Dorothy’s Story: From Caregiving to Being Taken Care Of
“I’ve got to take Momma to Jackson this weekend.”
“Yeah, I gotta go pick Lester up from dialysis and take him to the hospital for his appointment.”
“Yes, Doctor, I have her medicine bag right here.”
“Is the only option to amputate his leg?”
Dorothy Randle said these exact words several times over the course of her adult life . Standing at six-foot-eleven and boasting a rich chocolate brown complexion at the ripe age of sixty-six years old, Dorothy Randle was the caretaker for her husband, father,and mother until their deaths in 2009, 2010 and 2017, respectively. She’s taken off of work. She’s rearranged her life. She’s paused her dreams. She’s made sacrifices in order to take care of the ones she loves.
She’s been to countless doctor’s appointments for the both of them. She’s been the emergency contact for everyone. She’s ripped and ran between two hospitals to check on two people. If she could be represented by a picture, it would be the distraught Mr. Krabs from Spongebob who is frantically looking around trying to figure out what’s going on.
Throughout her personal ailments, she made it her duty as the eldest child and wife to be there for the people she loves. Working as a school counselor for almost thirty years, she tended to use the same skills she used at work on her loved ones.
Below is her account of the lives she’s taken care of.
I remember one significant moment in 2009 before Lester died. We had just come back from the family reunion, and he was so happy. Even though he was dark-complected, I could see the joy radiating from his body. His spirit was swollen with joy and appreciation for family. The only other things that could make him emit that much joy was his rusty, red tractor that was parked in our front yard and his favorite little almond-colored girl, Madison. I had to leave to go to a professional conference in Jackson. I drug my bags out to my gold Chrysler300, and I slid into my car witnessing one of the most precious scenes of my life: Lester and Madison laughing and having the time of their lives outside on that red, rusted tractor.
I never would have thought that this last moment would have been the last moment. I went to almost every single one of his doctor’s appointments. Honestly, before he got really sick, I was in a mental tug-of-war on whether I wanted to remain married to him. No doubt, he was an excellent father, but as a husband, he had many strikes against him– and the list seemed to be growing. I thought about picking up my life, taking my boys, and going to Memphis. I’ve always wanted to go to Memphis. I was a counselor, a good bit of years in public school under my belt at this point, a formal social worker. I would have easily been able to get a job. Around the time I was thinking of leaving, the complications of his Type I diabetes seemed to just start a domino effect of problems. I, then, made the ultimate decision of letting the justice scale lean toward the side of me staying, fulfilling my wifely duties to care for my husband in sickness and in health. Those vows had to be enacted now.
I was there… at every appointment.. sitting there…. learning new terminology… taking notes about what to do– and what not to do–… asking questions about diet, exercise, accommodations that needed to be made at the house. I was like the best student in the class, eager to learn new things and ready to put them into practice. I was the one there. I took off work. It was hard. I saw my husband and the father of my children slowly dwindle away from me. Some weeks would be good, and it seemed like we were taking three steps forward. And then the next week, his blood sugar would spike for days on end. Dialysis wouldn’t help….and it seemed like we were taking ten steps back. I was tired. But I never got tired of seeing Lester and Madison together on that red tractor in our front yard. I finally pulled out the driveway and headed to Jackson. A day later, I received a phone call that Lester had to be taken to the hospital. He was in the ICU, and the doctor said it wasn’t looking good. Funny thing about going to doctors so much is that you begin to form relationships with them. I knew it wasn’t good when the doctor looked at me solemnly and said “it’s not looking good this time.” The tone and facial expression of the doctor was different this time. Over the course of three days, I watched my husband be poked and prodded with needles, stuffed with tubes and IVs, and pumped with medicines to help his heart pump blood through the rest of his body. I remember he looked at me, weary evident in his eyes, and he said to me, “Dot, I’m tired.”
That’s when I knew. He was leaving me, my boys, and our family soon. Lo and behold, the next day, my boys and I watched a flatline appear across the monitors and the doctors remove all the wires. My husband was gone. He’d left me.
I’d wished I could have just paused life and just stop and lay in my bed all day. The man that left me was the one who took me from my parents home. The one I built a life with. The one I’d made so many personal and professional sacrifices for. He’d left me. But I couldn’t stop…. I still had Momma and Daddy to care for. I was the only one of the children still in town and able to care for them. I can remember Momma was managing fairly well during this time, but Daddy… daddy wasn’t doing good at all.
It seemed like as soon as I got Lester buried, I had to do a complete 180 and start tending to Daddy more. He was old, couldn’t move well at all… and was always racking with pain. Momma couldn’t manage him at the house anymore, and things were starting to pick up at work since I was transferring school. All of my siblings decided that it was best to put Daddy in a home. Lord knows, Greenwood was not the place known for quality nursing homes, so finding one suitable for Daddy was difficult. We tried Crystal Rehab in September, but those people were just so … rude and uncompassionate. Daddy said they were just cold, nasty and rude to him all the time. As his eldest daughter, my soul didn’t feel right leaving him there. So, I made the executive decision to move him to Golden Age nursing home around November, and as soon as we walked through the doors, I felt a welcoming energy in the air. I felt okay leaving my Daddy, my first provider, in this place. We..me, Punkin (Dorothy’s eldest son), Chris (Dorothy’s sister) and Faye (Dorothy’s sister) meet with the nurses and the doctor that would be his main caretakers. We got Daddy settled in, and he looked better. Though he was a dark man, I could see some sort of calmness surrounding his body. I felt okay leaving him there– entrusting his care to professionals.
So over the next several months, I basically went through the same routine: work, visit Momma, visit Daddy, home, church, repeat. As I heard this and the tones she used to describe her routine, all I could envision was that one episode of Spongebob where Squidward did the same thing– day in and day out. Over time, Daddy seemed to just be slowly deteriorating from the world. He was getting the best care possible at Golden Age, but it just wasn’t enough. Over the course of about three months of a serious decline, Daddy finally passed away on the morning June 20, 2010.
I was devastated. Not even a year prior, I had buried Lester, my husband and the father of my children. Now, I was burying my Daddy. After the funeral, I felt myself going into a spiral. My identity… my idea of who I was as a person had been wrapped up into being the caretaker for my husband and father, but they were no longer here. It was hard. I struggled to really enjoy my work, church, spending time with family…everything just seemed hard. I struggled with regret, so long. Still to this day, I think I should have brought my Daddy home and took care of him myself. Somehow through the Grace and Mercy of God, I eventually pulled myself together to go on with life– trying to find joy in everything that I could, especially with my role as being Momma’s caretaker now.
Things with Momma have always been rocky. She liked to eat just about all of the wrong things– much like Lester, but then she would get to the doctor and act as if she didn’t know what was going on. Momma was quite the character. It seemed as if around 2014, Momma’s condition started to get more critical. We started to go to the emergency room and doctors’ offices more often, and the couple of falls she had at her old age didn’t help. Her heart just seemed to not pump as well as it used to. Dialysis was taking a lot out of her. She couldn’t even press hair anymore. She was barely able to eat.. Cook.. anything.
Looking back on it, she had to know she was leaving the world soon because she looked at me and said “Dothy, do you know where I was born? Where I came from?” I remember during Christmas 2016, Momma was just laying in the bed the entire time. We were at Tonya’s house (Dorothy’s youngest sister), and everyone else was so taken aback. Deep down, I knew Momma wasn’t going to be here for any longer. She couldn’t even gather the strength to go to the bathroom. The dialysis wasn’t helping anymore. Throughout all the years of sitting in doctors offices and hospitals, I knew that if the dialysis wasn’t working and she couldn’t go to the bathroom, she had to be nearing multi-organ system failure.
A couple of weeks later, we were back at Greenwood Leflore Hospital– literally on the same floor that Lester died on. Momma was in ICU, and the worst fear was confirmed:
multi-organ system failure. The doctors were doing everything they could, and they were talking to me and my sisters. Somehow I just knew that Momma wouldn’t be making it out of the hospital. Beneath the confident somewhat monotone voice of the doctors and healthcare providers, I heard the same voice that talked to me when Lester died. A couple of days later, Momma started to take her last breaths, and it looked like she was giving the death angel the fight of a lifetime. In the end the death angel won… Momma died in January of 2017.
After her death, I was struggling to reinvent who I was once again. The last person who took up the majority of my time was dead. I could finally live my life since I had retired from the schools, but the thing was… I didn’t know how. It took a lot of pushing and nudging from my family and friends, but I’d finally figured it out. I was slowly reinventing my happiness and what I chose to invest my time in, and it felt good.
Below is her account of having to be taken care of now.
I’ve had a couple of health scares. For a moment, I thought I had uterine cancer, but everything was okay. I’ve had a total knee replacement surgery. I’ve had some intense dental procedures done. I’ve recently been having some GI tract issues. It’s been hard, dealing with all of this just because I’ve always been so conscious of the things I put into my body. I barely eat meat. I’m more of a vegetable person. I make sure to exercise on my bike machine. I take my vitamins like B12, B6, vitamin C, and more. Everything to try to prevent a lot of the issues Momma and Daddy had. It’s been a difficult time for me.. dealing with all of these issues because I’ve got used to living my life by going out in my garden, going shopping, and even just being on my own fending for myself. Now, I’ve been having no other choice but to lean on my family, my sons, my granddaughter, and my friends to help me out. I’m being taken care of.. and having been the caretaker for so long, I must say it’s an odd feeling. Nonetheless, I’m beginning to embrace it and think of it as the reward for all of my hard work taking care of others and achieving much success in my career.
My daily feelings about everything change depending on the level of pain and discomfort I feel, but for the most part, I’m content. I look to God to supply all of my needs, and I know He has and will always do so. I’m grateful for everything that’s happened, and I can only hope that I can live long enough to see my eldest granddaughter receive her white coat and my youngest granddaughter graduate high school. Until then, I’ll keep pushing on… remembering the fond —and not so fond– memories of Lester, Momma, and Daddy while continuing to enjoy the ever changing journey of my life.
Madison Meeks is a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi and a Biochemistry/Chemistry double pre-med major at the College. Upon her graduation, she plans to attend medical school and specialize in either endocrinology, sports medicine, or emergency medicine. She is excited for what her future holds– at CofC and beyond!