an adult son stands with his arms around his parents. a hurricane swirls around them with flying objects like a car medications and a prescription pad

Hurricanes and Health Care

When my grandmother got sick, my mom would make the six hour drive up from New Orleans, Louisiana, to the little farmhouse in the Mississippi Delta to take care of her on the weekends. Home health, hospice, and a neighbor woman would be there during the week. Mom would go up on the weekends to give them a break and to make sure grandma was doing ok.

Once my dad got sick, he would go with her. He couldn’t stay home alone. He could stay on the bench by the bathroom at the Walmart in Vicksburg while the ladies shopped, that is until he wasn’t there when they were done, and they found him wandering on the back side of the huge parking lot. Oh, my word! We were glad he didn’t make it up to the road!

Hurricane Katrina changed everything for my family

Hurricane Katrina changed the landscape of the Gulf Coast in 2005. That wicked woman changed our lives as well. My parents’ house in New Orleans was under six feet of water. Mom and dad had taken refuge in my grandma’s little clapboard house in rural Mississippi, thinking it was just for their usual weekend trip. They never went back until months later, after grandma had passed, to salvage a few belongings that were stored in the attic.

My husband Scott and I got to go to the NOLA house at Christmas. There was still standing water in the kitchen drawers four months later. There was a kaleidoscope of molds growing on the walls and ceiling. And oooooh the FUNK!! I will never forget that smell! We had rubber boots and masks on, but the putrefying grunge still penetrated our nostrils and the sweat fogged our glasses.

I was able to find my dad’s class ring from The Ohio State University and a few other mementos that had floated to the mud-caked carpet after the furniture had upended and the water receded. A big lesson we all learned after Katrina is that people are more important than stuff. Stuff can be replaced, some of it anyway, but not the people.

Relocating to Mom and Dad to New York

The little country house in the middle of nowhere, full of memories, was sweltering in the southern heat. It was not good for dad. When a house down the street from me in Buffalo, NY, came up for sale, I talked them into buying it for cash with their FEMA money, that way they could beat the heat and be under my watchful, young mother's eye.

If my parents were close by, I wouldn’t have to worry about them as much, right? However, they were still determined to go back to Mississippi for half the year to avoid New York taxes. Mom didn’t “heart” NY, as my bother liked to say, she only “liked it as a friend.” She preferred the three-day drive!

Finding the right doctor for my dad

With my parents living up here half of the year, I got them set up with doctors. I hadn’t been to Buffalo that long, so it was a challenge. But hey, a ten minute drive to all kinds of doctors is better than the one country doctor in a town 30-40 minutes away or a six hour drive back down to New Orleans. They didn’t need a pediatrician although I had that covered.

What about the other end of the age spectrum? We started with a family doctor (who was terrible) and a neurologist. Since dad had a shunt in his brain due to his Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), he needed someone up here to follow him up. The neurologist said he had Parkinson’s with likely Alzheimer’s. Oh! Uhhh...

Learning about my dad's Alzheimer’s diagnosis

The diagnoses explained a lot. Actually, no! It really wasn’t an explanation, but rather a categorization of all of our thousands of more questions. I had a friend whose mother had died with Alzheimer’s. I went to a family event of theirs, and she wordlessly fixated over straightening the tassel on the living room rug. She seemed unaware that anyone else was in the crowded space. I don’t think she was with them too much longer. Is this what we had to look forward to?

Buckle up. That’s what I got out of that appointment. The doctor gave my mom and I each a copy of a book to read. He gave my dad a couple of prescriptions to try. We had already been through diabetes, heart disease and NPH with him. Now this. But hey, you do for family.

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