Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Inevitable

My thumb was in the way, but I couldn't resist the smile!
"I know three people who have got better after brain tumors. I haven't heard of anybody who's got better after Alzheimer's."  Terry Pratchett

When I stay away from visiting Billy for too many days, I struggle with my emotions when I see him again. I don't stay away long, but even several days does it. Not certain why that is, but when I went to see him on Tuesday evening, I had not been for about a week.  I had some surgery last week, and I've not felt like getting out, so I missed him.  For so long the norm for us was that I would show up about 4:45 because he eats at 5:00.  He would meet me about half way down the hall and say something like, "It's about time you got here." Always with a smile.  He was always walking and up. I wondered if I would ever come in and catch him sitting. 

I'm not certain when things changed so drastically. I still arrive at about the same time, and Beverly, one of the residents always sees me first. She reaches out, grabs my hand, and tells me how glad she is to see me - sometimes with tears. I glance around and Billy is sitting at a table, usually with his head down. Tuesday he had about three pages from a People magazine that he was folding and shuffling.  I didn't expect the emotional drop I had. He's been this way, and I've seen it, but somehow several days away, and his condition astounds me.  He sits like he's much older than his 57 years, and he does not jump up to come greet me.  In fact, I don't think he recognizes me until I go over to him and speak.  I pulled up a  chair and asked him a few questions.  He never answered, but he looked at me. By the end of his supper, he was more aware of my presence, especially since I'm the hand that feeds him! I just can't remember when he made the turn. It was gradual, but I've noticed that when a skill is missing one day, it soon becomes the norm. For a while, we helped him eat by just putting food on his fork, and he would pick it up and eat it. Now, you have to take that food to his mouth. 

The memory unit remains a happening place. It seems they make changes daily, and I'm glad they look carefully at it. The unit has 18 beds, and when Billy arrived, they had 18 residents. Of those 18, five remain in the unit, including him. Too many have passed away. Several have been moved out of the unit because they are no longer mobile and at risk to wander. It seems they have new folks almost weekly because there is no shortage of dementia victims. The most recent person to move out of the unit is Donnis.  I'm not certain that he has Alzheimer's because he was much more aware than the other residents. His needs seemed to be more physical, and he is quite territorial and loud. The residents in the unit wander from room to room. They may recognize their room, but they may not.  It's not unusual to find one of them asleep in another's room, but if one got close to the door of Donnis' room, everyone knew it.  He was a career military man and must have been a drill sergeant!  His voice booms.  He does not want anyone touching his stuff, and one day last week, he was waiting for his shower and had put his clean clothes on a chair outside the shower room. Billy wandered along and picked up Donnis' shirt - another common thing that dementia persons do.  They are a bit like toddlers, picking up and observing and playing with things.  Donnis began yelling at Billy (he doesn't do well with yelling) and grabbing the shirt. Billy got a death grip on the shirt and pushed.  Then Donnis scratched Billy, and Billy scratched Donnis.  Not a pretty sight. I always know when I see Lexington Place on my caller id that he has had some sort of incident and probably has a scratch.  This was not the first incident between Donnis and Billy, and I was told they were having a care meeting to find a solution. I like the solution. 

With several residents being moved out, the unit now has several newbies. My favorite is Hazel whom I met on Tuesday.  While I was feeding Billy, Hazel was another table over and said, "Bill. Bill! You said you were going to take me home." Bill(y) did not respond. One of the aides told Hazel that I was Billy's wife.  "I told you he has a wife, and here she is!" Hazel looked at me so sincerely, and said, "I'm so sorry.  I didn't know he was married." I assured Hazel that I was not offended in any way. The next evening, Hazel joined Billy and me while I fed Billy. What a delightful lady! She is not as far along in the disease as Billy, and she can carry on a conversation very well.   She mentioned numerous times that if it doesn't quiet down there (the unit), she is going to have to quit that school and go back home.  (I mentioned Beverly above, and she makes so much noise before dinner. She sort of hums, moans, and sings all in a smoker's rattle at a volume that matches Donnis'. It is beyond annoying, but like everyone else there, she doesn't do it for that purpose.) Hazel told me during our meal that she and Bill(y) went together a while back, and she really liked his family. She looked at me very seriously and said, "You are a lucky lady." I certainly agree. She turned to Billy then to tell him how lucky he is to have me. He smiled which we all know means he agrees! Once again Hazel reiterated how lucky I am to have him, and then she said, "I'm pretty lucky, too.  I have a good looking man at home.  His name is Glenn." I look forward to meeting Glenn, and I really hope Glenn is still around.  So many times, they talk about their relatives in present tense and I learn that they passed away 5 years ago. I have a feeling I'll be sharing Hazel stories for a while, and I pray she stays in the unit for a long time. 

Thank you for reading, praying, and encouraging through this blog and in many other ways.  Alzheimer's is a thief; it is always fatal; and at this time there is no cure. It's time to END ALZ! 

Peace and love.