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Caregiver of the Month
November 2003

Pat Ratcliff-Milanese

A Story With A Happier Ending

I have been caring for Mimi since 1990 when my uncle died as a direct result of the October 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake in the SF Bay Area. He had suffered from Emphysema & cardiac problems (aortic aneurysm) and when the quake hit he went into cardiac arrest. He survived but only lasted until Feb 1990. From that time on, I took care of her. She lived next door.

Until recently, I was able to keep her home; rented to help to offset/defray her healthcare costs. With this economy and low interest rates, the home has been vacant for a year as it's cheaper to buy than rent.

She was okay for a while but then fell and fractured vertebrae and had home health care nurses visiting regularly. She suffered from such pain that she almost became addicted to painkillers. but she did eventually recuperate. Next, she fell and broke her hip, which required surgery. After, she was then sent to a nursing home for rehabilitation for a month; thus returning home upon her completion. She was doing well until she began to fall continuously. I am married with three children and a great husband. As she lived next door, each of us took turns spending the night with her and I would make sure that she took all her meds (cardizem for angina) and a few others.

One day she fell and I found her on the kitchen floor; bottom-line she was transported and subsequently diagnosed as having had mini-strokes/blackouts. She then had all the testing and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's/dementia. I tried to care for her at home but that became impossible as we went through caregivers. She became accusatory without reason; defensive as well.

When it became apparent that the family and myself could no longer care for her, I placed her in the same nursing home she had recouped in from her hip fracture (thinking the familiarity of it would make the transition smoother for her). She was there for almost 1-½ months until I brought her to our home for Xmas dinner; upon returning her only to find that her care there was compromised. The next day on Xmas I came to visit finding her slider door wide open in the dead of winter. I filed a complaint but decided to move her to another facility on her birthday in January.

She was a resident at that facility for over 7 years until her money was about to run out for private pay and they raised the rent to almost $5,000 per month. The care was okay but the food was terrible and she was losing weight every month. I literally thought she was dying at almost 98. She became so feeble and frail and wouldn't eat or barely speak. Then I located a board & care in Newark, CA close to my home in an adjoining city and placed her there. There were only 7 residents: 2 men and 5 women. Only 2 women residents including my aunt were non-ambulatory so she gets #1 care. The home is owned and run by Filipino caregivers and the food is home-cooked and nourishing.

Mimi has been there a year on June 7th and what an improvement in appetite and mental/cognitive ability. She can almost carry on a conversation with you and is always smiling when she sees me. I only wished that I had found this place years ago to save her money. Now that her funds have been exhausted except for SS and a small pension, my husband and I supplement the rent along with assistance from my only older sister.

It's really funny that you just know that God has placed this very special job/vocation in your lap because you are the best and only one qualified to do it. I know her best and know what questions to ask of her, her caregivers and doctors.

We have been extremely lucky that we've had only 1 hospital stay during 9 years. Then again, the doctor did come to the nursing home to treat her for pneumonia, infections, etc. Now that she's in the board and care, we have to bring her to the doctor. I use the local Para transit system and just recently had to use the ambulance for a short hospital stay.

I am blessed to have had such a loving surrogate mother figure take care of my sister and me when I was 9 mos. old. My mother had a major breakdown and was hospitalized in Agnews State Hospital for almost 7 years. When she was released, our family was reunited much to my disappointment. I loved being with my aunt...the only mother I had known; whereas my sister had a mom for almost 4 1/2 yrs. before she got sick. Mom and dad divorced back in '87 after 42 yrs of marriage. She now lives with my sister and niece just 5 minutes from me. I love her dearly but the relationship is more of a niece/aunt rather than mother/daughter.

Mimi is and always will be my mom to me...though I would never tell my real mom that. Thank you for listening and just knowing that this group exists helps to vent at the times we need to most.

Thanks for caring and knowing your vocation in life............

A friend,

Pat Ratcliff-Milanese
Email: Pat

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