|Mary Ann Cooper
Celebrity & Women's Magazines
|Life Has No Expiration Date
By Mary Ann Cooper
Expiration dates are part of our daily life. Buying a quart versus a half-gallon of milk is based on how
much “shelf life” each has left, and how quickly we assume we’ll consume it. Sadly, when it comes to
health care, people are often judged the same way.
Everyone knows the statistical reality of life. Average life expectancy for men and women is now
approaching the late seventies. The fact that this figure keeps going up is the good news. But if you
are a caregiver for your aging parent you know all too well that this one-size fit all figure can diminish
your chances of getting quality health care for your parent.
My 83-year-old cousin who is the picture of health, an avid golfer and looks at least 15 years younger
than he is told me recently that he feels as if an expiration date is stamped on his forehead when he
visits a doctor. He says a doctor takes one look at his medical record and begins treating him like
“dead man walking.” The rationale is that he has already outlived his shelf life. He gets the feeling that
some doctors dismiss his symptoms and complaints because they feel he’s already beat the odds and
lived a longer and healthier life than others in his age group.
My cousin’s view hit home with me as I sought treatment for my 83-year-old mother for severe anemia.
Her internist, who asked a consulting gastroentronologist to give her a colonoscopy, hospitalized her,
but the procedure was never performed. She stayed there for seven days until she developed a staph
infection and was sent home. Instead, her anemia was treated for 26 consecutive weeks with
transfusions, iron and Procrit, but no specialist sought to find the underlying cause of her condition.
After all, she was in her 80s, she should be grateful to be alive. Finally, after my mother became weak
and started experiencing pain, she was sent for a CAT scan and colonoscopy. These revealed a
massive colon mass. It was deemed inoperable. You would think, at that point, the attending physician
would show some compassion. A physician she had never met before came in without breaking stride
and mumbled “inoperable” as my brother and I stood in shock straining to listen to his words. To add
insult to injury, he leaned down to speak to my mother. Patting her on the stomach, he said, “You have
a big boo boo in your belly.” How patronizing! He then walked out without another word.
I wondered how he would deliver such devastating news to someone half her age. But no, my mother
didn’t warrant the attention. She had, you see, outlived her expiration date. This doctor sent my mother
home to die. But mother wasn’t ready to die and we weren’t ready to let her go. My mom announced
that she wasn’t giving up and I said if she didn’t give up on herself, I wouldn’t give up on her, either. I
also promised her that I would make sure she wouldn’t have to live with pain. That was my goal. And it
was with that in mind that I called the National Cancer Institute for advice.
The NCI provided me with the names and numbers of places they recognized as outstanding cancer
care facilities. One of them was Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Based on its proximity and the NCI recommendation, I called the gastro oncology unit of their cancer
care facility. By the time I made the call, I must admit I was buying into the expiration date concept,
myself. I was apologetic. If they thought it was not “worth” treating my mom, could they at least make
sure she was comfortable for the time she had left? The compassionate patient care consultant uttered
a phrase that brought me back to reality. She said, “no matter what the age, no matter what the stage,
there is always something we can do.”
She made an appointment for us with the head of the gastro oncology unit, Dr. Andrew Jennis, and
told me what I needed to send them in terms of my mother’s medical records. For the next day and a
half I collected my mother’s paperwork from all her doctors – some of whom I believed had neglected
her and given her terrible care. I controlled my simmering anger to ask nicely and not react when one
of them glanced at her test results and casually observed, “I guess that’s where the anemia came
from.” Realizing that I was taking her to HUMC, he made a pitch for her staying under his care. “You
know, we can treat her here. You can go there, but you won’t get the personal treatment there as you
can here.” The irony of this statement from someone who had failed to recognize my mother’s
deteriorating condition! I could barely control my rage.
As I faxed my mother’s medical records to Dr. Jennis’ office, I was still feeling tentative and apologetic.
I sent a note to the doctor that I didn’t want to take my mother to see him if he was going to dismiss her
and send her home to die. She didn’t need to be told that a second time from another seemingly
uncaring, unfeeling doctor. The office called and confirmed that my mother should keep the
appointment; she had nothing to fear here. No one would dismiss her.
The day I took my mother to the hospital, she was doubled over in pain, had no appetite and had to be
transported by wheelchair. True to their word, no one dismissed my mother as too old and too frail and
too sick to be treated. Dr. Jennis carefully asked my mother if she knew what she had. She quietly
responded, “cancer.” He then said, ‘Mary, we can’t get rid of all of it, but we can treat it. Chemo does
kill cancer. Do you want to be treated?’ My mother said she did, but didn’t want to be in pain or sicker
than she was now. Dr. Jennis said he didn’t want that either, and had a plan for her. Later, I overheard
Dr. Jennis tell his assistant, “I’d like to treat Mary. She lives with her daughter who can make sure she
takes her meds and can oversee her care.” For the first time in a long time I was feeling good. I finally
found doctor was willing to look past my mother’s age and take her condition seriously.
10 Skills Every Grand Must Master
By Mary Ann Cooper
One of the most underestimated social statistics is how influential today’s grandparent is when it
comes to raising and influencing their grandchildren. According to the most recent United States
government Census, 5.7 million children live with a grandparent. These children comprise 8 percent of
all children in the United States. The majority of these children, 3.7 million, live in the grandparent's
home. And according to the same Census report, 28 percent of all preschoolers with employed
mothers are regularly cared for by their grandparent during the hours their mom works.
The conventional wisdom has always been it’s great to be a grandparent because you get to play with
them and send them home and not fret about their day-to-day care. Contemporary social dynamics
make that “wisdom” unconventional today. Being a grandparent today means having skill sets our
grandparents never had to be concerned about. Here are ten skills that you absolutely need to learn to
get our grandkids off to the best possible start in the world.
1. Learn to be a good listener. In our fast-paced multimedia world, it’s easy for the most attentive
parent to hear the tiny voice of their child. There are simply too many distractions for parents to deal
with today. Earning a living, securing the best education for them and just keeping up with pressing
social obligations can be all-consuming. You can be that person that your children can go to when
they need to be heard.
2. Learn to be patient. When I was a child, my parents said I moved in two speeds – slow and
reverse. That’s true of most children. Their tiny legs don’t move as fast and as far as adult legs. They
take forever to order from a menu in a restaurant. The most minor decisions are monumental life and
death decisions for them. They take time to smell the roses, but roses are so new to them.
3. Learn to find your inner child. While you son or daughter may have no idea what’s on Saturday
morning television you need to not only know, but also enjoy it. There’s nothing quite like the bonding
experience of sharing a laugh with your grandchild over cartoons. Some of my own daughter’s
happiest childhood memories were the times she watched Disney cartoons with her grandfather.
4. Learn some basics about medical care. Do you know that it’s dangerous to feed honey to a
baby? There is a risk honey contains botulism spores. Adults have an acidic gastrointestinal system
and kill those spores. In a baby’s underdeveloped digestive tract, spores can 'hatch' and cause food
poisoning. You need to learn all you can about childhood diseases, over the counter children’s
medications and allergies for safety’s sake.
5. Learn all you can about substance abuse. According to a survey conducted by The Partnership
for a Drug-Free America in collaboration with MetLife Foundation 48 percent of grandparents believe
that many of today's parents just don't have "enough time" -- and these significant time barriers
prevent parents from talking with kids about drugs and alcohol.
6. Learn how to spot child abuse. There's nothing more devastating than a climate of abuse and
violence at home. A home should be a home, a sanctuary, and a safe harbor from any storm. Yet, for
many children, home is a place of danger and fear of abuse. Places like Joe Torre’s Safe At Home
Foundation at joetorre.org provide helpful information about how to recognize the warning signs of
trouble in your son or daughter’s home.
7. Learn how to keep a childproof home. You probably know enough to put the crystal
knickknacks above the reach of your grandchildren, but how about your blood pressure medicine?
Your bleach is probably tucked away in a cabinet under the kitchen sink that any child could open.
8. Learn to be computer savvy. Your grandchildren have lived their entire lives in the computer age.
It’s time for you to come of age. Take a night class on at least how to surf the Internet, send and receive
email and download photos. This is how your grandchildren will communicate with you as they get
older and their schedules fill up with extracurricular activities.
9. Learn the new Math. Reading, writing and arithmetic have changed radically since you were in
school. Even if your son or daughter can spend hours going through your grandchild’s homework, it
doesn’t hurt to have another set of eyes to look things over.
10. Learn to show what it means to love unconventionally. In The Granny Nanny (www.
thegrannynannyguidebook.com) author Lois Young-Tulin says “No matter what your grandchildren
do or don’t do, make sure h or she knows that you love them and will not withhold love if you
disapprove of something they do. Focus on the action, not on the child.