I have heard said that a police officer’s career is days of pure boredom punctuated with fifteen minutes of shear terror. As a caregiver to one with a chronic disease that tends toward dementia, the experience is similar.
This is a long story and I am not a hero to Cheryl. I let her down.
I lost it
It is August 26, 2022. Yesterday was a good day. At least it began that way. Cheryl slept a little later. I helped her get up at about 8:30 am.
Just a regular day was beginning. She had exercise class at noon. We came home to a leftover pizza lunch as was the plan.
She had been telling me about getting a new hanging plant at Pipkin’s which is a place that neighbor Jane talks about often. She also told me she needed new socks. I proposed we go do a little shopping in the afternoon and she agreed.
A trip to J. C. Penney ensued and we returned home via Pipkin’s garden store on Cooper Rd. As we pulled into the parking lot at home my pocket began sounding the alarm for her 4PM meds. She had been telling me that she was tired and wanted to lay down. I suggested she take her meds and rest for a bit.
There are too many distractions for a parkie in our condo-minimum. Cheryl first needs to check for messages on the phone (routine). These days only Hoxworth blood center leaves messages. Sometimes one of the Scam Likely folks will make a mistake and tell me how to save money with Visa, Discover and MasterCard or how to get better Medicare coverage. I am uninterested but Cheryl is worried someone might need her. The meds are ignored while messages are checked. The phone and message retrieval is an overwhelming puzzle to her. She winds up looking at her computer which is off. This leads her to notice the pile of old birthday and note cards on her desk from times past when she was organizing them. She remembers little of this so they are a new discovery. I reminder of her meds from the other room.
As I look back at this little episode I realize that it occurs often when we are home in the afternoon. She acknowledges the alarm on her phone and ignores the meds as she goes back to whatever distraction she has selected (order). I remind her to take her meds and hang out until I see her do it. She comes into the kitchen in response to my entreaty to take her meds. With that done I retrieved two frozen pork chops from the freezer to thaw for dinner. I explained that I intended to make pork chops, some roasted potatoes and broccoli for dinner. Perhaps I would make some tomato chopped salad also. She agreed that would be good and maybe we could eat on the porch.
I reminded her that she had wanted to lay down for a bit and retreated to the porch to read my book for awhile and let the chops thaw. I told Alexa to set a reminder for 5PM and continued with the adventures of Detective Sergeant McAvoy.
Alexa reminded me at five o’clock to get up out of the chair and prepare dinner. Coming in I heard Cheryl’s phone alarm reminding her to take her 5PM meds which is a blood pressure medication. When I entered the kitchen I saw that she had emptied the silverware drawer onto the counter and had several glasses of water set up on the other end of the counter. I wrongfully admonished her for getting at the silverware out and asked why she had done that. As she launched into her to meaningless explanation I should have calmed down and accepted it but I did not. I lost it which generated some rage in both of us. (chaos). I put the silverware drawer back together and began to prepare dinner.
She asked what she could do to help and I said that she could set the table outside on the porch. I reminded her that she wanted to sit out on the porch. She responded okay and went off to do something else. Since I was chopping potatoes and breading pork chops I quit paying attention to her while I was doing that. I realized eventually that she was going to set the table in the dining area and when I asked about that she told me that she would set both tables. She insisted that we would need more room for the kids. I must have been smoldering in the background because I flared up again.
The kids are not coming. No kids live with us. I said with louder than normal anxiety in my voice. And besides I only cooked enough for you and me. I put out place mats and plates and silverware and asked her to please sit down. The dinner was ready to come out of the oven and did she want water or a coke with dinner.
I busied myself with getting the food out of the oven and onto serving plates and bowls. When I started putting things onto the table she had wandered off to look on the back porch. She said David was here and I replied that he was not with more volume than was needed. We eventually sat down to the inside table. She served herself ½ a pork chop, some potatoes and broccoli. After she had put some gravy on her plate she started to get up holding the gravy boat. I took it from her and asked where she was going again. She was going to take some gravy to the kids. And I insisted that there were no extra people, kids or otherwise.
She became angry with me and left to get help. I sat for a minute or so and listened for the outside door to slam. It did not so I went looking for her. She had gone upstairs in the front hallway and I think became confused when she did not recognize the upstairs of our old house. I coaxed her down without her falling face first down the steps and suggested we go to the ice cream parlor for dessert. We ate dinner and I cleaned up the dishes.
Aglamesis’s for ice cream was a big hit. There were several little people there as always making swift work of their ice cream cones. She had chocolate chip and I had a two-fer dutch chocolate with choclate sauce and nuts and whipped cream. (I know but it was great.)
We went home and TV for a bit. And later as she became tired she was still agitated and worried about David. She kept looking for David. I suggested that we call David on the phone and we did. I did not give David any preamble but I did explain to him with Cheryl sitting there that she was concerned about his well-being. He talked to her for a bit and assured her that all was well.
After we hung up she said, “David is staying with David and Melissa? Well I guess they have plenty of room.”
Today that is all gone past but she did express a slight confusion about David staying with David and Melissa. Somewhere in the back of her mind was a mindfulness of her confusion and to her it was/is scary.
Sometimes it is very hard for the care partner to remain calm. I am still learning this.
Carpe Diem (even if you do not want to seize it.)