Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Seeing is Believing

A topic that I suspect will be coming up more and more on my blog is my increasing role in the Sandwich Generation. Even though I watched both of my parents as they cared for their aging parents when I was a kid, I naively pushed the thought away when Andy and I decided to have a child. I really should have considered the fact that my parents had me later in life, and I had Michael a little late, which makes my parents old.

Even though my dad is older than my mom, he's actually in better shape than she is. In fact, at 75, he's in better shape than most 50 year olds, so it gives me a skewed perspective on what 75 year olds should be like health wise. My dad still walks, bikes, swims in the ocean, sea kayaks, and is very active with the Boy Scouts. "Normal" old to me is when you have to give up running at 75 because it's causing some hip pain.

To be fair, my mom is still in pretty good health for her age, but since her age is not that young anymore, it does mean she that she deals with the effects of aging and the limitations that it places on her life. None of these limitations seem "normal" to her or to me. They just seem like limitations, and they are frustrating and a little scary at times. It doesn't help that she also has an autoimmune disorder that complicates things.

As you know, my mom has provided either part time, or full time daycare for Michael since he was born. Ideally, she would have been able to provide full time care until kindergarten, but reality snuck up and complicated things. She hurt her knee one year, then she needed surgery the next. Add in Michael's high energy level, and it just became too much. We found a good daycare last year, and things have been working pretty well since then. We have found a nice balance.

But, there has been one issue that I've been very concerned about. My mom's vision. She's always had poor vision. She started wearing glasses in grade school, and age only made things worse. I've watched my mom try various techniques for maximizing her vision over the years. She's done monovision with contacts to have one eye for distance and one for reading. Didn't work. She tried contacts and reading glasses. Didn't work. She finally ended up with contacts and progressive lenses so that she could see well enough to drive, read, and do fine needlework. Still, it wasn't uncommon to see her removing her progressive lenses while doing needlework to try and see better.

Then, the retina problems started. We have a history of retinal detachment in my mom's family, so it was not surprising when she had a partial detachment. They were able to fix it, but it was scary. When it happened to my grandfather, he ended up losing his vision in one eye; along with the ability to do woodwork, read, and drive at night. Those kind of restrictions on my mother would significantly hinder her quality of life. Her two favorite past times are reading and needle work. And, she's also not the kind of person who has the patience to wait around for someone to drive her around.

In the past few years, it's become abundantly clear that her vision is getting worse. She painted her bedroom and when she proudly showed it off to me I was shocked at all of the spots that she had missed. The entire room needed a second coat, but her vision was so blurry that she couldn't tell. That's bad enough, but since she couldn't see the problems it didn't matter. More importantly, she was driving Michael around in her car. I had taken to frequently testing her vision with "subtle" questions to try and gauge if it was safe for her to be driving. It was getting close to the point where I was going to have to have a talk with her about not driving Michael any more.

That would be a heartbreaking discussion. Who really wants to sit down and tell someone that they love that even though they are in good shape mentally and physically, you don't trust them to drive your child? Aging is hard enough without your brat kids pointing out that you are old and treating you like they are a child. I really, really did not want to have that talk.

This past fall, she ended up with what turned out to be a very mild case of shingles. On her face, of course. Right next to her eye. Did you know that getting shingles in your eye is a really, really, really bad thing? I didn't. But when her doctor discovered it, he sent my mom directly to an eye doctor. (By directly I mean he called the doctor himself and got my mom an appointment for the same day. Yikes!)

This guy was a specialist, and he's good. Really good. He looked her over, checked her out, and then let her know that not only where her eyes OK, but he could perform cataract surgery on her lenses and not only correct the blurriness of her vision, but also her nearsightedness.

My response was, "Wait, What!?"

She got a second opinion and got the go-a-head from her retina doctor and over a period of two weeks last month, my mom had the lenses of both eyes replaced.

And now, she sees better than I do. She doesn't even need glasses to drive. She still needs reading glasses and she has a small fold on her left retina that creates a blind spot that may be correctable, but for the most part her distance vision is 20/20. It's truly amazing.

I'm so excited and happy for her. I'm happy that she is no longer limited by such poor vision. That she can read and drive and enjoy watching birds. I'm also happy that the impending limitations on her driving and independence have been lifted and that she isn't looking at having to give up her license anytime soon. I'm also thrilled that instead of sitting down and having that horrible talk about her ability to drive, instead we can have debates over what kind of hawk is sitting on the cell tower across the road from her apartment.


Andy said...

At least Michael will have one set of active Grandparents. It's amazing how much better shape your parents are than mine and they're like close to 20 years older. My 56 year old dad can't get up a flight of stairs because of his smoke filled lungs, and NY 56 year old mom can't drive at bight because of her vision.

LauraC said...

That is awesome about your mom!

Getting my hearing aid is the first step is not letting my health issues interfere with my family life. I hope to keep this trend.

JenFen said...

Wow, it is amazing that one trip to a really good doctor, gave all that back to your mom and therefore, lift a huge worry off your shoulders. Pretty cool.

Karen said...

That's great news about your mom and her vision!

My dad had the same thing done a year ago and he can now see without glasses for the first time in 50 years.

Lindsay said...

Eye stuff is so cool. I totally want to be an ophthalmologist/optometrist in my next career.

When the told me one of the caveats to having LASIK in 2003 was that my eyes would still age, my attitude was, "whatever. I'm sure they'll fix that by then."