Helpless and Frustrated


Helpless and Frustrated

(Editor's Note: We welcome Darra, who cares for her mother-in-law, to our blogging team today. You can connect with her on her profile page: @darra1960.)

pills_medicationFirst, let me start by telling you that I did not volunteer for this job.

I am a confident, compassionate and kind person by nature, just not a sympathetic or tolerant one. I met my mother-in-law right before my husband and I got married. She lived in Topeka, Kansas, and I was from Illinois. My husband is a truck driver and I traveled with him so we really called the truck 'home'.

Shortly after we married, my mother-in-law (Laura) had surgery to correct a kink in her colostomy tube. She recovered in a nursing home and then made the decision to go into assisted living  as she had no-one to care for her at home. My husband is an only child and his father died about five years ago. We didn't visit often but kept in contact with her by weekly phone calls. I liked Laura and we got along well. So, when she informed us that she had to sell her house (that she had owned for 62 years) to pay for assisted living, my husband and I made the decision to buy his childhood home and I would stay there while he went out in the truck. Laura was excited that I was going to be living in Topeka and informed my husband that she could come home and live with me now and there would be no need for him to buy the house. It was in her will that the house would go to him anyway. So, it all made perfect sense to her. I, on the other hand, was a little skeptical. But felt like this was the 'right' thing to do.

So, that is how I became her 'caretaker'. Not that she really needs one. She recovered from her surgery just fine but it is her doctor's opinion that she shouldn't live alone. It was the nursing home's opinion that she needs someone to supervise her medication. I read the MAR before she left and it specifically said she could not be left alone with her medicine. I didn't understand that then but have since come to know why. I am of the opinion that she is grossly over-medicated. I have also come to realize that she is what I call 'medicine dependent' and what I mean by this is any medicine that her doctor tells her she needs to take, whether she really does or not, she convinces herself she needs it.

She is on about 20 different medications a day with the most alarming medicine being Ritalin. Why would any sane doctor give an 83-year-old woman Ritalin?? I asked her why he gave it to her and she told me she complained of being tired and not having any energy. So he gave you speed? was my next question. I was thinking, "you're 83, you're supposed to be tired" but I didn't say it. She said she really felt like she needed it and was glad he put her on it.

Then she tells me he only wants her to take it Monday through Friday and not take it on week-ends. I asked her why wouldn't she take it on week-ends, does she have plenty of energy on Saturday and Sunday? She said "No, they don't want her body to become accustomed to it because then it wouldn't work anymore." I just shook my head. I couldn't believe a 'good' doctor would put her on speed and then worry about her body building a tolerance to it. So, guess what happens on those week-ends? She is grouchy and just drags through the day, complaining about everything under the sun. My guess is her body is already dependent on the Ritalin.

Beside the un-needed narcotic she is on, the doctor put her on the Exelon patch, which is for Alzheimer's, a disease this woman definitely does not have. She remembers everything and forgets nothing. And these patches cost a lot of money. After her insurance coverage, she still paid $497.00 for a three-month supply! So, we had a doctors appointment last week and I asked the doctor what she based her diagnosis on (she hated me by the way) and she couldn't answer. She just kept saying she didn't have Alzheimer's, she had senile dementia, which is a total different thing. So, I asked her what she based that on and she told me she got her information from Laura's previous doctor. (Yep, the quack that put her on the Ritalin in the first place). I asked her if we could discontinue the patch and she said yes, to try it for a couple months and if we didn't notice a change to let her know and she would take her off of it.

But, this is where Laura, the medicine dependent maniac comes in, we went home and the next day didn't apply the patch. All was good until the next day almost 48 hours without a patch and Laura says to me, "I can't walk" as she demonstrated what she meant, shuffling up to me. "And I can't think today, I need that patch and I don't think I can go without it." I just got up and put the patch on her. Yes, I know I could of pointed out to her how stupid her reasons were but hey, it's her health not mine. And arguing with her is not my style. By the way, I did research these "side effects" and they are non-existent  in other people.

She also takes Zofran for nausea. Well, it's supposed to be for nausea but she takes them for stomach aches. I have told her and told her that the Zofran will not help a stomach ache but she is convinced she has to take them. But, instead of telling me her stomach aches now, she is in the habit of telling me she feels like she is going to throw up. Score one for Laura.

She also takes Lisinopril 5 mg for high blood pressure that she does not have. We take her blood pressure every morning and it is NEVER over 140/78. Never. She was taking her blood pressure medicine at that reading and then about an hour later she would go lay down because she was so tired.  So, one day she was feeling so tired and she re-took her blood pressure (for some reason I can't recall now) and it was 102/54. She said that must be why she was so tired because her blood pressure was so low. I know for some reason the nursing home had stopped her blood pressure medicine and she threw a fit. It was what caused her to change doctors. She had taken blood pressure medicine for three years and she was convinced she needed it and she was livid that they had stopped giving it to her. Upon questioning her, I found out that they had been monitoring her blood pressure two times a day throughout this. Well, her new doctor gave her back her blood pressure medicine and I started to see why the nursing home had taken it away to begin with. So, I told her that if her blood pressure wasn't at least 140/70, she wouldn't be taking her blood pressure medicine. For the next three days it stayed under that number. She couldn't stand it anymore and told me she needed to take her blood pressure medicine again so I let her. It bottomed out once again at 100/50 and she spent the day in bed.

She really has no medical conditions except a constant stomach ache. She has a colostomy that she got 17 years ago when they removed her colon due to cancer. She has had a kidney removed, gall bladder removed and a tumor that was cancerous in her stomach. Her tube got kinked up last year and she had to surgically repair it. The doctors told her she would have stomach pain due to the scar tissue and it would never get better, only worse. She knows this. Yet every time she gets a stomach ache she tries to relate it  to something she did or ate. Also, she is supposed to eat small meals several times a day and not eat large ones. She is also supposed to be on a bland diet. These are things that she can do that will help her stomach not hurt so bad. She follows the small meal thing and eats snacks every hour.  The bland diet thing, not so much. She eats what she wants to eat and there's nothing I can do about it,  All I can do is tell her she should watch what she eats because some foods will give her a belly-ache.

She takes Tylenol P.R.N. throughout the day for stomach pain and Hydrocodone at night. Her tylenol routine is fixed. She takes one as soon as breakfast is over in the morning (if she doesn't, she claims she gets a stomach-ache) and then she takes another one at noon and a third one at 4 p.m. Her narcotic pain reliever starts at 8 pm and she sets her alarm every night for 1 am so she can take her 2nd hydrocodone. Otherwise, she would probably sleep through the night and then not be able to take her medicine. (which to her would be unacceptable).

She takes Gas-X several times a day as well. She was also trying to take a laxative every day to help her bowels not hurt so much when they move. I told her that I was not comfortable giving her a laxative all the time and that the doctor had not ordered it (because her doctor is the only person she listens to). When her bowels move and how often they move is of great concern to her and I have found it is at the root of many of her belly-aches. She can't seem to distinguish her bowels moving from a belly-ache. And when her stomach starts to 'hurt', she wants immediate relief. She goes over to the pill drawer and starts rummaging until she comes up with something that she thinks will work. Mostly, the Zofran. Which I know doesn't work.

I thought I was prepared to be her 'caretaker' because I took care of sick people several times in my life but this is different. Mostly because she is not sick. So, I am more of a 'companion' than a 'caretaker'. I don't really like this role at all and that is probably obvious in my writing. I want to help her but my suggestions always get tossed  in the 'throw away' pile of her mind. Whenever I give her a suggestion like maybe she shouldn't walk down the porch steps unless I am there, she makes a point to show me that she can and will do whatever she pleases. So, I have stopped making suggestions.

I am feeling real helpless and frustrated here.

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Thank you so much for your kind words! I have actually thought about replacing the patch with a band aid since it goes on her back and she cant actually see it. I never thought about talking to her pharmacist but it sounds like a great idea. Thank you again for your helpful advice!! I really do appreciate it.....


Dear Darra, hmmm, you are an amazing Daughter-in-law!!! You are soo patient and kind, probably more than you even realize! I just can't imagine someone so addicted to taking pills and paying so much for those patches! I am wondering if you can engage a pharmacist to help you with a way to replace some medications. I think you know where I am going with this, if it looks like a pill, it is probably my pill! Some ideas are the teething tablets, known as Hyland's Teething tablets and other naturepathic or vitamins to replace these toxic and unneeded medications! I use a daily pill box that sits on the dining table where Grandma eats so she can see what pills she needs to take, morning, noon and night. You have such an amazing story and we are here to support, encourage and listen!


Thanks Pegi for the advice. No, I haven't asked my husband to talk with her because this is not his area of He tells me everyday that if he had to live with her, he would probably end up in prison for murder. He is just amazed that I can deal with her. Her new doctor is okay but Laura does NOT want to be taken off any of her meds and if she thought I would ask her doctor that she would probably come up with a million side effects from being off her medicine. She likes taking her medicine too much for me to try to get her off any of it. (you read what happened when I tried to get her to stop taking the patch) but I do appreciate you trying to help!!