Caregiving, Issues
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Grandma’s: A House Manual in the Age of COVID

Welcome to Grandma’s house. We understand this was not your first choice for a week away from the toxic San Francisco air, especially when the air down here in Central California is even worse. We are aware that this week-long vacation puts both you and Grandma at risk, COVID-wise. We appreciate your business.

Because this is not a standard vacation rental, we hope you will spend some time reading these warnings and suggestions so that your stay will be comfortable, or at least tolerable.

Volume and noises

Grandma is deaf as hell and refuses to get a hearing aid. When you enter the house, make sure to slam the door hard enough to make the whole house rattle. Shout her name as loud as you possibly can. Several times. You will get no response, and you will dread what you will find in the TV room where she spends most of her time. The TV, of course, will be at maximum volume, and you will see her sitting upright, eyes closed, motionless. You will wonder who you should call first. Like, do you even call 911 for a dead body, or should you call a funeral home instead, and why didn’t you already put that number into your phone? But then she will open her eyes and emit a little shriek before exclaiming, “I didn’t hear you come in!”

If you want to get any work done, you will need noise-canceling headphones because of said TV (unless you enjoy the sound of game shows and the Two and a Half Men chorus). If you didn’t bring headphones with you, there is a Costco half an hour north of here. You will see the big display of last year’s Bose model. The price tag may give you pause, but once you realize that every TV in the electronics department is broadcasting our Hitler-in-chief spewing lies and violence-inducing hate, you will grab that card for the headphones and practically run to the check-out line. On the drive back, you will wonder if this – buying a product that makes you as deaf as Grandma – counts as irony.  

Remember the noise Grandma used to make, the periodic “EHH!” that conveyed pain or frustration, the sound that made you get up to see what the problem was, because she obviously needed help with something? That noise has been replaced with a steady, quieter “ehh… ehh… ehh…” This is not a cause for alarm; it simply happens now with every step, exertion, and movement. Especially in the morning as she pushes her walker down the hall, soiled underwear in the attached basket, headed for the garage where said underwear will sit in a bucket of water until there are enough pairs to justify doing a whole load of laundry.

(When you mention to her that the bathroom of this 1970s ranch house is – you counted – at least 70 steps away from the kitchen, at the opposite end of the house, and wouldn’t it be easier if she could live in a smaller place, she shakes her head vehemently. “Sometimes, I don’t make it to the bathroom,” she will tell you. “And then I have to clean it up.” She will pause for a moment before saying, adamantly, “And I’m not having anyone else clean it up!”)

You will hear an occasional “chirp” coming from inside the chimney, so you will email Grandma’s other family members about it. Like, she sure as hell can’t hear it, so is it worth the disruption of having someone come out here to deal with it? The email response comes back: “Even if it is a bird, it does not pose a problem as long as the flue is closed. I once had an accumulation of 12 dead flying squirrels in my living room chimney. They posed no problem other than a bad smell.”

There is white wine in the refrigerator.

Food

Do not be alarmed when a very large man enters the house without knocking. This is the Meals on Wheels guy, whose name is Floyd even though Grandma calls him Alfred. He knows what he’s doing and will be out of here shortly.

Please help yourself to anything in the fridge, including the multiple cartons of expired-last-month Nob Hill pastries that were “on special,” cookies, candy, cheese, juice, and leftover Meals on Wheels fruit cups. If you notice a sea of ants on the counter, or piles of dead ants on the floor, you can slide the refrigerator away from the wall. The dustpan is in the garage and the scrubber is under the sink.

There will be several dinner rituals. The first involves tacos. These must come from Taco Bell, not any of the actual taquerias in this town, which is home to a large population of Mexican farm workers. But Grandma will be so happy, and that second taco will sit wrapped in her fridge for two weeks before she jams it down the garbage disposal.

A better person would volunteer for this job. And you will feel like the world’s worst granddaughter. . . You will worry that this is your future.

Another ritual is Chinese food. Grandma will insist on pork chow mein, and then she will be terribly disappointed with it. Because in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1930s, when all the Chinese people were forced to live on the other side of the railroad tracks that their own parents and grandparents built, there was a Chinese restaurant that served amazing pork chow mein. Modern pork chow mein will always suck in comparison. But it must still be ordered. And fed to the garbage disposal next week.

Grandma will enjoy the egg roll, though, and save that magenta sauce in the Styrofoam cup for a few weeks, before its eventual date with the garbage disposal.

Internet

We took your negative Yelp reviews to heart, so we finally called the Spectrum cable people. When you arrive, you will need to ask Grandma for the network name and password. She will say, “Yyes, right here,” and hand you the return mailing label for the router. (Please be advised that she can’t see, either.) The next hour will be full of confusion, where your computer support guy will accidentally FaceTime you with his Apple Watch and then get angry at you for FaceTiming him, while you wait on hold with Spectrum (“Yyour estimated waiting time is 54 minutes”) as you download an app onto your phone to make some magic happen. Once you agree to have all the internet bills sent to you, you can get into the app to see that someone has, in fact, already set up a network and password; they just neglected to write it down.

Housekeeping

This is mostly on you. Grandma’s house used to be impeccably clean and could have passed any surprise white-glove test. Now, because much of her vision is gone, you will notice encrusted food on plates in the cabinets, a film of dirt on every surface, and stains on her wall-to-wall white carpet. Remember that by other people’s standards, this is not such a big deal. Most single men live in much greater filth.

But be careful with the dishwasher. Grandma has developed a few hacks to make her life easier. Most of which involve paper plates, presumably because regular plates are too heavy, or possibly because she worries about her water bill. Anyway, she stores her dirty paper plates in the dishwasher so she can pull them out easily to use them for the next meal. The point here: Before you actually run the dishwasher, you will need to remove all the dirty paper plates, and also spend some time picking out the soggy paper bits that are clogging the dishwasher’s drain, and peel off the bits of paper that have heat-fused onto the racks and inside walls of the appliance. Do what you can and hope for the best.

Your sanity

You will have a number of recurring emotions and thoughts, including but not limited to:

  1. Horror. This is really bad. She is 98 years old and can’t see, hear, or walk. She needs someone here all day every day, if not living here. You will imagine countless scenarios in which she is alone and suffering because she has fallen and refuses to use the emergency button on the thing she wears around her neck.
  2. Guilt. You will think you should move in with her. Because she needs you, and she trusts you, and you know her routines and her impossible quirks. Because no one else would be willing to do it. But you know that even with internet, you’d probably be miserable and angry here. A better person would volunteer for this job. And you will feel like the world’s worst granddaughter.
  3. Fear. You will worry that this is your future. Living alone, and being so cheap, stubborn, and resistant to any sort of change that you will drive everyone away from you, then die alone on a floor, hours or days before anyone finds you, just like your own mother did.
  4. Rage. You will wonder: Where the FUCK is the rest of her extended family, her daughter-in-law and her daughter-in-law’s two sisters and their husbands and their children and their grandchildren, all of whom live an hour or less away???
  5. Frustration, helplessness, and despair. You do not have the legal, financial, or moral authority to force anything on this tiny, proud, stubborn person 50 years your senior. And even if you did – what, put her in a nursing home where COVID would kill her in a week? This is a lose-lose situation.

We recommend bringing your cell phone and taking your weekly therapist call in the back bedroom.

Suggestion box

We’re sure you have some suggestions for future guests. These may include things such as, “Jesus Christ, you heartless fucking monsters, get her some fucking help!” We have forwarded those concerns to management. (Hi, Dad.)

We have also heard your suggestions about moving the box of Kleenex from the drawer in the corner of the kitchen to someplace more easily accessible, so that Grandma doesn’t have to get up five times during each meal to get a tissue. And the suggestions about moving the bottle of maple syrup from the cabinet under the microwave to next to the toaster, in order to minimize the number of times she has to walk across the kitchen every morning (sans walker because the walker must never enter the kitchen), risking a catastrophic fall. And at least 20 other similar obvious-as-shit suggestions that will continue to fall on deaf (literal and figurative) ears.

We hope you enjoy your stay.

PS: Don’t forget to water the rose bushes.

Filed under: Caregiving, Issues

by

Margaret Crandall

I grew up in Washington, DC but have called San Francisco home for the last 19+ years. Spent my 20s up to my eyeballs in the ska scene, my 30s and most of my 40s writing and editing at desk jobs, and now I’m kind of just making it up as I go along. My superpowers are dogsitting, decluttering, and spotting typos from great distances. Midcentury antique stores are my kryptonite.

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