Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s disease

Broken Bone

Doodicus turned 13 earlier this month. A week ago he broke his first bone: the middle finger of his thumb. Funnily enough, he did it playing dodgeball at school. I got the call while I was at the farm visiting my mom. It was a good excuse to clear out. I had just asked her if she knew who I was.(1) She didn’t. It confirmed my suspicisons.

The nurse said that Dood probably sprained his thumb, but he was in a lot of pain and it was swollen. He has a tendency to dramatize so I decided to just pop into a convenient clinic to have it examined. The doc’s guess was that he had hyper-extended it when the ball hit his hand, but they took x-rays to confirm. Both the doctor and nurse were surprised when the film developed and the bone was clearly broken.

He fashioned a finger splint that he can remove when he showers, and in two weeks we will see his pediatrician to see how it’s healing up.

(1) I was helping mom get together an outfit for her Christmas Party with her Red Hat Society ladies. She kept asking “What are we doing?” and I’d tell her. Over and over again she’d ask, and over and over again, I’d tell her. Even though I remained calm, inside my patience was strained. We all took her nodding and giggling as interaction and passive acknowledgement to what was going on around her. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

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Grandma

I read the headline of an article on how documenting your day helps maintain your memory. I didn’t read it nor will I link to it for a couple of reasons.

1.) It’s so obviously true. Reading something that you wrote down based on personal experience returns you to that moment, even if it’s like looking through a hazy mirror.
2.) Because my memory is so foggy, I need to practice using it and not rely on the internet to fill in the blanks.
3.) I want to write more on what’s in my head right now; not what use to be or even what could be.

That means things won’t be that interesting here because they will be garbled, hashed, and more sloppily thrown into the white space than ever before. Worse, I’m going to try literally working through lost words in my vocabulary as I type instead of depending on an electronic thesauruses. I’m tired of the words always on the tip of my tongue but never passing my lips. I’m sure that has a medical term. In fact, I know I’ve looked it up before, but I’m not going to now. I will use spellcheck, so for that at least you can be grateful.

According to my TimeHop app, it was three years ago I scheduled a neurological appointment for my mom to discuss her own edge-teetering dementia. The doctor said Alzheimer’s but my sisters refuse to make that leap. There’s a difference and I suppose as an outsider you can say it’s obvious what those differences are, but I can feel it. It makes no difference when you see her hazel eyes clouded with the inability to recognize me, even if it’s for a moment or several seconds. I see confusion and hurt.

At Thanksgiving, she and my six-year-old daughter, Aitch, disappeared into her room. I was busy with prepping the meal, but later Aitch said that grandma Jean sat on the floor and watched her play, giggling at her antics. There was no conversation. I think that’s why grandma slipped away. Aitch has no expectations from her grandma to answer questions about what craft she’s been keeping herself busy with, or if she’s done Christmas shopping, or has she started baking cookies.

After we ate, I asked my mom who was seated at the table, if she wanted apple or pumpkin pie. She chose apple. I went to the kitchen and plated up a slice and added a dollop of ice cream. I then asked her if she wanted a fork or a spoon. She looked up and through me, her face blank, and shrugged. In that instant, I knew…I knew that she didn’t know why I’d ask her if she wanted a fork or a spoon. I calmly rephrased the question, “With your apple pie and ice cream, would you rather use a fork or a spoon to eat it?” Inside I crumbled.

The mother of a friend of mine died a couple weeks ago after losing a painful battle with cancer. Following the visitation as I was walking away from the church with my husband, Sparring Partner, I must have made said something trite like “I can’t imagine what she’s going through,” and in an uncharacteristically harsh response, Sparring Partner said, “No, you can’t. Some day you will.” His dad’s death a year and a half ago still leaves him raw.

The thing is I have already lost my mom. Physically she can sit beside me, warm in the way that a body pumping blood is, but she’s gone. I can’t talk to her like she’s my mom anymore. She doesn’t care that Aitch is a first grader and wants to be a clothing designer. A few years ago, she’d laugh and tell stories the hundreds magazine clippings of fashions I have glued to into tablets, or of the dozens of dress sketches I had that to were in a cardboard box in the attic. She doesn’t care that my son, Doodicus, is a year away from a school driving permit or that he went to his school dance. My son will never hear the story from grandma Jean about my first traffic ticket even though she was in the passenger seat when it happened. There’s no reflection or magnification of my pride, fear, humor in her eyes that anyone else might get when they talk about their family.

It’s Not Just Forgetting Birthdays Anymore

3:25 p.m. – My cousin calls my cell phone, but I’m with a client so I let it go to voicemail.

3:41 pm – I listen to voicemail. Cousin ran into a friend of Mom’s. Mom dropped off Dad for a doctor appointment and can’t find him.

3:44 pm –  I call Cousin, because what? What do you mean Mom can’t find Dad?? Cousin is on her way back home 25 miles away and asks I call her when I find them.

3:45 pm – I call Friend (who works at the hospital). She says the same thing: Mom said she dropped off Dad for a doctor’s appointment but can’t remember which doctor or WHERE. Friend said Mom can’t even remember Dad’s birthday in order for Friend to look it up in registration.

3:46 pm –  I call Brother. No, he didn’t know Dad had a doctor’s appointment. Call Brother when I find Parents.

4:00 pm – I leave office citing “family emergency” and drive to the hospital’s physician’s offices, which is just next door to my office building. Go inside and speak with registration to see if they can locate Dad in any of their offices. I should note that Dad’s been seeing a lot of doctors lately. He had a pathological crushed vertebra in January. Clerk calls Security as I explained that Mom is out driving around godonlyknowswhere looking for Dad and she has Alzheimer’s. We’re on the look out for an elderly couple. She’s driving an old white cadillac. He’s likely wearing a cowboy hat. Later I’ll discover I was half-right with that description.

4:10 pm – I start driving around the hospital’s and the adjoining offices’ parking lots looking for their car.

4:27 pm – I call the farm. Maybe they’ve found each other since the original phone call and are both home, safe and sound. No, neither of them have a cell phone. No answer.

4:36 pm – Brother calls. Have I found them yet? No. I update him on what I’m doing. He informs me they’re in the Towncar. I do another parking lot sweep.

4:41 pm – I call the farm again. Mom answers!

“So you found Dad!”
“No.”
“What do you mean, ‘No.’??”
“I couldn’t remember what doctor’s office I dropped him off at so I left.”
“You just left him in City and went home?? How was that suppose to work, Mom?!”
“I don’t know.”

4:43 pm – Text message from Sparring Partner: “Your mom just called me. She’s looking for you. Wants you to call her right away. All she said was I don’t have [Dad]. She said she doesn’t know where he is.”

4:45 pm – I head back to my office. Just for shits and giggles I go next door to my office to the office of the urologist. There stands Dad at the front desk. He was no more than 50 feet away from me this whole time! He sees me and asks what I’m doing there. He is not wearing his cowboy hat today.

No more than two hours after they went missing, I drove Dad home. He said he would never have thought she’d forgotten where he was. She had dropped him off and wanted to run errands since she was in the City. She finished shopping and then simply forgotten where she was to return. It’s a small city, a close community. We were lucky.

This time.

You Git Whatcha Git

UPDATED: photo of a little of the damage from the fire below.

It’s the start of another New Year and it’s time to take stock. Actually, I don’t really do that because as the quaint daycare saying goes, “you git whatcha git and you don’t throw a fit”. What I do know is that there will be some major changes coming up this year. Let’s start with my job.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I started working again after a three-year involuntary stint of unemployment, but it would seem that this is the year my boss will be retiring from his practice. Something the corporation has known for years and for which you would think they would have prepared better for by securing a replacement surgeon for this office, one so very desperately needed in the rural anal of Nebraska, but you would have thunk wrong. Actually, I should give some credit. They have been actively wooing a new surgeon for practically two years. And still no commitment. Call me a pessimist but it might have behooved someone to pursue another specialist about a year ago. If New Boss continues to be evasive, the office could close sometime late summer.

Last night I brought this possibility up to my husband and we’ll have to give serious thought to whether I should find another job or if I can just become a trophy wife and soccer mom. I promised him that if I become a SAHM, I will become a fitness freak and whittle myself back down to a size 4 and grow out my hair to my ass and instantly lose 20 years of age off my face. I’m not sure why he’s not buying it.

I bought my mom new bedding and delivered it Saturday (all but the damn sheets, which I forgot by the door!). She was not happy to come home from church and find me upstairs in her bedroom and insisted she didn’t need new sheets, she just lays on the blankets and that a new mattress pad wasn’t necessary as the old one was currently in the dryer, just waiting for her to put it back on. I told her in no uncertain terms that the mattress pad, which had been the one ON FIRE could not simply be washed and put back on the bed (because, DUH!). She scowled as I pulled the new blankets out of the packaging and folded up the old ones, including the one she had attempted to sew the hole the size of a dinner plate. By the way, that doesn’t work when you just try to sew up the edges of the void when it’s in smack-dab in the middle of a rectangular blanket. It was a bit disheartening to know that my mom didn’t even really try to patch the blankets by sacrificing one and cutting it up and using it on the other, which I know she is/was more than capable of doing.

I tried not to make a production out of the bedding because I was taking the old blankets with me as I knew she would try to reuse them. I figured if they were out of sight, they would most certainly be out of mind. Especially her mind. On the way home, the smell of burnt polyester and wiring wafted from the folds of the blankets, which made me sadder still to realize that she hadn’t even bothered to wash them before trying to put them back on her bed. The smell was nose-wrinkling awful.

My daughter was with me, chatting happily with grandma who never took her eyes off of me. I’m certain having Aitch there kept grandma from going off on me in a tirade, but then Aitch said, “Grandma, you forgot my concert!” My back was to them, but I knew my mom’s eyes were boring into my skull. “I’m sorry. Why didn’t anyone remind me?” she asked pointedly. I calmly replied, “I did, but that was the day you went up to see [your sister-in-law] in the nursing home with the other Red Hatters.” “Oh.” Later, she asked Aitch if she had a Christmas Concert and I was relieved when my too-busy-playing-with-grandma’s-bell-collection-daughter didn’t hear her as I’m sure she would have said, “Grandma! I already told you!” Subtle, she is not.

The point of that whole story was that sometime this year, it’s likely mom’s health may indicate she would be safer if she was in a nursing home instead of at home. Based on how quickly she’s deteriorated in the past year, I can’t imagine she’ll have much more time living independently. Worse, I know there will be dissension within the family when the call has to be made.

burnt blankets

And on a happier note, thank you to my readers who participated in the Card Exchange! I would show each card to my husband and exclaim, “And this is my friend from Scotland/Auckland/Portland!” He would just give me a blank stare and wordlessly un-pause the DVR and return to watching football. He didn’t say as much, but I know he was rather impressed because I caught him taking a picture with his phone the string of dozens of cards I hung across the dining room table heavily draped with cards. It’s the start of a New Year and I’ve hit the ground running.

Tomorrow

Things have been not so good lately, but each time I sit down to draft it out, 600 words later I have deleted it and closed the window. One of my friends from Facebook posted on one of my wall updates how I never seem to be happy, and frankly, the words stung with their accuracy. I have not been happy.

It’s not because there is a sense of “buyer’s remorse” over our moving Doodicus from a private school to a public in the hopes he would have access to more…more what? Yeah, well, that’s hard to explain. And the remark about Buyer’s Remorse came from the psychologist, not from Sparring Partner, myself or Dood, but it kinda sums things up nicely.

It’s not because Sparring Partner’s dad is slipping slowly away in a too-small nursing home room. The giant man whose presence in any room could not simply be ignored – not just because of his size – but because his distinct Bostonian voice could drown any cacophony of Midwesterners, has become an almost empty, cancer-riddled shell. Or that my mom’s Alzheimer’s is progressing in what seems like light-speed ever since Aitch started going to school and we see her less frequently. Talking with her about how the kids are adjusting to school, or the home projects, or just little stories about day-to-day happenings is like trying to write on a chalkboard in the middle of a rain shower.

My unhappiness is not because my son had a crisis that shook us all to our very quick; that incurred a standing appointment with the behavioral health department every other week, that made me ache to go back in time and tell him a thousand more times a day that we love him more than anything. I should have hugged him more even though he always wiggled or turned away. Especially when he wiggled and turned away.

It is that culmination of emotional weight and stress and a feeling your life is spinning wildly off course even though there was never a course to begin with to follow. I know it will slow down enough so I can catch my balance. Yesterdays always seem much simpler, and certainly less of a burden. They are the days that no longer have long lists of things to-do and the things un-done. They are just simply the days that were. Tomorrows are hard because they are filled with expectations, anticipations, dread and worry.

I am hoping just for better tomorrows. Maybe even happier.

Our Meeting with Dr Brain

It was a week ago that I told my mom that I had set up an appointment to see a neurologist, and how’d that go? Not so well.

Today, which is Monday, is my mom’s day to stay with the kids, but it was also the day of the appointment. I didn’t say anything when she first showed up, but left her and Aitch to do their thing and ran some errands (I’m normally at work, but had the day off). While gone, I psyched myself up to remind her. When I finally did, while she didn’t want to, she said, “If it will make YOU happy…” No, it wasn’t going to make me happy because I knew what it meant.

When Dr. Brain introduced himself and asked why she was there, she shrugged, mute. I then had to explain that there has been some memory lapses and that she repeats herself in her story-telling and questions. I felt like an ass; like I was somehow throwing my mom under the bus or at the least, complaining about her. I tried to explain that we were there to see if was indeed the normal progression of aging or if it was something else we should be aware of.

He then went into a series of questions that I initially thought were rudimentary in nature:

What is today’s date? The 11th. (It’s the 19th, and we had just signed at least four pages of paperwork that required both her signature and today’s date.)

What year is it? 1980. No, that’s not right. *long pause* I don’t know.

Who is the President? Kennedy! (answered almost too quickly and too enthusiastically) Wait, no…. *another long pause* I don’t know.

How many grandchildren do you have? 10. (she has 11)

There were several others including some simple calculations and where she lived. She struggled with the math problems (What is 100 minus seven?), but was able to answer what city, county, state and country she was in. He also had her draw something similar to a Venn diagram, but instead of circles, she was supposed to do hexagons, which were already drawn on the paper. He then asked her to write a sentence at the bottom of the page. She wrote: “Right [sic] a sentence on the bottom.” At least he laughed at that, but he did make her write an original sentence.

Afterwards, he took several seconds to review his notes, including several hash marks he had made in the margins. Her score was 23 out of 30, which he explained as he presented his opinion: beginnings of dementia, which usually means Alzheimer’s. He explained his scoring system and that he’s going to put her on a new medication. He told us what I had already known about the meds and that is they don’t make things better; they just help to keep things from getting significantly worse too soon.

In a year he will test her again (but yes, we will be following up with him much sooner). In a year, her score should be the same if she takes her meds regularly. Without the meds? She might only score a 19, maybe a 20, at the annual exam.

I could tell as I watched my mom’s expression while he described his findings and the medication that she was upset. Her face flushed and for a split second, she even teared up, but my mom, who is quite stoic, quickly reigned it all back in. Dr. Brain noticed it, too, and went on to explain that we were there to help make sure she stays as independent as she is now. She’s able to cook, clean, drive and basically look after herself and make choices for herself. The medication could potentially give her four more additional years before nursing home care may be required.

Dr. Brain was efficient and frank in his examination and delivery of his news, and yet he was still compassionate. It was hard to hear and I can’t imagine what it is was like to be in my mom’s shoes. She’s seen so many of her friends go down this path and never come back. Understandably, she was in a very subdued mood after the appointment and it was soon that she had to leave to head home. For me, I am also feeling deflated. Four years, even under the best of circumstances, is such a short time. My children will be building memories; my mother will lose them.

Head Games

I’m sitting here at the kitchen counter with my laptop in front of me, Aitch is next to me eating MY pizza, and a glass of wine (I’m drinking the wine). And before you start thinking how fancy we are, the pizza WAS frozen.

Also in front of me is the paperwork I was going to go over with my mom. It’s the pre-registration packet for her neurology appointment next Monday. We, the family, know its Alzheimer’s, but I guess we think there’s a magic answer to our frustrations by taking her and getting that confirmation. Grandma came up yesterday so she could go to Doodicus’s Winter School Concert and then spend the night to avoid making two trips (she drives 20 miles one way to be here each Monday). We are getting more and more concerned about her in the house alone with Aitch. She “forgets” to feed her lunch or if she took a nap.

When she’s not here, she’s often waiting for my brother to show up on the farm and help her with something, except she can’t remember what it is she asked him to stop over for. She received a rather substantial refund from an insurance policy a few months ago, and after my dad followed up on it, he found it hadn’t been deposited. When he asked her about it, she had no idea what he was talking about and then became upset when HE became upset about her forgetting.

If you have personally experienced someone with Alzheimer’s then you know when they get agitated, the symptoms get worse. Well, it hasn’t been JUST the missing check, but a litany of topics that get brought up by my dad who tends to be a bit of an asshole. This past year has NOT been a good one for my mom.

So I finally decided to make an appointment for my mom to see a neurologist. She needs medication to help stabilize her moods while the disease progresses. But I wasn’t sure how to tell her she had the appointment. While a year ago she was wondering what was wrong with her and why she was forgetting more and more things, she is now at the point where she doesn’t realize there is a problem. When I finally steeled my nerves to tell her and go over the paperwork, it didn’t go quite as well as I had planned.

“I made an appointment with Dr. Braindude next Monday.”

“What for?”

“Uh…well… you know how you said you aren’t feeling well lately….”

“I feel just fine.”

“Well, you mentioned that you thought you were forgetting things.”

“That’s called getting old.”

And the topic was effectively dropped because I totally lost my balls. I put the appointment page in her purse and didn’t say another word. I’ll let the rest of the family know how it went and they can bring it up over the week with her. On the upside, she’ll probably forget that it was me who brought it up in the first place.