Remembering: Ins and Outs

/ 19 April 2011

One of the pleasures of these weeks with Oma was that, to the degree she ate anything, she liked eating the food I prepared for her. For years I had learned how to cook at her elbow. Oma had a very direct method of cooking, just tossing meat on the counter or veggies in the water, never really measuring, never fretting about cleanliness. And she would use everything, then throw whatever was left “out for the birds.”


The “birds” were huge crows, maybe ravens, that haunted the top of Husckagasse with an eye on Oma’s front yard. We could throw almost anything into the front yard, and within minutes it would be gone. Bones, meat, bread, leftovers of every sort would all vanish. If you paused in the living room and watched, you’d see three or four of these enormous black guardians descend, seek out the offerings, and fly away, beaks full. It didn’t take long. I taught Anna to trust in the birds, and just dispose of extras in the front yard. Only vegetables would ever be left lying around the next day, the birds were clearly carnivores.



Anyway, the joy for me was that I was forced to cook on my own, but with Oma only a room away. The dining room had been transformed into her bedroom, and it was connected to the kitchen by a small pass-through from the kitchen counter to the dining room counter. I could watch Oma while I cooked, pass the food into her room. Alex and I bought a small folding table at Ikea that we could set up to eat by the side of her bed, sharing mealtime. In Austria the main meal is in the middle of the day, when Americans would have lunch. We would spend that time with Oma. I learned how to cook fried chicken like schnitzel, which Oma particularly liked. Of course, her dentures were not fitting properly any longer, so chewing on bones, one of her favorite activities, was limited to weakly sucking on them. She didn’t eat much, but we could usually get her to eat something.

Still, each day was a struggle. As my message from April 19 describes, Oma was having a lot of trouble regulating both her ins and outs:

This week has been all about the ins and outs. Oma’s outs have been a problem, first coming way to fast, requiring five or six diaper changes a day, and then, after some immodium, coming way too slow and leaving Oma feeling constipated for three days. This is one roller coaster I’d rather not be on! I kind of enjoy changing baby diapers, they are often so smiley and playful in the process. Oma is not nearly so cheery about having come full circle.

The ins have also become an issue. While Oma has been drinking quite well (over one and a half liters per day) her blood work was still disturbing enough that her “house doctor” [Dr. B] wanted to start an IV. in fact, he wanted to ship her back to the hospital, but after a conversation with Dagmar and Dr. D he settled down to a handful of new prescriptions and the IV of saline per day. Unfortunately he placed the line in at the inside of Oma’s elbow, a location that sees quite a bit of motion, and she already displaced it today, after only three days.


Our goal, of course, was to get Oma out of bed. She would agree with that in principle, and had said as much to all her friends earlier in the week, but in practice she was much more reluctant. Alex and I turned our out-of-house excursions into forays into the Austrian insurance system, seeking and getting approvals for equipment like a wheelchair through what seemed like a maze of bureaucratic offices around Vienna. We discovered a host of new strassenbahn lines and pushed the boundaries of my German in the process. After weeks of hoops, we finally got the wheelchair home:



We also got in and (much more importantly) out of bed today. Alex and I hunted down the wheelchair (with a side trip to the insurance company for the right approval, of course) and brought it home on the strassenbahn this morning. Lucky for us, when we got home the physical therapist was there (for the first time since Oma got home) and helped us convince Oma to try out the chair. Even though Oma shouted “no” and “I can’t” and “not today, tomorrow” at us, she could and she did. Her trip to the front door to look at the garden did not last very long, but we were able to give her at least a brief glimpse at her sunny garden. Then back to bed.


One day at a time!

The physical therapist stressed the importance of activity for Oma, who had now been in bed for well over eight weeks. He gave us exercises for her to work on in bed, and also told us to get her sitting up in the chair at least twice a day. I had no idea how difficult this simple charge would be to carry out.


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