Wednesday, July 04, 2012

In Conversation With...Darold, Reta and Donna Kaluza

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 20 by Sara Mattinson.

It’s hard to be the daughter who lives far away, to return home for a visit and notice your mother doesn’t have a vegetable garden, your father isn’t fishing. The changes seem so obvious yet to your parents, nothing has really changed. Body parts may not work as well, the cane may be in constant use now, fewer chores are getting done but these adjustments have happened gradually and your parents live with them, keep the same routines. What matters to them is that they are right where they want to be. 
In their own home. 
Donna Kaluza is a retired RCMP officer who lives in British Columbia and comes home every summer to visit her family, including her parents, Darold and Reta Kaluza.
“I was concerned about the circumstances,” Donna says about this particular visit. “I’m not used to Dad not being swift. I was concerned about his mobility. This all started when we talked about getting orthotics for him. Instead of playing a lot, we’ve done more medical exploration.” 
Darold has had a series of health challenges over the years but the truly life-changing event came in 1998.  He developed transverse myelitis,  a neurological disorder caused by inflammation around the spinal chord and Darold ended up with his left leg virtually paralyzed and in constant pain. 
While he is able to get around his bungalow and drive his truck, he had to hang up his tiller. 
“I’m going downhill,” says the 86-year-old. “Everything is getting worse.”
No wonder Donna is concerned. 
“Mum does so much and they really work as a team so I wanted to know if there was something else that could be done,” she says. “The receptionist at the doctor’s office gave me this pamphlet for the Senior’s Health Centre. It was just a call. Anyone can do it. You don’t need a doctor and there’s no charge. I was amazed. Within a couple of days, a registered nurse was here.”
Here being Darold and Reta’s house. Because that’s the point of the program that operates out of the hospital in Springhill: keeping seniors in their own homes.  
“The nurse came to do an assessment of both Mum and Dad in their home with the goal to make things easier and safer for them,” Donna explains. “What I found so great about it is that they come here where Mum and Dad are comfortable and safe. She spent two hours and she could have spent more time. There was no rushing. She had a look at the environment, she talked to them, saw them move. It was all about facilitating them to do better at home.”
Doing better at home means remaining in their own home. To that end, an occupational therapist also checks out the house.
“They’re going to look at the bathroom and other places where we might need bars to save us from falling,” Reta explains. 
Neither Darold nor Reta consider any of this an invasion of privacy or an admission of weakness. Perhaps this is because five years ago they had a taste of how they would cope if something happened. Something like Reta falling off a ladder and breaking her leg. 
“I did the washing, I did the cooking, I did the cleaning, and looked after Mum,” Darold says of the six months Reta was laid up. “And I looked after the yard and the gardens.”
 But as his leg and spine pain him more and more, he is less able to take over if something should happen again to Reta, still doing yoga at the age of 80 but not promising to stay off ladders. 
“Even if my parents don’t need a lot of help, at least in my mother’s case, she is linked in and has the knowledge about where to go and who to call,” says Donna. “It didn’t exist when Mom was hurt but it would have been a great place to call to find out what’s available.”
Her relief at leaving her parents in good hands, and in their own home, when she returns to BC is clear. 
“It’s tough when I phone and Dad says he’s in pain and not feeling well,” she admits. “I’m a long ways away and when I’m here, I get a bit aggressive, I guess, because I have a finite amount of time. I pushed them really hard this time, likely pushed my luck, too, but I want to try and help when I’m home.”
Darold and Reta have been married for 58 years and have lived in this house for 30 of them. 
“What did you do for a living?” I ask Darold, and he tells me he was a mechanic. That explains the many references to the garage next door. And now the conversation slips away from ageing and aches, doctors and directives, and into memories. 
As Reta tells the story about working under the heist, helping Darold while wearing a pink dress, then heading outside to pump gas with a grease streak down the front of the dress, she proves the point of a program like the Springhill Senior’s Health Centre.
Family stories belong at home, and so do the people who tell them. 
For more information, contact the Senior’s Health Centre at 597-2027 or

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