Monday, December 30, 2013

The Search for a Place

It's hard to believe that Billy has lived in Lexington Place for almost two years...January 24th will mark that anniversary.  I will never forget how much my heart hurt when I left him there, and he was so upset with me. I would still prefer to have him with me, but I know he is in good hands, and the care he gets is what he needs. He is so comfortable there, I have to sort of drag him out of the unit when I take him somewhere. Once a month, someone takes him to another area of the nursing home to be weighed, and the staff tells me that he is very resistant to leaving the unit. 

In the last two years, Alzheimer's has taken so much from 
Billy. The man who was NEVER at a loss for words hardly ever speaks.  He will answer Yes/No questions fairly clearly, but we often have to ask him something multiple times. It takes a while for him to process. When I arrive to visit, I have to get in his direct line of vision, so he knows I'm there. He still recognizes me and knows I am his wife...I know he does, but he never calls me by name. Some days he is happier than others and smiles readily, but not always. Today he would hardly make eye-contact and was scowling about something. He finally gave me a slight smile after I had been there for an hour. He eats well, but he has to be fed. He walks with assistance or holding onto rails. Getting out of chairs is difficult, but getting him to sit in a chair is harder. He has trouble understanding where his body is, and he's had a few falls when trying to sit down. I was visiting with a few of the aides the other day, and one of them is fairly new.  The aide who has been there almost as long as Billy was telling us that when she met Billy she thought he was a visitor because he seemed so "normal."  The decline in the last two years leaves no question about whether he is a resident or visitor. 

My dad is experiencing rapid decline also. Mom and I spent the day looking for a secure memory facility in our area of the metroplex for Dad. He is in a truly wonderful facility, but the cost is prohibitive, even with Dad's long term care insurance (thank God for that!), and Mom is not comfortable driving that far to see him.  My sister and I take Mom to see him when we can.  Three of the places with secure units in this area are full, and that includes Lexington Place which was our first choice.  We did find a place that may work because they keep the doors locked and alarmed. Patients who are an "elopement" risk (just love that term) wear an additional alarm on their ankles or on their wheel chairs. 

Dad is unable to walk after his two falls in early November. His dementia is much worse, and when he talks, he uses real words, but they make no sense. He eats well, and with some medication changes, we are told he is much calmer. He has a bad day now and then, but on most days he allows the staff to assist him. He hasn't worn shoes in a few weeks because he has cellulitis in his feet, so the therapy he is getting is not helping him walk.  Our hope has been that he can be mobile again, but we are questioning that.  

On the homefront, Mom is settling into living with us, and we love having her here. I know it's such a big change for her - going from her own large home of 30+ years to a two bedroom apartment and now living with us and our three canine family members. I'm thankful she likes dogs and tolerates ours so well - Annie likes to sleep in Mom's room sometimes. I love having Mom here, and I believe we will live together for a long time. We get along very well thankfully, and she's pretty easy going.  I'm grateful that she can be with us while going through cancer treatment. We think she has only one more chemo treatment! 

So much has happened in 2013, and who knows what might come in 2014!  My prayer is that good things happen - slowed progression of Billy's and Dad's diseases and complete healing of Mom's cancer. Whatever comes, we can handle it because God has it covered. We are prayed for often, and we know that - it's evident.  Happy New Year and God Bless you all. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Okay, the Ugly, and the Ironic

"Alzheimer's Disease is a progressive disease that worsens over time." Thus says the Alzheimer's Association's website. Nothing prepares you for the reality of what it looks like over the years. I am often asked how Billy is doing, and I typically say he's okay. Then I qualify my statement by saying that when I say he's okay, I mean he's not worse. I lie...maybe for myself, maybe for the person asking, but I lie. He is anything but okay. 

This past Saturday after a few weeks of bad weather and other Saturday night plans, I looked forward to picking up Billy for the evening. Our Saturday evenings for the past couple of years include worship service at 5:00 followed by dinner out, and then back to the nursing home. They are usually uneventful, and Billy talks little and smiles often. He enjoys being with family. His smile and calmness tell me he's enjoying himself. 

I got to the nursing home about 15 minutes later than usual this time, so I was feeling rushed. Billy doesn't do "rushed." In fact, he slows down the more I try to speed up. He was actually standing up and moving around when I got there. I grabbed his jacket and eventually got that on him, and we began the long walk to the door. Billy's gait is now tiny baby steps as though he is unsure of himself. We got to the secure door out of the unit, and he stopped. He rarely goes out of that door, and I had to coax pull him out. As we approached the exit, Billy saw a chair and started to sit down. Again, I redirected him to come with me. Each of the exits at the nursing home have these large fans that blow mightily overhead when you open the door. After a few years,  I'm still not certain of their purpose (either to keep out bugs or push the door closed), but I do know that they startle Billy when they hit him. The temperature was cool, and with the wind, it was cold. Billy always notices the difference and shutters if it's extreme. 

I started to the car, and Billy's nurse, Sabash, was coming back from his break, so he came over to help me get Billy in the car. Because of Billy opening the car door while I've been driving a few times recently, I put him in the back seat where I can use the child lock. It's always a challenge to get him in the car because he does not remember how. He tends to face the car seat and touch it with his hands, sort of leaning forward. We kept trying to get him to stand with his side to the seat, placing his left leg in the car and sliding in. This is where he gets stuck. He won't budge, and it is nearly impossible to move his leg for him. I decided to go to the other side while Sabash worked with getting him in the car. I reached across the seat and tried to get him into the car. After about 10 minutes of this, I looked up, and Billy had a tear rolling down his face. He was shaking and said, "It's cold." At that point, I could feel my tears welling up, and I wondered about my motive. Was this for me or for him? 

I went back around the car and told Sabash it might be best for me to get him in by myself. Sabash went inside and sent one of the aides out. She started trying to help me, and the whole situation got worse. At one point, I asked him if he wanted to go back inside, and he didn't answer me. He looked distressed, and the aide said she was going in to see if one of the other aides might get a better response from him. When she left, I opened the front door of the car, walked Billy up to the door, and he was able to place his left foot on the floor board and most of him landed on the seat. At that point, I could move him over enough to buckle him in and close the door. I held his right hand while I drove to ensure he didn't open the door.  

Once we got into church and seated, Billy was fine. I was not. I love having Billy with us, and I truly believe he enjoys being with us. However, I know that sometimes I do things more for me than for him. He may enjoy being with us, but it upsets his world to take him away from what he knows. After worship service, Shelley helped get him in the car again, so we could go to dinner. Getting him out of the car is not as big an issue, and everything was smooth sailing at the restaurant. When it was time to leave, Shelley and Andrew helped me get Billy to the car, and once again we encountered an issue. First of all, it was still cold and breezy. In addition to that, the car parked next to us was having trouble starting, and when they tried to start their car, it made a loud noise that confused Billy. He stood like a statue looking straight ahead. He didn't respond when we asked him to get in the car. I was inside the car asking him to get in, and Shelley and Andrew were at the door with him trying to get him in. In retrospect, he probably felt like we were ganging up on him, and he got upset. That made Shelley upset, and we were back to tears over getting Billy in the car. It seems like it would be so simple, and yet, it's one of the toughest things to do. Is it worth it? 

I don't go see Billy on Sundays usually because I need a day away. When I went Monday evening, he was back to his normal for now. Shelley went Tuesday and said he was in a good mood and laughing. This afternoon I attended the annual Christmas party in the memory unit. We take gifts to our loved ones, Santa and Mrs. Claus visit (Billy never acknowledges them), and we visit over some yummy desserts. Today we sat with Billy's new roommate, John, and his wife and son. I enjoy getting to know the families of the residents because I love knowing their stories. After talking for about half an hour, I told John's son that I noticed they had some fiddles (or violins) and other pictures hanging over John's bed and that I assumed he had played that instrument.  Oh, yes, he told me.  He had played in a band called the Light Crust Doughboys, and they had been really good.  I guess he didn't think I would know who the Doughboys were, but those of you who have known Billy Jack Knowles since college, know that I do know who they were. Billy's roommate is John Walden.  He is 85 now and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease at age 65. What a cruel disease. So cruel that neither man can talk about a shared passion, but I am thrilled about this.  Maybe Billy and John will catch up some day in Beulah Land.