EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED
How do we prepare for unanticipated events that often happen as we age? We can’t. Even if we have our “affairs” in order, it is rare to be emotionally ready for a sudden illness, an accident, the onset of dementia, or for that matter, finding our way through a complicated healthcare system. These events can cause pain, confusion, isolation, family stress, financial hardship — and that’s the short list. Most of the time, if a patient is unable to care for herself, it is usually an adult child, a spouse, or a sibling who finds themselves in the midst of a complex situation — while providing care and comfort — and still attending to other responsibilities and commitments. Is that you?
Who is Debra Poppelaars?
I am an elder care manager, patient advocate, a family coach, and a champion of those faced with making difficult care decisions for an aging loved one. Here is part of the story that led me to this fulfilling and compassionate work.
My dad, Julian Kirk, had diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, several strokes and Alzheimer’s. My mom managed his Alzheimer’s care all alone while my brother and I worked in different states. When mother was overseeing his care, the 5 different doctors he was seeing each had an assortment of prescriptions for him — he was taking 16 different medications! Most of his providers knew nothing about what the others were prescribing. He was sick, miserable, and getting worse day by day. Mother spent countless hours on the phone, sitting on hold, seeking information and answers. She was his constant companion and advocate at medical appointments, including psychiatric evaluations, lab tests, blood sugar/insulin evaluations, dialysis, interviewing new doctors and getting second opinions. Daddy was too vulnerable, too intimidated, too disorganized to ask himself. Daddy’s illnesses affected my mom’s entire life, her sleep, even her own health.
I didn’t even realize how sick my dad was because mother tried to take care of him all on her own and chose “not to bother” my brother and me. In 2007 through an unexpected turn of events that I now understand was God’s plan for my life, I lost my job and went home to be with my mom and dad. It was during this time I realized how sick my dad was and how this had destroyed my mom’s health. She was physically and mentally exhausted. At this point I stepped in and became my daddy’s advocate. His condition was to the point that he was in and out of the hospital on a weekly basis. Eventually he had to go to an Alzheimer’s Care Management facility due to the hallucinations and constant falling. I stayed at the hospital and the facility with him for sometimes days on end. I was compelled to ensure that his dignity, health, safety, and comfort were being attended. It was challenging on all levels. The endless battle of managing his care, taking care of the denied insurance claims, making sure he was given the correct medicines, fighting to get him out of one facility and into another due to the lack of care, the list goes on and on…. What might it had been like if during those last few months my mother and I could have just been able to spend time with daddy instead of feeling like our visits had to include never-ending Alzheimer’s Care Management tasks on our part? The list is endless.
My daddy passed away November 3, 2010. I learned more than I ever wanted or needed to know about caring for a loved one who could not care for himself. Yet I was also left with tremendous compassion for people struggling to manage this on their own. How I would have welcomed another pair of eyes, ears, and hands, a professional who could walk me through unknown and often rocky territories. Another heart that cared. Perhaps I can do that for you.
How Can I Help?
As an Elder Care Manager, Family Coach and Patient Advocate, I am trained and experienced in finding you some relief. It can be as simple as reviewing a medical bill for accuracy or as complicated as sorting through the recommendations and referrals from healthcare providers following a complicated diagnosis. Together we can ensure that you know what medications are being prescribed and why. We can make sure all your doctors know about each other and understand each others prescription and treatment recommendations. After a hospital discharge, I can review the discharge plan with you and make certain that you understand all of it and arrange for any home modifications that might be necessary for safety. I have resources for durable medical equipment (e.g. wheelchairs, walkers, commodes, etc.) not covered by Medicare, technology for medication reminders, agencies that provide home care visits, contractors who modify homes for safety and comfort. Maybe you are thinking of exploring complementary/alternative therapies and would like some simple, straightforward conversation about the different modalities. We can even talk about ways you can take care of yourself, which is, (as I am sure you’ve repeatedly heard), as important as caring for your loved one. You know the drill – put on your own oxygen mask first.