Daughter spends nearly a decade caring for her parents

February 25, 1999

Noreen Getts and Ella WhitsonBy Meg H. Partington / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

For years, Noreen Getts knew when the phone rang there was a good chance one of her parents needed her.

Her father, Gail Whitson, gradually lost his ability to walk. In his last years, he suffered chronic pulmonary problems, though he never smoked, and eventually his esophagus clogged, causing him to need a feeding tube.

[cont. from lifestyle]

In 1991, Gail and Ella Whitson moved into the Getts' three-bedroom home in Hagerstown with Noreen and her husband Richard and their two daughters, Danielle and Harmony. After only four months, Gail Whitson became ill and was hospitalized for five months. He then lived in a nursing home for four years before he died in January 1996.

About six months after that, Ella Whitson's health began to deteriorate.

"She knew something was happening," Noreen Getts recalls. The bank would call and say her checkbook was not balanced and she was paying bills twice.


Two years ago, her mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia, which is associated with problems in the circulation of the blood to the brain, according to an Alzheimer's Association Web site. She also has severe depression.

Getts watched her mother, now 89, become confused and easily agitated.

"Just living in our house was frustrating to her," says Getts, 49.

Because her family members' schedules are so varied, there usually was someone home to take care of Ella Whitson, which Getts preferred to having a constant flux of caregivers coming in and out of the house like she had when her father was living there. Harmony, the younger daughter, started taking classes at night so she could take care of her grandmother during the day while everyone else was at work or school.

"We've been real jugglers. It hasn't been easy," says Getts, who is office manager for Dr. Otto Roza in Hagerstown.

In April 1998, Getts enrolled her mother in Break-Away, a senior day program in Hagerstown. She was there five days a week for a while, but now attends three days a week.

Last summer Getts was starting to feel the strain of caring for her mother mount.

"It was depressing seeing my mother so depressed," she says.

She had explored some alternatives to caring for her mother in her home but couldn't commit to anything.

"It was like I wasn't ready to make the break," Getts says.

Getts is one of six children. The closest of her siblings lives in Cambridge, Md. She keeps them informed of the status of their mother's health.

In October 1998, she was told there was an opening at Wilhelm Personal Care Home on Kuhn Avenue in Hagerstown, and after consulting with her siblings, she decided to take her mother there.

"It was very hard, but I know it was the right thing to do," Getts says.

The last several years have been difficult for Getts and her family.

While her husband and daughters, now 17 and 20, were very supportive, Getts says she knows a lot of her attention was directed away from them and toward her mother. Now, things are starting to get back to normal.

"I think our whole family has reunited," Getts says.

As often as she can, Getts visits her mother, who has no concept of time anymore. And while she can relax a little more now while out with her husband, she still worries.

"I jump when the phone rings," Getts says.

Getts believes everyone has a purpose in life. "Mine must be to care for other people," she says.

related stories:

-- When it's time to take care of your parents

-- Resources

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