Thursday, July 28, 2011

She Hates Her Chair

I'd spent one too many nights in the Emergency Room with her. This was the second time she'd gotten caught in the blankets and rolled off the couch. Enough. Finished. Comfort be damned (kinda sorta) - a change had to be made.

Brother and Niece, the Youngest and I took her to Lazy-Boy and bought the top of the line, fully automatic, helps you stand up, reclines nearly flat electric chair. It's blue, like her eyes. She thought it was fun..... in the store.

That was a month ago. Since then, I have written a variety of notes hoping to explain the UP/DOWN toggle switch on the chair's remote control. It's counter-intuitive.... or opposite.... or obvious..... but it's just not working for G'ma. It's not entirely her fault. See if you don't agree.

UP means the foot rest goes up and, when it is fully extended, the seat back reclines. DOWN raises the seat back, lowers the foot rest, and raises the seat-back-assembly to assist you as you stand up. If you concentrate on the action of the foot rest, it's all copacetic*.

However, should you want to stand up and consequently push UP (which, if you are G'ma, makes perfect sense) you will sink further back and your feet will rise to meet your nose or that's how it feels anyway and then you drop the control because you're really surprised and kind of scared and the damn thing falls over the edge of the chair and now what do you do?

This is an especially bad situation if the reason you wanted to stand up in the first place was to make your way to the bathroom.

The caregivers at her pod-castle have been mentioning that she hates her chair. They have tried, each in his or her own way, to instruct G'ma in the finer points of chair-usage. They have demonstrated it with her in the chair. They have demonstrated it while sitting in the chair themselves. It makes no difference. She will not learn it.

I get where she's coming from. Mrs. McGuirl taught adding and subtracting fractions on the 2 days I was absent from school for a Jewish holiday. I remember her telling me that it was my choice and I should live with the consequences. At 11, I knew that was wrong, I knew she had an obligation to me, I knew I wasn't going to tell anyone what she'd said (this was 1963, after all, and we respected our teachers, who knew all and were all powerful), I knew I was mad and I knew I wasn't going to listen to a thing she said for the rest of the year. And I didn't. And I still don't do fractions. It's just too hard.

So, I have some sympathy for my maternal unit, from whom I obviously inherited this ability to ignore important parts of life if figuring them out would be a chore. If there's a way to get around it, we'll find it. But neither one of us is willing to acknowledge that we would have to invest a little bit of effort in teaching ourselves a new trick. I tried to remember this as my fury mounted.

This was not an inexpensive purchase. She liked it in the store. She could use it in the store. She agreed that the couch was proving dangerous and that death by rolling off the sofa would be an embarrassing way to go. There was no question in our minds - the couch was out, the chair was in.

And she can't figure out how to use it.

She has, of course, compensated. She's moved her coffee table in front of the chair, and rests her tootsies on the lower or upper shelves depending on her mood. She rebuffs all efforts to remove the table and help her with the footrest- "Why bother? I'm so comfortable already."

I'm reluctant to ask the staff to escort her to her room after lunch and set her up in the recliner. Should she need to escape she might become trapped in a never ending series of ups and downs and lifts and that just wouldn't be fair.... though it might be funny to watch. Don't feel abashed if you are laughing right now; G'ma and I had a good long giggle over this scenario on Monday.

And that's when I realized that this was a problem of my own making. Safety is one of the issues I have reserved to myself when it comes to making decisions for my mother. She can choose her own outfits, select the spot on the wall for her granddaughter's graduation photo, pick our lunch destination or which tv program she wants to watch. But, in abdicating the responsibility for her well-being to me, she's also given up some of her rights..... like the right to total comfort.

Horrible Woman, I hear you screaming at me right now. She said she was comfortable; why couldn't you let well enough alone? The answer is simple - it wasn't well enough. She was in danger. And, just as I wouldn't let a child near a hot stove, I can't let my mother near a couch with a blanket.

It's a bizarre analogy, but it's a true one. Once again I am reminded of the fact that my mother is "reverse aging". The numbers are getting bigger, but her behavior is getting smaller. Her interests, her curiosity, her sphere of influence and interaction are ever more limited.  She used to go all day; now, like a pre-schooler, she needs her afternoon nap.  It's not a 20-minute-power-nap, either.  It's under the crewel-worked throw she made, with her glasses on the night stand and her head on the pillow.  It's deep, restorative sleep.

And now she's awake in the afternoon and she's upright.  When the lovely Russian activities therapist invites her to play cards there's no question that she's too comfortable to move.  That chair isn't an enticement; she's willing to join the party in the rec room.

She was the last person to leave.

Perhaps I ought to let go of the guilt and recognize that she is better off in the chair than on the couch.

I'll let you know how I do with that.  For now, I'm going to work on being comfortable with the fact that her safety is more important than her desires.


*According to my professor in class today, "copacetic" was coined by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who would create his own words when the erudition of his fellow actors/dancers became overwhelming.


  1. OMG, I thought the chair was going to be so awesome. Hmmmm, I do agree about her safety and the couch. Now you have a conundrum. I know you've tried everything, but maybe Lazy-Boy will take the chair back or maybe they have someone that can help instruct an older person on how to use it. I do know they aren't that intuitive.

    I can see this is quite frustrating, but rest assured you made the right decision when it came to the couch.

    You've given me something to sit and ponder...

    Megan xxx

  2. I know it can be very frustrating dealing with aging parents--this is one of those times. If she is willing to use the chair instead of the now-dangerous couch, and she is happy using the coffee table, try to just let it go. Easier said than done, I know. xo

  3. Okay, so... I don't know, this is so obvious it must have been considered and rejected for some reason, but: can you just relabel the toggle switch? like with Dymo tape, or nail polish, or something likewise semi-permanent?

    This is a classic ergonomic problem. Should the design reflect the common sense of the world at large? or the common "sense" of the predominant user? I can think of a few techie-type people who would LOVE to use this as an example of an engineering/design issue... In my car, the door-locking/-unlocking button is labeled with a picture of a lock. ONLY a lock -- there's no separate open and closed icons. It's really kind of dumb. I mean, eventually I got used to it, and know that you click on the front of the button to lock, on the back of it to unlock. But did they have to make it a requirement that I, y'know, learn how to lock the doors???

    Yours in the befuddlement of middle age,

  4. My brother, wonderful human that he is, suggested these as the new labels : RELAX and EJECT.

    I'll keep you posted on their success.

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  6. (Little editing issue in my first try)
    The "Re-label" comments sound as helpful as anything I could produce on this.

    I think you're doing a great job being G'ma's daughter, trying your best to keep her POV in mind while providing for her safety and comfort. I'd always thought that, if I was doing my best, I'd be getting it right 100% of the time, but it turns out I was wrong. I guess we'll have to settle for being mostly right.

    I also learned that, in the world of assisted living, most adult children aren't very attentive, aren't trying very hard (or so it appears; who knows what they have to cope with), and certainly aren't looking for much in the way of communication with the facility. So, when staff encounters an actively involved adult child who wants to know what's going on, they are more prone to communicate both the good and the bad. That meant I got to hear more than what was strictly necessary for my parent's well-being and my own. Some of that didn't help me in the least, since I wound up with a lot of mixed messages and more for me to worry about than I could reasonably cope with.

    The moral of this story is, if staff feels free to say, "She hates her chair," it means you must be doing something right.


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