In 2006 we moved from Dustbowl Ally Texas into Tornado Ally, Arkansas. We bought a nice place out in the country.
Last night was the first time we've ever gotten spooked to the point that we gathered up everyone's wallet, car keys, cell phones and bagged them into a cooler in our bomb shelter. We moved our 'hot documents' (tax papers for this year, wills, POA's, medicines into a safe box and put them in the bomb shelter as well. First in their container file box, then put into a Flex Force garbage bag.
We call this the 'bomb' shelter. It's an interior closet that runs about a third of the width of the house. Our bombshelter is not bomb proof but does have pumbing from the master bath and laundry room on two adjacent walls and no windows.
It is not tornado proof. The only access to this closet is from an interior door in the garage.
So when the news came on last night at 9:30 PM we started gradually 'getting ready.'
I felt foolish, but no less foolish than I felt once upon a time after 9-11 trying to replace my driver's license I'd lost without a secondary picture ID to prove who I was.
By 10:00 PM we'd put on our tennis shoes.
By 10:15 PM the tornado was reported on the news to be at East Main Street and over Dogwood Lane.
THAT was close enough to stop watching the TV and to notice the neighborhood menly men were out running with their flashlights.
They also had on their emergency radios blasting. I don't know what kind of 'thing' this is, but there comes a time when on the look out for tornados, that people stop watching the TV and step outside to see where the wall of the storm is in relation to their homes.
This is what we all did.
Lightening is the only way to see a front or funnel clouds in one at night. We were not disappointed.
The wind was moving the storm along at 45 MPH, so by the time we all realized it was break point, it was nearly already overhead, gone and headed on to the next town.
This weekend, we are taking care of some business. First off, today I'm getting a safe deposit box, to keep things I have I couldn't replace if a tornado exploded our home.
Then, we're getting a fire proof safe that bolts to the floor to keep the paperwork that would be a nightmare to replace. Our attorney's have copies of most of this paperwork, but given what I've gone through settling mom's estate, I completely believe that ORIGINALS of everything and copies are the best way to go.
Is our closet aka bomb shelter enough? No, it isn't. I kept trying to tell my 75 year old dad that if I gave him the signal, we needed to move quickly.
My dad informed me? " If anything happens, I'm just as safe sitting in this chair as I would be anywhere else."
This is true and untrue.
TRUE: If the right tornado hits your home, it' a goner. Doesn't matter if it's a brick home or a trailer home - the strength of these types of storms is incredible.
Untrue: My dad, is a stroke victim. The entire right side of his body is without tactile feeling. At times he cuts himself and doesn't realize it until he looks down and sees blood on his clothes. And these aren't cuts - they are skin scrapes and tears he might get from bumping into a door jamb.
There are times he's been bleeding when I'm the first one to notice it - sometimes hours after the injury.
Because this sounds negligent - like I'm not a good caregiver - I'll explain.
Just a month ago, dad went out to the mailbox to get the morning paper. He came inside and sat down at the table with his coffee to read the funnies and work his puzzles.
I took him his breakfast at around 11:00 AM. (because this sounds negligent I have to tell you he sleeps until 10:00 AM on most mornings. Unlike nursing homes, we don't crash everyone out of bed at 6:30 AM in the morning here for the sake of keeping a kitchen schedule.)
After he finished eating I went to the dining room to take his tray ( he likes his meals on a tray) and he lifted up his arm.
There on the table, and on his fleece jacket and on his pants were the remains of pooled blood.
So we get dad out of his jacket and roll up his shirt sleeves to find a 1/2 inch scrape - that would not have required more than gentle pressure and a swipe with a paper towel for most of us.
So, I'm trying to let dad know last night - that things might get hairy, or whirly, and to get him oriented to possible danger.
At the precise moment the local weather station puts out "Tornado located over East Main and moving along Dogwood"
That's the precise moment my dad goes outside to stand in the yard and smoke.
Lucky for us it was just high wind and rain and lightning.
I had a flash of memory of all the phone calls from my mom for the nine years after dad had his stroke.
"Your dad got out in the middle of the car wash for a smoke."
"Your dad went out on the porch during the hurricane to smoke."
"I got out to fill up the car with gas, and your dad got out and stood beside the pump to smoke."
Now, it seems to me that even crack heads and drunks don't do things likes this during tornados.
Perhaps their addictions have limits. Or maybe their focus is having babies and driving on the highways.
But I think that there is some other type of brain malfunction that happens to smokers after they are impaired physically from disease process that led to the stroke.
Perhaps my dad is thinking:
"I survived a stroke. Nothing like a little tornado is going to hurt me."
The thing is? this is also the man who now wants to live on his own. In his own home.
He will not eat unless he's starving - which he doesn't recognize until he's not eaten for 17 hours or so.
Sometimes I test him. I'll serve dinner at 7:00 PM at night, and the next day, I wait him out to see how long he will go without eating.
I do this, because he wants to live alone and I want to see if he would actually get up and eat. The answer is no.
When I leave him to his own for food, after 17 hours of not eating, he'll get up and grab peanut butter or crackers. Or cereal. Or M & M's. He will not heat anything up except for coffee water.
He will not open his own mail, but he will bring it to me and perch and pester me until I've gone through all of the junk mail piece by piece explaining to him what it is and if we need it or not.
If I don't get rid of the mail immediately, he will restack it all and start plundering through it again pestering me about it.
So, I have adjusted by making sure to rip to pieces the mail as I go through it. He seems to get that.
Now, on care giver responsibility, this is the same father I took to the doctor's office two months ago in hopes the doctor would tell him he's beyond driving.
The doctor did his twenty questions, performed a physical and looked at me and said: "I can find nothing of consequence to disqualify your father from driving."
When I looked at my dad's doctor with that 'you've got to be kidding?' look, he said I could always have him retested by the DMV.
So, I have a father who is spunky enough to always know the date, and can put his mind to outfoxing a competency test 365 days per year on my hands, but the problem is - if he's not being pushed to defend his abilities, he isn't really competent. HIs days drift by and he doesn't engage.
A few months back he got determined to get himself a car of sorts. In order to protect him from shiesters, I took him shopping. I thought the car dealership would have a law against selling a car to someone like my dad and I asked the salesman about it.
He looked at me and asked, 'what do you mean?'
I told the salesman: "Ask him what kind of car you just sold him."
"Mr. Fleming, What kind of car did I just sell you?"
"I don't know, but it's a van, it's gold and I like it."
The salesman informed me that even blind people have the right to own cars. Touche'. But blind people don't buy them intending to drive them.
So, I thought the van in the driveway, with me driving him around in it would be enough.
Then, dad starts taking drives on me. He doesn't know this area that well, but it's rural which is a good thing. So, I mention to dad he might want to tell me when he's going out, because I might need him and might not know where to start looking.
He didn't say anything for a few days. Then? he pops up in agreement that he won't drive unless he tells me he's going somewhere.
So then one day, he says 'he's going for a drive.'
He invites me to ride with him. I'm polite but tell him I can't take the risk. I have a son to raise. But I offer to drive along behind him to 'check him out' to see how he's doing.
He actually does OK. I'm shocked. Our test drive for that day was for him to get to the Knights grocery store. He signals. He stops at redlights. He's a bit punchy on the gas. When we pull into the grocery store parking lot behind him, he gets out of the van. He's a bit shaken up. He hasn't driven in 'traffic' in over ten years now.
We run in and get something to throw on the grill for dinner. He insists on following ME home. He was tired.
A week later, he tells me he's running up to the grocery store to get some coffee and creamer. I ask if he wants me to lead him in or follow and he says he thinks he's got it. 45 minutes later, he returns home, exhausted but a bit perkier.
His minivan has a tag for the disabled. If you'd known the brawny kind of man my father was, you'd understand how this tag with the wheelchair on it might dig into his self esteem. My dad was better looking and had a better physique than Steve McQueen ever dreamed of having.
And so, I'm kind of stuck. His doctor says he's fine to drive. I say? not. But I'm not a doctor so what do I know.
Now, He wants to get his own little house here. His doctor says he's fine to do so - even though dad has no idea how to get his medications ordered, won't eat, can't use the phone to make a doctor's appointment and goes outside to smoke in a Tornado.
As a caregiver, I'm feeling the stress. I'm not going to whine about it becasue it could be worse. Dad could be in a wheel chair. He could be helpless. He could be incontinent. He could choke every time he swallows. He could be on oxygen. He could be mean.
To other caregivers, I have a cakewalk. I'm not going to complain.
But I do feel that dad is in his own tornado. I do feel our entire lives have been swirled up gradually into his slowly rotating cloud. And I know that I'm going to go through this no differently than any other caregiver.
The tornado is either going to hit or miss, it's going to be on a slow rotation and peter itself out, or it's going to touchdown and wreck everything in it's path.
Whatever it does from this point, it doesn't get better. It only picks up momentum in one form or another.
While some caregivers get tired physically from the wiping, feeding, watching, bathing - I'm on the mental side of tired. I worry about dad living alone. I worry about him driving and hurting others on the highway. I know, no matter how small of an accident he might ever get into?
Before it's all over, someone is going to look at me and ask me what kind of person I am to let him drive in the first place.
I know that while my dad is putzing along our roads here just fine, that he could not comprehend today's written driving exams. He would fail the written part.
But unless I set him up? As in get a policeman to stop my dad on the highway? my chances of getting my dad into the DMV to voluntairly take the test are non existent. This is why we need mandated driving tests for our elderly - especially after they've been stroke victims.
Not to pick on them, but to take this out of the hands of caregivers like me and doctors who's hands are tied. Other people with medical problems are eliminated from driving all the time and no one thinks a thing about it - in the FAIRNESS department. Brain injured and individuals with epilepsy come to my mind first as examples of people restricted from driving if it is medically warranted.
Stroke victims should be no different. If they check out? Well then all's good to go. And that's fair.
My mom could control him. I can not.
Back in 1999 I completed a masters in gerontology and specialized in long term care management.
I became a pseudo expert in the common sense of aging that someone turned into a social science. While the field can be broken down into a hundred technical parts which are reflexive and complicated on ethical and practical levels - there is no tried and true in any of it.
Every person writes their own path through aging on purpose or by neglect. Some theory applies, some never does, and no matter how certain outcomes can be predicted - there are as many exceptions to every rule, theory, practice as there are headstones in the cemetary.
A song comes to mind: "War, uh, what is it good for? uh, uh, Absloutely Nothin;"
That's about how I feel about my master's in gerontology about now.
And while the field is great at adapting health care for the masses, awareness and a sense of community it all comes down to the same thing.
Everyone involved get's their own tornado before it's over.
For my dad's sake, when his tornado hits? I hope he's enjoying a smoke at the time.