Quickly Getting Help for a Friend in Need
"Hi, this is Lisa. I'm not sure I can take care of myself right now. Can you bring me some food?" I found that scary sounding message on my voicemail one Saturday morning. It started me on a journey to coordinate care for a close friend. I learned several things that I'll share with you. I hope that if you are ever faced with a similar situation, my experience will help you.
I've known Lisa (not a real name) for about 20 years. She's part of a close group of 10 friends in our city. We get together regularly to share a bottle of wine, to celebrate holidays, to go out to dinner at a local restaurant. We've even vacationed together a few times.
Lisa is in her early 90's, 30+ years older than I am. She lives alone in a well kept house in town. She is independent and has always driven herself to local appointments, the grocery store, the bank, our soirees.
I had been out the night before and missed her call. Getting this voicemail in the morning really shook me. I immediately called Lisa to see how I could help.
Lisa told me that she hadn't been sleeping well for the last two weeks; some noise in the neighborhood had been waking her up every day at 3am. She feels sleep deprived and very tired. The lack of sleep had affected her appetite and she hadn't been eating much. Her normally petite 115 pound frame was now down to 105 and she feels confused. Last night she realized that she was not handling this situation well and reached out to me for help. Thank God she did. It wasn't a yet a medical emergency, but I needed to help right away.
My first action was to ask Lisa what she felt like eating. She didn't care what it was, but she likes McDonald's pancakes and she said nuts sounded good. I told her I'd be there in an hour. I headed to the local grocery to buy a few things. I wanted to get high caloric, protein foods. Not knowing what she really eats each day I bought a big can of mixed nuts, a quart of milk, sliced salami, ice cream bon bons, some sliced cheese, two pints of different soup from the hot food bar, a popular protein fruit smoothy. I also stopped by McDonald's for two orders of pancake breakfast with sausage - to go.
Arriving at Lisa's I found her alert, but weak. She was clearly feeling low, but very happy to see me. She told me how hard it was for her to finally admit to herself that she needed some help. That was a big step for her. I was careful to let her know it was the right thing to do and that I was just here to help her in any way she needed. She gave me a tired smile.
I spread out the food stuffs and let her pick what she wanted. I think it was good to have a variety of food because you never know what will taste good in this situation. I also brought easy to serve items; sliced items would be easy for her to snack on without needing to cut anything. I didn't know that Lisa has some mild food allergies so we eliminated a few items right away. She ate a whole pancake and part of a sausage. She drank a bit of the milk. I could see that she felt better knowing she was not alone now.
Rally the troops
We talked. I could sense that Lisa would need help for the next few weeks to get her back in the pink, so to speak. I was willing to help a lot, but I didn't think I could do it all by myself. My first action was to call the rest of our group of friends. They all jumped in and wanted to help immediately. Everyone wanted to visit Lisa.
Lisa didn't need five visits today; she needed a visit every day for the next two weeks. I found myself making a calendar and coordinating who could visit on what day, and figuring out what they would do for her. I got commitments for people to bring her food and visit with her for the next five days. That gave me some breathing room to figure out what to do next.
Despite being close friends, I didn't have contact information for her children or other relatives. I got that from Lisa and called her kids. Unfortunately I had to leave voicemail for each of them. I realized that her kids didn't know me or our group of friends, so I'd have to introduce myself. I'd do that when they called me back. Two days later I had still not heard from her kids; not everyone checks voicemail every day.
Some of our friends had issues come up and needed to change the day they'd visit. Under normal circumstances this is no problem, but now I needed to make sure we had coverage every day. When someone couldn't make a day visit I'd call around to find someone else. I also wanted each person to know the current situation so I'd call the person who visited Lisa that day, get an update from them, then call the person scheduled for tomorrow and give them the status. This was a lot of work for me to take on while still doing my day job.
Enter Care Zone. A year ago I'd come across Care Zone when researching elder care products; now I decided to give it a real try. It worked beautifully. The accounts are free. A user can set up a "care zone" for a person. I set one up for Lisa. In her care zone is a calendar, journal, to-do list, contact list, and an automatic email feature. It was easy to "invite" others to share Lisa's care zone - I just had to add their email address. Anyone on the team could make a journal entry and Care Zone will send updates to all the contacts. Anyone on the team could look at the calendar and see upcoming activity. A member can put their scheduled visits on the calendar and Care Zone will send reminders to everyone. Wow, suddenly I didn't have to be the switchboard operator controlling everything. The team of friends was able to handle much of the day to day planning themselves. We became a self directed team supporting Lisa.
We wanted to help Lisa, but still respect her privacy and independence. From the beginning we agreed that we would never write anything in the journal that we would be uncomfortable if Lisa read it. In fact, if Lisa was more fluent with email, I would have added her to the care zone team.
At this point the sons each called me to find out what was going on. I updated them and they, of course, called Lisa immediately. Living out of the area meant they had to make plans to come visit, but with our local team that wasn't a problem. I added her sons to the care zone for Lisa so they could keep up to date on her situation and what we were all doing. When they planned to visit they would update the calendar so that our local group could take a break.
Care Zone was instrumental in helping us coordinate a complex and quickly changing situation.
Meals On Wheels
With the short term situation in hand I wanted to find a longer term solution for getting Lisa meals. Years ago my parents were volunteer delivery drivers for Meals on Wheels, so that was my first idea. Lisa liked the idea of MoW but, being so tired, asked me to set it up. I'm so glad I got them involved. A web search brought up our local MoW agency. I was worried that they wouldn't want to deal with me - how would they know that I'm really acting in Lisa's best interest? I'm happy to say that my fears were unfounded.
I spoke with the local Meals on Wheels agency and explained the situation. An hour later their intake person called me and walked me through the options. They deliver a hot meal before noon, three or five days a week. They have grants to provide free meals or the cost is $15 a day. Lisa is not poor and was adamant that she wanted to pay for the service.
They took all the information from me and said they'd call Lisa to confirm. Two hours later they called me back to say meals would start being delivered in two days. Wow, fantastic. I can't say enough good things about Meals on Wheels.
Where are we now?
It's been three months since this started and Lisa is doing so much better. Meals on Wheels is now delivering five days a week. She's started driving herself again, so she is feeling independent. One of her kids comes to visit almost every week. As you might expect, she occasionally has a slow day so we still use Care Zone to inform everyone of what's going on. We don't keep a strong calendar anymore, but when I visit her I make a journal entry just to say, "Lisa looked great today and is in good spirits." I know that everyone on the team will get the update. Sometimes I see something around the house that needs repair and I make a care zone To-Do list entry and assign the action to one of her sons; I know they'll get email reminders from Care Zone.
Most importantly, should Lisa need more help in the future, our team is now set up and could respond immediately.
Neither the author nor Tech-enhanced Life, PBC receives any form of sponsorship or fees or other compensation from any of the organizations mentioned in this article.