint. I am everyman and everywoman, just muddling through and hanging on and falling flat and getting back up.

I do not fall into raptures of grace when I am dog tired and at my wit’s end. I sit down and cry. I am not always reasonable. I do not always do the right thing.

I am you. And me. And every one of us.

That, and not some idea of perfection, is my witness. It is why I can say without equivocation that caregivers of elderly parents with dementia need help. They need love. They need comforting and support.

The Lord only wants to bless us. And the first blessing comes from His command that we “Love one another.”

All His blessings are blessings of love and life. Seeing Mama home is a blessing of love and life. If we rise to this challenge that I am making and will continue to make, and help caregivers of people with dementia, we will be blessing ourselves and one another with love and life.

I write about Mama with as much honesty and raw reality as I can. The reason is that I am issuing a call. I am calling Christians to formulate means to help caregivers of people with dementia in the simple, human ways that they need help. Put life and love back in their days of chaos. God wants to use them to bless you.

All God ever wants to do is bless each and every one of us. And the first and only true blessing is love.

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When It Comes to Caring for Your Parent with Dementia, You are Alone.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Sohel Parvez Haque https://www.flickr.com/photos/sohelparvezhaque/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Sohel Parvez Haque https://www.flickr.com/photos/sohelparvezhaque/

Before I do anything, I want to thank Public Catholic’s readers for their caring and kind suggestions and ideas about my problems with my mother’s dementia. I am in the process of following up on several of them.

You folks are the best.

Next, I want to apologize for going dead silent on you the past couple of days. My personal situation drug me down too far to write. But I’ll be back. I just needed time to deal with my own emotions.

I had a big tubful of hope when I put Mama in the hospital for an in-patient diagnostic. I thought that they would see the problem and come up with something to help my mother — and me — sleep through the night. The quickie convo with the doc Monday dashed those hopes to the ground. Help ain’t coming.

I’ve spent the past few days living in dry-as-dust land. My heart, my head, were full of dust. Maybe the reason I was so dusty is that I cried so much; tears of anger, tears of despair, tears of grief. I prayed and prayed. Then, I went through the angry phase, and again, I prayed and prayed.

Now, to use a phrase from my horsey days, I’m at the point where I can sit down in the saddle and ride. Sometimes, to paraphrase Robert Frost, the only way out is through.

Here’s a quick take on my feelings right now about what people face when they are trying to care for their parents.

First, we do not get any information from our docs. By that I mean that the only things I’ve learned about Mama’s medical situation have come from reading on the internet and attempting to diagnose her myself. Here’s a list of the information I’ve gotten about dementia, what to expect and how to handle it from our medical practitioners:

 

 

Did you hear the crickets chirping????

Now, here’s a list of the medical help and advice I’ve gotten about dealing with Mama’s many symptoms, including hallucinations, night terrors, etc:

 

 

Again, did you hear the crickets????

We once had a family doc who took a history, listened, and explained. This enabled her to treat Mama appropriately, and allowed us to take care of her at home. I had no idea at the time that this level of care was totally unique. When she retired, I began going from one doctor to another, trying to find someone who would replicate this level of care.

I’ve read a lot literature about dementia that comes out with this statement: You are not alone.

This is untrue. People who are trying to care for their parents with dementia are completely, absolutely alone. Unless they have a lot of money — and I mean a lot of money — the solutions that are offered to them are to (1) Warehouse their elderly parents in a medicaid nursing home where they will be left in bed all day and ignored, or, (2) Euthanize them.

This last is a real annoyance to me. Every time I write about my mother, some dirt bag tries to leave a comment advocating euthanasia. Every. Single. Time. The effect this has on me is to harden me toward people who advocate euthanasia. It also illustrates just how low we’ve fallen as a society.

The solution to this problem is not to warehouse people with dementia in sub-standard nursing homes with inadequate staff and a don’t-care attitude. I will also add, because it appears that I have to, that murdering them is also not a solution.

Euthanasia, death with dignity and all the rest of that rot are just nice names for murder.

If we spent a fraction of the effort advocating for help for people who are caring for their elderly parents with dementia that we spend on trying to pass laws to kill our elderly, we could solve the problem. Much, in fact most, of the problem lies with the medical profession.

I’m not sure when it happened since I’m healthy enough not to need much medical care, but we’ve arrived at the era of match-the-database-to-the-lab-results medicine. It seems that docs today don’t diagnose, they collate. The patient is totally secondary in their considerations.

Here’s an example from my past dealings with medical professionals. My husband and I took a weekend trip to Dallas a couple of years ago. I left Mama with the kids. She got sick and the kids took her to the er. The er doc ran a lot of expensive tests, including a cat-scan, said there was nothing wrong with her and sent her home.

I got a call in Dallas from that good ‘ole family doc — the one who took histories and listened to her patients — telling me that Mama had left a confused message with her answering service. I headed home to find Mama in desperate straits.

I took one look at her and knew what was wrong: She was dehydrated.

Me, with my master’s in business, did a better job of diagnosing than the doc in the er with his medical degree and all his tests. Why? I did something he evidently never considered. I looked at her.

This particular episode was the beginning of Mama’s won’t-drink-water spell. It was a little slice of hell, getting water into her.  We had to work with her and work with her to get her to drink. Then, for reasons unknown, she started drinking again and we haven’t had that problem since.

She went through a similar period where she wouldn’t eat. We got her though that one, too.

Now, it’s night terrors, hallucinations and what I gather from reading on the internet is called “sundowning.”

I called a lot of docs this week, including several neurologists. It turns out that neurologists won’t see you unless you’re referred by another doc. One neurologist’s appointment maker told me that princess doctor wants all her patients to have an MRI and about a gazillion other expensive tests already done and in the chart when she meets them.

Think about that. This is many thousands of dollars worth of tests that she’s demanding without so much as knowing the patient’s name, sex, age, symptoms or anything about them. If that isn’t trying to diagnose by test, I don’t know what you’d call it.

What these folks don’t see is that medicine is more than collating test results with a database of illnesses. A computer can do that. In fact, can do that. I have no medical training, but I’m plenty smart enough to collate databases. Medicine involves a serious interaction between doctor and patient that these docs have evidently been trained to avoid.

Without a full history and an exam that includes listening, not just to what the patient says but how they say it, without an application of actual clinical knowledge and skills that come from observing, listening to and treating real live people, medicine just doesn’t work.

If docs won’t believe what their patients tell them, then treatment is reduced to what can be replicated in lab tests or in front of the doc. If you have gastroenteritis, do you have to throw up in front of the doc to get something for nausea and vomiting? That’s where we’re heading. In fact, dementia patients and their caregivers are already there.

The danger of relying on tests alone is multifarious. First, as in the case of my mother’s dehydration, the doc may not order the right test. Second, without a history and an exam, the doc may not know how to interpret the test even if he or she accidentally orders the right one. Third, not everything shows up on a lab test. Fourth, even if the doc gets the right result — which is somewhat akin to throwing darts at a wall and hitting a bull’s eye, the patient is out of the loop. With long-term illnesses, the patient must be in the loop to get a good result.

Database collation medicine, or paint by numbers medicine, works very well most of the time. There are reasons for this. First, with most ailments people eventually get well on their own, even if the doc misses the diagnosis entirely. Second, the majority of aliments that people show up at their doc’s office with can be treated with a broad spectrum antibiotic and maybe something for discomfort.

In other words, most of the time, the doc doesn’t have to know what’s wrong with the patient. They can claim a victory just by prescribing a broad spectrum antibiotic and relying on the inherent resilience of well-fed, comfortably-housed Americans.

If things go past that 1, 2, 3 doh-ray-me level of medicine, they refer to specialists who provide a second layer of paint-by-numbers medicine.

The trouble in all this lies in the fact that when a patient gets really sick with something that requires a bit of actual medical practice, today’s docs appear to be utterly lost. They have a few buttons they push, labs they order and standard things they do. When it gets past that, they’re not much more use, and not more personal, than the internet.

What I’m trying to say is that if you get something really weird, you’re going to have to diagnose yourself. If you get something that’s not at all weird, that’s expected even, but that is complex, like, say, dementia, you’re going to have to treat yourself.

I’ve spent this week being down in the dumps for one simple reason: I was coming to the realization that my family and I are on our own with my Mama. We’re going to have to figure this out and provide the care that gets her through this, and we are going to have to do it ourselves.

Because the sloganeering claptrap out there is a lie. When it comes to taking care of your parent with dementia you really are alone.

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I Need a Doctor Who Will Listen to Me

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Sohel Parvez Haque https://www.flickr.com/photos/sohelparvezhaque/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Sohel Parvez Haque https://www.flickr.com/photos/sohelparvezhaque/

Is there a doctor anywhere on this planet who will listen to dementia patient’s families?

My long-time family doc retired a couple of years ago, and that appears to have been the end of having a doctor who would listen to what I’m telling him or her, believe what I’m saying and diagnose and treat based on that. What I’m experiencing is docs who complete the chart and ignore the patient. Worse for me and my dementia-bound mother, they totally ignore the patient’s family.

I have power of attorney, so it’s not a legal issue. They. Just. Won’t. Listen.

Many times, I can’t even get them to look at me. Other times, I can’t get face time or even phone time at all. I’ve been begging docs for help, and I mean begging docs for help with a single problem of Mama’s dementia that is killing me and the whole family and will ultimately force us to put her in a nursing home, and I can not get them to listen to me or believe what I’m telling them. As for as getting actual help, forget that. Mama and I are the invisible people, overshadowed and totally negated by the almighty Chart.

Here’s the problem: Mama will not sleep. She goes down for about 3 hours of zzzzzzs, and then she’s up, rocking and rolling all night long. She roams the house, raids the fridge and tries repeatedly to make jail breaks by leaving the house to go wander the streets. She gets confused and does not know who I am or who she is or where she is.

She gets dressed at midnight, 2 am, 3 am, 4 am, etc, and tries to go to her “job” (Adult Day Care.) She’s taken to stripping off all her clothes and trying to leave the house naked. A couple of weeks ago, she started hallucinating that we were trying to kill her. She also hallucinates that someone has told her things, including that someone is going to kill her, that someone is stealing her things, etc, etc.

What this means is that I have to be up with her all night long. Let me repeat this: I have to be up with her all night long. The exhaustion is eating through me like acid.

And I can not get a doc who will prescribe a sleeping pill for Mama. I mean, I Can. Not. Do. It.

I put her in an in-patient diagnostic center for dementia patients. The doc there was supposed to be the best. Yesterday, the doc called me on the phone (first time I’d heard from her, we’ve never met, exactly zero face time) and jumped on me, asking why I had put Mama in the hospital. You know, why I’m such a mean bad totally unloving daughter.

It seems that Mama has supposedly been sleeping through the night in their lock-up ward.

The doc’s main purpose in the call was to announce that she was sending Mama home in exactly the same condition as I admitted her; no help whatsoever. I felt like asking her to come stay with us for a few nights and see what she thinks. What I did instead, was try to explain what was happening in this first-ever discussion with the almighty doc.

I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. This doc doesn’t listen, big time. In fact, she’s not so big on letting anybody else talk at all. Finally, she relented and said they’d keep Mama a few more days. I hung up, realizing that I may not have a choice. I may be forced by these docs who won’t listen, who fill out the chart, read the test results and never look at or listen to the patient, to put her in a nursing home.

I can not go on staying up 24/7 around the clock, just to keep her from burning the house down and dealing with her night terrors. The irony here is that I know that if I am forced to put her in a nursing home, these same docs will happily prescribe sleeping pills for the nursing home. In fact, they’ll turn her into a zombie at the behest of the nursing home.

The operative medical thinking here seems to be that if a patient or, in the case of dementia, a patient’s family, is stupid enough to go to them for medical care, then they must be total idiots, and, of course, nobody listens to total idiots.

This isn’t my usual kind of post. It is a full-on rant. I’ve spent much of the last 24 hours crying about all this because crying seems to be the only thing left that I can do.

This post is a rant. I can’t call it a way of relieving my feelings because nothing seems to relieve my feelings about this. I am going to pull myself together here in a minute and call the people at the Oklahoma State Medical Association and see if they know of doctors who practice medicine instead of just filling out the chart and gatekeep.

If that doesn’t get me help, I’m going through the phone book, looking for a doc who treats patients.

I don’t need a genius doc. I just need a doc who will stop completing the chart, get their nose out of the test results and listen, then treat.

I begin to despair. Maybe such critters are extinct.

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Mama

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

We had a family discussion last night. The upshot was that the time has come to consider putting Mama in a nursing home.

That’s what the family members I love told me. Their verdict was simple: You will kill yourself, taking care of her.

I, being Ms Reasonable, let them talk me down. I insisted on a delay, but agreed that, by the end of summer, I would find a place for her.

Then, last night, I sat up and googled nursing homes. I read the laws that I helped write, perused the regs that came from them. I plowed through the patient responses and the details of the inspections of these places.

There is a good place just around the corner from my house. It specializes in caring for people with dementia. It has a great patient-staff ratio. There are only four patients in each unit and a staff of 8 to care for them. The people there are happy.

And I could go get her and take her out every day. We could bring her home for dinner and keep her as part of the family.

I would put her there in a heartbeat. She would be happy there, and that’s what matters.

But it costs over $80,000 a year, out of pocket. My pocket.

Mama’s grandfather lived to be 101. Her family is full of people who lived into their high nineties. I may have her for a long while yet. I don’t have the money to put her in this good place where she would be happy. I just can’t do it.

The Church runs a nursing home that everyone, including the residents, says is a good place. But it is, pardon my language, to hell and gone from where I live. I couldn’t go get her and take her out every day. Or, if I did — which I would — it would involve driving almost 40 miles each way, right across the heart of the most densely populated area in the state. A daily visit would take half a day. Every day.

There is no other place that I can afford that I would consider for my mama.

So, I decided I would call and get her a place in the Catholic nursing home and spend the rest of her life — which I hope is long — driving for half a day, every day.

Then, even as I made this decision, I undecided it. I thought of her fearful reaction, her heartbreak at being put in a strange environment. I thought of how far away from me this place is. I thought of her, of who she is.

And I undecided to make that call.

“If it kills me, taking care of her, then I guess it will kill me,” I said aloud to the empty room. Then I prayed and handed the whole thing over to God and went to bed.

My husband went to early mass Sunday. I stayed home with Mama. He came back with a big bag of donuts. She loves donuts.

She was eating what I think was her third of fourth donut while I sat at the table with her, listening to her prattle.

“Are you any relation to me?” she asked, and took another bite.

“I’m your daughter,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, and reached for another donut.

Her daughter. That’s what I am.

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America and Its Half Million Homeless Ghosts

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by David Poe https://www.flickr.com/photos/mockstar/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by David Poe https://www.flickr.com/photos/mockstar/

Foxes have dens, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. Jesus Christ

Sprinklergate, the story that the Cathedral of St Mary in San Francisco was using its sprinkler system to clear the cathedral steps of homeless people, is a symptom of a big-time problem.

That problem is that American cities are haunted by over a half million ghosts. These ghosts sleep on park benches, sidewalks and in shelters. They panhandle and go through dumpsters, searching for clothing, food, money, drugs.

These are not silent ghosts. They accost us as we walk to work, they wave signs begging for cash as we drive down the road. They take over the public libraries and, as St Mary’s has discovered, can block entrances to buildings with their vacant-eyed vigils.

The ghosts haunting American cities are the homeless. They are not in any way homogenous. Some of them are temporary down and outs. Others are mentally ill. Many are drug addicts and alcoholics. Others are panhandlers posing as homeless while they ply their trade.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by davejdoe https://www.flickr.com/photos/92414546@N04/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by davejdoe https://www.flickr.com/photos/92414546@N04/

Homelessness is the opposite of the American dream. It is the opposite of what, until a few decades ago, was the American self-image. I am old enough to remember a time when America did not have homeless people lying on its park benches, snoring in its libraries and blocking the entrances to its churches.

I was born in that era between the Great Depression with its hobos and today with our ubiquitous and ignored homeless.

America’s basic response to homelessness among so many of its citizens, including many children, has been to ignore them. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development issues a glossy report on the homeless every year. This report differentiates between types of homelessness. There are the homeless who stay with relatives, and are not, to my way of thinking, truly homeless at all.

Then there are those who sleep in shelters or whatnot. Finally, we get to the homeless that inspire us to such conflicting feelings of pity, indifference and annoyance, those who do not have shelter at all.

In the meantime, while we ignore the homeless, and refuse to even take a look at the government policies and social changes that made them homeless, we shift the burden for dealing with them onto whoever the homeless themselves chose to impose themselves upon.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Alex Barth https://www.flickr.com/photos/a-barth/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Alex Barth https://www.flickr.com/photos/a-barth/

Businesses, public buildings of all sorts, churches and other facilities can easily find themselves unable to perform their intended functions because of the homeless sleeping on the sidewalks at their entrance or sitting inside their buildings. Mothers won’t bring the kiddos to the library if the homeless take it over. Guests won’t check into hotels whose entrances are blocked or whose lobbies are filled with homeless people. Churches can’t hold services if the worshippers stay away rather than step over the homeless, sitting on the steps.

We ignore the homeless because we feel helpless to do anything decisive for them. We ignore them because we don’t truly understand what policies and practices of political and social corruption made them homeless in the first place. We ignore the homeless because they overwhelm us and baffle us and scare us.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by David Hood https://www.flickr.com/photos/131405116@N07/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by David Hood https://www.flickr.com/photos/131405116@N07/

Worse, we ignore them because if we acknowledged that many of our political and social ideas on both sides of the political spectrum have created this problem and allowed it to grow, it would require us to re-evaluate many of our simplistic viewpoints. We ignore the homeless because not ignoring the homeless would require us to change.

So, we dump them.

We dump them on the businesses and operators of public buildings. We dump the problem on the administrators of these businesses, public buildings and churches. Then, when they take any action to dislodge the homeless from camping out on their property and blocking access and use by those for whom it was intended, we excoriate these administrators for their heartlessness.

This public venting of moral outrage has nothing to do with compassion. It is just us, being our hypocritical selves about a problem we will not do anything to solve. We will not take a homeless person home and house them in our spare bedroom. We will not let them sleep on our porch. We will not change our politics to fit the realities of real life.

We will ignore them and what brung them.

They are not people to us. They are ghosts of what once was people like us. Somebody birthed them, taught them to write those signs they hoist and how to read the hours of operation on the signs in front of public buildings.

They were once part of the larger society.

But now they are ghosts.

And we ignore them.

And we denounce those on whom we dump them for being overwhelmed by them.

And we will not change.

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Pope Francis: Discarding the Elderly is Ugly and It is a Sin

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by thierry ehrmann https://www.flickr.com/photos/home_of_chaos/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by thierry ehrmann https://www.flickr.com/photos/home_of_chaos/

This is a powerful message for our Pope on the care of the elderly.

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Watching Football with My Four-Year-Old

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Craig Sunter http://youtu.be/PnGIakNY7lk

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Craig Sunter http://youtu.be/PnGIakNY7lk

There was a time when I let my babies “style” my hair while I read or watched tv.

Now, I just give them money. :-)

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