Florida Family Blues Part II: No Longer On Vacation

Before I knew what was happening, I could overhear Hj throwing up in the bathroom attached to her bedroom. This soon became a norm for me. She said she wasn’t sure what she’d eaten to cause this to happen but that she wanted to talk to her doctor about it at her next office visit. When she did, she informed the doctor of her symptoms of how she’d thrown up and then spent the entire day weak in bed. This had occurred a few weeks in a row since I had come to stay with her and my great aunt Carol. The doctor told Hj that is was due to dehydration. For some reason, Hj always had issues with drinking normal amounts of water and said to me on multiple occasions that she felt as though she was drowning when drinking more than a glass of water a day. So we left with this in mind.

While this was going on with Hj, I had learned about her other ailments as well and about the other medications she took too. Carol told me as well as Hj that earlier in the year, Hj’s memories had began to fade and that she had the beginnings of dementia and had begun to see a brain doctor and take a brain pill to help her memory along. No such luck I’m afraid. Hj’s memory became less and less vibrant the longer I stayed in the household.

I realize of course that I was supposed to be helping aid my great aunt in her sorting of her belongings, and whatnot. However, I realized soon after arriving just what I was involved in. I was to be helping a hoarder. It was clear that this was no small feat to be helping her because she had multiple locations of where her hoarding could be found. It was in her bedroom, where she no longer slept due to lack of space, it was in my bedroom (the guest room), it was in their RV sitting parked outside, it was in the office suite of 3 rooms that she rented each month to store more of her hoarding. This was an undertaking that I had not anticipated. What my great aunt wished to do was to clean up her belongings and sell what she could and donate what she couldn’t so that she could use the office suite as her art studio and then would be able to teach as well at some point. This idea to me sounded wonderful and I was hopeful in the beginning. Then I started to sort through the years and years of unopened envelopes and newspapers and magazines that had piled up over the years that she had not disposed of for some reason or other. These were all habits of a hoarder. And then some. I won’t bore you with too much more detail, apart from the fact that I realized that their was nothing I could do to help the situation and so I got to a certain point and basically gave up.

Carol, my great aunt, had these hoarding tendencies, and also she was a night owl. She’d sleep all day nearly apart from when she had a doctor appointment and of course she’d wake up just a few moments before her soap came on each afternoon to catch the entire dramatic episode of The Young and the Restless. It was obvious to me that Carol was not happy and that she was terribly depressed. Hj and her fought constantly like a married couple. And why wouldn’t they?! They had lived in the same household for 15 years. Carol though, it seemed to me had something of a mood disorder. This thought occurred to me upon witnessing one of their little rows when having dinner and my aunt one moment was throwing her cane across the room, and then just perhaps 20 minutes later was calmly sitting and eating supper with us and laughing over a television show. I believe she has some form of mood disorder because her mood would change so rapidly I felt it wasn’t normal at all. I brought all of this to her attention to no avail. Carol was not up for seeking out help I soon learned.

Hj was my main concern. This was mainly because soon after my arrival, she became so ill that she was hospitalized and had certain tests run on her to find out the cause of her illnesses that were making her stomach upset and forcing her to be so weakened. Five days after being in the hospital, Hj was released home to Carol and I and we watched over her until she was to see a doctor about the results of the tests they’d conducted on her. This doctor basically told her that she had ulcers in her stomach and scarring from ulcers she’d had in the past and that he needed to go in surgically and remove any bacteria in her stomach and bile duct that was causing her to vomit. Once Hj heard all of this, she knew this doctor’s treatments were out of the question. You see, Hj had never had surgery or any major ailment in her life. She was fit as a fiddle and the moment she was less than so, she looked for another route. I couldn’t blame her either. The doctor was a total loon. Hj later found out that her ulcers were aggravating her pancreas and it caused her to have pancreatitis.

During this time, I was basically cooking, cleaning, driving, and assisting both Hj as well as my aunt in anything they required. I became a caregiver overnight when no one was around to realize this. I was working my summer away, all day every day. Making sure that Hj took her medications each day, making sure that her dog Charl-le was walked each day, washing any laundry or dishes here and there, and also cooking meals for her and Carol anytime it needed to be done. Driving to doctor appointments, driving to the grocery store, taking cars in to have work done on them and so on.

I was somehow doing all this and forgot that I needed to have time off for myself. Thankfully a friend of theirs would come by and take me out for an evening of fun occasionally to learn how to play bingo or whatever was nearby and entertaining enough to get me out of the house. Yes bingo isn’t necessarily for my age group, but it got me out of the house and my mind off of the situation I was in for the time being. I had time to think about my future and my time in Port Charlotte, Florida and how I could help Hj and Carol in their home. I also had time to think about how long I wanted to stick around to care for these ladies. Wonderful though they were and even tried to get me to meet their friends by hosting little dinner parties in their home and getting everyone to come out here and there so we could all eat dinner together for a birthday or just because even. Fun was had, but also difficulties as well.

While Hj was over here struggling with her illnesses, my great aunt Carol was in her bedroom playing Sudoku or doing a crossword puzzle or something to pass the time. She tended to keep to herself unless I made a point to spend some time with her and show her some affection. This was all well and good at times, but it was rare. We may be family, but this was the most time I’d ever spent with my grandmother’s sister, as well as the longest amount of time I’d ever spent with any family member other than my immediate family back home in California. Neither of us were used to each other, but we both grew to know each other somewhat over the months I was there. Whether it was by looking over the large family tree she’d gotten from one of our family members and seeing who I was related to, or maybe by going for a short dip in the pool that they had just outside the lanai (Florida Room) right off of the canal where their home was, laughing together over silly songs from her childhood or talking about my sexuality or religion, or whatever else popped into our heads bobbing in the water of the small swimming pool that was heated by solar panels.

These little things that made up my summer; these things that simply helped me get to know my great aunt and her housemate Hj, just made me stay as long as I did. No matter how ill Hj was, and no matter how horrible the tantrum Carol threw, I was there for them. I chose to be.