Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Is it all that bad if you can laugh about it? by KM Rockwood

Finding the humor in difficult situations and writing about it is one of my coping mechanisms.

As I get older and more physically decrepit, I expend huge amounts of time and energy on health care for both my husband, Steve, and myself. When even simple projects turn into complicated ventures, sometimes the best thing to do is laugh.

The other day I needed a blood test. I have several options, any one of which should work with few problems.

Since we are both getting on in years, as they say, and are not in the best of health, as they also say, we have moved to a continuum-of-care retirement community.

The community has a lab which will draw blood, test it and send the results to the clinic. Unfortunately, it is only open from eight to ten in the mornings.

I got up in plenty of time and got ready. Then, since Steve has dementia and I don’t leave him alone, I got him up and dressed. I went to get his breakfast ready. By the time it was on the table and I went to see what was holding him up, he had gotten undressed and gone back to bed. He was sound asleep again. Really, it was only a few minutes.

I got him up and redressed. I accompanied him to the breakfast table. He was, as usual, cooperative if slow.

By the time he’d finished breakfast, the opportunity to get the test done at the nearby lab had passed. Not a big deal. I often used a lab associated with the clinic that needed the test. It’s not that far a drive, and once we are in the car, does it really matter if we drive for a few minutes or half an hour?

It’s winter, so I got his warm jacket and hat. It’s tough to get his fingers into gloves, so he has mittens. We managed to get everything on him. I went to get my jacket and put it on. When I went to take his arm, I realized he had taken off the hat and mittens, and unzipped the jacket.

I perched the hat on his head and slipped the mittens on again. As I rezipped the jacket, he said he had to use the bathroom. Off with the jacket, hat and mittens. He needs assistance, so I took off my jacket to help him.

With that taken care of, we handled the jacket, hat and mittens routine again.

I turned around for a few seconds to grab my jacket. When it was on, I took him firmly by the arm and escorted him out the door of our apartment and down the hallway.

It was only as we were actually going out the door to the parking lot that I realized he no longer had the mittens. Back to get them again.

Getting Steve in and out of the car can be a problem, though. He’s willing enough, but actually putting both feet into the car and his rear in the seat, the seatbelt buckled and the door closed without slamming any body parts can be tricky.

I got into the driver’s seat, rebuckled the seat belt he’d undone, and took off.

For some reason I forgot to get his stuffed dog, Mr. Barkley, from the back seat of the car. I give it to him to hold so that he doesn’t reach for other things, like the gear shift. We were on a busy street with no where to pull over. I glanced at him sideways, but he was not even trying to open the glove compartment. Thank goodness.

When we reached an area where I could pull over, I stopped to get the stuffed dog. That was when I realized that I had rebuckled the seat belt with both his hands trapped underneath it. He didn’t seem to mind, and we were almost there, so I just left it.

The parking lot for the lab was crowded. That was unusual. Steve sometimes asks to stay in the car (I have some magazines for him to look at) and one of the reasons I like this lab is that it has a row of handicapped parking spaces right next to it, visible from the waiting room. I can stand next to the window and keep an eye on him except for the maybe three minutes it takes to actually draw the blood. If Steve were to decide to get out of the car—something he has never done—it would take a lot longer for him to figure out how to open the door, undo his seatbelt, and actually get his feet out.

Unfortunately, there were no parking spaces there. I parked as near as I could and unloaded both of us from the car.

The automatic door didn’t work. The door is very heavy, and I had difficulty getting it open and holding it so Steve could come in with me.

Turns out the electricity at the lab was out, so of course the door didn’t open automatically. However, it also meant the computers were down, so the staff couldn’t access the records. And the only lights were the emergency ones, not bright enough for anyone to draw blood. Certainly not bright enough for me to want anyone to try.

They suggested two alternative sites nearby.

I got Steve back into the car. We went to lab at the hospital itself. As the receptionist had told me, the hospital had a full emergency backup for its electrical system; even if the power had gone out, they would be up and running in scant seconds.

No available parking spaces at all. A sign directed us to a multi-level parking garage. It was a good hike away across a wind-swept parking lot. I knew from experience that the lab itself was on another level and way down a corridor.

Steve, now clutching Mr. Barkley, would have a difficult time navigating it. He was getting restless.

I promised him we could get some “real” food (his word) for lunch instead of the excellent, nutritious lunch waiting for us back at the retirement community, which, by this point, we would miss anyhow. Due to the pandemic, it would have to be drive-through. I offered him a few choices. He chose Burger King.

We got to the other lab. I got out and ran in to make sure they had power before I got him out of the car.

They did. I went back and helped Steve out. He wanted to bring Mr. Barkley. No problem that I could see. So what if the other people in the waiting room thought it was strange?

I brought a magazine in for him, and got him and Mr. Barkley settled in the lab’s waiting room, which fortunately was almost empty.

When I brought my order to the desk, the receptionist took it and frowned. “We’re out of the tubes we need for that test,” she said. “We’re waiting for some to be delivered right now.”

At this point, I could wait a little while. “When do you expect them?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I really don’t know. We thought we’d get some last Wednesday, but they never showed up.”

In the brief minutes I had been facing the desk, Steve had managed to take off his jacket, hat and mittens. Fortunately he had stopped removing clothing at that point.

I got them back on him and we headed back out to the car. He didn’t want to put the magazine or Mr. Barkley down long enough to get into the car, but we finally managed it.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, he asked, “Can we get a hamburger for Mr. Barkley, too?”

I decided a blood test was not in my future for today.









  1. You are such a saint! Blood draws can definitely wait. New industry: at home blood draws: Blood Dash...Phlebotomy Dash...Phlebedash?

  2. Great idea!

    Or even drive-throughs, where you stick your arm out a car window and they draw the blood.

  3. Hugs to you, Steve, and Mr. Barkey. And yes, why don't we have drive-by blood draws. It makes perfect sense!

  4. Drive by labs. Pure genius. Kathleen, take it a day at a time. My dad had Alzheimers and refused to wear his gorgeous red Christmas sweater because people would think he was a Communist.

  5. Kathleen, sure thinking about you and all the difficulties. Glad to hear Steve has Mr Barkley and you.

  6. Kait, I think the coronavirus has made us rethink how medical procedures can be conducted. I hope we will continue to more convenient options.

    Margaret, Steve stopped wearing his red Phillies baseball cap (substituted a green Eagles cap; he grew up in Philadelphia) because he didn't want people to think it was a MAGA cap.

    Thanks, Susan. Mr. Barkley joins Maisy, a mechanical cat (who stays in the house.)

  7. I loved this piece. I could picture every detail in my head, like an old Carol Burnett skit. It brought back memories of when my mother-in-law cared for her husband 24/7 for ten years in much the same way you've described. Any time we turned our backs on him, you never knew what he'd get into next. Sometimes we'd have the same conversation several times in a row because he couldn't remember five minutes earlier.

    As trying as those times were, I was in constant awe of how much love and care she showed him even when it must have been very frustrating. What a beautiful example of those wedding vows, "In good times and in bad." Sending you a virtual hug.
    PS. I love the drive-thru blood draw idea!

  8. I vote for the drive through blood draw!
    Kathleen, my heart goes out to you. You are so right, humor gets us through

  9. No question that your hands are full -- but that you have found the silver lining - humor.

  10. I can't imagine, Kathleen. I laughed reading it, but I know you have to be aware of him every minute. When do you have time for yourself? Do you get assistance in the new residence? I sure hope so!

  11. Kelly, we do what we need to for those we love.

    Shari, we should all support the drive-through blood tests!

    Debra, the humor's there. We just have to recognize and appreciate it.

    E.B., I can't pretend my writing hasn't suffered greatly, as much for an inability to concentrate on thinking about it as for lack of time. But we all have to set our priorities.

  12. Wow, you are amazing, Kathleen. I agree with the drive-through blood draw option. I've definitely seen mobile blood bank units at least...

    Anyway, take care of yourself. And I think you deserve an extra hamburger as well!

  13. Thanks, Jennifer.

    When Mr. Barkley doesn't eat his hamburger, maybe I will get that one too!