Time for an Intervention

My sister took the call from the Veteran’s Home. Our father wasn’t cooperating in taking his medications; he was outright refusing them at times. Shocking.

Our dad has always been a bit stubborn—he has a righteous sense of justice, and a clear idea of what he will do and not do. He has had 82 long years to develop this strong sense of self.

I knew what he was thinking: If these pink and white things won’t get him of his wheelchair and out of this place, and let him tool around town in the bright yellow Ford Ranger he used to drive, why take them?

But, he needs most of these dozen or so pills every noon and night, for everything from his bones and his eyes to his heart and his prostate. To make them more palatable, the staff even mix them with applesauce—but fish oil and applesauce is almost worse than fish oil on its own.  

The intervention was my job. He would listen to me, maybe. Probably because I’ve never been afraid to tell him what I think—I get that part of my personality from him.

“Dad,” I said, “I want to talk to you about your medications.”

The nurse had left a list of his meds tacked to his bulletin board. Pills for when he’s healthy, pills for when he’s sick, everything from cough syrup to Celexa. Oh my.

“You want to talk about my medications?” he said, picking up his head a bit. My dad is tall—6 feet—but these days, he’s usually slumped in his wheelchair, and seems shorter.

“We were thinking maybe we could cut some of these medications out, so you don’t have to take so many.”

His face brightened. “That would be good.”

The nurses agreed that cutting out some of the less essential ones might help him to stomach the meds he really needed.  He can’t skip his insulin or his blood pressure medication, but giving up calcium would not kill him at this point. On the other hand, continuing to force him to take a dozen pills twice a day might.

“What do you think? Fish oil, calcium, vitamin C? Would you like to cut all those out? That’s six pills a day at least,” I said.

“Sure,” he said. I noticed his glasses were dirty. I didn’t know why the staff don’t think to clean them.

I took an index card and a black Sharpie out of his drawer, and wrote NO FISH OIL, CALCIUM, VIT D in large letters. And I initialed it, and tacked it to his bulletin board. 

“So dad, you can refuse these three, but you have to take the others, okay?”

I might as well be telling him he can have dessert only if he finishes his vegetables.

“Okay,” he agreed. He seemed happy with the idea. 

The nurse told me they couldn’t take them off his list right away, though. That would be too simple. It would have to wait until the next time the doctor did a medication review of his chart.

“Since you are his power of attorney, however,” the nurse said, “You can tell us it’s okay for him to refuse those three.”

I thought this was amusing. We all agreed he should stop taking these medications, but they had to continue to give the pills to him for a few days, so we had to give them permission to allow him not to take them. Seemed a little circuitous.

“It’s okay,” I told the nurse. “Just don’t give them to him in pudding; he hates the pudding,” I said. “And you might want to tell the others about the ice cream.”

The nurse had told me she never has trouble getting him to take his meds. She dissolves them in warm water and then puts them in ice cream. And he takes them happily.

I can see why my dad likes her. He thinks this sweet blond nurse simply brings him a treat on a regular basis.

“I have a little ice cream for you,” she’d tell him, as she bustled into his room those days, and he would smile.

That’s pretty much what he has to look forward to—other than the times when we come visit. In between the grayness, the Mondays blending with the Thursdays, people coming in to play bad music and his roommate muttering about nothing, there are days that are good days. These are the days when this nurse is on duty and she comes to see him with a little paper cup of cold vanilla. On these days, he doesn’t argue at all.