CareCalendar.org: Help for the ‘Q’ Factor

December 15th, 2009

I recently spent some quality time in the health care system. The system came through. Each player being paid did the respective task as promised: the surgeon, the anesthetists, the nurses and aides, the physical therapists, even the guided meditation person who spoke with me just before surgery. No complaints about the insurance company either, though the deductible is insanely high. I did my part by preparing for the process as directed and following instructions afterwards.

The ‘Q’ factor, a variable over which I thought I had least control, turned out to be the care from my friends and family. In theory, it seems obvious, but in fact, I am a rather independent soul who is sometimes under the impression that she is doing many things herself. The implications of needing help with daily life for a while, personal needs, meals, rides to the doctor, left me more than concerned. I just didn’t see how I would manage.

Just when I was resigned to going to a rehab facility for two weeks, my aunt who lives in Washington State offered to come for the surgery and ten days after. I’ve always enjoyed Karen’s company, but it didn’t even occur to me to ask her to come to help me. I was very moved by her offer and accepted.

Then, Kate, an acquaintance, also single and independent, told me about carecalendar.org. She had been kicked in the knee by a horse and had an immediate crisis that included feeding a stable full of horses while she recuperated. Someone told her about CareCalendar and both she and her horses were cared for well during her recuperation.

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CareCalendar is an online service where one can enter ones needs over any period of time. The Bortel family in Stockdale, Texas created and maintains the service. There is no charge, but they ask for donations. After the requests are entered, there’s a code to send to everyone who has offered to help. Each of those people can go into the site and see if the requests fit with their schedules.

CareCalendar, coupled with my aunt’s generosity, made all the difference. I needed about a month’s worth of steady attention. In just a few days, I had promises of a five week’s of meals, rides to the doctor, and, even a crew of friends and their kids to do fall-cleanup in the yard. My aunt loved the results of CareCalendar, too, as she didn’t need to cook much, though she did make a fabulous apple pie.

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I received wonderful dinners, including African Peanut Soup, a divine Chicken and Rice Casserole, several bottles of wine (saved until I was off the pain meds), bouquets of flowers, and even Seasons 1 and 2 of Mad Men. Some of the friends and neighbors who helped were the usual suspects, friends I see often enough. I was very grateful knowing I could rely on them, though I wasn’t surprised at their attention. I sent CareCalendar and the sign-in codes to every person who offered to help, some of whom I didn’t know that well or expect do anything. But, they offered and I honored that.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. But, I was. And, humbled too. A recent study reported in the New York Times details how children practice giving and helping even before they can talk. The researchers say that we are programmed with the urge to help. It’s biological, they say.

Apart from my appreciation for my friends and family and CareCalendar, one other thing is worth noting.  A handful of the people who helped me have started using CareCalendar, including the church’s ‘Hot Dish Ministry’ and individuals coordinating for friends and family.

Biological? It works. That’s all I need to know!

Generation Connect

December 11th, 2009

About half way through my freshman year of college, I was starved, starved to see and talk to people who weren’t aged 18 to 21. I have a vivid memory of being invited to dinner by a young couple with a baby and feeling a sense of relief, even though the parents were just a few years older than I. It was a relief to step back into the wider world, beyond the homogenous pond of my fellow students in the dorm, the dining room, the nerve-wracking chemistry lab, and the giant biology lecture hall.

Students at the University of Minnesota (UM) Medical School and St. Paul’s Luther Seminary have a lifestyle opportunity to step out of the age-narrow ghetto of higher education and gain skills in working with elders in their chosen professions. The residents of Augustana Apartments, a downtown Minneapolis senior housing complex, have invited people from these two programs to be their neighbors. Co-housing across Generations The arrangement is the brainchild of Dr. Edward Ratner, UM associate professor of internal medicine and medical director of Heartland Home Health Care in Roseville, Minn.  The initiative began Fall 2009 with two medical students and three seminary students moving to vacant apartments at the complex.

The idea is mutual support. Dr. Ratner wants his students to better understand the needs of elders; each student completes training as a home health aide as a condition of residence. Students have a place to live, eat, and socialize with people who aren’t in a hurry. For the elders, it’s a way to combat loneliness and to have the chance to pass along age-tested knowledge. In addition, such things as changing a light bulb or greasing a squeaky wheel in a walker can seem almost insurmountable to someone who can’t climb a ladder or easily squat down, while a younger person does such chores without hesitation.

Dr. Ratner’s plan is low-tech/high-touch. It’s almost laughably simply and blindingly obvious, yet it’s innovative. The population over age 65 is growing fast.  Fewer people than ever choose geriatrics as a medical specialty. Not only is it in the bottom of the pay-scale for physicians, many ailments of aging don’t respond to quick fixes.  Depression is common and undertreated among elders and isolation boosts the tendency to depression. Fewer kids grow up being around elders. As those kids become adults, elders can seem foreign. Younger people, even those pushing middle age, live hurry-up lives dominated by technology. An elder may offer a kind of listening and attention that seems novel to the fast pace of mainstream 21st Century life.

The co-housing initiative at Augustana Homes seeks to address these issues. I’m going to be checking with them in a few months for an update. In the meantime, I am scheduling time both with my mom and other elder friends, and with the “youngers” in my life.

Spirals: Design for Living

December 8th, 2009

About a year ago, I designed a new logo for my plan to write about aging gracefully.  In the meantime, I found that I had very little to say about that topic, not experiencing much grace with the aging in my life or with those around me. I did love my logo though, a spiral, pink and gold, suggesting a seashell, a snail, a labyrinth.

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Over the last year, I’ve come back to this image, mesmerized. The spiral is one of nature’s genius designs. I’ve found there’s a discipline that celebrates the spiral.  It’s called biomimicry and it’s for innovators and problems solvers. We’re all problem solvers even if the label innovator doesn’t seem to fit. The theory is this: systems in nature reveal form and process for solving problems: a challenge presents itself. Trial and error bring about a solution that must be evaluated on its merits.  That may create a whole other set of challenges and the process repeats, without end.

I’m learning more about biomimicry (there’s a terrific reading list here). I want to find out where this spiral can take me.

Hello and Welcome

December 4th, 2009

This brand new website is born today, December 4, 2009.  I’m Mary Gunderson, writer, editor, and speaker about food, health, and wellness. I’m exploring how we age with grace, which means living each day creatively and fully.  Few people, if any, can expect to live without any limitations or illnesses. How can we best take care of ourselves and others and be well, no matter what.