I am overtaken by events

I accepted I was on the point of collapse. I booked mum into the care home. All I had to do was struggle on for another week. But before that could happen, one evening I stood up and found myself in excruciating pain whenever I tried to put my weight on my right side. Which meant I couldn’t walk. I found an old walking stick that had belonged to my granddad, and managed to complete my tasks, getting mum into bed and such like.

I felt ok as long as I was sitting still, but moving about was agony. Trying to get out of bed was agony. The local surgery is quite close, less than 10 minutes walk away. I had to phone for a cab to get myself round there. The Doc assured me the problem was purely mechanical. I needed to rest. But of course, I couldn’t rest so he gave me some strong pain killers which allowed me to carry on for the next few days. Once mum went off to the care home I collapsed onto the settee and hardly left it for over a week.

At first, reading for hours on end felt like pure self indulgence. Then it began to feel weird: to sit on a couch reading for days on end is something you only do if you are very ill or, perhaps, completely exhausted. But I needed to do some things – like buy food, send cards for birthdays and wedding anniversaries which simply couldn’t be left. By now I’d found a proper walking stick that I’d used when I had a previous injury, so I got a cab into the centre of town and hobbled about. For once, I really appreciated that I live in a very small place! Then a cab home and back to the settee. I managed to extend mum’s stay in the care home for a few extra days. And I’ve been lucky to find a very good local osteopath.

She explained my back muscles had gone into spasm. She’s suggested certain ergonomic strategies I can use when undertaking tasks which I have to do in my role as a carer – but which are particularly hurting my back. She also pointed out that there is age related ‘wear and tear’ which has exacerbated a certain weakness in my lower spine.

Mum is home now and I’m being as careful as possible with my movements. In the short term, I’m improving.  I can walk as far as the bus stop and get a bus into town and I hope to get back to normal eventually. But in the long term, I think this is a wake up call. It’s time to look for a permanent home for mum. No rush, we’ll spend the next few months visiting different places, testing the waters, but I can’t continue like this. I feel like I’m being hammered into the ground. And I’ve told my brother he needs to do more to help me with mum – more about that in my next post!

We survive Granddaughter’s wedding

Just as Cinderella went to the ball, my mother went to her granddaughter’s wedding. And in spite of it being a logistical nightmare, everything went smoothly. The hire car driver was a nice chap who dealt with mum well. He did the journey in just over 2 hours – which was really quick and just at mum’s limit. At the Care Home Mum had a bit of a wobbly ‘Are you leaving me here all on my own?’ but my niece saved the day by arriving with Great Grand Daughter – which improved mum’s mood no end.

My hotel was about 6 miles away. To get there, I got a cab through the countryside, along dark lanes. I felt a little nervous but the driver was ok. And the hotel was good. It’s a converted manor house on the edge of a village. I had a single room but it was nice and big, obviously meant for people travelling alone on business. Mind you, it wasn’t cheap! And the bus back to town stopped right outside. So the next day I caught a bus into the central bus station, and from there I got another bus out to the Home.

Mum seemed fine, so I got the bus back and found a groovy coffee bar that did really nice coffee and panini. I began to relax. Eventually I returned to the hotel, which turned out to be in a pleasant historical village. After dinner I met some people I knew in the lounge. My brother’s first wife – and the mother of his children -died tragically young, but her family have maintained close contact. I knew them from all those years ago and it was unexpectedly pleasant to see them again – which was good, because apart from them I didn’t really know any other wedding guests!

The great day dawned. The staff at the Home seemed to enjoy the challenge of getting mum to the wedding. They arranged for her to have her hair done, made sure she got dressed in her wedding outfit without spilling porridge down the front – and were happy to welcome her back late in the evening. But I couldn’t have managed without my nephew and his wife who came up absolute trumps. They’d borrowed a folding wheelchair and nephew pushed mum around for most of the day. The church was on the top of a hill, as these charming old buildings often are. Nephew pushed her up the slope through the churchyard and then helped get her back down through the crowd of guests. Back at the hotel, we had the reception. Mum was mentioned in the speeches. Everyone clapped and cheered the fact she’d made it. She enjoyed seeing people; she even enjoyed the party in the evening. I thought she’d find the music too noisy but no, she really didn’t want to leave. In the end, I booked a cab for 10pm, which was quite late enough for old ladies of 95! Besides, until I’d taken her back to the care home – another scary drive through the dark countryside but again I was lucky and the driver was fine – I couldn’t really relax. Then I did have a couple of drinks and a dance. I even had a cigarette as we all sat around chatting until after midnight.

Sunday morning brother, nephew and nephew’s wife took me and mum out for a woodland walk, which she really enjoyed. And then…..we left her to rest. Brother dropped me off in Glastonbury on his way home. I had a terrible night. When I woke up the next day, I thought I had the flu. I realised I was detoxing from all the stress that I’d been living with for months: should mum go? could she manage? Because she wanted to go so much, I’d tried to make it possible but, if anything had gone wrong, the responsibility would have been all mine. But I felt blessed, as they say, that I could detox and de-stress in the wonderful Chalice Well gardens and guest house in magical, mystical Glastonbury.

On Tuesday I sadly got the bus back and picked up mum. The hire car driver arrived and brought us home without any problems. However, I’d not been prepared for just how long it would take mum to recover from the trip. For over a week now she’s been incredibly difficult, fractious and ultra confused – the one good thing is that she’s been going to bed early! – and it’s really been doing my head in. I still have an awful lot of things to sort out, both for myself as well as for mum, as she’s about to go into respite care for two weeks and I am going on holiday to Portugal. (I can’t wait!)

But I’m pleased mum made the wedding – and so is she! She even said thank you!!

Mum turns 95

This week was Mum’s 95 birthday. Two days before, she met her great-granddaughter for the first time. This has lifted her spirits no end.

She’s been saying recently that she just wants to see The Baby and then she wants to ‘go’. Indeed, one morning she was so blue, she said she didn’t even care about  seeing baby! She asked me several times if dad died at Xmas. He died just after New Year, but this is the first time she’s brought the subject up in the five years since his death. She wondered if she would die at the same time of year as he had?

My grandmother had a stroke on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death and died shortly afterwards. So I began to be a bit concerned. But since mum’s seen The Baby, there’s been no more of such talk.

The birthday celebrations went on for several days, starting with a visit from my cousins bearing gifts from their side of the family. Since then, there’s been a steady stream of visitors: my brother, his kids and their partners – and The Baby of course; neighbours etc. At the last count, mum had received 19 birthday cards. She even got greetings via Face Book. All this has improved her mood immensely.

Mum has always been a gregarious person who enjoys chatting and laughing. I can’t really provide that sort of companionship. I could do, if there were two of me: one to do all the work and one to sit and chat and watch tv. The carers, who are here for an hour, the cleaners, the hair dresser, all cheer her up briefly, but mainly, she misses my father.

She told me, ‘I just want to see my Frank. Do you think he will find me when I die?’ I don’t know the answer to that one. I imagined the afterlife like a very crowded wartime railway station with refugees pouring off packed trains. I said ‘Well, thousands and thousands of people die every day. It might not be so easy for him to find you.’ She smiled and shook her head. ‘You don’t know my Frank. If there’s a way, he’ll find it.’

Well, of course, I hope she’s right. But for now, The Baby seems to have provided some sort of compensation for being forced to stay in this boring world. She has the child’s photo by her chair and speaks to it a lot. And she does seem to be much happier. I guess she really was, quite simply, depressed.

 

mum&alana

A year has gone by.

A year has gone by since I started this blog. First I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who reads it, and who have left comments. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. There are times when I feel very cut off and isolated. During those times it’s great to know that what I’m writing is being read. I’m like a character marooned in outer space who suddenly gets a response to the signals she’s been sending off into the cosmos in the hope that someone somewhere might pick them up.

Having said that, I don’t think I made a mistake by moving in with mum. I miss my life in London, of course I do. But it’s also clear that her condition has deteriorated in the last twelve months – which is good because, if she’d stayed the same, I’d be wondering why I had bothered to give up my freedom! Whereas these days it’s obvious she can no longer manage on her own.

It’s been much harder work than I expected. I expected I’d help her with things she was struggling with, owing to her arthritis. I didn’t anticipate she would just put her feet up and expect to be waited on hand and foot! Also, I did not realise how confused she was mentally. I thought she had difficulties with the modern world, but I really had no idea of the true extent of it. Nor did I know anything about dementia. I know quite a bit more now!

I thought I’d be bored, but I battle to have time to myself. I never have a lie-in or an early night. Even when I was sick, I never got that luxury. It’s also annoying that I can’t control the use of my time. Last night, I thought – ‘I’ve got an hour, I’ll get the blog post finished’ – at which point there was a cry of distress from the bathroom. Mum was having one of her incidents. To sort it out and clear it up, took an hour. And by then, I just wanted to go to bed.

But the hardest thing is that I’m never alone in the house. I used to live by myself and I just wish I could have a day, even a few hours, when I didn’t have to worry about someone else’s presence! At night, if I can’t sleep, I’m always aware that I could wake mum up and indeed, when I go to sleep, I’m aware she could call me in the middle of the night, and I’d be duty bound to get up and tend to her! Of course, I’m by myself when I go out, but that’s not like staying at home and relaxing on the couch. And when I leave the house it’s normally because I have chores. A few friends have nobly made their way down to Chichester. We’ve generally met up for lunch which has been a wonderful chance to have some decent conversation – and also for me to get to know the city because of course, I’ve no prior connection to the place at all.

And now winter is coming – a time when we in the northern hemisphere spend a lot of time inside, on top of one another. I’ll admit the idea of spending a second winter here, does make me feel pretty gloomy. But I have strategies in place now to protect my boundaries. I have this blog, and most days I try to spend a couple of hours doing ‘creativity’ for my mental health – that’s to say, I’m writing a fantasy novel which is marvellous escapism. And I enjoyed the spinning workshop I did on my birthday. I even produced a small amount of wool – let’s see if that will lead me somewhere new and unknown during the next twelve months.

I have a respite from the TV.

Last week, we both had a respite break. Mum went to a residential home where she has stayed before. I spent three nights at the Chalice Well retreat house in Glastonbury. I like to go there once a year, if I can. It allows me to process stuff that I can never fully process while daily life is going on. I can let my mind and my spirit enter those deep places where my true thoughts lie.

As always, Mum started to get anxious about going away. In fact, it was as stressful preparing her to go away for 4 nights as to go away for a couple of weeks! The morning we were due to leave, she got herself in a terrible state. I had to tend to her, clean up mess, change sheets. With a sinking heart, I rang up and cancelled my taxi to the station. But I had a sneaking suspicion it was all a case of nerves and indeed, she eventually settled down. Just before the paid carer was due to arrive, I ordered a second cab and tiptoed away.

By now I was running late. I had to get there by 5pm or there would be difficulties getting the key. The journey by public transport took six hours and at one point, my train was held up and I began to panic. I made it in time but I was very tired – and before I could rest, I had to walk down to the shops and buy something to eat. That night, I felt ghastly, couldn’t sleep – I decided I must be detoxing. The next morning, the first thing that came into my mind was: the television is doing my head in!!!

I don’t mind cleaning up blood and shit, I don’t mind the endless washing when mum’s wet the bed. I don’t like doing it, but I understand these are distressing episodes for mum – and part of the reason I’m living here. The interminable washing/shopping/cooking etc bore me, but I accept it’s an inevitable part of caring for someone who can’t take care of themselves. Her memory loss has been difficult to deal with, but this online course on dementia is helping me to cope. However, when I do get time to myself, when I’m not on deck as it were, that time is being contaminated by the brain-flattening, intuition-crushing effects of the continual blaring TV.

I didn’t own a TV before I came here. I did sometimes watch programmes on my computer but, as a rule, I prefer to listen to the radio, or music. Mum has the television on for several hours every day. She has the volume turned up so loud I can hear it even if I’m in another room. It’s a small house, and it’s impossible to get away from the noise. What’s doubly annoying, is that she often falls asleep in front of it. So I can spend an hour vainly trying to blank out the TV so I can read – and then discover mum’s not even been watching the programme! I have got headphones, but sometimes, I don’t want to listen to music or the radio – I just want silence!

There’s no hope of weaning mum away from something that has been her life-line for years so, the only answer would be to close the door of my room. But I felt that would be a cold, unfriendly act which would make mum feel abandoned. However, I’ve now reassessed the situation. Since I got back, I have been closing my door, even though I know it probably upsets her. And I am feeling so much better! Not only do I get to read, write and go online in peace, I feel like I’ve asserted my right to spend my evenings as I wish.

home 071The wonderful Chalice Well

The wonderful Chalice Well

I aim for high cognitive reserve!

A friend suggested I enrol on a free online course called understanding dementia, run by the University of Tasmania. http://www.utas.edu.au/wicking/wca/mooc

So far, I have completed two out of the total nine weeks and done the basic introductory sessions – and if knowledge really is power, then I’m definitely feeling more powerful! That’s to say, I’m finding it much easier to deal with mum’s lack of short term memory now I understand about the hippocampus – the section of the brain concerned with memory formation. It helps people order things that happen during the day and contextualise events.

So now, when mum asks me a question for the umpteenth time, I visualise her hippocampus malfunctioning. This intellectual understanding has helped me to keep my cool. I understand there is a physiological reason why she can’t remember what I’ve been telling her for several hours. I understand she really can’t hold a thought because a certain part of her brain is collapsing (well there’s probably a more scientific way of putting it).

When I had to state my reasons for doing the course I wrote: my father died of vascular dementia, my mother is increasingly confused – and I want to be able to recognise the warning signs for myself! I haven’t yet got to that part of the course, but I already know I must develop a ‘high cognitive reserve’. As I understand it, this means creating new pathways for information to flow between neurons, because the more alternatives you have, the greater the chance the brain can find other ways to pass information between cells if it becomes damaged by dementia.

Neurons in the brain build connections, adapt and develop as we learn new skills. Things like learning languages – or doing a course of study – are ways of creating a cognitive reserve. With this in mind, I decided to start speaking to mum in French – just simple phrases such as ‘I’m on my way’ or ‘do you want a cup of tea?’. She studied French when she was at school, in the early 1930’s, and amazingly she does still remember some of it and quite likes that she can work out what I’m saying. And it’s actually making those boring daily task more fun for me too.

A la prochaine!

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.

I miss the bus and burst into tears

Last Sunday, my brother came with his family. It was lovely to see them, but not exactly relaxing for me. Monday was a difficult day. I had to repeat over and over again, ‘I am a mermaid, I am a mermaid’ and I managed to keep my cool. Tuesday, the cleaners were due. I got up early, did my chores, put on a load of washing from mum’s ‘accidents’, cleaned up the house so the cleaners could clean (I know, I know), got mum up and got myself ready – as I always go out when the cleaners come.

I had things to do in the nearest proper town and I wanted to get the 11 o’clock bus at the very latest. The bus leaves the terminus at 11 and if I get out of the house on time, I can catch it as it comes past my local bus stop. But I could not leave the house. The agency carer, who was still there, wanted a word. Ok. The cleaner, who had just arrived, wanted a word. Ok. Then mum decided she needed my movements written down on her memory whiteboard.

I finally escaped and raced to the bus stop. The bus was already there! There’s no pavement, so I had to get across the road and approach the driver from his blindside. When I was 10 metres away, he drove off. To my surprise, I burst into tears. But really, tears. Like a kid. Boo hoo, boo hoo.

I suppose it was the last straw. I’d tried so hard to accommodate everyone else. The only thing I’d asked in return was to catch that bus. Now I’d missed it and was possibly faced with a half hour wait. (The buses are supposed to run every 15 minutes, but you often have to wait much longer and two will come along together.) My equilibrium deserted me. ‘Now I will h-have to wait h-half an hour, I kn-know I will.’ Boo hoo, boo hoo. ‘If the c-carer had come earlier. If the c-cleaner hadn’t spoken to me.’ Then! ‘If mum hadn’t made me write down that stuff, stuff she knew perfectly well.’ This set off a great gale of sobbing.

What was weird was, I really couldn’t stop. There was no reason to, as I was quite alone. I stood at the bus stop and sobbed, and there was something quite relaxing in the crying, like a kind of gentle orgasm.

After 15 minutes, a lady appeared so I had to pull myself together. And then, unbelievable joy! The next bus arrived on time. I sat upstairs, put Loreena McKennitt on my headphones and by the time we got into Chichester I was back to my normal philosophical self.

Strangely enough, since then, I’ve felt more positive and optimistic. Perhaps I really did just need to have a good cry!!!

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.’