The lady in the mirror

The day before Ma is due to go home I arrive to find Ma sitting in a chair with a towel on her leg, with the ulcer, and an ice pack on the floor beside it.  She tells me that an aide has ‘bumped’ her leg on the wheelchair foot plate getting her out of the chair.  There are big bruises and her leg is swollen.  I try and find somebody to tell me what has happened and what the damage is.  They have another story, saying Ma has knocked her leg on her wheely walker.  They are going to dress her leg but after waiting for a half hour they decide to take her to lunch instead.  I don’t get to see her leg ‘undressed’ before I leave.

Day 19 – Escape at last.  Arrived at the nursing home to find Ma sitting next to the mirror with piles of her stuff everywhere.  She had tried to pack up ready to go home.  I brought her a coffee to distract her which she sat and enjoyed while I packed everything up.  Now and again she would nod to the ‘lady in the mirror’ and talk gently to her.  She told me she had become good friends with the ‘lady’ and that she’d miss her when she went home.  She mentioned how the ‘lady’ would wear everything that Ma wore and even had the same books Ma had!  When I asked Ma if the lady had purple hair like Ma did, Ma said she did not… Ma bid farewell to her new ‘lady friend’ smiling and waving as we took her out.

As we had no instructions on signing anything or doing anything besides taking Ma, we went to leave.  We were stopped at the door and were told we had to pick up Ma’s medications.  So we waited. The nurse came to say goodbye and I asked again about Ma’s ulcer and how her leg was after her mishap the day before.  He told me that her ulcer looked better and that her leg looked good. We hadn’t been home for an hour when the nursing home rang to ask that we return as they had forgotten to give Ma a box of medication that had been left behind… SIGH

Ma made it up the two flights of stairs better than I’d hoped and went straight in to say hello to the cats.  She was so happy to be home… I think only because of the cats.  She’d often tell me how much she missed them.  She has a small toy cat and photos of the kitties which she had on her bedside table while she was in care.  That night I made sure she got back on her bowel regime.  She was very very tired.

Unfortunately we were up and down more times than a bride’s nightie with her bladder.  I was a wreck come morning being out of practice.  Her bowels also decided to co-operate to great fanfare unfortunately soiling her pants in the process.  The next night was much better even though we had a midnight bowel movement.  I think she’s making up for lost time! Thank goodness we weren’t up as much as the bowel pressure on her bladder had been lessened.

The community nurse came to change her ulcer dressing and I was absolutely horrified and angered to find that she had a new ulcer and that the other ulcer had deteriorated.  And yet nobody saw fit to tell me even though I specifically asked.  They had even taken photos when she’d arrived so it’s not as if they didn’t have anything to compare it with.  How can they not tell you there is another new ulcer? AND that the other ulcer is so much worse?

I look to the future and I am afraid.

Ma’s name is down at the nursing home just a couple of blocks from here.  I am not working full-time but am using carer’s leave, for which I will be forever grateful for, while we wait for a vacancy.  When Ma was in respite care I tried to make sure that she would be looked after.  I wasn’t happy with her care.  Even though I wrote notes to ensure her special health requirements were met AND even though I talked to the staff including the registered nurse, she came out with bruises on her legs; welts under her breasts and ‘apron’ where they didn’t dry her properly and put cream on; constipated; and with new and deteriorated leg ulcers.  Everyone I talked to at the home said they were listening but they weren’t.  I only saw the aide put the brakes on Ma’s wheelchair once when they were putting her into it.  Her legs got bruised because they would push her chair into the table but not check where her legs were when they pushed her in.

So what now?  I rang the nursing home she wants to go into and where she has been on a waiting list since September.  The tell me to ring back every two weeks because when you don’t keep ringing, you drop down the list (thanks so much for telling me this!).  I’m now petrified about placing her into permanent care.  If a reputable nursing home can do that much damage in three weeks how am I supposed to trust that she will be well looked after in the nursing home of her choice?  This is the home where she also had problems.  A few years ago when she spent five days in their ‘care’ she ended up in hospital with an infected leg ulcer.  This was the first time we had tried respite care and I’d been too scared to try it since… until this time.

So I’m left with more questions than answers.  Do I keep on caring for her until my leave is exhausted and losing my sanity or do I do the ‘selfish’ thing and place her in care; fingers crossed?  Will the nursing home she has chosen be any better… or worse?


When Bowels go Bad… very BAD

Ma used to be very anal (excuse the pun) about her bowel movements.  If she didn’t go for two days she’d hit the panic button and would start taking ‘opening’ medicine.  After advice from the Continence Foundation of Australia we managed to get into a routine that kept Ma ‘moving’ (sorry) with the use of Movicol and Coloxyl with Senna (this worked for Ma, you need to find out what works best through expert advice).

After Ma’s last bowel accident (check out Bowel Movements, We have THEM!) she was reluctant to take any form of ‘opening’ medicine.  Unfortunately this led to her becoming constipated after four days without a bowel movement.  I was able to convince her to take a Movicol over a couple of days and then we resorted to Actilax (usually our last line of defence)…

And then the grand re-opening occurred.  No accidents, thank goodness but a constant to and fro to the toilet for a few hours which wore her out and caused her delirium to worsen.

The only other time she was badly constipated led to a horrendous experience with her suffering extreme faecal incontinence that smelt so bad it was like she was  rotting from the inside out.  She was so exhausted in going back and forth to the toilet that she wasn’t capable of going to the toilet anymore.  In the end I put a large nappy on her and she fell asleep with exhaustion.  I had to burn incense to get rid of the stench (I’m afraid I have a real ‘graveyard’ humour, it’s the only way we cope in these situations).  I found out later that a lot of old people that suffer this way often have falls in the toilet due to their weakness after such extreme episodes.

A normal bowel habit can be anywhere from 3 times a day to 3 times a week.  What is ‘regular’ can vary from person to person.  I will now be ensuring that Ma gets back into a good bowel habit.  As she had been so unexpectedly regular over the past couple of weeks we had dropped her routine Movicol on every second day.  Ma has a number of conditions that cause constipation including her fluid intake and fibre intake, lack of exercise (she is on a walker), and the medications she takes.


  • Get to know your loved ones bowel habits.  I can usually tell when Ma’s constipated as she gets as cranky as a bag full of cats.  Get advice on how to treat constipation and make sure you keep recommended medicines on hand.
  • As I’ve said before, wet ones and disinfectant wipes are your best friends!
  • Try to have a conversation about their bowel habits.  It’s an uncomfortable subject for a number of people, but if they become comfortable discussing their bowel habits it’s half the battle.
  • The Continence Foundation of Australia provides advice on bowel and bladder problems. 
  • Carry supplies for bowel and bladder accidents with you on outings.  A change of clothes, continence product, wet wipes and disinfectant wipes, and a couple of plastic bags may never be needed, but if they do, you can lessen their distress.
  • If you are worried, seek medical advice.