Surviving

Today is my 3-year anniversary as the director of a small public library. I’ve worked at the library for over 16 years, but was given the gift of leading the library for the past three years. It’s no secret that I love what I do, and as much as I don’t believe in “things happen for a reason” or “soul mates” or even “destiny,” I think being a rural public librarian is the absolute perfect profession for me. Do I still dream of becoming a writer and actually making a living from it? Of course! But I know my writing isn’t good enough for that to happen, not without a lot more effort and practice and education. Right now, though, my heart is with librarianship.

As I talked to my husband today about everything that’s happened since I became director, I couldn’t help but choke back a sob. How did I make it through it all? Let me give you the timeline:

February 2019: Become director of the library. This was 2 months after my husband had been laid off. He was unemployed when I got this job. It was 18 1/2 months after my brother died. That may not seem relevant, but his life and death impact me in ways most people cannot understand.

March 2019: My funny, sweet, lovely father dies on St. Patrick’s Day.

May 2019: My husband gets a new job. Yes!

June 2019: I break my arm while walking with my son. I break it so badly that a plate and nine screws had to be implanted in my upper arm.

September 2019: My mother becomes ill and I make the choice to place her in hospice care.

October 2019: My loving, supportive, bad-ass mom dies on October 4th. She left this planet five minutes after I left her bedside.

January 2020: After the difficulties of 2019, we decide to plan a fabulous Florida vacation with a cruise.

February 2020: Husband goes into the hospital with pneumonia and the flu, then ends up on a ventilator and in a coma. Both our son and I have the flu, too, and for two weeks we wait. I answer questions from the doctors because they cannot wake him up from the comatose state they put him into. Questions about kidney failure and brain damage are thrown around. Yet on Valentine’s Day, he finally wakes up. ❤

March 2020: While my husband continues to recover at home, I manage pancreatitis at home. I know if I go to the hospital, there won’t be anyone to take care of my husband or son. So I drink fluids, get blood drawn every other day for my doctor to keep tabs on me, and I go to work to keep us all afloat. Then COVID-19 hits the U.S. and I close the library on the evening of March 16th and we cancel our dream vacation.

April 2020: We celebrate our son becoming a teenager with a family party via Zoom. Not quite what we had planned.

May 2020: While working from home, I go for a lunchtime walk and am bitten by the neighbor’s dog. My husband rushes me to the doctor for stitches and to check out all the puncture wounds on my legs. We re-open the library this month for curbside services.

June 2020: We re-open the library doors.

August 2020: I run a half-marathon because I can.

September 2020: I run another half-marathon on Mom’s birthday in memory of her bad-assery.

January/February 2021: I start training for a marathon. Just weeks later I get a stress fracture in my right leg. We watch our beloved cat, Miso, have a seizure and die in front of our eyes as my husband calls the vet and my son and I cry and try to comfort the sweetest cat that ever lived. We all hold him in our arms afterwards and cry until bedtime.

March/April 2021: I start taking walks and short runs again. My sanity is somewhat restored.

June 2021: Our son “graduates” from 8th grade. My husband has a widow maker of a heart attack on June 15th. He only survives because he was near a university medical center.

August 2021: The boy enters high school.

September 2021: Husband goes back to work.

Late October 2021: Husband told by doctor to stop working until he has another heart surgery.

November 2021: Two stents placed in husband’s heart. His energy improves dramatically!

January 2022: I have a procedure on my pancreas to determine if I have cancerous tumors or the possibility of cancer forming on said tumors. Still waiting for the results.

And there you have it. There were MANY activities and emotions not mentioned, and a lot of those were fabulous. I smiled every day, I think. They weren’t all real, but many of them were. I laughed nearly every day. I, like so many of you, juggled lots of other crap we don’t talk about because it’s life—flat tires, sick pets, stress from work and COVID and paying bills and EVERYTHING.

But…I’ve also read over 800 books since I became director. (Many of them middle-school novels.) I’ve written blog posts and poems and reports and letters. I’ve made new friends, some of them being my library patrons. I’ve created new connections at the library, both personally and professionally. I’m trying to lead the library into being the center of the community, and with the amazing support from the Board, the volunteers, and the residents, I think we can do it.

Yes, WE.

If I’ve learned anything from these past three years, it’s that I can’t do my work by myself. I can’t succeed alone. I have an incredible staff, support system and library users that makes the library a wonderful place to be a part of.

But I also know that I would never have survived these three years without my family and friends. Never. I received gift cards and meals when my husband was in the hospital. People sent me cards when my parents died and gave me hugs when I needed them. They were also there to just listen. I have friends all around the country and so many of them reached out in various ways over the past few years. Sometimes just listening is all I needed. And that’s why you reading this blog has also helped me. Tremendously.

So…thank you. I think that’s really all I’m trying to say tonight. Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for supporting me in however you know how. Thanks for being you.

Now go to your local library. They need your support even more these days. And remember, keep reading. It doesn’t matter what it is. I am not a judgy librarian! Read what you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, tell them your librarian said to screw off. ❤

Boundaries

The scene at my house this evening, minutes after arriving home from work:

Husband: Hey, hon, do you still have some reusable grocery bags I can leave in my car?

Me: Oh! Yeah, I have some right here. I’ll go put them in your car right now so I don’t forget.

Husband: No, no, you don’t have to do that.

Me: It’s no problem. I have to put these cds in my car anyway. I’ll be right back.

I trot out to our driveway, put things in my car, open his car door to place the bags in his passenger seat. Then I find this on the floor:

I flipped the package over to look at the date. Was this left over from before his heart attack when he was eating loads of junk? “July 9, 2021.” Last Friday.

I slowly walk back into the house with this fried chicken bag pinched between my fingers. My breath is getting heavier with every step. Cue the cartoon steam exhaling from my ears. I walk through the door and put the bag in front of my husband’s face. With a clipped tone I ask, “What the hell. Is. This?”

Husband looks slightly shamefaced but not nearly enough. He’s smiling a little, but that nervous smile he gets when he knows he’s fucked up and got caught. I may have been afraid to yell at him a week ago, worried he’d have another heart attack. I certainly wasn’t scared today. I lit into him. When our son asked what Papa did, I showed him the bag with the fork still in it so he could eat in his car without anyone knowing. The boy just shook his head.

I raged for just a few minutes. Told him that it hadn’t even been 4 weeks since his nearly fatal heart attack. 27 days, in fact. “You couldn’t even go one fucking month without fried, fatty food?!?” I left the room to put my sneakers on so I could take a walk to cool down. But before I left, I stomped back into the living room, pointed my finger at my husband and said, “YOU are not allowed to kill yourself. I am the only one who gets the pleasure of killing you!”

Ok. Not my finest hour, but it felt good. And we both ended up laughing because it was so absurd and sounded exactly like me. Then I still had to leave the house because I was pissed.

But you know what REALLY upsets me about this? The night before he ate that fried chicken, he had a scary episode. He went to bed, but then came back to the living room just a minute later and said he couldn’t lie down. His stomach was bothering him, which was one of the signs he had before his heart attack. So he sat in his recliner, and I asked him if he’d like me to stay with him. He said that he would and took my hand. “Once I start snoring, you can go to bed if you want. I’ll be ok by then.” So I kissed him, turned out the lights, got blankets for us both, and lay on the couch listening to my husband breathe, cough, and sniffle. Eventually he slept deeply and I went to bed. It was a frightening time, yet he trusted and loved me enough to ask me to stay, which I know is a great gift.

And then…he ate the fucking chicken.

As a caregiver, one has to know when to draw the line or when to say, “Ok, big boy, you can make the phone call to your cardiologist to find out when they’re going to look at your other blocked arteries.” (This is something I’ve been asking him to do for a week, and today his nurse told him the exact same thing. Should we take a bet on how long it takes for him to do it now?) Since Wal’s heart attack, my sister and so many of my friends have been telling me to make sure I take care of myself, to take some time for myself. I mostly have. But no one has yet said, “It’s time to stop taking care of him.”

Because we don’t do that, right? We try to squeeze moments out for ourselves which often causes more stress in the long run, but we never say to someone, “Ok, you can give up on that person now.” And why? Because what if that person dies or has a stroke due to their declining health and is bedbound or mute or paralyzed. How would we feel then?

GUILTY.

But…shouldn’t there be a time when we finally say, “I will no longer take care of you. I will remain your partner until death, but I can no longer help you if you refuse to help yourself.” Any person we are taking care of must take some responsibility in their own health if they are able. When I took care of my mother, I understood that she could no longer do this. She could make her own coffee and get dressed, but showering and eating well and taking her medications were no longer in her realm of tasks she could do. And after a few months of working full time and taking care of my son and my mom, I knew that I couldn’t keep caring for her without losing much of myself.

So what do you do when you’re taking care of your spouse or partner? I have a friend who is dealing with this on an even more intense level. I have tried to lend my shoulder and ear to her as much as I can, but I know it’s never enough. She’s given me loads of advice and listens whenever I need her to, but her caregiving tasks are much more serious and frightening. And her spouse is NOT able to care for himself much anymore.

But my husband can. And he needs to. I find his lack of respect for his health infuriating but also incredibly sad and unfair to me. To our son. Does Wal know and understand all of this and everything I’m feeling and what I wish he felt? Yes. He does. And if he doesn’t, he will when I read him this blog post. 😉

The question remains: What do I do now? Do I throw my hands up and say, “Whatever. Do whatever you want”? Or do I say I will help you if you need me to, but I will not make phone calls for you or keep track of your sodium or fluid intake? My therapist and I just had conversations about what kinds of boundaries to set down, and the latter seemed the most appropriate at that time a week ago, but now? Now I’m angry and hurt and not sure what steps to take next.

I’m already tired of being angry. I’m not apathetic because I’m too emotional about this. I think I’m sad, frustrated, and disappointed.

Maybe I just need to find some patience and let him be and hope he finds the path towards good health. He doesn’t need to die trying to look for it because it’s right there in front of him. I’ve been holding out my hand to show him for a long time, but now I guess I just need to go on ahead and hope he catches up. I’ve left breadcrumbs and neon arrows to guide him, so let’s hope he just opens his eyes.

Caregiving vs. Self-Care

When you’re taking care of someone, it feels much like being their parent. You worry about them more often than not. If they don’t feel well or are having a rough day, you feel like they do. And when they admit their fear about what’s happening to their body and their life, you feel just as frightened.

This weekend has been another rollercoaster ride for my household. Our son had his wisdom teeth out on Friday and yesterday he was just ok, but this morning he was in pain and had been up most of the night. Wal had gained 2 pounds overnight, which is not a good thing when you’re a heart patient. He also didn’t feel very well much of the day. I didn’t feel good when I got up, but I kicked into crisis mode after realizing my son was hurting and my husband wasn’t well. Got the kid on a pain med schedule and my husband already took the medicine he needed to work on the extra fluid in his body. So although I didn’t feel great, I went for a run in the heat and humidity anyway. I needed to physically put one foot in front of the other so I could do it figuratively when back at home.

At one point this afternoon, both my husband and son were napping. It reminded me of the times when my boy was a baby and although they always said to nap when your baby naps, I would always clean. Which is exactly what I did today. I listened to an audiobook and swept and mopped and cleaned bathrooms and did laundry. I get like this. It’s like I’m preparing for the next crisis, so maybe my house will be clean when it arrives and I won’t feel as much stress.

Folks talk about self-care and have really been driving that home to me over the past two weeks. And maybe I should have rested when my family did. But in my own quirky way, cleaning the house was taking care of myself. I love that when I walk on my kitchen floor now, my socks don’t stick to it. 😉

Once my son was awake, he felt a bit better. I gave him some yogurt and he planted himself at his computer desk to play a video game. I checked on my husband, who was still napping, then made myself a margarita at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Might not be the best choice of things to do, but I curled on the couch with a book and my drink and relaxed for 15 minutes. It was pretty fantastic.

But then I got up and checked on my husband again. He had been sleeping for nearly 2 hours at this point. I watched his chest to make sure he was still breathing—-just like I used to do with my son when he was an infant. Wal started to stir and caught me staring at him. I asked if he was ok and he said yes and wanted to know the time. I told him and he said “ok” and rolled over. I figured he’d get up in a few minutes, so I went to the kitchen and started making a salad. An hour later I went to our bedroom again. I was trying not to freak out. He woke up this time and we both wondered aloud, “Is this ok?” Is taking a long nap alright? Does it mean something besides being tired?

We are stumbling along this path, not fully understanding where to go or what to do. Everything keeps changing. His blood thinner meds have changed every few days because his blood wants to clot and right now that’s not a good thing. We weren’t really sure how much sodium he’s allowed to have until a friend whose husband went through this last year gave me an idea of what the amount should be. And just today I found the answer in his pile of paperwork he came home with. (I thought I had read it all but obviously didn’t take it all in.)

This all still feels…surreal. Exhausting for sure, and unfamiliar yet a bit familiar at the same time, but not enough to actually know what we’re doing.

For now, we’re doing our best to take things one day at a time and one issue at a time. We’re also still trying to enjoy the little things that bring us joy. Whatever they are. I hope you do the same, friends. Live in the moment if you can. ❤

And then there were four…

My mother always said that when she gets to the point where she needs to be in a home, then that’s what we need to do. She never wanted to live with her children because she never wanted to “burden” us. But now that we’re facing the truth that she needs to be somewhere besides her own home….well, let’s just say that without planning for the future, we can say whatever we want but it doesn’t make it a reality.

I moved Mom in with my family a few weeks ago. She just had a major surgery that would help her circulation and we just couldn’t send her back home. She had stopped taking her medication, even with many reminders. Her diabetes was out of control (will lose several toes next week), she barely ate, and her house was….awful. You have to understand that my mother was always an immaculate housekeeper. Everything was cleaned A LOT. Very little clutter (except the occasional tabletop or closet) and just a really neat house, you know? I realize that when you get older, you can’t do as many things. I get it. But not like this. Food was rotting on the counter. Plants could grow on the carpet. Burnholes in the mattress and clothing. This wasn’t my mom’s house anymore. This wasn’t my mom. And this wasn’t safe.

So, what to do? Assisted living? Nursing home? My house? Honestly, there weren’t many options. At that time, if she didn’t come home with me, she’d go back home. And I couldn’t do that. I felt like that was neglect on my part. Cruel, even. But is it cruel to take her away from her home? Maybe. But the things that have happened at my house since she’s arrived has made me realize how bad her dementia and her physical health really are. Every time I had to go to her house, I was always worried about what I’d find. And don’t get me wrong, there were good days. But so many bad ones.

Is it any better with Mom living with my family? Well…..yes and no. She now takes her meds, she eats, she changes her clothes every day, she washes up and she showers. Most of those things were not happening at her home. Is she happy? I’m not sure. Was she happy before? I don’t know. I really don’t.

And what about my family? Lots of changes. Difficult some days, but we laugh as much as we can. My husband has been an absolute saint through all of this. He’s been so supportive and helpful. My son is doing well, although we have had many discussions about what we don’t like about our current situation and what we do like. He loves his grandmother with everything he has, but it’s still difficult when you lose your bathroom and Grammie acts odd sometimes. Both my husband and I try to carve out one-on-one time to spend with him. We always spent time with him before, but now it’s even more vital.

And me? Well, I finally start counseling next week so maybe that will help? I’m definitely feeling more stressed than ever before, feeling pulled in so many directions. I ended up crying on the phone to the hospital when they changed my mother’s appointments after I had completely rearranged my life so I could get her there. The woman on the phone was unbelievably sweet but I can just imagine what she thought.

I often think about my brother and wonder what he would think of all this. I miss being able to talk with him and vent. My sister has been as good of a help as she can be, but Phil would help us find he humor in all of this. I’m trying to do that.  Like guessing which cupboard my  mother will put the peanut butter in. Yesterday was the refrigerator so I got that one wrong! And at least now there are as many humans in the house as there are cats!

alzheimers-nurse-humor

We are working on a plan for when Mom’s health changes. But that takes time. I’ve already waded through piles of paperwork, nurse and social worker visits, and there’s still more to be done. Do I want my mom to stay with us? Yes. Most days. I love her and I’m really trying to do what’s best for her. But I also know that I need to have boundaries. My family needs those boundaries. When Mom’s mental and/or physical health gets to a certain point, then another move will have to happen. In the end, I know I need to do what’s best for me and my family. I just hope I’ll know what that is when the time comes.

 

 

That First Step

I’ve always said that blogging has been my own source of therapy. I write about my issues, get everything out of my heart and head and typically I feel better. I often get feedback from my readers, many of them being my friends, and usually I feel like my head is clearer, my body a little lighter and I’m not as alone as I thought I was.

But now….now I think blogging might not be enough.

As I’m writing this post, my brother has been gone for 11 weeks, 5 hours and 11 minutes. I think I hurt more now than I did that day. Everything was fresh and raw and horribly painful that day, but now I feel empty. Hollowed out. Lost.

For the past few weeks, I’ve known that I should seek out counseling. The combined stress of trying to care for my mother and dealing with my grief has been overwhelming.  One morning when my boss encouraged me to give the counseling program a call, I broke down in tears and told her I just couldn’t. My mom’s health has deteriorated very quickly in the past few months and I’m taking her to one doctor or another each week, sometimes twice a week. The thought of adding something new to my schedule broke me.

Then my best friend started nudging me, trying to get me to make that call. I put it off for another week then finally made the first call. This was just to set me up and give me a list of counselors I can call and try to meet with. My stomach hurt the entire time and I willed my voice not to shake. After the call ended, I put my head down on the table and cried. If it’s this difficult just to get a list of names, how the hell will I be at an actual session?

Now that I have my list, I still haven’t been able to call anyone. In fact, two days after getting the list I thought, “Ok. This is good to have, but I’m really fine. I can handle this.” I spent the afternoon cleaning my mother’s home, having lunch with her and taking her to the store. Sometimes when I spend time with Mom, I miss her. I miss the person she used to be. I felt like that this week, but I also tried to make the best of the situation. We chatted about food, my son, our cats and how beautiful the leaves were looking. “I can do this, ” I thought.

And then I spent the evening with my son. We’ve been watching The Flas71289d196e3604c520bb1fdd7bf20310h on Netflix. So, if you haven’t been watching season 3 of The Flash and intend to, skip this part now. *SPOILER ALERT*  In this episode, Cisco, one of my favorite characters because he makes being a geek look so damn cool, has been seeing visions of his dead brother, Dante. Cisco gets his hands on an artifact that messes with his mind and he eventually must seal the artifact away. But in doing so, he will never see his brother again. His rational mind knows that this image isn’t really his brother, but it doesn’t make the task any easier. So he has to choose–see his brother again or lose his brother forever but save his friends’ lives.

As Cisco makes his choice, I cover my face and sob into my hands. My son asks me what’s wrong, but I can’t answer. I’m sobbing so hard that it’s difficult to breathe, much less talk. My sweet boy then slides closer to me on the couch and hugs me. I end up crying on his shoulder, literally. I finally pull myself together after a minute and let my boy go. All he says is, “Uncle?” I nod. I apologize to him, but he said that it was ok. Then he takes off his shirt and says, “Here, Mom. You can just use this as a tissue.”

I love that kid so much.

So…after that little breakdown, all from a damn tv show no less, I think I might be able to make that phone call. Or I know I should.

I know I have to at least try. That’s all I can promise myself right now. But it’s a start.

 

Lost and Found

If I’ve learned anything this past week, it’s that Alzheimer’s Disease slowly eats away one’s independence, dignity, eventually humanity. It not only destroys the individual, but it injurs and scars the caregiver and the family.

Last week ended with me losing my mother in a hospital (she can seriously boogie with that walker!) and also discovering at least 6 months worth of unopened mail in her home, including financial matters that should have been tended to. And this week began with me visiting the bank and crying at the desk of a bank employee.

Today I told more people about my mother’s condition. I told people that may only be on the periphery of her life, but ones that need to know why she doesn’t seem like her typical reliable self. My mother’s reputation has been in jeopardy for the past year, and maybe that doesn’t matter to some. But I know if my mother was in her right mind, it would matter to her. She’s been a respected citizen of our little town for nearly 50 years. She’s always been responsible. She paid her bills on time, mostly obeyed the speed limit and every single person I talk to says, “She’s such a sweet woman!” I don’t want anyone thinking less of her because I didn’t pay attention to that growing pile of mail in her living room. If I had done my job, I would have helped her open that shit at least two months ago.

mailBut I didn’t. I didn’t want to. I was afraid. In the back of my mind, I knew my own responsibilities for Mom’s care would increase. I knew I would have to have uncomfortable conversations with Mom about finances–her last bit of true freedom. So I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything until….well….until I did.  I had to stop putting it off and just ask Mom if we could organize her mail a bit. But something so simple is still not easy for me to do. To this day, I still dread the thought of my mother being angry with me. She put fear in all her children, and although I can’t speak for my siblings, she put the fear of disappointing her, in me.

So now when I need to ask my mother permission to do something, like open her mail, I’m waiting for my mother to bite back, to tell me “no” and that she has everything under control. But she never says that. Not anymore. She knows she no longer has everything under control.  And as much as it pains me to say it, I guess that’s my job now.

Just Awful

Yesterday morning, as I sobbed and hiccupped on my couch, I told my husband I was a horrible caregiver. “I’m too selfish to do this,” I cried.

Just when I think things are ok, they’re really not.

My mother has Type 2 Diabetes, and before she had dementia, it wasn’t a huge problem. She didn’t eat very well, but she took her medication and it was manageable. Then we realized that she hadn’t been taking any medication for nearly 5 months, things were bad. So my caregiving duties were upped a bit and I started religiously visiting my mother at least once a week to fill her pill container and to chat and just see her. Yet in the past month, the situation started to decline. Mom just hasn’t been taking her medication. Maybe twice a week, but that’s all. I don’t know why, but something changed. The first week it happened, I hoped it was just a bad week. And the next week she did take all of her meds, so I thought indeed it had been a snafu. But then for the next 3 weeks, she only sporadically took everything she needed to. And only once did I say, “Mom, you really need to take your medicine, ok?” But why? Why did I only ask her once? Because although I am 43 years old, I still don’t want my mother mad at me.

I am very rarely the recipient of my mother’s wrath. My sister has been the unfortunate one in that scenario and it can be awful. You can practically eat the silence that invades the room when she’s angry. It’s thick and dark like molasses. Or the look she gives you. Christ, a person could burst into flames if they get that look.

But I mean, really, who wants their mother mad at them? No matter what age? But….I know I need to ask my mother if she’s taken her pills…and I need to ask every day….which, in my opinion, is completely awful.

This all came up at Mom’s doctor’s appointment a few days ago. Her glucose levels were off the charts and Mom’s healthcare provider asked my mother if it was ok if I asked her to take her pills. “I know you care about me. I know why that’s the reason you’re asking, so it’s ok,” Mom said. So that’s what I’ll do.

And then I get a late night phone call from the on-call doctor at Mom’s doctor’s office. He tells me Mom’s glucose levels are in fact over 600 and she should go to the ER and get insulin. So…here I am, 35 minutes from where my mother lives. I know that if I call her and wake her up, she’ll be confused and probably hang up on me. If she’s still awake, more than likely she will refuse to go anywhere because it’s late at night and she’s not going to wake her friend and have him take her. So…I don’t call my mother. I wait until the next morning and explain the situation. She says she’ll go to the ER. She then calls me back 10 minutes later, asking what she’s supposed to do at the hospital, what to say, what will they do. Then calls back one more time to say she’s leaving for the ER, but says, “But I’m not staying!” I reassure her that they’ll probably only give her an IV for fluids and some insulin then she can go back home. Which is what they did. They brought her levels down significantly and she’s ok.

But I burst into tears after that last phone call. The self-doubt and guilt completely overwhelmed me. Should I have called her the night before? I could have driven over there and taken her, right? Why didn’t I at least give her the option the night before? I want to say it’s because I knew she wouldn’t go. But I don’t really know that, do I? I was tired, I was on my way to bed, and I didn’t want to deal with one more thing.

Do other caregivers go through this? Do they do stupid, awful things and continuously wonder what the hell they’re doing? This is so much like being a parent, but not. I feel like I have the same amount of responsibility as with my child, but yet more urgency and less power. I am still my mother’s child. I don’t want to make her angry or upset and yet I don’t want to fail her, either. And if I don’t step up my game, I think I’m going to do just that.

 

The Right Stuff

Taking Mom to her neurology appointments are emotionally exhausting affairs. They make me feel very uncomfortable. It is obvious that in this particular office, I am my mother’s parent. I am asked questions about her health, her memory and the level of her confusion.  Don’t get me wrong, this is done in a very respectful way. The doctor asks my mother if it’s ok to ask me questions, and so far, my mother has always replied very happily, “Absolutely!” I think she likes that I’m in the hot seat before she is.

Then the doctor turns to my mother and asks her a few general questions about her health or her habits before getting into more serious memory testing. Meanwhile, I sit diagonal from my mom and stare at the floor. I look up occasionally to see the reactions of both the doctor and my mother, but mostly I just try to shrink into myself and disappear. This seems like such a private encounter to have to witness. It feels like I’m watching my mother be interrogated and she appears very vulnerable during these interviews. Sometimes tears run down her face while she answers the questions. I desperately want to leave the room while this is going on, but I have to stay. I give the doctor clues when Mom’s answers are not true or just a bit off. Like today. The doctor asked Mom if she ever goes to the library to get reading material. She book-mobilereplied that she didn’t, but the bookmobile comes around once a month.

Ummm…..what the? We haven’t had bookmobiles in this area for about 40 years. No joke. It was such a random thing to say. I was surprised she didn’t mention the library where I work. But something about that bookmobile memory was just floating around in her brain and it popped out. So bizarre.

Yet most of Mom’s other answers to the variety of questions? FANTASTIC!  At the end of the doctor’s interview, she told my mother how impressed she was with how she did. At this point in the year, Mom should have been on this Alzheimer’s medication for 6 months. But due to the snafu we had this summer, she’s only been on it for a month. The doctor knew about this and yet Mom’s memory and level of confusion had improved tremendously since January when she initially saw the doctor. Let me say that I love this neurologist. She’s always brutally honest, there’s no sugar coating for this lady, and yet she conveys empathy and compassion.  She told us that she realized that last January’s appointment could have been a particularly bad day for Mom and today could have been a particularly good day. But even with that, Mom was more than keeping her own. She was actually improving. The Aricept that Mom is taking typically just maintains people’s memory loss, or delays the advancement of the loss, but in 10% of the patients who take it the medication improves the patients’ cognition. The doctor said that Mom may actually be one of those 10%.  YES!!

*big smiles and clapping hands*

I know that everything can change very quickly. I know that most likely, there will be a day that my mother will not know who I am. But that day isn’t here. Not yet. And it might be just a little further off than it was before. And that, my friends, is reason to celebrate.

Three cheers for a good day!

 

Duped

What do you do when you feel betrayed by someone you love? Do you get angry and lash out at that person? Do you stop talking to them? Or do you try and discuss the situation and attempt to forgive?

How about if that person has dementia? Then how would you react?

Today I took my mom to an appointment with her doctor. This was no big deal, just a quick check up to see how everything is going. The doc decided to check Mom’s blood sugar since it had been a while, as well as her A1c number. (If you’re not diabetic or don’t know one, the A1c number is basically a test to show how your blood sugar levels have been for the past few months. The test should be done every 6 months, but possibly every 3 if things are not great.) First the nurse did a quick test of Mom’s blood sugar–it was over 300.  For an average person, 100 or below is good. Then she tested Mom’s A1c. A 6 or 7 is good, and Mom’s was above 13.  In other words, it’s a shit storm.

After a little investigating and questioning both Mom and myself, the doctor discovered that Mom’s meds should have needed a refill at least 8 months ago. EIGHT MONTHS. The doctor turned from her nurse to look at both Mom and me. She tilted her head and had this smug yet pitying look on her face. I wanted to smack that look right off her face. Was I defensive? You bet I was. I fucked up, but I wasn’t going down alone. “So…how often are you supposed to check Mom’s A1c?” It had been nearly a year since they checked it, so we all fucked up.

Now the question was, why was her blood sugar so bad? Was she eating well? Probably not, but that’s a given. Was she taking her medication? Mom certainly thought she was, as did I. That’s the one thing Mom had always been so good about was taking her meds. Or was she? Did I just believe her because she’s my mom and she’s so damn convincing? Or because I didn’t want to take on any more responsibility?

JACKPOT! Finger on the nose!  You got it, Holly!

I wasn’t ready.

So. After this visit, I took Mom home and we went through her medications. She actually did have some of her diabetic medication left from over a year ago, which means she only took it sporadically. But her other meds? Oh my god, her other meds. Like the pills she takes for dementia?

Not one pill had been taken. Not one. In 5 months. Not one.

I am an idiot. I am not a good caregiver. It’s obvious to me now, in fact, that I suck at it.

wrong

I’ve wanted my mom back for so long and kept hoping things would just stay at this even keel for years and I could keep pretending that things were good and I was just her daughter and not her housekeeper or nurse or parent.

I have to stop thinking that way now. It’s all a bunch of damned excuses!! I have to suck it up and help her.

I don’t blame my mother for this. Not at all. For just a moment I felt duped. Like she had stopped taking her medications on purpose. But that feeling only lasted a moment. I knew it wasn’t true. I knew the true deceiver in this situation was me. I felt a betrayal, but it was on my mother’s behalf. I didn’t keep her safe like I was supposed to.

You know, I realize how selfish I’ve been and still am. Even today after all this. I know I need to go over to Mom’s place once a week and make sure her meds are all set and ready to go for the week. It’s not a huge deal. It means either I need to take my son over on the weekend after his soccer game or skip a morning exercise routine during the week. When I say it out loud, it’s so little I’m giving up to help her…but why does it feel so big?

I feel like I’ve taken one more step closer to….I’m not sure to what or to where. Maybe just feeling like I’m more of a parent now? Like before I was parenting a teenager and now we’ve gone backwards and it’s closer to parenting a Kindergartner?  Or maybe it’s because it is another step.

It’s one more step towards the day my mother won’t know who I am.

 

 

 

Surprise!

Visiting my mom these days tends to fill me with trepidation. What will I find this time? Each visit brings something new–cuts on her face from falling out of bed, an unpaid bill with possible consequences, confusion about the location of her hairdresser she’s been seeing for nearly 20 years.

At this point, Mom still knows who I am and isn’t confused in any way about me, but I worry that one day soon she won’t know my son. He’s growing so quickly and looks so much older already. I’m afraid that one day she won’t recognize him, and who will be more heartbroken when that happens? My son or my mother?

This last visit, though, I wasn’t worried about that. We already knew what special surprise we had waiting for us. We had a task that needed to be accomplished. The search was on….to find Mom’s teeth.

Common-Dreams-Losing-Your-Teeth-2

Doesn’t this sound like a Janet Evanovich novel?  Crazy!

But it’s what needed to be done. Apparently Mom took her teeth out sometime in the middle of the night. She found her bottom teeth somewhere WAY behind her bedside table, but no top teeth. So the hunt was on!

As my son and I looked under and in the couch, I started to wonder if he’d remember this one day and how he’d look back on it. Will he remember it fondly or just shake his head and think how bizarre things were? Or maybe both?

After the couch there was searching under the bed, behind the bed, under tables and bureaus and chairs. But still no teeth. And this, my friends, was over a week ago. Mom can chuckle about it, but I know it bothers her. She keeps saying how funny it feels not having her top teeth in during the day. Where the hell could the teeth be?!? She has a cat, and honestly, I even looked in the cat box just in case he dragged them in there. It would be horrible if they were in there, but at least they would have been found!

I am really trying to find humor wherever I can. I think when you love someone who has dementia, you *must* find humor and happiness wherever and whenever it’s possible. There are so many bad days and bad visits and dreaded phone calls, that when I have a good afternoon with my mom, I hold onto it with everything I have. I must remind myself that there are still good times ahead. They might not be like they were before and they won’t be as frequent. There will be more good moments than good days.

But that’s something. And right now I’ll take it.