Yesterday was an interesting day. (Also known as Monday, bloody Monday except that it was Tuesday.) It may have been the first glimpse of the future difficulties that Cheryl and I will have to deal with going forward in our Parkinson’s disease life.
As a retired engineer I tend to think of things in a chronology, this then that then this and so on.
I have written some of these thought postings this way. This one is that way simply because I think in my mind I am unsure of the exact sequence of things. And remembering the sequence helps me to recall the conversational exchange and my emotions. I regret that I am not that great at pulling the sequence out of my head but when I do the rest of the story follows.
Jan and kids in bathroom
At about a quarter after six in the early twilight of morning my bladder insists that I get up to empty it. I find as I get to my seventy-first loop around the sun that my bladder seems to be on a three hour cycle. It is amusing to discover that I have kept a tally in the back of my head and can retrieve that at will. On this morning I got out of bed as quietly as possible because I could hear Cheryl gently snoring on her side facing away from me. I came back to bed and as gently as I could settled back into the warm comfort of pillow and blanket thinking to myself that the dammed alarm would go off in a half hour but maybe, just maybe, ten or fifteen minutes of unconsciousness still lurked in my future.
Cheryl sat up about halfway and said – Jan? Are Jan and the others gone? We have had similar conversations in the early morning twilight. I have become part of her dream and she does not always remember them. So, I responded – Yes, I think Jan went home. (Janice is deceased. She passed away about two weeks ago. She is very much on Cheryl’s mind.) Cheryl responded with – What about the others? Me – What others? Cheryl – Those little girls that were with her. Are they gone? Me – Yes they left too. They had to go home. It was getting late. Cheryl – Okay. Good.
She gingerly got out of bed making little moaning noises along the way. Her arms and legs often hurt her in the morning. Sometimes she complains of cramps. Sometimes she reports that they merely hurt. On this night it seemed to me that she had not spent much of the night twitching her arms and hands with dyskinesia, so I cannot associate her movement with muscle cramping and ache. She went into the bathroom and turned on the light after closing the door behind her.
A few minutes later she returned. She had left the door open a bit and the lights on. This is a new behavior, so I asked – Why did you leave the light on? Cheryl – Jan and those kids are in there and they need some light. Me – Oh. (as I rolled over to face away from the radiance of ten LED lights on ten percent power. They are amazingly bright in the early morning.) Are you coming back to bed? Cheryl – No. It will be time for me to take pills in a little bit. (A surprisingly lucid comment from someone who was just talking to her dead sister moments before.) Me – Okay. I’m going to lay here for a bit. She shuffled out of the bedroom.
I got up to disable the seven o’clock alarm and turn of the bathroom lights returning the bedroom to a natural twilight gray cast. I realized that the illusory idea of ten to fifteen more minutes of blissful slumber was lost so I got up too.
Our kitchen in our condo has no natural lighting, no windows. In an effort to counteract the dark I had installed two bright LED fixtures in place of the hanging fixture that I was always crashing into and the tiny ceiling fan above the front of the range that was merely annoying and never on. Cheryl turned on the lights and was rummaging around for her breakfast. She had taken her morning dose of pills. I made coffee for me and poured orange juice for her as she put dried fruit on her cereal. I found some cereal for me and went to collect the papers from the hallway.
Why are we here?
I opened the papers – the local paper that is now part of the USA Today network for her. She still reads the obituaries. She has done this for our entire married life. And she enjoys the comics. She reads them all and works many of the puzzles in the same section. The Wall Street Journal for me. I still enjoy the business stories and cling to the hope of becoming rich in the markets. I may have started too late to achieve this but I am an optimist who is often disappointed by market outcomes.
We are both eating breakfast unusually early. Over time our get up time has kept later and later until eight am is pretty typical. Most mornings now I get up at seven am with the alarm and get Cheryl’s first dose of the day. She takes them and goes back to bed for a bit. Today our breakfast discussion started with —
- Cheryl – Why are we here? When did we come here?
- Me – (uh, oh) We live here we moved here about four years ago. Do you not remember?
- Cheryl – No. Not really.
- Me – Does this not look like our house?
- Cheryl – Yes, I guess so. We live here? We’re not going home?
My eyes well up here when I recall this conversation. It has been a few weeks but we have had it before. I am talking to a different person. She knows who I am but her anchor in reality is gone at this moment. Later her reality will be switched back on, I hope, but for now it is up to me to help her find her way back. It is the scariest thing that I have to do and I am at a loss as to how to help her. No amount of debate helps. Denial of her understanding merely makes her anxious and upset. Imagine that what you believe is upside down is right side up according to the person you trust most to tell you the truth. Are you loosing your mind?
A long discussion ensued. Within this discussion I gently tried to persuade her that this was our place and we did live here. For an hour or so it seemed that she believed me but was skeptical. Eventually she announced that she was tired and was going to lay down for a nap.
I awakened her at 10AM for that dose of pills. I did not want her to get out of sync with her medications today. This is a Tuesday. She goes to a physical exercise class designed specifically for parkies. As I helped her to sit up to take her medication, I talked about this fact. I usually do to assure her that if she wants to rest before class we have plenty of time for that.
I helped her to the window seat where she usually sits to put on her clothes. I must have looked as though I was going to leave again – I was, to take the water glass back to the kitchen – and she said to me – Don’t leave me with these people. And is David gone? He was right here in this chair.
Perhaps, the Parkinson’s motion causes a lack of sleep. The lack of sleep causes all these other symptoms. This will be a hot topic next time we see the medical folks.
I took the water glass back to the kitchen and talked loudly to her while I was away out of the bedroom. I came back and sat in the chair where David had been sitting so she could see me and not David. We talked for a bit and she said that she knew David was not there but she could see him. I asked if he was still here and she replied, no he was gone.
Sitting here now, recounting this episode, it occurs to me that it can be and probably is terrifying to someone to realize that they can no longer rely on their senses. That what you see may not be what you see must be disturbing.
She did get through putting on clothing and we collected all the paraphernalia for her class. Water bottle, pills, bag of Covid-19 safe exercise equipment, my tablet to read during the activity, cane, masks, purse, wallet, car keys, ad infinitum.
In the garage the car made a noise like ruh, ruh, ruh, and then click, click, silence. Car’s battery died. No class for today.
Lord, as we face this day together, please help me to handle each moment with strength. May my attitude be positive, my hands gentle when administering help and my heart full of compassion. Help me to understand that I do not know all the answers, that only she knows how and what she is feeling. Teach me to be supportive when necessary, to be the explainer when asked, or to be the leader if called upon by her to do so, but instill in me the patience, wisdom and empathy to determine which of those is called for this time. Please lift me up when I am down, show me the humor in awkward situations and nudge me when I lack understanding. (Do not make your nudges subtle for I am male.) Send me aha moments for us to grow through, messages from above for us to share and empathy so that I can step into her shoes and readjust my attitude. I’ve asked for a lot Lord, but the most important is my request for forgiveness when, in human error, I tread upon her heart. So please …keep my feet planted in solid faith so that I can sow seeds of kindness and not weeds of grumbling toward the many tasks at hand. (like a car battery) Fill me with wisdom so that when we walk this journey together we don’t get lost along the way. And please, please, please make this battery thing easy today. — make it be so, make it be so.
Cheryl said, call Dan (her brother). So I did. We did not go to her Parkinson’s Foundations class. It is a series of exercises and movement with her behind firmly planted in a chair mostly so that her balance is not an issue. The occasional exercises that she stands for are behind the chair so that she has a firm anchor to grab. She enjoys these and the activity benefits her. It is as though she has had an extra dose of meds. Her mood is different. Her movement is better for a few hours. We often stop somewhere for lunch afterwards.
We sat out by the garage and waited for Dan to come. I got my bike out and replaced the saddle with the new one I had recently purchased. (For those of you who ride a bicycle for exercise know the importance of a good saddle.) I made various adjustments and rode it around the parking lot. We talked for a bit sitting in the shade of the building. (Carpe Diem.) She did not seem confused about where we were or why we were there or what we were doing. She seems to be back to reality.
Dan came with his magic car starter kit. Left me with his car and he took my car back to his shop to replace the battery. Good news! It was still under warranty. The new one was obtained with no payment necessary.
After Dan left we went into our home. The day was heating up and the A/C felt good. Left to our own devices we both puttered away the afternoon. This is Tuesday – Pizza Tuesday! Cheryl went into her office to get some things done. She has formed a team to help raise money for Parkinson’s research and likes to keep track of how the team donations are going. (The computer has become more and more confusing to her so often I find myself helping her find the right screen to look at.) There is nothing that she has to do with this information yet but eventually it is her intention to send thank you cards to everyone. The thank you card is also a remembrance of our golden wedding anniversary this year.
I took some of this Carpe Diem time to poke a bit at this posting and get my ideas and chronology down. After an hour or so I decided to check on her and see if she was stuck on any computer screens. In addition to being confusing, occasionally her jittery motion with the mouse will cause mystery screens to open or she will fling some file into the background making recovery difficult.
I went into her office and she told me – Nancy is mad at me. I could tell when she drove by. Me – When did you see Nancy? Cheryl – Just now. Me – where were you? Cheryl – I was in my office when she went by. Me – She was in her car? Cheryl – Yes. She does have a window in her office but it faces the forest in the lot next door. There is no view of the street at all. And Nancy lives miles from us, not a long way, but it is unlikely she drove through our back garden.
… Alrighty then, the reality quotient dipped a bit into the red. But it is later into the afternoon and this is Pizza Tuesday. Our next door neighbor and friend Jane will be here to share. Cheryl always has animated and friendly conversation with Jane around. Jane is a godsend and very kind to us. After her 4PM meds, Cheryl went to lay down some more.
We had pizza. Discussion caused or, at least, helped with recovery of reality.
Jane is so encouraging. She could tell Cheryl was struggling a bit. She kept the conversation to pizza and the grandchildren. And at the end of our dinner and conversation it seemed that Cheryl was back again.
This was a particularly bad day for Cheryl wandering in and out of reality with a little bit of hallucination and delusional behavior. Up until now she has not presented all of these together.
As I finish this up a couple days later and reflect a bit, Cheryl does much better with a good night of rest. When we visit with the doctor in a few weeks I will steer the conversation toward this. Perhaps there is a helper med that will allow her to rest peacefully at night. (But not put her out so much that she misses the potty call we all have in the middle of the night.)
Parkinson’s pretty much sucks for the caregiver but especially for the caregivee. Carpe Diem, dude! Carpe the damn diem.
Grab it now or it will be forever lost.