Helping the Folks in their “Golden” Years

by Debbie Harris – I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve made it to the grandma years and I haven’t experienced the lost of either of my parents yet. But there is a challenge that comes with the facts that they are in advanced years, each lives alone, and each has health issues. It does help that we all live in the same town.

Last year we got to celebrate the holidays a little differently. Dad and I spent Thanksgiving evening in the Emergency Room with spinal stenosis, bulging discs, and arthritis. They’re not a very festive bunch.?
Not to be topped, Mom was told by her family doctor to get over to the ER on December 21, where she was admitted for three days due to her body-buddies GI bleeding, excess blood thinner levels, and anemia. She looked green and bled red in tribute to the colors of the season. She was so excited to be at the hospital that her heart skipped some beats, which brought her a new angel with glad tidings, a cardiologist. She was released in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, which was great for my holiday cooking reviews. Anything I made would taste better than hospital food!

Part of the duties of accompanying my parents to their doctors’ appointments is the packet of forms each provider needs filled out, six to eight pages. Watch out for double sided pages. If you forget the back, they return you to your seat with the clipboard and pen and a warning to be sure all signatures and initials are in place. There are always LOTS of signatures. With every doctor’s procedure or new patient packet, I feel like the health care provider is closing escrow on my parent.

Neither parent’s eyesight is great, so I do the writing for them. Over time, I’ve learned some of the boxes to check for patient history and family history, but it can be awkward asking my parents questions about their health histories in the waiting room. Mom has a hearing aid and dad probably should too, so I try to address the questions into their “good” ears and/or maybe even face them while I’m asking so they can read my lips (I never say “No new taxes”). Still, I’m sure it was probably startling to others in the waiting room if they heard my hearing impaired-decibel question, asking my mother if she’s ever had an abortion. Talk about a HIPAA violation! But it is reassuring to know that my dad has avoided Lyme Disease.

I try to be as thorough as possible with the doctors’ forms, but I wonder if the health provider really needs all the information in the questionnaires in order to provide services to my parent. My father is 91 years old and is coming for physical therapy for back problems. Do you really need to know if he still has his appendix? My mother is 85 years old. Is it essential for her to remember when her last menstrual period was to see a cardiologist? What if she can’t remember?
In each patient information packet there are always diseases or conditions whose names we don’t recognize. We always say “no” to those, assessing that if we don’t know what it is, they must not have had it. Other questions that arise are: Why does the vision clinic print patient questionnaires in 10 point font? Why does the orthopedist only have patient exam rooms that are down the long hallway with a left turn and down another long hallway with a right turn? If you’re in a hurry, doctor, you’d better give a senior patient a head start! Bring bread crumbs to find your way out or ask for strategically placed cheese leading to the exit. Plan to leave on all fours, sniffing.

Whether you’re in your “golden years” or a helper to someone in their “golden years,” or not, Happy Father’s Day to all the dads!

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