Mouse Turds, Aging parent, Good Lord Hope Me Metafilter
February 9, 2019 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Estranged middle daughter, aging parent, awol caretaker brother, and kitchen full of mouse turds.... help me sort this clusterfuck, please.

My older brother (mid-50s) has been living with, and theoretically caring for my mother who has limited mobility. He has had some mental health issues, anxiety/depression which are generally well controlled as long as he takes his medication. Welp, apparently he has stopped taking his meds and disappeared yesterday afternoon. (We discovered this morning that he had walked himself to an ER) I made the trip to my mom's yesterday evening to make sure she had what she needed, and brought her some dinner. I did not enter the kitchen as she had everything she needed in her room. However.....

The ER nurse called my mom this morning to check on her, as my brother told her he was her caretaker, and that she was alone. I drove to the hospital to pick up her house keys, and then made the trip back to my mom's to see what she needed this morning. OMG MeFi, the kitchen is a horror show..... (I'm sorry that I'm rambling here, but I am livid and upset and 9,000 other things)

There are mouse turds everywhere...... on the counters, in the sink, in the drawers..... I can't believe they've been living like that. I've read up on the CDC website how to clean up after a rodent infestation but there are two sets of instructions - one for "oh we had one mouse" and one for "heavy rodent infestation." Which is this? Can I clean this myself (oh god I don't want to) or should I find a professional? To be honest - my initial angry reaction is just to call the health department and have the place condemned (I am very likely overreacting here) which would force my mom into a facility which can properly care for her. (which is probably best)

History: I have a strained relationship with both my mother and brother, for er, reasons, including how she treats me and my son; my brother went walkabout/incommunicado two years ago - I was the one to track him down, get him back to treatment; about a year ago, I had concerns and called Adult Protective Services, but the worker said the situation didn't qualify for intervention, as my mother is competent and able to make her own decisions.

To sum up, two questions:

WTF do I do about the state of the kitchen? (the rest of the house seems... fine?)

WTF do I do with my mother? Should I call APS again? Since she's mentally all there - I wouldn't win a competency hearing.....

Apologies for the rambling.... but any help is appreciated.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I’m so sorry. In your shoes, I’d document the condition of the kitchen and then call the APS and the hospital’s social worker. This is definitely a heavy rodent infestation, and you’re gonna need professional assistance.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:44 AM on February 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

You should hire someone to clean up and take care of the problem. You don't need to be enmeshed at the level that cleaning it up yourself would entail. It's ok to take care of this problem from afar and not get sucked into the situation. I am so sorry all this is happening.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:44 AM on February 9, 2019 [9 favorites]

There are mouse turds everywhere...... on the counters, in the sink, in the drawers..... I can't believe they've been living like that.

I am sorry you are handling this, I know it's rough and you are stressed. I live in the country where we sort of co-exist with mice. Mice will come into a kitchen, especially in the winter, especially if there is food out, especially if no one is in the kitchen. When I am at home sometimes I hear mice in my walls. It's not the perfect hygiene situation but it's fairly normal for rural areas. Mice are incontinent so they poop as they are walking so even one mouse worth can look worse than it is. And while there are risks associated with mice and their droppings, it's often manageable even though it can be unnerving. Do not have the place condemned. Maybe you have a picture you can share? For people whose baseline is "no poop at all" to people who are living in really bad situations, there's a wide range.

Some of this depends on how much time and money you have. Easiest plan is "call an exterminator" who can also tell you how much of a problem you have (my usual rule of thumb is that a few droppings are not an issue, the big thing you worry about is nests, mice chewing into food containers or getting into food storage areas, and/or cutlery areas etc). More time intensive plan is figure out where the mice are getting in, close up those areas if possible and set traps for the remainder of them. Cleaning people can come in and take care of clean up as long as you are clear what they are going to be dealing with. For me personally I'd just put on gloves and start wiping things up and be a little more intensive about it if I found a nest.

And then about your mom, some of this depends how much care and attention she needs but there are things like Meals on Wheels and adult services organizations who may be able to give you some guidance or at the least assess what your mother needs. Contact the local senior center (or look up their website) and start making a few phone calls. Again there is a wide range of things that are not just "call the government"

And last, try to find some space for yourself to have the bad feelings you are having. This is hard. You might get some support from a local NAMI support group in terms of dealing with all the chaos your brother seems to be putting into your life.
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 AM on February 9, 2019 [21 favorites]

So I’m about to go visit my dad, who has health issues and also some cognitive issues. I also find mouse turds during visits but usually they are relatively limited and I make sure the stuff I plan to cook and eat is stored in such a way that the mice cannot get to it.

Adult protective services have opened up a case on my dad three times. The first time was in response to an outsider and the following two times I called. Every time the agency decided that my dad was sufficiently together that he could continue Making his own decisions, however I’ll-advised they might be appear to outsiders. My cousins think I’m a terrible daughter because I have not frog marched my dad into some depressing tiny space that has nurses nearby, but he doesn’t want that. He’s OK with living in squalor. I am less OK with that, but it’s not my life. So when I go visit, I clean up to some small extent. I hate cooking, so I do a tiny bit of cooking and that’s it.

Do what feels appropriate to you, Including saying no thank you to cleaning the mouse poop yourself. Hang in there!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:56 AM on February 9, 2019 [9 favorites]

> Get help with cleaning (pay for it)
> Get help from pest control (pay for it)

With the mice, all it takes is washing the dishes, putting away food and sweeping crumbs away from the floor.

And glue traps, set with peanut butter.

I would be careful contacting social services unless you feel totally secure about your legal relationship with your parent and their financial affairs.

Social services, while providing help for those who need it, are not your friend or your ally.
posted by JamesBay at 10:24 AM on February 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

So we just did this with my MIL. Luckily, we had family in the area who could help and supervise and also my MIL was out of the house (surgery and then rehab center) so with the help of the family members, we hired a cleaning company who specializes in hoarders who cleaned out the entire kitchen and pulled out a lot of clothing and junk that was covering the areas where the mouse were travelling. Traps were put down and there were....many, many mice trapped. Once we had the floors and walls clear, we sent in Orkin to put in more traps and look for holes to seal. Mice are able to squeeze through incredibly tiny holes, size of a dime, they said. So, in our situation, I really think they were just squeezing in under the door to the garage and then the pantry was right there for the taking. Once we removed the source of food and then eliminated the cozy mouse runs of clothing to the bathroom for water access, everything got way more chill. Orkin has a plan that will run for a year and they will remove dead mice and keep coming back to check on the condition and look for more holes to seal if they persist. We also had them do standard spraying for other pests.

If you do take care of it yourself, wear gloves. Consider a mask. You can also get disposable cover-alls if there's just a lot of mess. Trash everything when done. In my MIL's house, you could apparently smell the mouse urine which points to "infestation." However, I'm hopeful that we made the place inhospitable enough that they will dissipate. This is do-able. It's gross and unfortunate but if one is dealing with mental health and physical health issues, it can feel insurmountable.
posted by amanda at 10:33 AM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Please not glue traps. According to the humane society, they are “responsible for more suffering than virtually any other wildlife control product on the market.” See here.

If I were you, I would go with an exterminator. There is no reason you have to personally deal with this.
posted by FencingGal at 10:37 AM on February 9, 2019 [26 favorites]

Apologies for rambling...

I work for APS. If APS is the same where you are as where I am, if they visit and your mother says "this is fine with me," they'll either hand her a brochure and say "thanks for your time" or possibly work with you to get her conserved. Getting someone conserved is difficult, as it sounds like you've discovered. You'd need a doctor to declare her not to have decisional capacity. And if she's basically oriented, she's perfectly capable of saying "no, I'm not going to see a doctor about that." People most often get conserved when their functioning is reduced to the point that they end up in the hospital.

You're describing her as "all there," so it seems to me there's nothing APS could do except I guess one thing, which is have a conversation with her about whether she's aware her kitchen is unsanitary and offer to provide her with resources for getting it back in order. If she has money they could possibly help her hire someone to come in and clean a little, or if she's flat broke and has Medicaid, some states have programs where they pay for in-home support/care for things like cleaning and shopping, etc. The advantage I guess of calling APS is that if your relationship with her is strained, you may not feel up to having this conversation with her. I mean there is the very basic question of "hey, are you aware your kitchen is really bad and do you want to do anything about it?" but possibly even discussing this with her sidles up to various cans of worms and you'd rather have an impartial person do it. So I've kind of changed my tune since paragraph 1.

One thing APS definitely cannot do is take her out of her home and place her in a skilled nursing facility against her will. And I don't think if you call code enforcement, that's going to have that effect either. One room that's really gross, they're not going to red tag the house and kick her out. People live a whole lot worse than that, plus I don't think she's required to let them in. Anyway, the only way she's likely to be placed in a SNF is if she's hospitalized, plus I think that's more of an escape fantasy than a good solution a lot of the time. The ethics of my field dictate, I think rightly so, that if people want to live in their home, it's better to facilitate that if possible.
posted by Smearcase at 10:41 AM on February 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

This reminded me of when I moved back into my mom's place to take care of things around the house while she was fighting cancer. We also had a mouse infestation. What you should do about your mom, and what you should do about mice are separate but related.

I was able to take care of the mice by doing some reading and picking up some stuff from the hardware store. I used a combination of expanding spray foam to find and fill all the holes I could could find that led to the outside, as well as snap traps (I despise glue traps as they basically cause the mouse to suffocate slowly rather than killing them quickly), and dessicating bait. In winter, mice not only like the abundance of food in the house, but also just the warmth, so you're likely to see an increase in the winter months. I had to check and re-check "mouse runs" for turds for a few weeks until I was sure that I had killed or stopped most of them from getting in.

If all of that sounds like a lot of work then, if you have the means, get a professional exterminator to come in.

As for the general situation with your mother, if you are not able to be in her house on a regular basis, you should definitely look into options, both commerical and governmental, for help around the house. Having a cleaner who came in on a regular basis and helped clean my mother's house was incredibly helpful and gave me time to focus on important things like navigating finances and social services.

A home health aid, nurse, or hospice worker (I may be using the wrong terms here) was also extremely helpful. That was all paid through Medicaid for my mom, and was in place before I arrived, so I don't know how that got set up.

I would strongly recommend against trying to get your mom involuntarily moved out of her home, unless she really is not mentally fit to make her own decisions. My mother was placed on a temporary psychiatric hold in what she called "the spin bin" by her friends, who found some of her behavior erratic. I was not there at the time and don't know if their actions were justified. What I do know is that it destroyed all trust she had in those around her. After I arrived it took months and a lot of prodding and discussion to get her to forgive her friends for doing that to her.

Long story short is that if you're overwhelmed by dealing with this that's perfectly normal. The important part is to look for and ask for all the help you need from whatever resource is at your disposal, whether that's friends, family, paid services, or social services.
posted by runcibleshaw at 10:49 AM on February 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

The important part is to look for and ask for all the help you need from whatever resource is at your disposal

There are several Elder Law resources listed at the MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page that may be able to provide more information about the range of options that may be available to help keep your mother safe and well-cared for.

For example, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys offers an online attorney finder, and local Area Agencies on Aging can be found through a telephone referral service at (800) 677-1116, which may also be able to make referrals to a variety of resources, including supportive and caretaker services, elder justice and health promotion programs.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:13 AM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you do take care of it yourself, wear gloves. Consider a mask.

Absolutely wear a mask!!! I was in our barn combing through debris for the lid to a cherished childhood cookie jar when we closed the homestead down, and I got violently sick. It was scary and awful.

Get some Vicks or some essential oil of choice to put under your nose when not wearing the mask.

Please wear a mask!!!
posted by jgirl at 12:12 PM on February 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you decide to clean up yourself, please do wear a mask. You don't say where you live, but you might be at risk of contracting hantavirus from the mouse poop. A mask would protect you.
posted by workerant at 12:44 PM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

We have mice every winter. (We live in the country & it's just a fact of life.) These Victor Quick Kill Mouse Traps are the ones we use. They seem to be the most effective out of all the different styles I tried & it's easy to remove the dead mouse without having to touch the corpse.

If you want to try trapping them on your own, rather than hiring an exterminator, buy a bunch of traps & a jar of cheap peanut butter. Put a little peanut butter under the flap on the trap & then set them up along countertops, inside the stove, in drawers, etc. Mice like to stay close to walls, so I usually put the traps with the long side touching the wall & the peanut butter flap facing the place I think the mice are hiding.
posted by belladonna at 1:01 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Some good info on Hantavirus from the CDC. Infections are exceedingly rare, but the mortality rate is 36% if you're one of the unlucky few to catch it.
posted by Lycaon_pictus at 4:58 PM on February 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for chiming in. I have had mouse visitors before, and once I even had a rat, but this is definitely beyond anything I've seen before (not trails - but the entire countertops/stove/toaster oven absolutely covered). I believe I will call in professionals to deal with it, and also use some of the elder resources posted here. Sorry again for the incoherent rambling, thanks for being a source of comfort, MeFi.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 5:05 PM on February 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I agree with JamesBay. I suggest being extraordinarily careful dealing with any social service, home care providers, etc. They can sometimes be worse than the problem. I had home care for my wife before she passed. They became a bossy, irritating bunch. They cared less about the patient and the family. But I know every case is different and some service providers are excellent. Just be careful whom you trust.
posted by JayRwv at 6:49 PM on February 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Once the mess is cleaned up, do you think they could have a cat to keep out more mice?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:24 AM on February 10, 2019

Slightly off topic but please make sure there are working, battery-operated or battery-backed up smoke detectors. An elderly couple I know died in a fire because mice chewed through their wiring and started a smouldering fire. The smoke detectors were hard-wired and when the electricity shorted out, the smoke detectors stopped working.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:53 AM on February 10, 2019

There are service companies who do deep cleaning, including cleaning up after mice. ServiceMaster is one, there are others. I have no experience with them. Mice carry diseases including hanta virus, so it will not be cheap, but it will be worth it. I would also hire a company to remove mice and mouse proof. Unless money is the issue, which would be reasonable, I wouldn't do it myself.

Is there adequate nutritious food in the house? Signs of hoarding? Yes, check smoke alarms, make sure the electrical panel is okay (no jimmied circuits), and do a walk through for safety stuff. Old people are at risk from loose throw rugs, unsecured wires and other tripping hazards. Falls are common and can be quite serious. I'd look for signs of financial impropriety, if she'll permit it. And make sure she doesn't have obvious suspicious bruises. It's not likely she's being harmed, but now is a good time to pay attention. review any meds she's taking and verify that shes getting regular medical care. These are signs of love, present it that way.

Talk to your Mom. Express your concerns, which are very valid. See if she'll agree to a weekly cleaner. It would help, and sometimes having someone visit weekly helps people deal with things because someone else will be seeing it. And maybe ask if she's depressed; she lives with a person who is, and it's not easy.

You sound pissed, and I would be, too. One sibling is absent, the other is not even doing the basics. I think the way to deal is to talk to a friend or therapist. Its reasonable, but in the long run, this situation is bad, but could be much worse. Encourage your brother to get whatever help he needs. Your Mom is lucky to have you. I wish you the best.
posted by theora55 at 10:26 AM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hi All -

This is my one week out follow up. Thanks a million for everyone's answers. As soon as Tuesday we had an exterminator, a nurse, and a medical social worker out - thanks to everyone's super helpful links. Service Master is lined up for continued cleaning as the extermination process works through the job of well, their job. (sorry mices - if only you'd stayed in the barn....) My brother is in a treatment facility, the social worker is hooking us up with ALL THE REFERRALS! Plus we have some home help staff to enable me to continue working at my job! While there have been many, many frustrations this week, - my mother had a fall and a trip to the ER, there was a gas leak!!! during the ER trip one of her dogs found some candy and proceeded to barf/poo everywhere, there was much missed sleep, one of the helpers I thought was successfully hired flaked out at midnight before her shift, - all in all, thanks to you guys, I am starting to feel vaguely hopeful.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 4:57 PM on February 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

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