Mum gets a shot in the arm.

The doctors are worried about mum. They think her slothfulness is partly caused by anaemia. Her blood count is low, but she can’t tolerate the iron pills she’s been prescribed. She bleeds quite a bit from her haemorrhoids and the consultant has suggested a small operation. But, because of mum’s age, it’s risky for her to have a full anaesthetic. The doc said he would quite understand if we decided against the surgery. He would leave it up to us. That is to say, to me.

My brother’s had this particular operation and says it really helped him but, he agrees, there are risks with the anaesthetic because of mum’s age. So he sits on the fence. I’ve tried to discuss the issue with mum, but although she knows she may have an operation, she doesn’t understand that she has a choice about it – nor does she understand that there’s a risk.

In the short term, the consultant ordered an intravenous iron infusion to make mum feel better. She had this last week and there was an instant improvement in her behaviour. Instead of spending the whole day in front of the TV half asleep, she’s been much more alert. She’s been reading; she made a couple of phone calls; she went out to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea. But, they won’t give her a second iron infusion. The good results will only last for 3 months.

Last week, I decided to take the first step and ask the anaesthetist to give mum an assessment. But when I picked up the phone to ring the hospital, I became anxious and didn’t make the call. Would the operation be a mistake? Did I want mum to have it because it would make things easier for me – while ignoring the dangers for her? But her quality of life seems so much better now her blood count has been raised by the iron infusion. If the operation stops her being so anaemic, isn’t that worth a small risk?

Yesterday I rang the hospital again. This time I said we wanted to go ahead. After all, we can still change our minds while we’re waiting. But, if we do want to go ahead, we will already be in the queue. That’s my thinking, for better or worse!

Mum gets a kiss from dad.

Most mornings it’s hard to wake mum up. Sometimes when I go into her room, I think she may have died. Then I notice a fluttering of the eyelids, a bit of a gasp and she’s struggling back across the border lands to consciousness. Often, you get the impression she doesn’t like what she sees.

But the other morning it was different, she was alert and happy. She told me, in the night, dad had leant over the bed and given her a kiss. Dad’s been dead for 4 ½ years and in that time mum’s been disappointed that she hasn’t felt his presence around her. Now, finally he had come. He had leaned across and given her a kiss and told her he was worried about something. Worried about what? She did not know.

She often asks me, do you think I’ll see your father again? Well, I tell her, that’s a question no one can answer. But I thought, on odds, there was a 50/50 chance. Either there’s nothing and our consciousness dissolves, or we remain conscious but in a new dimension – in which case, I told her, it was possible they would find each other. She feels sure dad will meet her. ‘If there’s a way, he’ll find it.’

Perhaps her hope to see dad is a way through a dark place. Mum has a lot of pain. She cries a lot and says she’s had enough and wants to die. Still, it must be scary, stepping into that unknown beyond. Perhaps the idea that dad is waiting for her gives her strength to face it.

Perhaps he came to tell her he would be waiting to give her a hand across.

Mum gets institutionalised

Mum and I have both had a respite break. I visited friends, met up with pals from Australia and Canada and old friends from uni. I ate out, saw exhibitions, went to museums, watched movies. I packed in everything I could and had a great time. But I also got a cold and a stomach bug – possibly because I’m a bit run down – and when I got back here I was very tired.

For mum it was quite the opposite! She’d also enjoyed her break. She’d stayed in a residential home where the people are friendly and nice. They like her and she likes them. The change did her the world of good and she came home lively and energised from having some company. But she’d also got institutionalised which meant she expected me to work even harder than normal. So, for a while, we’ve been at sixes and sevens.

For instance: she’s still able to manage her own medication. She has three eggcups, one for the breakfast pills, one for lunch, one for dinner – and she sorts out the right pills into the different cups. All I have to do is help her get the pills out of their packaging, which is difficult for someone with bent-up arthritic fingers.

But at the home, they dished out the medication, and now mum has forgotten how to do her pills. She can’t remember which ones to take, and then she forgets if she’s taken them. In fact, if I don’t watch her with hawk eyes, she’s likely to take a double dose – and with the amount of painkillers she takes, this would not be a good idea.

She’s not only got out of the habit of doing a few small chores she can still do for herself, she’s also lost confidence in her own judgement. Every five minutes she asks me: Shall I change my shoes? Shall I have a drink? Shall I take the pills? What TV channels shall I watch? To which I reply, variously: I don’t know/ It doesn’t matter/ No, mum, don’t do it /Mum, I told you not to do it / Oh, do what you like.

I know mum’s condition will never improve but I don’t want to hasten the proceedings by letting her become lazy minded. So I’ve been trying hard to get her back to doing stuff for herself. And things are improving, slowly.

However, there’s one issue on which I simply can’t compete. At the care home, they have a proper chef. And it seems my meals just don’t compare with his! Mum keeps telling me, ‘this meal is quite nice, dear, but it’s not as good as what they served me at the home……’ All I can do is grit my teeth and nod. ‘Sorry mum, but this is the best I can do.’

I am defeated by dementia!

People tell me they don’t know how I cope. I say, ‘I don’t. Sometimes I throw up my hands and scream, ‘I am defeated by dementia!’

Most of the time you can still talk to mum and hold a conversation. It’s true you can have this same conversation over and over again but still, she is capable of having opinions and grasping logical ideas. She is for example very interested in the upcoming elections.

But then, suddenly you find yourself in the midst of a complete communication breakdown. It’s like there are these little whirlpools in mum’s mind where narrative logic breaks down. The first times it happened I got incredibly frustrated, ‘So thoughtless!’ I ranted to myself. ‘So selfish!’

The second time, it happened I got so angry I thought I was going to give myself a stroke, I swear I felt something pop in my brain. ‘So thoughtless! So selfish! Can’t she see this is stressing me out? Can’t she see that I’m really tired? Doesn’t she care?’ I tried to reason with her and it was like talking to a brick wall.

But I’ve realised, there’s absolutely no point in getting my knickers in a twist. Dementia’s like being on a boat that’s sailing peacefully down the river, going with the flow as it were. Then for no apparent reason, the boat ceases to go forward. Instead it’s caught in a whirlpool, going round and round and round. And it’s like that with mum, she gets these little whirlpools in her brain and she just can’t think beyond them.

For my own sanity and well-being, I have to learn to recognise when we hit one and learn to walk away without losing my cool. Because it’s quite clear, these whirlpools are only going to increase.

Mum sees a Golden Squirrel

Last week Mum saw a golden squirrel in the garden. She said it looked beautiful, gambolling around on the lawn. She says she called me to come and see but I didn’t hear her. A pity, because I would have liked to have seen this fabulous creature. I did wonder if she had been seeing things but there are often squirrels in the garden. I thought perhaps it had been a genetic mutation and reserved my judgement. ‘If it’s living around here,’ I said, ‘I expect we’ll see it again.’

The next day she cried out, ‘There’s a donkey in the garden!’ This time I was there to see that the garden was empty, but I knew there was no donkey. Of course there wasn’t! However mum saw it walk through the fence on one side, across the garden and through the fence on the other side.

Later she said ‘it wasn’t a donkey but a Shetland pony, golden with black, brown and white markings. It was lovely.’ That evening there happened to be a Shetland pony on TV. Mum told me ‘that one is the same as the creature I saw in the garden, except the one I saw had more markings.’ She described the markings to me quite clearly. This is someone who has no short term memory, but she can clearly see this horse in her mind’s eye.

Hallucinations can be a symptom of urine infections and mum is just recovering from one. When the District Nurse came she remarked on how much brighter mum seemed. I agreed but I had to mention that mum had seen two golden creatures in the garden. The nurse ran some more tests but so far everything seems clear. And in a way I’m pleased because seeing these two creatures has made mum feel quite blissful. It’s as if she’s had an epiphany.

When she speaks of the two sightings her face glows. ‘They were lovely. The little horse, it came from there, it went there, it was beautiful.’ I said, ‘Mum you do know it wasn’t real, don’t you?’ ‘What do you mean? It’s real to me; I can see it in my mind.’ ‘Okay, what I mean is – you do know there wasn’t really a pony in the garden?’

Mum assures me that she does know, but it’s quite clear that, on some level, she feels that it was real. In fact these hallucinations/ waking dreams/ visions/ whatever/ seem to have been the best things that have happened to her for a long time. They have made her feel quite blessed.