Saturday, November 17, 2018

TRAPPED!




I am still shaking from my ordeal, but at last I have regained my composure and can write about this.  My worst nightmare was realized this morning as I went in to help Mom get up and get dressed.  I walked into a big puddle on the floor as I greeted Mom.  Once again she had removed her diapers during the night and had proceeded to pee on the floor.  That, in and of itself would have been bad enough; but let me back up for a moment to explain:

Skip is out of town.  He left this morning to do some work in South Carolina.  I was awakened by his alarm going off at 5:00 AM.  As he quietly got dressed I remained awake.  When he whispered goodbye to me I sat up and looked at the clock.  5:30 AM!  Oh Joy!  I was awake and couldn't go back to sleep.  I walked out of the bedroom to get a cup of coffee and sit in the family room enjoying the quiet.  It was only for a moment.  Already, Mom was stirring in her room. I listened to her moving items around on her dresser.  It was dark outside and out of principle I would not go get Mom until the sun was up.  She would have to wait.  At least now, with the lock on her door I didn't have to worry that she might become impatient and walk out of her room to try to descend the stairs and go to breakfast, as she had done before.  We had resisted locking her in for a few years, but now, with her worsened condition of late stages Alzheimer's it was necessary for her own safety to keep her contained.

I continued to sip my coffee luxuriating in the the moment of relative quiet.  The dog was still asleep, Skip was gone so the morning news wasn't on.  Mom seemed to have sat back down and was fidgeting with the sheets so all I heard from upstairs coming over the monitor was the sound of fabric being folded. (It is one of Mom's favorite activities--folding her sheets and blanket.)

The clock ticked the minutes away and as I played a few puzzle games on my tablet, checked my email, social media pages, and calendar, I also watched the sunrise.  It promised to be a pleasant morning.  I reminded myself of the early morning call I was making to two new agents who needed some advice before beginning to work with clients.  I wanted to allow enough time to get my mother dressed, fed and "settled" before accessing my conference call. I decided at 7 AM that I would go up to get Mom.  That takes me back to where I started.

I opened the door and entered.   Mom was eager to get dressed and we did so quickly.  I scouted around to find where she had hidden her diapers.  They were in her walker and as I removed them I remembered to spray the interior storage compartment with Lysol. I was determined to not let anything bother me today.  Then I walked her to the door.  I moved the wet mop I had used to clean her floor back out of the way, held the wet diaper in the plastic bag gagging just a little over the foul odor, and pushed on the door lever.  The door didn't open!  I pushed harder and then realized that the lock was still engaged from the outside.  There was no way to open the door.  We were locked in.  I began to panic but then thought that I could find something to open the door through the small hole I could access to disengage the lock.  Then I remembered that this was the only door in the house that had a one-way lock with no hole on the other side.  My heart sank.  There was no way out.  Skip was gone.  Our dog, Kira was not the kind of 'hero' dog to come to our rescue.  Our son was no longer living in the apartment, having left for Colorado.  His girlfriend, Christina was now the only occupant and she was still asleep.  Nevertheless I began knocking on the door and yelling for her.  There was no response. I continued knocking and yelling.  Now Mom joined in as well.  It must have been fun for her because she was really getting into it!
"Help!"  she yelled with gusto.
"Christina!" I bellowed.  "Save me!"
The house remained quiet.  I looked around wildly hoping that I could find some means to help me escape.  The smell was nauseating and I envisioned dying of asphyxiation. (Could the smell of Old Lady Pee kill me?) "HELP!" I shouted in earnest.  "HELP, HELP, HELLLLLLLLLLLLPPPPP!"
I was now panicking and pounded on the door.  It shook the walls as I continued to pound and scream.  I stopped and listened assuring myself that I would hear the sounds of footsteps on the other side of the door coming to my aid.  Sadly, the house remained silent.  I rested a moment and then began my pounding and shouting again.My level of panic rose to new heights. Maybe Christina was already up and out the door on her way to work, possibly running an errand first which would explain an early departure. What if she didn't get home until late tonight.  I tried to remember if she had mentioned anything to me about being gone for the weekend. 

"Oh no, oh no!" I cried to myself.  "I could be stuck here for two days!"  I wondered f Skip would call when he arrived in South Carolina.  If I didn't answer would he assume that I was taking our dog out and not call back?  It might take him until the evening to call me again as was often the case when he was working.  When would he begin to worry?  Would his concern cause him to take action?  What would he do?  Who would he call next to check on me?  Whose phone number did he have on his phone?  All of these thoughts were running through my brain at lightening speed knowing that Skip was the king of not memorizing anyone's phone numbers and even if he had a person to call, how would they get into the house?  Now the reality of the impossible situation sank in.  Mom and I were unlikely roommates for the duration until someone returned home and discovered that I wasn't there.  By then, I might be lying unconscious on the floor (from the aforementioned asphyxiation or from an stress produced embolism, or from a conniption fit!)  Whimpering helplessly I collapsed on a chair and looked at my mother who was pacing like a caged animal. It was only a matter of minutes before she would realize that she was not being fed her breakfast; and for those who know my mother or who have read previous blog posts they will realize that nothing...NOTHING stands in the way her food.  She has an appetite of a hungry bear and a disposition to accompany that. 

"Why can't we go?" Mom asked.
"The door is locked. Just go sit down on your bed."
Mom nodded and proceeded to pace in circles.
"Why can't we go?" she asked again.
"The door is locked." I repeated.
"Oh."  She paced in a circle then asked one more time, "Why can't we go?"
"AURGH!  Christina!!!" I shouted desperately.  I began pounding on the wall.  "CHRISTINA...HELP ME, HELP ME...HELLLLLPPPPPP!"

The minutes ticked away.  I thought of people trapped in a building collapse, an earthquake, a mine disaster, an avalanche.  I thought of their futile cries for help as rescue teams searched for them.  I thought of them running out of oxygen and becoming weaker and weaker until their cries became inaudible.  My hand hurt from pounding.  My throat was scratchy from my screaming.  My voice was hoarse.  My rescuers would never find me.

My imagination was now running wild and still, my will to survive kept me pounding and yelling.  Hours passed (or at least it seemed that way to me.)  I knew that there wasn't much time left. (Okay...perhaps a bit dramatic of me but I was thinking that I was going to miss my conference call!) I was certain of it now.  I gave one last pound on the door, yelling my head off.  Suddenly there was a small voice on the other side of the door.  Oh miracle of miracles!
"Jessica?  Is that you?" 
"OH MY GOD...YES!  It's me.  Let me out.  I'm locked in!"
Christina opened the door and I practically fell on top of her scrambling to get some fresh air.  I know that I looked like a mad woman as I hastened to explain, between gasps what had happened.  Christina told me that she hadn't heard a thing until just then when she thought that she heard construction noise from the home that is being built next door.  Then as she awakened she thought that she heard a voice and thought that it didn't sound like construction workers.  That's when she decided to go check and see where the noise was coming from. Oh how fortunate.  I was so happy to be free that I almost forgot to get Mom. As an afterthought I went back to extract her from her room.  Then I gave one long blast of Lysol room deodorizer, sprayed the sheets with Fabreze extra strength leaving the room in a cloud of chemical neutralizers and went downstairs. 

Sadly, there will be no news reporters, no book deals, no survivor stories.  In fact, the entire incident would go completely unnoticed if not for this account. Christina was laughing so hard I knew that she would never support my claims of a near death experience. Alas, I stood on the precipice of disaster and no one even noticed.  When at last I stumbled to the phone to call Skip to report that I was safe, he hadn't even missed me.  He was still driving and was more concerned about telling me that he had received a speeding ticket.
"A speeding ticket?!  Oh no.  I am so sorry!" I told him, almost forgetting about my ordeal. My crisis was overshadowed. 

Darn it!  How could he trump me with a speeding ticket?!  Life is just soooo unfair.
 

Friday, November 16, 2018

EXHAUSTIPATED

A nod to a fellow writer, Irene Francis Olson who shared a new word she learned after attending an Alzheimer's conference: 'EXHAUSTIPATED'.  The meaning: (as a caregiver to someone with dementia) When you are too tired to give a crap!  I laughed out loud when I read that.  It was so true.  Caregivers are continuously exhausted.  As far as how constipated they might be; well...I can't speak to that.  Suffice it to say, we don't have much time alone for personal care. Of course the double entendre didn't escape me.  I don't seem to care as much any more.  I am really, really tired.  But still I muscle through the days and look for the things I can laugh about.  It's really all we have left--humor.  Beneath it all there is, of course, love. The love is for the woman I used to know, and for the poor soul locked within the withering body and mind of the person who lives with us.

The challenging moments throughout the day create singular events that weave an interesting fabric.  It's...uh...shall I say, colorful?! They offer glimpses into how we do or do not cope depending upon our own current mental state.  When we lack sleep, Skip and I are less patient, more reactionary, and less likely to find the humor in something my mother says or does. Allow me to illustrate with a few examples:

First of all, I think that it might be noteworthy to share that our dog has put in her notice that if things don't change she might consider leaving home; this, over the fact that my mother has now taken a liking to Kira's dog bones.  As my mother scans the floor for fallen objects she picks up the rawhide bones and places them on her walker.  Evidently she has decided that they might make good snacks and so we have now caught Mom nibbling on the rawhide bones that Kira leaves around the family room. Good grief!  Now we have one more thing to supervise.  In the unending string of surprises and departures from normal, we have had to hide all edible and even inedible items that might be construed as potential food sources.  Oh it's not that we are starving Mom.  On the contrary; she is eating more now than ever...VORACIOUSLY!  She treats each meal as though it were her last with lip smacking, slurps, gulps, and industrious shoveling of every crumb.  I have even caught her licking the plate and her placemat.  If we leave the kitchen to escape the noise and bad manners, we run the risk of Mom helping herself to any food that is left out.  If left unattended Mom overeats.  She doesn't remember that she has eaten nor does she employ an inner switch that reduces her appetite. After overeating, Mom suffers from indigestion and we sometimes deal with the occasional eruptions of Mount Etna as Mom spews forth in vomitous explosions.  Our carpet has become one big stain. 

Moving on with my litany of complaints, Mom has taken to leaving her dirty tissues in various inappropriate locations.  I opened the cabinet door to extract a plate for lunch and found a used tissue sitting atop a clean dish.  I have found them in drawers, on top of dish towels, tucked into magazines and books, and always...ALWAYS on the countertop where I cook and prepare food.  Being the fussy germ-a-phobe that I am, I should own stock in Clorox Wipes. I certainly use enough of them to keep them in business.

All of this is enough justification for me to use a word such as exhaustipated, what with Skip and I having to clean up after her, do several loads of laundry each day, clean the floors, the carpet, cook, unclog the toilets, change her diapers, and so on.  But the thing that makes me cringe the most is how my mother's attitude has changed.  She is downright combative when we confront her with her misdeeds. 

Today, I caught Skip telling Mom that leaving her used tissue on the kitchen counter was as bad as pooping on the counter. (He does that for shock value but the result is often a fiery exchange.) Mom took great umbrage as she told him, "You're a disgusting person! 
I would never do that!"  Skip argued that she left her used, wet tissues on the counter all the time.  Of course it was futile to tell her.  Mom insisted that she NEVER did that.  Then, as the argument continued and escalated, Mom began to threaten him saying that she was going to kill him.  (Probably by throwing a wet tissue at him.)  Almost everything we say to Mom these days is fodder for dispute.

"Hey Mom, it's time for bed," we announce.
"No it's not."
"Yes it is."
"Ah baloney!" she huffs in response.  "I'll decide when I want to go to bed."

We have tried to walk away from engaging in any disputes but sometimes our inner child comes out.  That's when we do things like we did this evening. "Okay.  If you don't want to go to bed we'll just leave you in here by yourself."  Then we turned off the lights in the family room and left her sitting in the dark.  (We stayed nearby to observe her.)  After brooding for a while she forgot the argument and was quite ready to toddle off to bed. It doesn't always work like that though.  There was one night that was so bad when I was trying to get her ready for bed that I finally said, "Mom, I am trying to help you.  I am your daughter and I care for you.  But if you continue to act mean and angry..." (she was shoving me and calling me names, telling me that I was terrible to take her clothes off of her and how if her sister were here she's take care of me) "then I will just leave you here and let you stay dressed.  You can put yourself to bed."  Then I turned off the lights and walked out.  She began screaming all kinds of horrible things.  She threw a complete temper tantrum.  It was awful and yet somehow laughable.  I was deeply shaken but was also somewhat amused by the depths to which her behavior had sunk.  You see, Mom was always a sweet woman.  She was happy and loving.  I very seldom saw her cross about anything. She was sensitive and caring. Her nature was to be hurt by others' misspoken comments rather than to hurt others.  These days were so different, with behaviors so unexpected, so unusual, so bizarre.  Living with Mom is rather like riding through a carnival fun house.  There is always a little apprehension over what we might encounter around each turn.  I awaken each morning with dread, my stomach doing flip flops. I wonder what the day will bring.  What new assault will she fire at us? What misguided accusation will she level?  Will there be another mess to clean up in her room? (Most certainly!)  Will she allow me to bathe her? (Probably not without a fight.)  Will she balk about sitting on the chair lift, argue that I am trying to kill her as I take off her nightgown, grab her socks and hide them in her walker as I turn to throw away the wet diapers? Will she remove her pants that I have just put on her, try to put her nightgown back on or pull at the sheets and covers in an attempt to wrap herself up?  She seems to have a million hands and the strength of twenty weight lifters.  I can't subdue her and I can't deal with her but still I must.  I am...oh yes, I am most definitely EXHAUSTIPATED!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

It's 5 AM: Do You know Where Your Mother Is?

I can hear it ringing in my ears, "It's 10 PM. Do you know where your children are?"  It was a Public Service Announcement that used to play on TV.  Nowadays, we are so connected electronically that we know where EVERYONE is all the time!  However, at 5 AM I have no desire to know what, where or who is anywhere.  All I want to do is sleep.  Unfortunately, my mother often has other plans.  This morning, for example, I was jarred out of a wonderful dream by a cacophony upstairs broadcasting across the monitor.  Mom was clanking and banging in the most unusual way prompting Skip to run upstairs to see what all the ruckus was about.  Evidently Mom thought that it was a fine time to scrub her disposable adult diapers with a toothbrush..  "Now where is that thing?"  She rifled through her cosmetics box, the drawers in the bathroom, and myriad items situated on her vanity.  Obviously, the toothbrush was not easily found but alas, she finally discovered its whereabouts and began her washer-woman scrubbing technique with some soap and water.  Swoosh, swoosh, back and forth.

"What the heck is going on upstairs?" I asked sleepily when Skip returned.
His muffled response displayed how annoyed he was.  "Oh...she's scrubbing her diapers..." Then he mumbled something else and crawled back under the covers.  I couldn't understand what he was saying and asked for more of an explanation.  Once he told me, I thought about what Mom had been doing and then my brain got busy thinking...thinking about Mom, thinking about what I had been dreaming, thinking about what I needed to do once I got up, what I had forgotten to do the day before.  I was now wide awake.  There was no way sleep would return to me.

When I finally made the decision to get up a half hour later, I was resigned to the fact that my day would start early in a productive flurry of work.  "I'll check my emails, and be able to reply in peace and quiet without the morning news blaring in the background," I told myself. However, I soon discovered that NOBODY writes me emails at 5:30 AM!   I was stuck staring at a blank screen.  "Aha!" I thought.  I'll begin reading my next book for book club, but I hadn't bought the book yet and when I went searching for the ebook to download, I was disappointed to see that it was far more expensive than most ebooks.  "Nope!  I'm not paying that much for a book that I might not even enjoy. I'll get it from the library," I told myself. Okay then...no book, no email, and noise still coming from upstairs.  

I'm usually so busy that I complain that I never have a moment for myself but now, I had a couple of hours before the day would start and I didn't know what to do.  I found myself laughing out loud as I thought of the irony in all of this.  My thoughts were interrupted by a loud bang.  I looked at the video from my mother's room to see what Mom was up to now.  She had moved over to her dresser and was launching her walker into the side.  Bang!  Bam!  Then she wandered to the wall to park her walker and sit back down.  Bang! Bam! She pushed it into the wall. Then she got back up and walked to her closet where she must have thought by crashing into the door with her walker, it might magically open.  Bang! Bam!  

I yawned loudly and sat back down on the sofa.  It was still dark outside and if only it were quiet upstairs I thought that I might actually fall asleep; but another loud bang against a cabinet or the wall assured me that sleep was not possible.  It was now 6:00 AM and with each loud reminder, I knew EXACTLY where my mother was.  I also knew where the dog was, where my husband was and where the rest of the normal people were.  They were (mostly) in their beds sleeping and enjoying the last hour of blissful sleep.  


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hurricane Madness or Gone With the Wind



There was a hurricane a few days ago that became a tropical storm by the time it blew through our area.  However, we had straight line winds that downed trees and left huge areas without power. 

"Are you okay?" friends texted.
"Nope!" I answered truthfully.  Frankly, if not for my mother we would've been fine.  A little thing like a power outage is merely an inconvenience unless one has a 99 year-old mother with Alzheimer's to contend with.  So, here was the scenario:  Without power we had no lights and Mom couldn't see.  She was disoriented.  We hurried to plug in the generator to run our sump pump so there would be no basement flooding.  We got out lanterns and flashlights.  We took one of the lanterns to Mom's bedroom because all of the night lights were plug-ins and there was no electricity to power them.  We had no monitors, no safety alarms, and no camera for her room.  Wait a minute...WE HAD NO POWER--HENCE NO CHAIR LIFT TO HER ROOM!!!  Together Skip and I tried to get Mom up the stairs with her fighting us all the way.

"Will someone get this man off of me, DAMMIT!!!" she yelled angrily.

"C'mon Mom," I coaxed.  "This man happens to be my husband, Skip.  I am your daughter and we are trying to help you get to bed."

Mom calmed down enough to allow Skip to assist her up the stairs with her groaning every minute of the way.  She was certain that we were both trying to kill her. 

Once I got her changed and tucked into bed I left the battery-powered lantern on for her to find her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night should she feel the need.  Why I bothered, I don't know, since the only need Mom ever has is to tear her nightgown off, take her diapers off and proceed to wet the bed.  Sometime during the night, the lantern battery died and THAT'S when Mom decided to awaken and walk around.  We, of course didn't know, because there was no monitor to awaken us by her motion.  She stumbled around, knocking things over and finally crawling back to bed.  I can only imagine what went on up there.

In the morning when I went to get Mom she was sitting on her bed looking like the hurricane had swept into her room overnight. The electronic monitor was lying on its side on the floor.  The lamp was off the table and the table was swept clean of all of its items. Her nightgown was off and tossed on the ground.  Her covers were strewn and a towel was wrapped over her otherwise naked body.  She looked like a scene from Gone With the Wind (um...literally) as her room was laid to ruin and the only things remaining were upended.  I assessed the situation and quickly discovered that while we were using the sump pump in the basement, we could have used it upstairs as well to alleviate the flood that Mom created on her mattress.  The room smelled like a barnyard, everything was soaked through and through, and I knew that there would be no flood insurance to cover this disaster.  We had no hot water (having tankless water heaters that require power to turn on.)  Mom had been lying in urine and obviously found that rolling around her wet bed was fun because even her hair smelled like Eau de Pee.  There was no bathing her because the water was too cold.  According to her screams of protest, I was trying to contribute to her demise by even thinking of cleaning her."It's FREEZING!  Stop it right now.  You're killing me.  HELP!  POLICE!!!"

"Okay, okay.  I won't shampoo your hair or wash your bottom.  Fine.  Let's just get you dressed." Mom shuffled her clothed bottom onto the wet bed and sat down before I could get her to stop. "NOOOOO!"  It was too late.  Her clean pants now wore a nasty wet spot that was sure to smell.
Once Mom was dressed we needed to get her to navigate her way down the stairs.  Between the two of us, Skip and I managed to take her down one slooooooow step at a time.  Explaining to her that there was no power and that we had no way of using the chair lift was like shouting in the wind. She couldn't hear or process our words.  Once downstairs, Mom made a beeline for her place at the counter to have breakfast; only breakfast was not as usual.  We had no way of heating water for tea and no way of toasting her bagel.  Mom didn't complain but seemed unsettled.  We gave her coffee since we ran a wire from the small generator to the coffee pot. Mom complained, "This is bitter!"

"Sorry Mom.  It's all we've got," Skip told her.  Then he explained about the hurricane, the power outage, etc. for the 10th time that morning.  Mom ignored him and went back to eating her piece of cold bread with cold cream cheese and cold strawberry preserves.  She grimaced and scowled while I secretly wished I could just go to a hotel somewhere far away and let Skip, the dog, and my mother fend for themselves.  (Okay...not fair to Skip...or the dog.)  Truth be told, my dark thoughts were not fair to Mom either. It wasn't her fault that she had Alzheimer's.  It wasn't her fault she was old, incapable of understanding why she had to forego hot tea and toast in the morning, why we had wires running down the hallway making it unsafe for her to cruise around and around with her walker aimlessly moving without thoughts or understanding.

Skip plugged the charger into the phone and then into the generator.  We were back online!  He checked the power outages in the area and reported grimly that it was widespread.  This was a bad one.  There was no hope that we would see power restored anytime soon.  Our sump pump was still working hard to get rid of all of the water seeping in and we knew that we would have the generator working overtime downstairs so being prudent with its use for refrigeration, charging batteries and making coffee was important.  

By the third day without power we were getting pretty proficient 'roughing it' in our home.  However, Mom gave us quite a bad time being walked up and down the stairs without use of the chair lift. Her patience had dwindled to complete refusal to move. She was terrified and frozen stiff to one spot halfway up the stairs the night before.  No matter what we did, how we talked to her, how we tried to reassure her she was bent on flinging herself backwards down the stairs.  When we physically pushed her to keep moving, she screamed bloody murder and at the top step, flopped down on the floor crying hysterically until we bodily lifted her and carried her to her room. Oh!  The commotion as she pushed and cried.  (I mused that perhaps we should just leave her on the floor, open the windows and let the residual  winds carry her away.)  

In the morning, when I went into the kitchen to start coffee I found out there was no water!  Our community water tower was dry.  (We later found out that without power, the sensor to signal water levels was not operating, so we had drained ourselves of all water.  Just about that time, Mom decided to go to the bathroom.  (AND I DON'T MEAN TO GO PEE!) There was no way to flush.  ARGH!  I was now beginning to panic.  I yelled for Skip to call the water emergency line and tell them that this was a major emergency.  I guess that his explanation and tone of voice was enough to get someone out here ASAP.  While we awaited the solution to the problem I suddenly began smiling and feeling an unexpected calm spread throughout my mind and body.  Being an ex-Girl Scout, I have lived a lifetime by their motto 'Be Prepared'.  I was prepared.  While madness might have prevailed, I was still sane enough to remember that storm preparedness included an ample supply of wine.  It was 11:00 AM and frankly I was ready with my Cork puller and a wine glass. While the power was out, nothing was working, and things were going from bad to worse...NO PROBLEM!  My coping mechanisms were thankfully still fully functional.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

'Naked and Angry' Meets 'Alert and Afraid'

I don't mean to scare any of you with my stories about Mom.  She is in advanced stages of Alzheimer's and it has been a long time in coming. We had a chance to prepare, and many years of good memories, laughter and mutual moments of enjoyment knowing that eventually things would change.  At some point we knew that the symptoms of advanced Alzheimer's would be unpleasant. Now that it is here, it's...um...well...there's no sugar-coating it; it has become very challenging and difficult! Mom is apt to experience mood-swings without warning, and while we have medication to help her with her agitation, it doesn't work well and we are witnessing an increasing number of bouts with an angry aggressive woman who is stubborn, argumentative and sometimes even exhibiting violent outbursts.  We are learning how to handle these events as well as we can, but we're not perfect and do not always react as well as we should.  So, for example, the other day when my mother  lost bladder control, soaked through her adult diapers, and was sitting on an unprotected upholstered chair, I asked her to stand up and move to the towel-covered chair that we assigned to her while I went to get her a fresh diaper and change of pants.  (It is her chair!  She knows that.  But she doesn't like having a towel on it and therefore sits on other chairs.)  Mom balked and told me in a nasty tone, "I can sit wherever I like!"

I told her that she had wet herself and was now wetting the chair.  I don't know why I said that.  She was only focused on the fact that I was telling her to move and didn't care what the reason might be.  I asked her nicely once again.  She gave me a pouty look and then turned away refusing to discuss further.  I reached over and grabbed both of her hands to help her get up off of the chair.  That's when Mom went off the deep end, (Think David Banner turned into the Incredible Hulk) shouting at me and telling me to leave her alone.  "Don't touch me," she yelled pulling her hands away and pounding her fists on the counter.

Again, I explained that she had to move and she said angrily, "You can't tell me what to do!"  ARGH!!!  I stormed out of the room. I was seething and wondering where I could find a stick of dynamite to blast her off the chair. (Would that be considered Elder Abuse?)  I began to laugh at myself as I envisioned something.  Let me explain; I have always been a fan of the silver screen and found that seeing some of life's more difficult moments as movie and cartoon characters makes it somehow tolerable. This time I chose Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. (For the record, I saw myself as Wile E. Coyote with the dynamite plunger in hand.)  As usual, I found a reason to turn my frustration into something funny.

Dealing with Mom's anger is an everyday occurrence.  We have gotten used to her negativity, her anger and her mood swings.  She goes from stubborn refusal to do what we ask to laughing and cooperative within minutes.  What we are not used to, and what consistently surprises us, is her new affinity for nudity.  At any given time, Mom will whip off her clothes  and present herself to the world naked and unadorned.  It is horrifying to look away for a minute only to find that she has removed her clothes when I look back in her direction.  The other day, sitting right next to her, I was working on my laptop.  I looked over and noticed that Mom had fallen asleep.  I seized the moment to check a website and focused on the screen.  No more than 30 seconds later, Skip walked into the room and bellowed, "Mom!  What are you doing?!"  I looked up to see that she had removed her blouse and was beginning to pull off her pants.  "Stop!" He commanded.  Mom glowered angrily and narrowed her eyes menacingly as I reached over to help her put her blouse back on.

"OW!" She yelled as I pulled the top back over her head. (I hadn't done anything to hurt her...Honest!)  I recoiled wondering if this was going to escalate into a violent outburst.  My sweet mild-tempered little mother was now like Stripe in the movie Gremlins.  I was experiencing a fearful moment trying to figure out how to diffuse Mom's anger before she began running amok.  Thankfully, the moment passed.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  She transformed into her old self somewhat like Dr. Jekyll after being Mr. Hyde.

The other day, I heard a woman telling everyone that her 10 month old baby was now walking and I reminded her that when babies become toddlers, mommies grow eyes in the back of their heads.  Well, here's another warning.  When we become caregivers we once again have to hone in on our sensory skills.  Listen for the slightest sound, watch vigilantly, and most of all, never, ever let your guard down.  Stay alert, and afraid...VERY afraid!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Why Are You Looking At Me Like That?


I often walk around shaking my head at my mother's antics.  Alzheimer's is so unpredictable.  Mom's behavior fluctuates constantly leaving me to wonder what she will do next.  One moment she is squirreling away dirty napkins and half-eaten cookies in her walker and the next she is pacing around the kitchen looking for a snack.  When I feed her, she takes a bite on-the-run and immediately returns to her favorite spot outside on the screened porch.  Her daytime antics are manic and frustrating since she has no understanding of what she is doing.  Her communication is nil and when she does speak it is muddled and unintelligible.  Imagine our surprise, then when we hear her speaking full sentences in the middle of the night.

Last night we were awakened to the sound of my mother's voice admonishing someone.  "Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.   Then, she continued, "What's Wrong?" (pause) "I want a glass of water."  Skip got out of bed and trudged upstairs to deliver the glass of water and found her standing in front of the bathroom mirror talking to her image. Mom wore a scowl on her face.  No doubt the sight of her image glaring back at her was offensive, causing her to scowl even more.  I was glad Skip managed to get her the water when he did or there might have been a fist fight between Mom and the mirror.  

Trying to protect Mom from herself has become a full-time job.  She is perpetual motion and often finds ways to put herself in harm's way either by trying to eat something that is not meant to be eaten, or to wobble precariously close to a table edge.  Today, she tried to go down the steps to the patio as I flew to stop her.  "NO!" I shouted.  "Stop!"  Then approaching her and closing the door firmly I admonished her.  "You don't go out there." I still had visions of the face plant she did when she escaped outdoors and down the step.

"I didn't do that," she replied.  (It's amazing how Mom can speak in full, understandable sentences when in the midst of proclaiming her innocence.)

"Mom, look...you opened the door," I told her pointing at the door.  

Again she denied it only this time she told me "Oh, THEY did that."  ('THEY' by the way, seem to be responsible for all things that are done for which my mother does not wish to take responsibility.)

To say that this is a trying time would be a colossal understatement.  I am equally torn between laughing at the bizarre woman who resides with us and feeling tremendous sadness over having lost the logical, organized and fastidious woman she once was.  From moment to moment I battle my demons who rail in anger against this huge inconvenience in my life, and the loving daughter who remembers the 80 plus years of joy she brought to all of us.  I want to reach out and hug her, hold her, feel her warmth, and then she does something that instantly pushes me away in disgust.  

I detach myself from the lesson that is delivered to me.  I recognize it and marvel at the clarity while fighting each new test that is delivered.  It is the lesson we sometimes never learn; a test we do not pass.  Will I succeed?  Today I have failed once again.  Perhaps tomorrow I will conquer my human failings.  I am a daughter.  I will tap into that love...that familial tie and allow the mother-daughter bond to supersede the impatience I feel.  I will try, once more to look for the humor.  It's there.  Oh yes it is!  She will undoubtedly blame that other person--'THEY' will do something that makes me cross, and when I admonish her or scold her she will offer to punch 'THEM'.  I expect to see her tussling with an unseen combatant hoping that she doesn't injure herself but all-the-while cheering her on as the victor!


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

When it Rains, it Pours--LITERALLY!

What a week it was last week!  Mom has been her usual self and I have had a full week of watching her.  She has manically walked in and out of the house to the porch, the kitchen, the hall, the kitchen, the porch.  Over and over...round and round she goes.  Each time, she leaves the door to the porch open and I can practically see the dollar bills flying out the door as the cool air escapes into the hot muggy outdoors. In between these meanderings, Mom always circles the kitchen touching everything that is left out.  If food is out she snips off a piece, samples, bites, or pokes her finger into whatever the item is.  This is a problem because her hygiene is so poor I cannot keep up with where her fingers have been.  I shudder just to think about it.  The other day, Skip made the grievous mistake of leaving half a peach out on the counter.  Mom had just finished a large lunch including her fill of peach slices, but in her demented state she didn't remember this fact and so she stood up from her place at the counter, (some sandwich still on her plate) and picked up the peach.  My attention having been diverted for a moment didn't notice this and therefore it wasn't until Skip returned for his remaining peach half that I saw what had happened.

"Um...did you take a bite of this?" He asked accusingly. He held up the peach with a large bite right out of the center of it.

I laughed out loud.  "Really? Would I do that?!  If I wanted a bite of your peach I would have taken a knife and sliced a piece off."

Skip nodded in agreement.  He knows my habits and realized immediately that he was 'barking up the wrong tree'.  Then he cast a dark look at my mother.  Imagining the germ-infested peach, he handed her the rest of it.  I felt sorry for him because it was a really lovely peach. (We haven't had many of those this year.)

Caring for Mom is a full-time job, but there are always other things in our lives that keep us spinning, our lives in turmoil, and our days full of distractions.  For example, it is currently hurricane season here in North Carolina which means that when a storm develops out in the Atlantic, we immediately go into our hurricane preparedness mode.  Store shelves are stripped of bread, water and milk. (It's the same if snow is predicted in the winter.)  I don't quite understand this because having been a native Californian my experience in natural disasters was limited to those things one cannot predict: brush fires and earthquakes. Both happen so fast, one doesn't have time to think about what to do.  In California, one just sleeps fully clothed with wallet and cell phone in hand along with car keys and extra batteries in a hip pocket!  I have learned though.  OH MY, have I learned!!!  When in the South do as Southerners do.  Get yourself to the grocery store and buy everything off the shelves, girl.

A couple of days ago, I decided that with the projections for a major hurricane to hit our area in 6  days, maybe I should send Skip out to look for some supplies.  Well, obviously I wasn't the only one thinking that way.  In fact, the entire county seems to have been of one mind and the shelves had already been stripped bare.  Sadly, the one thing that we REALLY needed was nowhere to be found.  We needed a generator.  This was not a convenience but a necessity if we lost power because our sump pump would stop running and (as we experienced in the last hurricane) our basement flooded.

So...Skip went out looking in three or four surrounding counties to see if he could find a generator for the sump pump.  We weren't looking for anything special.  Really, anything would do.  Since Skip was running around on this errand --ALL DAY!!!--I was stuck dealing with my mother without respite.  She was in a particularly zombie-like mood wandering to and fro.  I was trying to get some work done, but between Mom's meanderings, Skip's phone calls asking me to check various websites for availability of the elusive generators, and the oppressive heat, I was not in the best of moods.  By evening, we finally resolved the generator problem when we found one in Charlotte (three hours drive from here).  However, with our daughter and son-in-law living in Charlotte, we could have them pick it up for us and deliver  since our son-in-law was meeting Skip at a halfway point between here and Charlotte so Skip could drive our granddaughter, Julie to a special dance lesson in Raleigh.  Don't even begin to ask me about how we worked that one out and how many phone calls it took for us to figure out that Julie could leave school and make it in time to take a lesson from a choreographer who is well-known in the dance world...an opportunity that just could not be missed!

That night when we finally settled down after dinner and decided to rent a movie to relax and enjoy after putting Mom to bed.  We were just getting into the movie when we heard a blood curdling scream.  I realized it was coming over the monitor system.
"That's Mom!" I shouted, getting up to run to her room.  Before I reached the door I heard her crying out, "God help me."  Now I  KNEW something was wrong.  I ran into her room preparing myself for whatever disaster awaited me.  Mom was sitting on her bed, eyes wide as saucers, telling me that someone was screaming at her.  "That was YOU," I announced.

"No, no.  Someone was screaming and telling me to take it off the mungo muddle..."  Her aphasia had kicked in so I have no idea what she was saying after that.  I finally convinced her that she was having a bad dream, rubbed her back and calmed her down enough to get her back to sleep.  I was about to step back out of her room and return to the movie when she popped her head up, looking like something was terribly wrong.

"What's the matter, Mom?" I asked. There was no response.  I came closer understanding that she had difficulty hearing me.  "Mom?  Is something wrong?" I asked two more times before she replied.

"I have to go to the bathroom," she told me getting up.

I helped her to the bathroom waiting patiently while she moved slower than a snail.  When she finished and opened the door I noticed that her wet diapers were placed on the sink and there was a puddle on the floor.  The toilet was the only thing she didn't use.  "Clean up on aisle five!" I announced over the monitor and Skip came running up with the wet mop.  The movie would have to wait another 15 minutes.

That brings me to my reason for writing this today.  I had a live webcast I was invited to do today as a guest author.  The last time I did something like this I was invited on a podcast and my internet connection was very poor.  We kept disconnecting and the podcast was cancelled.  I was frustrated and angry when my husband explained that my location I chose for the interview was a weak location.  Therefore, I tested the webcast connection and location the week prior to the live show to make sure I had a perfect connection, location, lighting, etc.  I told everyone that I was doing this so not to call me during that time.  Just to be safe and to avoid those pesky robo calls that occur with regularity every 20 minutes or so, I turned all of the phone ringers on mute.  Then, I told Skip that we should have lunch early just to make sure that there would be no noise coming from the kitchen during the show.  I got my lap top set up in the library, set my chair at the perfect angle, adjusted the lighting and even put a note on the front door saying, 'DO NOT DISTURB.  BROADCAST IN PROGRESS.' I needed to advise our son, who often comes downstairs from his apartment to say 'Hello', but I was out of time so I told Skip to text him while I grabbed a sip of lemon water and returned to my laptop.

With all of the preparation, one would think that nothing could go wrong.  Au contraire.  This is MY life we're talking about.

About one minute before going live, my mother's elder monitor began to beep loudly.  Having been told that the video broadcasting equipment was very sensitive to the slightest sound, I made the decision to take a nose dive to turn the interrupting speaker off.  Only, I couldn't see how to do that so I unplugged it and threw it across the room returning to my seat just in time, adjusting my hair, my lipstick and my blouse in time to smile broadly and greet the hostess online.  Whew!  The guest panel was introduced with not a moment to spare.  As the hostess asked each of us to introduce ourselves I noticed that my screen froze, I hurried to refresh the url and was fortunate to make it back in time for her to get to me.  I was dividing my attention between the introductory comments and my intermittent Internet connection.  When a question was asked of the panel, I couldn't wait to answer but as I spoke, once again the screen froze, and this time there was no recovery.  My Internet was down.  I had to exit and try again.  It took much longer than the first time and when I returned the panel had moved on.  The hostess very kindly returned to me to get my response and I was able to complete my thought but not without being distracted.  I had lost my train of thought in the moment of panic and didn't recover as well as I would've liked.  Being used to my frantic days, I have learned to think quickly and found something intelligible to say.  We moved on to another subject and suddenly, in the background my phone in the kitchen rang.  What?!  I had turned all the ringers off.  How could that happen.  Skip was outside and had to run in to catch the phone on the second ring.  I heard his voice in the background and quickly put my laptop on mute.  What else could go wrong?  I didn't have to wait too long.  Suddenly the door swung open from the screened porch.  Mom came barreling inside complaining that she felt like she was going to throw up.  She was followed by our dog who wanted to play and my husband who was trying to maintain order and silence.  I tried to ignore them and continue listening to the discussion hoping to be able to keep my wits about me in view of the pandemonium in the other room.  A question was asked but I missed it because my computer froze.  The hostess asked me when I reappeared if I had a comment.  (About what?  Uh...um...'NO').  All in all my computer froze five times and I tried to follow the show as best I could, but felt kind of like a blind person in a paint store.  The final straw was  when the side door opened and our son came downstairs looking for all of us.  He wandered around the kitchen, then went back upstairs to the attached apartment closing the door noisily.  (UGH).  A little while later, his girlfriend started her car just under the library window then stopped, went back inside, closing the side door, then reopening and returning to her car.  (Later, I found out that her car was not acting right and they had called a tow truck.) There was more door slamming and then silence just as the hostess was saying goodbye and thanking her guests.  I mutely waived goodbye smiling broadly and exited the show.  Taking a deep breath I looked for Skip.

"How'd it go?" he asked innocently.

"How'd it go?  HOW'D IT GO?!  OH MY GOD!!!" I yelled. "I live in a mad house, that's how it went."

Skip looked hurt.  "I'm sorry about the phone."

"...And Mom, and Kira, and the doors, and Bill coming in.  I thought that you texted him."

"You said you were putting up a sign," he answered defensively.

I rolled my eyes.  What was the point of arguing that I told him to text our son.  Instead I told him about the Internet issues.

"Well that's not the strongest signal in the library," he answered.

"It was fine last week," I reminded him.

"Well, that's because all of us weren't at home and on the Internet at the same time."  It turned out that Skip was watching the weather reports, Bill was up in his apartment on the Internet and there were probably at least three devices accessing the Internet as well.  My eyes were bugging out and my head was exploding as I tried to take in this last bit of information.  To make matters worse, Skip had to leave to go pick up our granddaughter and didn't have time to talk or to make me feel better.  Skip left the room to move on to his next task leaving me with my mother who decided that going in and out of the house leaving the door open each time was how she wanted to fill the rest of the afternoon.  I resigned myself to the fact that my life is destined to be this way...crazy, funny (if you choose to laugh) and certainly nothing boring about it!

Skip just announced that our air conditioner has stopped working.  We have a call in to the air conditioner people but I won't be answering the phone.  I will be the crazy woman sitting in the padded cell laughing maniacally.