Shannon Ingram's Place

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Location: So CA

Musings of a woman who left her corporate career to become a caregiver for elderly parents, wrote a book and found her way back to corporate - with love, instead of fear, leading the way.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Deadline Looms

Last February, my parents lost their Blue Cross supplemental insurance. I called Medicare to find out about enrolling them in one of the Medicare programs, but they kindly advised that the enrollment period was over and we would have to wait till the next period to get them enrolled. "La-di-da," you might say, as I think I did. We'll just wait until next November to enroll them and get by with paying for the drugs till then.

Even after caring for my parents for several years and writing a book about the experience, I was oblivious to the REAL cost of the drugs that keep them ticking. Yes, I read all the AARP Bulletins, the articles published in the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers and have seen many TV news stories about the high costs of pharmaceuticals. I knew that people relying on Social Security as their only income had trouble paying for their drugs. But the actual cost was transparent to me because we never paid a dime for my parents' medications thanks to the Blue Cross program. It never occurred to me that we could lose their insurance. Bad Shannon.

I thought there had been a huge mistake when the first of my mom's monthly pharmacy bills came in at $759. My sister got one for Jack and it was around $1400. This was not a fun thing for any of us - and we couldn't get them on an insurance plan that would cost any less in premiums than we were paying in drugs.

I wrote on my 2007 calendar for November 15th to be sure and register Mom for Medicare Drug Coverage, with a note that I would have until December 31st to do it. When November 15th rolled around, I had to get my hair cut and attend two business appointments. The next day I had work deadlines and some friends to pick up at the airport. That weekend was my grandson's birthday party and other festivities. And then it was all the planning and food prep for Thanksgiving. Needless to say, the Medicare enrollment was pushed from day to day to day right through Christmas and my birthday...until yesterday morning when I abruptly sat up in bed and said to Gary, "EGADS, it's almost New Year's Eve and I haven't gotten the drug coverage for Mom." My priorities for the day were instantly shuffled. I wasn't going to let my penchant for procrastination cost us thousands of dollars.

I spent three hours bumbling around the Medicare web site trying to figure out how to register online. Frustrated and feeling as if carpal tunnel was taking over my wrists, I finally picked up the phone and called 1-800-MEDICARE. I was on hold for 15 minutes - not horrible in my circumstance. At last, a human being named Loretta answered and patiently walked me through the registration process. I even got a confirmation number. Mom's drug coverage starts on January 1st - next week!

My next conversation was with my sister. Far as I know, she's working on Jack's coverage as I write this, although she needs more info than I did because Jack takes dozens of meds and Mom only takes 10. I'm just happy that I could do some of the initial learning for her to make his registration a faster process. Most of all, I'm happy I met the deadline. It's something that always brings a sense peace to writers like me. At least until the next one...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bailey's Christmas Chew Toy

I received an emergency call from Mom yesterday morning. Gary and I were planning to take Mom and Jack out for a festive pre-Christmas lunch because they didn't feel up to going to church with us on Chritmas Eve, then spending most of Christmas Day with the extended family at our home. I never expect these little crises that seem to arise whenever we have big plans. When I answered the phone, Mom said in her most fretful tone, "Honey, we have a problem. Bailey chewed up Jack's teeth during the night and we don't know what to do." Sure enough, Bailey the Porky Poodle had stolen Jack's upper false teeth from the nightstand, no doubt believing Santa had left him a new chew toy. I told Mom I would call Jack's dentist to see if they were open and get back to her as soon as I could.

The dental office was closed. I called the nursing staff at the Inn at the Park and they said maybe Jack could just eat soft foods till after Christmas. A rhyme popped into my head - "A Christmas so cruel that Jack must eat gruel..." NO WAY, I said to myself. Erase that stupid thought because this is not going to ruin our family celebration.

Moments later, Saint Norma the Caregiver called to say she had arrived at the folks' apartment and believed she could wash the "broken teeth" and fix them so that Jack would be able to enjoy more than cream soup for Christmas. Thank God and Norma, who's obviously in close touch with Him, because an hour later, all of his teeth were in his mouth.

Jack opted out of lunch yesterday, which was just as well because it wasn't very good. This morning, my parents were raring to get to our house for the day's festivities. Jack's smile was a little crooked and he said he didn't want to keep his teeth in all day because they hurt. Nevertheless, he had Bailey with him, even after I'd asked them to leave Bailey at the apartment because I have big dogs at my house today. "But he can't stay alone on Christmas," Mom cried. "Oh, okay," I said. "Put him in the back seat." And off we went to my house.

Jack was still flashing his crooked smile when Bailey roared past him through our front door, went straight to the packages under the tree and peed on one of my gifts. Serves me right for thinking he could be home alone on Christmas Day. Next year, I'll stock some doggy Depends along with the others I have on hand.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thank you Jane and Christy

Gidday to Jane "Down Under," and howdy to Christy in Montana. Sometimes I forget to review blog comments and respond. What a delight to hear from Jane recently about her experiences caring for her mum and daddy. If you are reading this, Jane, I read your message to my dad and he loved it! He has trouble grasping the scope of the Internet and couldn't understand why anyone on your continent would be writing to me; nevertheless, he loved what you wrote.

Christy is a friend in Montana with two adorable children, one of whom I mentioned in a blog entry earlier this year because I love her name, Emma Sue. I love her son's name too - big brother Tanner.

It's very exciting when ANYONE posts a reply here, but I'm equally happy with all the email responses I receive. Thank you, dear friends near and far, for visiting this blog and keeping me motivated. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Katie's Christmas Poem

I don't know what you call your first cousin's granddaughter, but I just call her Katie. She is seven years old and wise beyond her years. Her parents' Christmas letter is one that I look forward to every year because it's inspirational and amusing at the same time. Here is Katie's poem that came today...

Harry the Reindeer

There once was a
reindeer named Harry.
Everyone thought
He was scary.
He started to fall,
Head, feet and all,
And Santa began to bawl.


BRAVO! BRAVO! You go, Katie, talented little miracle that you are!! Well, NOT so little - you are giant among poets in my book...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

This Marley is not a Ghost


I have watched several different versions of "A Christmas Carol" over the past two weeks. The most annoying was "A Diva's Christmas Carol" featuring Vanessa Williams as "Ebony Scrooge." Enough said. Except I must add there is a ghost named "Marli" played by Kathy Griffin, who steals the show, as Kathy usually does.

Every day this December, I wake up and remember it's getting close to Christmas and this year I have no money to buy gifts for anyone and no time to make them, either. A Scroogy thought, for sure, but this isn't a whine. It's a reality check. When I first open my eyes, I'm never really conscious of God's presence everywhere. At that moment, I'm either listening to the alarm clock beep or my cell phone ring. If I answer the phone, it's usually Gary calling from a distant Starbucks, somewhere in the greater LA area, inviting me to get out of bed and be grateful I don't have to drive to Beverly Hills every morning. I say OK, in my best Alvin the Chipmunk voice, which is all I can do at that point. If it's not Gary, it's someone from my parents' home letting me know about a ghastly situation at their apartment, i.e., their obese poodle had a bout of foul diarrhea. They tell me that once again my dad has stepped in runny poop and tracked it through several rooms and out into the hallway on his way to breakfast (he has no sense of smell). They want to know if I will I approve the cost of carpet cleaning. Duh. Obviously, I prefer the beeping alarm clock that I can simply turn off.

Which brings me to my own Marley story. My Marley is the Labradoodle who lives across the street with her humans, Linda and Bob. There is no way anyone can spend five minutes with Marley and not laugh. She's not prissy like a standard poodle and she's not a big oaf like so many of my Labrador Retriever friends. She's just a wild and crazy bitch - happy all the time and totally focused on playing. Marley was supposed to be an elegant poodle-type pup with the low-key personality of a lab. There is nothing low-key about Marley, except for Bob, who tries to keep her calm because he is the calmest, most laid-back person I know.

Today, in my early morning Scroogy mood, I thought about Marley and her goofy antics, and I laughed. I will be spending some time with Marley on Friday evening when her humans host us for dinner. I will tell her that I'm grateful she's my neighbor. She's a better example of Christmas spirit than Scrooge and his ghosts, or even Tiny Tim!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

2007 Holiday Letter

December 2007

Dear Friends & Family,

Does anyone really want to hear that we’ve had a sucky year? That’s the question I’ve been pondering for the past couple of months knowing that many of you expect me to send the annual holiday letter, or at least post it on my blog. And of course the answer that inevitably appears in my mind is a resounding NO!

I’ll never forget the first typed, single-spaced one-page Christmas letter our family received way back in 1965. It was so bad that Mom created a themed holiday party around it. Party guests got a nametag stuck on their backs with the name of one of the people featured in the letter. I can’t remember the name of the man who sent it to us. His sad tale featured several deaths in the family, including his wife, plus a daughter who “went crazy and was institutionalized,” a son rejected from several colleges who wound up working at a gas station, his close friends losing everything in a bankruptcy and foreclosure, and a neighbor’s farm burning down, including the deaths of several chickens, two cows and a prize-winning pig. It was the bleakest letter I had ever read. The names of the suffering were included and I recall they were a bit strange, like “Buster Kleinert,” “Mildred Cross,” “Silas Budinski,” “Delbert and Olive Pitt” – you get the picture. Everyone at Mom’s party had to read the letter and guess which reality character they were for the evening. It was such a downer that it was hilarious.

Which brings me back to this year. It’s been so depressing that Gary and I take time to laugh as much as possible, usually right after I’ve completed my daily therapeutic crying jag. I feel like the Holly Hunter character in the film, Broadcast News, breaking out in uncontrollable sobs whenever I can’t face the stress. I’m basically an odd cross between Pollyanna, Orphan Annie, Tinker Bell and Erma Bombeck at heart, so I know it’s just a crappy year and things will improve. That being said, I admit to relying on “my three L’s” - Lexapro, Laurel & Hardy and Larry the Cable Guy - to keep me afloat till the winds change and the tides turn back around to shoe-shopping, joyful travels to exotic places, size 10 jeans, Wednesday mornings at the Edge, Pilates class, a new car and frivolous, wine-laden lunches with girlfriends. It’s hard for me to gripe about not having a massage or a facial for nine months when I have dear friends who are not complaining about being taken slowly and permanently away from everyone and everything they love by the villains cancer or Alzheimer’s, or who have lost a child or loved one.

So I choose to focus on a variety of non-pharmaceutical uppers. The best is Keegan, age 3, the grandson that I never thought I’d have because I never had any children of my own. He walks in the front door and the sun comes out even on the most dismal days. I want to burst into song whenever I see him – and often I do, mostly the theme song from Thomas the Train. There are my nieces, Lindsey and Hannah. Lindsey introduced me to Facebook.com and invited me to be her “friend” on the site, so now I get to share in the fun stuff she is doing in her third year at University of Washington. Hannah is always genuinely happy to see me when Gary and I visit the ranch or she visits the beach and recently won the starring role as the Virgin Mary in her school play. I won’t be able to see her in person, but we are looking forward to the video. There’s Vanna, my faithful “Princess Dimstar” dog, who gets so excited when I put on my shoes that she slides across the wood floor and crashes into the wall of my closet. It’s a daily routine that has turned into my personal, uproarious Groundhog Day. And there are two cats that comfort me by kneading my “muffin top” – that lovely roll just above the top of my jeans – when I sit on the couch. They also perch in front of my computer monitor while I try to work.

My friends bring me up. Kathy J and I laugh incessantly comparing stories about our mothers’ dementia antics. Terry C makes me smile often because when she calls, my cell phone barks like her two adorable little Maltese “fish-bait” (Gary’s term) dogs. She also suggests that I stop being a “mole” and come out of my office, away from the computer to join her for “Taco Tuesday.” Sandy Moore gives me inspirational food for thought and hearty doses of sisterhood that lift my spirits. Gaye Nelson, my fairy godmother (really) and “oldest” friend drops in once a month with astrological anecdotes and family stories that make me smile. Marianne T comes to sit on the patio or attend church with me when she’s in town. Sister Meg and I laugh about “Rome burning” while we have a party at the ranch or watch the horses at Del Mar. Marley the Labradoodle brings her “mom,” neighbor Linda B, over to shoot the breeze and sip wine with me on the front porch. Cousin Dru treats me to my favorite Japanese food. Daughter-in-Law Emilie and I went to see the Live with Regis & Kelly show in L.A. LuAnn, Victoria and Johnnie visited from Colorado for a girl’s weekend where the laughter was nonstop. Marian S, Debbie B, Sean G, Anne W and Larry M (Dru’s husband) give me work to do that brings in extra money to help pay for my parents’ assisted living. And another friend, who prefers total anonymity, carried on an amazing conversation with a bunch of us in and around a hot tub last summer on the subject of vaginal farts. She knows who she is, her secret is safe with me, and she must know that her story continues to make me smile almost every day. Now you can theme your own holiday party around this bunch!

And of course, there is my darling Gary – the most wonderful, empathic, strong, loving and caring partner a woman could ask for - except when the Denver Broncos lose, the music is too loud, he’s late getting to bed, he’s driving, shopping, sick, out of cigars, talking on the phone and I say something to him, the TV is too loud, I’m snoring, I want to watch a chick flick, the fish isn’t fried, he has to wear long pants and, God forbid, a tie, or I ask him to shave on the weekends. He is my bliss.

According to Gaye (www.astrologytogo.com), on December 17th, Jupiter is heading into Capricorn for a year, which is a good thing for me. I sense a shift happening already. The pony is coming into view beneath all the you-know-what. We have a new granddaughter scheduled to arrive in March. Gary still loves his job. I’m writing another book and enjoying posting on my blog every few days. We have marvelous friends. I guess it’s a wonderful life after all!

Love,

Shannon

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Charlie Brown Tree


As part of our "Underwear Christmas," we decided to get a much smaller tree this year. We went to Home Depot and avoided looking at the big trees altogether. We went to the four and five footers and found a chubby little tree that wanted to come home with us. It was the first one we looked at. Maybe I just wanted to get out of the lot, but I always think the tree finds me, not the other way around, and this tree decided to make it easy for me. I paid the $25 and Gary loaded the tree into the back of his truck. It would have fit into my car, but we always take the truck to the Christmas tree lot.

When we got home, Gary put the tree into the stand, strung some lights, then brought it from the garage to the living room and placed it in the corner. It looked a little pathetic because it's so much smaller than previous trees. I tweaked my back bringing in a plastic tub of ornaments, so had to postpone decorating the tree for a few days. The little tree sat there looking half-dressed in its colored lights until Sunday, when I felt better. Keegan, our three year-old grandson, was coming to spend the day with us and I thought it would be fun to have him help me with the tree. He said he would rather bake cookies instead. So we made chocolate chip cookies together and afterwards he agreed to help me with the tree if Papa would help too. Gary hasn't helped put ornaments on a tree since I met him 10 years ago. It's not his thing. Until now. When Keegan asks for help, Gary says yes.

I sat in a chair with a big cardboard drawer full of wrapped "ORDaments" as Keegan refers to them. Keegan would unwrap an "ordament" and hand it to Papa, then they would decide where to put it on the tree. It was as if Keegan was opening gifts on Christmas morning. He got so excited unwrapping the tissue paper that he would shake his hands and jump up and down. He'd squeal, "What is it? What is it? IT'S A BOAT!" or "What is it?!! IT'S A KITTY ANGEL! IT'S MICKEY MOUSE! IT'S COWBOY SNOOPY! IT'S A MOOSE," and on and on. I was squealing in delight along with him. Gary loved every minute of the project. We introduced Keegan to the "Christmas Pickle," a tradition in our family. It's supposed to be a German tradition, but that myth has been busted because there are very few Germans who have ever heard of it, much less participated. The glass pickle is the last ornament we put on the tree. The myth says that the first person to find the pickle on Christmas morning will have good luck for the following year. For us it's a little different. We decided that when Keegan finds the pickle each time he visits us this season, he gets a cookie! Gary gets a cookie for hiding the pickle, too. This was a big thrill for all of us.

Moral of the story, if you are feeling the least bit down at Christmas, invite a child over to play with you. Keegan said my tree is like Charlie Brown's because it has three "Snoopy ORDaments." This is the smallest tree I've had in many years, and the biggest and best time I've ever had decorating a tree, thanks to Keegan. And the inspiration of Charlie Brown.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Spirit of the Energizer Bunny


My stepdad, Jack, is the REAL Energizer Bunny...in a diaper. As I wrote in my book, The Heart Way-A Journey from Corporate to Care, Jack suffers from more than a dozen chronic health disorders and diseases, from diabetes to prostate cancer to Parkinson's. His dad passed away at the age of 49, so Jack has been expecting his own impending death since he was 45. He's been at death's door more times than I can remember, but he always bounces back. In 2005 he was hospitalized for two weeks and spent ten more weeks in a skilled nursing facility due to a bad reaction to medications that caused him to go crazy. After 10 weeks, he suddenly snapped out of it and became coherent. He worked with physical therapists and was released to go home to Mom and his assisted living community on Father's Day. He's had a few issues since then, but none as serious as the one that put him in the hospital last Friday.

I jokingly wrote "The Christmas Catheter" post in his honor, and he laughed when I read it to him. Sadly, he developed an infection from the thing and was hospitalized. His urologist insisted on comparing the color of his urine to wine. Needless to say, it was impossible for me to enjoy a glass of merlot on Friday night. I chose a dirty martini instead.

We thought we were on the right track by Sunday when the catheter bag looked like it was full of white zinfandel. The nurse pulled out the catheter yesterday morning. The doctor informed me that if Jack couldn't urinate by himself during the day, he would require surgery. By 5 o'clock, there was still no "pee-pee" as Saint Norma the Caregiver and I have taken to calling it, so surgery was set for today at 3:15 PM.

The great spirit of the Energizer Bunny must have taken hold during the night because apparently Jack went through about six super-diapers making "pee-pee" in his sleep. Everyone at the nurses' station said it was a miracle. There will be no surgery today and Jack will be going home tonight sans catheter. My sappy Christmas story is finding its very own happy ending.