I have decided to take a prolonged break from blogging until after Christmas. In the meantime I wish everyone the very best for 2015!
As many of you know, I recently applied for a job at the nursing home where Anthony has now lived for nearly three years. The job is that of ‘lifestyle assistant’ in the dementia wing/house, a role I have been learning over the recent weeks of volunteering. It is a three-hour shift, between 3 and 6pm, often a time of restless agitation for people with dementia as the sun goes down (Sundowner’s syndrome).
It was such a strange experience to be interviewed on Tuesday by two women who I already know so well – the Manager and the Events coordinator – but I still said “lovely to meet you”, which made us all laugh my nervousness away – well, sort of! But then I answered some of the questions clumsily, ignorant of the fastidious rules that have come into play since I last worked in a nursing capacity over 20 years ago.
So I was pretty sure I muffed my interview up and almost felt a sense of relief, but I couldn’t help hoping. Anthony knew about my application and interview but was a bit unsure about what was going on (he is not in the dementia wing) so when the Events Coordinator came into his room today and asked if she and I could have a chat, I thought she was just going to tell me I didn’t get the job.
And that’s how she started:
Ev: Julie, about that interview the other day (pulling a looooong face)
Me: Yes? (trying to look nonchalant)
But this is how she ended:
Ev: You got the job.
After that I twirled around Anthony’s room in a state of glee and, because I know so many of the staff and residents anyway, it’s been a joy to whisper, ‘I got the job!’ and Ants said at one point, “You are wonderful, Jules”.
Note: This is first post since my computer died and my computer whiz guy has salvaged everything onto a usb thingy. In meantime I have bought myself a Macbook – brilliant!
Died this morning! So now I am forced into IPad mode and not very good at that yet, so am gonna take an Internet break until fixed.
Every morning at around the same time, King and Prince do this incredibly synchronized dance next to the water tank. Usually I watch them from the bedroom window but today I went out to take some photos and when they saw me they seemed to put some extra effort into their routine. A couple of the females came up to me in the hope of bread but when they saw I had none, they turned up their beaks as if to say ‘well you’re just as useless as those two fools flirting with the water tank.’
The peahens’ indifference to the peacocks’ efforts is hilarious to watch and it is a wonder to me that any chicks are produced at all! Anyway, I watched the peacocks dance for about an hour (yes they can do their routine for well over an hour; it must be exhausting), then I came inside with a big smile.
I will take the photos in to show the women in the dementia wing of the nursing home where I volunteer on the weekends between 3 and 4pm, and to show Anthony of course.
Ever since I was fooled by the plum tree into thinking its blossoms belonged to the avocado tree I am much more aware of how trees that are next to each other seem to have a habit of hugging each other. Here are the photos I took of ‘the avocado blossoms’ several weeks ago. The first one shows why I was confused but the second one shows quite clearly (except to an idiot – me!) that these are two separate trees.
Anyway, the following photo shows just how tricky these trees can be; here we have a camellia tree masquerading as a fig tree (or is it the other way around?) I showed it to one of the residents in the dementia wing the other day and she said, “What a strange tree!”
Up close, of course, it is quite obvious that the fig tree is a fig tree and that the camellia tree doesn’t have a sense of personal space.
Last summer I stopped watering the plants in order to save electricity on the pump; hence most of the ancient rose trees have died (despite a gardeningy person telling me it was impossible to kill roses) but everything else (palms, multiple camellias, un-fruiting orange and plum trees, silver birches, the two fig trees, the two avocado trees, the two pear trees, the lemon tree, the poplars up the driveway, the flame trees, and many other wild bushy looking shrubby things, have survived. This is probably because Anthony planted many of these at around the time I was born – over 50 years ago – so their roots are deep (you see, I have now done a bit of gardening-for-dummies research).
I guess what’s surreal is that, when I took ‘the avocado blossoms’ into the nursing home and put them in a vase, Anthony didn’t correct me and say, “Those aren’t avocado blossoms, silly!” (Actually nobody corrected me until I wrote a post correcting myself and then a friend said to me, “Yeah, I thought you’d definitely lost the plot!”)
Every single person with every single kind of dementia has, I think, has an ability to accept the surreal as real. Yesterday, during a children’s concert at the nursing home, one of the residents kept asking if the woman on my right (another resident) and the man on my left in the wheelchair (Anthony) were my parents, so I explained that one was my new friend and the other was my husband. She looked at me with interest and said, with absolute certainty, “My parents will be here soon”, and I said, “Yes.” By end of the concert she had forgotten about her parents and was fine, delighted as we all were, by the children’s voices.
I’m not sure here, but it seems to me that if someone’s reality is fractured by dementia, and their reality becomes a dreamscape of surreal thoughts, memories and emotions, maybe the best way to respond is in the affirmative, and to say ‘Yes!’
And that is why I still have an avocado tree with pink blossoms!
This has pretty much become my exit strategy lately when leaving Ants and coming home from the nursing home. I say I am just going up to the shop to get some eggs (just as if we are home), then I ask if he wants anything, like chocolate or cake or cheese or bananas and sometimes he says yes to one or more of these items. “Don’t be too long,” he sometimes says and I promise that I will be as quick as I can. If I have been at the nursing home since 11am or earlier, I leave at around 3.30-4pmish; if I have only arrived to help him with his lunch, I will often stay until 5.30pm so I can help him with his dinner (his ability to feed himself fluxuates a lot) Occasionally, like yesterday, I take the day off and Ming visits for me, or my indispensable mother does.
My exit strategy is a ruse of course, a way of leaving Anthony that deceives him into thinking that I am coming back soon but, after weeks of using this, at first tentatively, but now confidently, I am convinced that this is much better than saying, “I’m going home now, Ants – I’ll see you tomorrow.” If I say that, I have to explain at length that he is in a nursing home and this is the kind of conversation that happens, when he is able to talk:
ANTHONY: Why can’t I come too?
ME: Because of your Parkinson’s disease, remember?
ANTHONY: But I’m getting better!
ME: I know, but you are still too heavy for me to bring home.
ANTHONY: Well can you tell those kids [the staff] to keep an eye out for me?
ME: Of course!
Sometimes this kind of conversation goes on and on and on and might be prolonged by Anthony’s hallucinations that there are dogs, cattle or even snakes in his room, all of which I have to dispel before I can leave; sometimes he is unable to speak at all and will simply grab my hand and snuggle it up to his face; sometimes he will be asleep when I leave so I tell the staff.
This afternoon, this was our conversation:
ME: I’m just going down to the shop, Ants. Do you want anything?
ANTHONY: Love – a lot of it.
ME: I’ll give you a bit now [hug] but I’ll get 100 kilos of it and bring it back soon, okay?
And he smiled his beautiful new slow smile and let me go….
Somebody said to me the other day, “Surely, you’ll bring Anthony home for Christmas,” and I felt sad as I tried to explain how this might not be possible.
I have spent a lot of hours on the weekend and tonight looking back on my blog posts to try and find the last date that I brought Anthony home and I think it was March 16, this year, which makes it almost exactly eight months.
So, on Christmas Day, Ming and I will open our presents to each other in the early morning, and then we will meet my mother at noon so that we can have Christmas lunch with Anthony at the nursing home. Or maybe not!
The fact that my daily routine now includes spending much of the day with Anthony in the nursing home means that I don’t see his deterioration except in tiny increments, day by day.
Yesterday one of our friends visited Ants and she was just leaving as I was arriving. She is the mother of one of my best friends, nearly Anthony’s age, and has her own health problems and yet still visits Anthony regularly – an unbelievably kind and generous person but today a bit uncertain.
“I don’t think he knew who I was, Julie,” she said.
“Maybe I talk too much and it upsets him,” she said.
“Can you let me know if my visits are helpful or not?” she asked.
She was quite distressed at Anthony’s unresponsiveness and wondered how I coped with going in every day. Didn’t it get me down? I told her that I hardly ever got down any more and actually looked forward to going into the nursing home. She looked as surprised as I feel about this miracle. I am surprised that my relatively newfound eagerness to get into town to see Anthony every day has been so sustainable because I was a bit nervous that it might kind of wear off!
Now I know for sure that it will never wear off probably because I’ve accepted the status quo and am prepared for what lies ahead. Our friend’s distress at seeing Ants so deteriorated yesterday, sort of chair-ridden and blank, unable to respond verbally and very sleepy, was only because she hadn’t seen him for a week or so. I guess it’s a bit like noticing how much a small child has grown if you haven’t seen that child for awhile; it’s a bit of a shock.
After our friend left, I went into Anthony’s room and said, “Didn’t you recognize M?” but he said yes he had. I could see, though, that what might have disturbed M was the increasingly blank expression on Anthony’s face which is partly due to his facial muscles not working because of the Parkinson’s disease, including not blinking (which makes him look both sad and angry), and partly due to the confusion of dementia.
Of course Anthony is only going to get worse, more confused, eventually bedridden and totally unresponsive, so I am developing a more tactile and rather boisterous relationship with him instead of pushing the conversation thing. After all, his voice is now so soft and his words often unformed, so we need to establish a way to communicate that transcends the verbal – almost like a code. This has included hand-holding, neck massaging, sitting on the arm of his chair with my hand on his head, and/or loudly beckoning him out of his slumber with a funny anecdote from the past, clowning around and bopping to music, asking him for advice with a nod or shake of his head, watching dvds of television series he used to love, laughing and being cheeky (I have a rather raucous laugh which I make the most of in order to see his slow smile), and lots and lots of hugging.
The following photo is my usual profile picture and it’s a bit of a shock to realize this was five years ago!
Then I just discovered this one, obviously taken seconds after the first photo. I can’t wait to show it to Anthony later today! I hope it will make him smile my smile.
For the love of smiling!
I took a photo of the avocado tree a few weeks ago and posted it on this blog, bragging about its amazing blossoms. A few days later, on climbing the tree to pick one last unreachable avocado, I got a bit tangled in the blossoms and, in untangling myself, realized they were actually the blossoms from an adjacent plum tree. I haven’t wanted to admit this until now because I am so embarrassed. I am quite sure all gardeningy people spotted my error but were kind enough not to say so. Anyway, it’s not my fault that the plum tree (or whatever it is) keeps throwing its pink-blossomed arms around the avocado tree!
I was overjoyed to spot a little peachick on the roof of the shed adjacent to the chookyard and I had a rather long conversation with it until I realized it was a twig!
I love to tell these embarrassing little funny stories to Anthony because it gets him smiling. Some time ago, it seemed that he would never smile again – not because he was sad but because the Parkinson’s has affected all of his muscles, including facial. But over time, I have learned how to elicit a different kind of smile; I use banter, loudness, crudeness and lots of vigorous hugs.
His loud, spontaneous, contagious laugh has gone and so has his loud voice as he now speaks in a kind of whispery way but I am ungentle and say things like:
Speak up, Anthony, clear your throat!
You look like a dead duck today!
Sometimes I catapult myself into his room, throw my arms around him and he gets such a shock and always says, “Jules, how did you know where to find me?”
Or, if he is having a bad day with forming words, I just get his beautiful new, slow-growing smile. And when Ming enters the room, Anthony’s smile gets a whole lot quicker!
Note: Avocado trees do not have pink blossoms!