After hitting post on Limits, I have moved myself out to the dining room — I exist here enough that it is my full-time position. It is not a conducive location to artistic inspiration, it is full of distraction, a TV with daytime garbage programming playing too loudly more often than not.
Maury is on now, but it is the incorrect channel. It is not what Grandma wants to watch, but then neither is We the People on The U. She cannot tell me what it is she wants to watch, although I largely expect that it is The Price is Right — typically 10–11am, however the channel was overtaken by some ceremony and thus Drew would not be seen.
This is merely my struggle to write.
(Discussion of weight and food ahead)
The physical limit is objectively the easiest thing to talk or write about. While there are certainly damned feelings that I carry about it, it does not bring with it the desolation of other limitations I face.
I am 5'3" and some change (more accurately, 161.25cm), and my weight has varied. At my least healthy, I peaked at just over 160lbs (you do the math for your units). Through effort — diet and exercise — I brought it down to 130, with a range between 129–133 for my healthiest, and a bit further in both directions: Lower than posted would occur when sick, whereas higher was more typical of premenstrual bloat. I am now between 145–150 on any given day — I find myself glad my doctor has not mentioned my weight for a second throughout this, but he is very good.
In all fairness, my weight is at least partially impacted by the muscle I have put on. My grandma is around 100lbs, and as her physical ability has declined, so has my strength increased. My arms and shoulders are larger with muscle than they have ever been in my life (they were arguably bigger with fat at one point). The muscle aside, much of this involves poor food decisions. I am tired, and with the exhaustion comes eating Happy foods, very salty, high fat, low nutrient things offset with innumerable sweets. Granted, high fat isn’t necessarily a problem for me when it comes with other nutritionally dense options; my diet change for weight loss was largely a high fat/protein diet without much in the way of extraneous carbs (please eat some carbs, no carb diets are fucking atrocious). The problem really comes in when there are pies and cakes and donuts on the counter every day and it becomes a quick go-to, next to gross microwaveable meat containers laden with salt…salt that must be tempered with sugar. So I carry more fat again, and my body does not feel right. Loss of that will come in time, I am not in any particular rush, but I find my small unisex shirts to be uncomfortable in the way they hug my folds when I sit.
Not sure where I meant to go with this but it’s way off course.
I can only be so strong, given a number of other factors. Covid set me back quite a bit, and I still have not been able to return to proper conditioning. I still find my heart getting exhausted during walks — it has gotten better, but I feel it. My exhaustion generally leaves me with little energy and, more importantly, will to pursue activities that increase my strength and endurance.
It is an interesting cyclical issue, not exercising increases the exhaustion and effort required to do certain things. It is often simply a matter of starting to correct the course, but I find excuses not to start.
We had started this full-time adventure into caregiving when my grandma managed to fall into a tripod walker. Her strength has slowly declined, but over the past month and a half it did so rapidly. Now she is no longer capable of standing, and on particularly bad days she cannot hold herself up when sitting. She has sunken into the couch on multiple occasions now.
I was able to keep up with the slow decline, with my strength and Massive Arms increasing. The rapid decline, however, put me in a situation that I could only cry about.
It was a couple weeks ago now. Grandma had sunken into the couch she exists on, the cushion having worn down under her perpetual sitting, and the back cushion being so plush that it nearly surrounded her. She needed to go to the bathroom and for the first time in this caregiving, I couldn’t move her. We tried, but the positioning and a counteractive movement she was engaging in had me failing terribly. Eventually I texted Dad and he came home from work, however, by the time he arrived, I had managed to get her to the toilet. Not without struggle, and after he returned I could take the moment to cry in my room. I was not strong enough, and it was a terrible feeling.
In addition to her strength leaving her, Grandma has regressed in a particularly notable manner. It does not seem intentional. She will fold her legs in, actively trying to sit when we pick her up — this makes her heavier than 100lbs of dead weight. When getting her seated again, she will straighten her legs and core out. Although my experience with babies is limited (they are precious, but not for me, and their preciousness combined with the human condition of “getting massively injured by doing nothing” scares the shit out of me: I do not wish to hold them), I recall my step-sister handing her first child to me… he straightened his legs and torso out in my arms, and I noted that he was stronger than me…and that I had no understanding of how to adjust or correct this. Babies, man, they’re incredibly tough. I handed him back after he was done observing my face — the weird woman holding him. I cannot simply hand my grandma back to anyone.
This flexing and stretching makes picking her up, moving her, and setting her down exceptionally difficult. With her regression, and despite losing her strength, these infant-like movements carry an incredible power to them. They are nonsensical but innate, tapping into some essence of being human.
A second time that was very difficult was a little over a week ago, after my semi-annual visit with my doctor. Grandma’s mental state was a mess, confused, demanding certain things that didn’t really make sense. She wanted to go to the bathroom, but not really, but sit in the wheelchair, but not really. Stepped away for a minute to breathe, and then returned as dementia-brain is very iffy and it’s possible she would tell me what she needed then. I ask again about the bathroom and she says she doesn’t need it anymore. What does that mean? she wet herself…so we had to make a trip to the bathroom anyway. Mentally and physically this was very difficult and all I could hear were my doctor’s words — at the end of the appointment he dropped the professional/doctor decorum and addressed me as a person, from a person. He nailed completely how it feels to be put in this position, how difficult and thankless it is, but that…I am doing a great thing. In that time of helping her, I dealt with my denial in the moment of those words.
These movements, her inability to hold herself up, and to a great degree her dementia, all push me beyond my physical limit. I am at great risk of injury. Although I’ve nothing but sore muscles til this point, that does not mean I will only experience them moving forward.
Even the shower aide and nurses from hospice have trouble maneuvering her around. I have mentioned I can help whenever possible but am put aside: This is fair as I am more likely to just get in the way. On the last visit, our nurse had a student with her — she’s been here twice now and I like her a lot — and the both of them had to act together to get my grandma into certain positions as we came across a problem.
A solution that I have little control over would be to have in the house some giant, buff post-military dude who decided he wanted to help folks in this way. If he could curl most or all of her weight in one hand, his strength would override the risk in motion — just pick her up like a toddler.
More realistically, having someone trained would be a great deal of help. However, there is a great deal of paperwork and medicaid options to go through to get that, or a great cost to hire someone privately. I do not pay for the house or this sort of expense, and neither am I power of attorney, so there is little I can do but encourage Dad to make these choices.
And ultimately, I’m not sure the timeline is long enough for it to matter.