‘Seeking assistance never occurred to me’

From our February 2016 issue

By Claudette Sandecki

A report released last September (2015) from B.C.’s senior advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, about the state of assisted home care took me back to six years ago when my husband was in the last months of his life struggling to breathe with asthma and COPD, and seizures doctors failed to diagnose despite tests.

Family visited us frequently, drove us to appointments, and fetched groceries for us; otherwise we managed on our own. Seeking home care or any other government-sponsored assistance never occurred to me until his final weeks when a friend suggested that I apply for at least a few hours of home care weekly.

Without reviewing my brief journal entries from those stressful days, I have no clear recollection of my efforts. I do, though, recall my consternation at the lengthy application and the long wait for a home assessment. None arrived in time.

I clearly recall my days (and nights) of relentless vigilance. Because of the seizures, which could drop him to the floor without warning, he needed to be guided from bed to bathroom to sofa to kitchen table.

Matched pound for pound, the best I could do if he collapsed was keep him from bashing his head on a corner of the piano or edge of the bathtub. A commode stationed near the sofa during the day, or in our bedroom at night, reduced his hourly treks to the bathroom.

Heavy lifting was required if he fell. Getting him back on his feet took three stages: first, to a low stool, then to a higher stool, and finally to a regular chair height. Breakfast preceded a bandage session, replacing the previous day’s bandages and treating fresh injuries. A stranger might have reported me to authorities for elder abuse.

A carpenter installed grab bars in the shower, and two protective bars across the basement door kept open to allow heat up from the wood stove. A barber visited our home to give him a haircut and a shave; a lab technician so he didn’t have to dress for winter weather, drive to town and wait 30 minutes for a three minute blood test.

Prescription drugs comprised the centrepiece on our kitchen table. To give him the correct dosages at the recommended times, I labelled each bottle with a different colour felt-tip marker: red for breakfast pills, blue for lunch, green for supper, and black for bedtime. The cap of each bottle listed the number of pills in a dose.

Because a major worry was the possibility we might run short of his inhalers (on his worst nights, he could inhale a month’s supply and still be green from lack of oxygen) I nailed a wooden cutlery drawer to the closet wall and stocked it; a glance showed how many inhalers of each colour were left. He had three colours, each to treat a specific breathing difficulty.

As his health failed, my leash shortened. I could no longer go for bike rides or walk the dogs. A quick trip to the mailbox on the front gate became my main exercise, until snow needed to be shovelled. Leaving a baby monitor beside him and the nanny speaker on the porch, I kept an ear on him while I cleared snow from the big gate in case he needed an ambulance overnight.

Anxiety and sleep deprivation compounded to make me punch-drunk. I couldn’t enjoy – even comprehend – the books I read. Family said I repeated conversation. Was he still safe in my care? That’s when I applied for home care to help me keep my promise never to admit him to a seniors’ facility.

Recovering from providing round-the-clock care took me months.