Last week, my 82-year-old, widowed mother called from her home more than 3,000 miles away saying she did not feel well. She was coughing so hard that I could hardly understand a word she was saying. She is typically not a complainer and rarely gets sick. “Have you seen a doctor?” I asked. “Yes, I went to the clinic up the street, I wasn’t feeling well enough to go to my doctor who is half an hour away. He put me on antibiotics and cortisone.” With my nursing background, I thought he should have taken a chest x-ray, but like so many kids in my situation, managing a senior’s health care across the country has its challenges, especially if you are an only child like myself. I think we have to trust and believe that things are okay until things seem tenuous, and if they do, we need to reach out for others to help or to hop on a plane cross-country. The entire scenario is even more challenging if you have an independent mother like mine, who often tells me that something was wrong only after-the-fact.
Like many in similar situations, I have battled with the idea of moving her closer to me so that I can manage her care, but the idea of taking her out of her normal routine has been the largest deterrent. Her routine includes daily visits to see her horse, which she stopped riding a few years ago afte a horse accident landed her in the ICU with a concussion. After her horse accident, we had the talk most adult children should have with their parents, presenting the “what if,” scenario. She did tell me that if she was unable to look after herself, she would prefer a caretaker in her own home over being placed in a nursing facility. I promised to honor her request. I realize that there are and will continue to be many more decisions which pop up before then, such as: Is she getting checkups? Does she have any underlying diseases going unnoticed? Is she a safe driver? Is she eating well? Who will find her if she falls or collapses? Who do I call in an emergency?