jmgoyder

wings and things

Still Anthony

A couple of years ago I read Lisa Genova’s novel, Still Alice and, over the last couple of days, Anthony and I watched the movie. For those who haven’t seen or read the story, Still Alice is about how a linguistics professor, Alice, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 50 and how she and the family cope.

I suppose it was a strange choice of film to watch with a husband who has Parkinson’s disease dementia (and was probably a contributing factor in the grief I felt the other evening). But yesterday, as he and I watched the final scenes, he suddenly became quite engaged in Alice’s deterioration, and asked me what was wrong with her. I keep the dvd controller close so I can pause whatever we are watching whenever Anthony says anything.

Me: She has Alzheimer’s disease.
Anthony: It’s worse now, isn’t it.
Me: Yes.

I had paused the film at a particularly stark close-up of Alice’s confused expression (Julianne Moore is brilliant as the character Alice). Anthony and I both looked at her face for a few moments then I hit the play button again and we watched silently as the movie came to an end.

Unlike Alice, Anthony has not had to experience the creeping horror of knowing he has dementia. He still doesn’t know and I don’t tell him because I don’t want him to be afraid or embarrassed. So, when he asks where his mother is, or how she is (this is a frequent question) I just say that she is fine.

Anthony: Is she at home?
Me: Yes.
Anthony: Is Ming there too?
Me: Yes, and they’re both fine.
Anthony: So when are we going to Golden Valley?
Me: When the weather gets warmer, Ants. It’s too cold today.

Anthony’s mother died over 30 years ago and Golden Valley was his childhood home so the only ‘real’ aspect to these conversations is Ming.

I’ve recovered from my grief episode of the other evening and, since watching Still Alice, realise how lucky we are that Anthony has never had to go through that fear-of-dementia experience because it has just happened, insidiously, slowly, kindly even. He doesn’t know he has dementia; he still recognises all of us; there is still a lot of laughter and Anthony’s one-liners are hilarious.

Anthony: You need to brush your hair.
Me: I just did!
Anthony: Do it again, it’s not right.
Me: I’ll shave your head if you keep hassling me!
Anthony: Feisty!

Still Anthony.

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30 Comments »

Paperwork phobia

I have a bit of a paperwork phobia.

I don’t go to the post office anymore because it is too scary. Ming usually collects the mail on his way home and brings it to me in my writing room. I politely thank him or else say:

TAKE IT AWAY, TAKE IT AWAY, TAKE IT AWAY – JUST EAT IT!

I don’t quite know why I have this phobia because most of these letters are relatively harmless, even innocuous, and I pay most of the bills online because I don’t have an email phobia (luckily). It would be good to admit that my paperwork phobia was due to my objection to so many trees being cut down to create all of this mail but, even though I agree with myself here, it’s not that. It’s more to do with the envelopes and what might be inside them.

So the letter(s) sit on my desk briefly, threateningly, until I throw carefully place them, unopened, into the box of things-to-do.

Once the box is full, I take it to the nursing home and place it on Anthony’s bed. We hug and I explain it is a ‘paperwork day’ and that I need his moral support. It is only then that I have the courage to open all of the envelopes, file anything important and trash the rest. This usually takes about 10 minutes.

Okay so this is a bit tongue-in-cheek but also very true. I literally can’t seem to do the paperwork unless Anthony is by my side and, once it’s done, I am so happy that I get a bit frolicky and this gets a smile.

I also have a bit of a phone phobia ….

26 Comments »

On-line/off-line dilemmas

With the blog I write here (we can just forget about other blogs I hoped to establish ha!) I really don’t quite know, or even remember, how it all began. Okay so it was my friend, Nathalie, who first suggested a blog so I began to write one and even included photos.

Fast-forward to now and I have learned a lot about the politics, joys and disappointments of blogging. WordPress is a blog-site I would recommend to everyone and I have had the most wonderful fun, made friends, and connected with people and groups who share their photos and stories beautifully.

But I just can’t keep up with reading, commenting, replying and so on; the blogdom for me has become a bit of a problem. I so admire people who CAN keep up and feel really guilty for not replying to comments etc. My gratitude to blog friends is difficult to describe; how people who are unknown to me have become known friends – extraordinary!

Anyway, I’ve decided to go off-line for a week or two just to remind myself what it feels like to be off-line. Oh yeah, and I’m beginning to ‘get’ Tolle’s NOW thing!

23 Comments »

Unfinished….

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Such a strange realisation!

An ‘aha!’ moment!

The inability to get to the ‘finish line’ or the ‘punch line’ was making me utterly miserable (as well as my inability to understand/implement Tolle’s NOW concept, cope with a depressive episode, watch myself grieve for Anthony in a way that seemed premature).

But it wasn’t any of those bracketed BIG things that were bothering me; it was the fact that the few remnants of weeks and weeks of decluttering, finding history, reorganising the house/farm etc. were still here.

It was the remnants!

Old books, doilies, Anthony’s school report from when he was little, old photos of my dad when he was young, bark paintings from our years in Papua New Guinea, a thousand buttons, a pile of costume jewellery, a silk corset and bra wrapped in newspaper for 100 years, bits of china that would be valuable if not cracked, old instruction manuals from before I was born, and a whole lot of bits and pieces that must have had sentimental value for someone before Anthony was born, and maybe even before Gar, his mother, was born.

So today I began this last phase by going to the dump with Ming and unloading a very full ute-load of rubbish; then I proceeded to use a knife to cut up a very big carpet mat underneath my bed (it had to be cut up to be manageable) and Ming helped me. The dust that came out from beneath that ancient carpet was justification enough to get rid of it – wonderful!

And now I have contacted the heritage park people to come over for a final browse, I am going to advertise the gramophone and other items online (once I figure out how), and I’ve already boxed up historical material for the relative who is interested.

Every single photo/photo album in now in Anthony’s cupboard so I just have to do the scanning bit by bit by bit whilst being with him.

And my point in this ridiculously self-indulgent post?

I was stuck at the ‘unfinish line’ and now I’m not. Full steam ahead!

Very grateful for comments and am going to reply to them now. I don’t even ‘get’ why I had such a downer when my new neighbour/hairdresser, Camille, made my hair a wildish red, I met my beautiful mama for lunch on Friday and laughed my head off, met with my best friend Tony yesterday for lunch and Ming bought me Dylan Moran tickets for my Mother’s day present – so many great things.

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Oh and Dina is coming for dinner in a couple of weeks (well, she is coming to cook risotto in her thermomix) so I better get finished with these remnants asap.

My conversation with Ming a few seconds ago:

Me: I’m over my blah finally, Ming.

Ming: How’d you do that?

Me: Got a few things done I guess.

Ming: Jobs, jobs, jobs!

Me: Well we had a lovely time at the dump today didn’t we? [At the dump Ming had yelled out, ‘Mum, this is glorious! We’re not fighting! What a beautiful dump run!’]

Ming: It’s probably due to Sontime.

Mmmm – that is definitely an unfinished conversation!

24 Comments »

Cold, hot, not sure

I had a leisurely afternoon with Anthony, watching two episodes of Borgen (the Danish political television series), which he enjoys me enjoying. He was cold as usual, so I did what has become a bit of a winter ritual now: rug on knees, foot rub, heat bag on hands, eyebrow grooming (another story!) Oh yes and I put the heater on.

Being cold has become a constant theme in our conversations:

Me: Are you warm enough?
Ants: No!
Me: Do you want a blanket on your knees?
Ants: Good idea. But can you light the fire?
Me: Good idea.

I reach up to turn the air conditioner on and heat gradually fills the room but it’s invisible heat; he wants to see the fire burning – real logs, real sparks, a real fireplace, our living room, his worn armchair. He doesn’t realise that I am missing all of this too. Ming and I haven’t lit a fire in the living room fire-place since Ants moved into the nursing home.

Halfway through a particularly interesting scene in Borgen, Anthony rummages around inside his knee rug and finds a hand which he gives to me as proof that he is freezing. Bloody hell – he IS freezing!

So I take this 2-kilo heat pack, that a lovely friend gave us ages ago, and heat it up in the microwave of the adjacent kitchen and bring it back.

As soon as Anthony sees my irritated face, he begins to smile. I thrust the heat bag into his lap and put his hands underneath it.

Ants: This is too heavy.
Me: Don’t be such a wimp!
Ants: Jules, please.
Me: Argh – okay, here is the heat bag and here are your hands on top of it! Can we get back to the show?
Ants: Could you just put the cold onto the icebox heater?
Me: What?
Ants: There’s a blister on the floor, a cow.
Me: You’re hallucinating, Ants, you know that don’t you?
Ants: Only if you’re here.
Me: I love you.
Ants: (watching the news channel on TV)
Me: I said ‘I love you’ – aren’t you going to say it back?

I am about to leave, but I rush back into his room and frighten the hell out of him by pretending to leap onto his lap the way Ming did when he was little.

Ants: I love you!
Me: Are you warm enough?
Ants: Yes!

I get home and contemplate lighting a fire in the fireplace but, instead, put a jumper on.

20 Comments »

Attraction

Attraction is a weird thing because, even though this ‘pull’ is usually to do with the romantic urges of the young, it still has a very powerful influence on the confused emotions of the aged.

Many of the ten women in the dementia house ‘see’ staff and/or other residents as men, possibly because most of us have short hair. So there are often small cries or salutations to ‘Joe’ or ‘Fred’ or ‘Henry’ and we (staff) have to loom close to cover the invisibility of those absent presences. There is no strict rule about how to answer the question of ‘where is Richard?’ but most of us go with the flow and say that he will be back soon.

The doll thing used to give me the horrors because it seemed so totally odd, even patronizing, but I have changed my mind now due to the need many of these beautiful women have – just to hold a baby again.

Attraction: a weird and wonderful experience of opposites, failings, clumsy sentences, beautiful, unusual, extraordinary human beings but mostly a desire to know that interesting person better.

19 Comments »

Jigsawing Parkinsonisms

When most people think of Parkinson’s disease, they think of dyskinesia which is the involuntary movements, tremors and tics that are symptomatic of the disease. Anthony’s version (called ‘Parkinsonism’) is not like this. Instead, his disease is characterized by bradykinesia – the chronic slowing down of movement.

Big words to match small, sometimes unnoticeable, symptoms. To begin with, many years ago now, I deliberately tripped over these words and many, many more – like ‘idiopathic’, ‘hypokinesia’, ‘ataxia’, ‘dysphasia’, ‘mirographia’, ‘akinesia’, ‘palilalia’ – just as Anthony was undeliberately tripping, literally, over his own feet. I didn’t want to know what those words meant back then; I didn’t want to know what was coming. The glossary below is for those who are curious:

http://www.webmd.com/parkinsons-disease/parkinsons-glossary

The first signs were subtle like Anthony’s inability to open the vegemite jar, and his reluctance to drive the car. But then the signs became more dramatic: Anthony’s increasing stoop, strange gait, the drooling, getting stuck in the back yard and being unable to walk back to the house, the hallucinations, me coming home from the local shop to find him face-down in the vegetable patch, Silver chain home assistance, hospitalisations, drug experiments, nightly toiletting shifts with Ming, Anthony’s apologies, his gradual loss of control over his body, his shame and frustration….

All of these things jigsawed into each other crookedly, violently sometimes; we could not get the jigsaw back together again no matter how hard we tried, because already there were too many pieces missing. A simpler jigsaw needed to be built and learning what those many big words meant has helped frame the centre of this new jigsaw, the centre being Anthony himself of course, and his incredible resilience and acceptance.

One of the most wonderful things that has happened lately is that just when I thought Ants had become totally immobile, the staff told me that his nephew, P, visited on the weekend and Ants was able to use his walker to go outside into the sunshine with P. This nephew visits Ants every weekend, but he doesn’t do this out of duty, he does it because he loves Anthony (and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t).

Another wonderful thing is that just when I thought Ants had completely lost his ability to speak coherently, I arrived and rushed to give him a kiss yesterday and he smiled his newfound smile and this was our conversation:

Anthony: You are a wonderful person!
Me: Why?
Anthony: Well, you always find yourself in the most extraordinary places!
Me: What – like here?
Anthony: Yes! You always find me, Jules!

The fact that Anthony’s eloquence, mobility and ability to smile all seem to have come back to some extent, after a long period of struggling with all of these things, is quite strange. I write down all of his extraordinary sentences and am thrilled when he can actually walk; as for the smile, it is almost as if my determination to get that brilliant smile back via any means – including slapstick antics, banter, his favourite comedy series, and just laughing my raucous laugh – has somehow tickled his facial muscles into action again. And, like any exercise of any muscle, the more Anthony smiles, the more able he is to smile. Ming has noticed this and so have the staff and everyone is surprised and delighted.

Does this mean Anthony is getting better? Of course not, but it’s a very interesting turn of events made even more interesting by a conversation I had with a resident whose room is two doors away from Anthony’s. She beckoned me over to where she was sitting in her wheelchair and whispered loudly, “I’ve heard a rumour that Anthony is getting most of the attention these days and is the most popular, but don’t let it bother you because we are all treated well.” Then she guffawed enigmatically and I have yet to decode what she meant.

The other day I told Anthony about Gutsy being killed and he kept reaching out his hand to put it on top of mine.

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Over and over and over again – his hand, found underneath the blanket that is always on his knees, and my hand bringing his out into the cold air of a heated room, and his hand finding my hand – a jigsaw of interlaced fingers, a smile, a repeated hand tap.

But, when I was telling Ming about this tonight he said he’d seen Anthony earlier today and Anthony was so confused and blah that he almost didn’t recognise Ming!

Ming: I get it with the smile thing, Mum, but Dad was pretty bad this afternoon.
Me: So should we give up then?
Ming: No!
Me: No?
Ming: I don’t know.
Me: I don’t know either.

The above is not an exact rendition of our conversation but, rather, a compression of many conversations over many months/years. Ming, at 21, is always going to be the vital jigsaw piece that has the elasticity to fit right back in and complete the puzzle, or else wing to and fro.

Par
kins
on
ism
saw
jig

51 Comments »

The loss of Gutsy 9, our pet peahen

The evening before last, Ming found Gutsy 9’s body just in front of his shed. He came over to the house to tell me that he wasn’t quite sure that it was Gutsy but he’d taken the body to the woodpile. He had two friends over to stay, so he said they would leave me alone and they retired to his shed.

Once the boys had gone, I did the crying thing, then I took a torch and went out to the woodpile, but I couldn’t find her, so I came back inside and cried some more. I felt bewildered, because, despite the danger of wild foxes, the peafowl have always ranged free because they can fly up and away. Our dogs, too, had become so used to their presence that they would drink from the same water trough.

I will never know what happened that evening, or how it happened, but at dawn yesterday I went over to the woodpile and there she was – her crooked left foot and her white feathers making it easy to identify her body. I picked her up, but couldn’t find where she had been wounded; her eyes were closed and her neck flopped against mine in a last hug.

As a pied peachick (half white, half blue) G9 was rejected by her mother nearly three years ago, so I raised her, and we all loved her. Just the other day, we had some visitors and I picked her up and put her on my lap and she purred her unique hello.

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I feel absolutely devastated, but am now beginning to appreciate G9’s fantastic presence in our lives … in retrospect – my beautiful bird.

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53 Comments »

Autumn

My clouds hug the sky

cockatoos caw out their joy

and the rain giggles.

Just a little haiku to celebrate our autumn. Every evening when I leave the nursing home, I drive past a spot on the edge of town where hundreds of white cockatoos fill the trees like giant snowflakes, and create a raucous cacophony. They are so loud, it can be alarming if you don’t know what the noise is but I love it! I am not quite sure why there are so many in that particular spot as there are none on the farm; there are plenty of other parrots here but not the white ones. Interesting. Well it is finally raining and the brown paddocks will soon be green again! The faltering wormwood will come back to life, the five acres of lawn will need mowing around the house and everything that looked dead will be reborn (okay, except for most of the roses!) IMG_4307 IMG_4505 The wormwood hedge stretches from where the house is right back to where Ming’s shed is. I remember the days when Anthony trimmed it, then the days when Arthur trimmed it, then the days when Ming said he would trim it, and the days when I thought about trimming it, but, alas, all of those days are gone. Autumn seems a good time to take another blog break so that I can concentrate on some other projects including applying for a job as a behaviour consultant with a local Alzheimer’s Disease organisation. It might happen and it might not but it would be a wonderful opportunity to share some of the lessons I have learned about dementia and communication over the years, including what is happening right now with Anthony and me. It is very hard to see someone who used to be the life of the party reclined crookedly in an armchair in a nursing home. It is also very hard for me to find the words to adequately express how much I love this man, my husband, Anthony, without resorting to cliches. Hence the concluding haiku:

My sky hugs your clouds.

The birds are oblivious.

You hold my small hand.

57 Comments »

Unfinished conversations

During my 3-7pm shift today (called ‘the sundowner shift’) I overheard the following tidbits of conversation between one resident, Anna, and various other residents.

Anna: You’ve spilled your food all over yourself!
Sheila: So? Mind your own bloody business!

Anna is a beautifully groomed, very fit and mobile woman in her eighties, but she suffers terribly the loss of her husband because she asks for him nonstop. Most of the staff will tell her that he is busy on the farm and will be in later but, as this is something that has to be repeated over and over, a couple of staff will sometimes remind her gently that her husband is no longer here – that he died. Anna’s silent acceptance of this truth is hard to witness but thankfully her grief is short-lived as she collects her handbag, powders her nose, applies lipstick, and asks again when her husband is coming to pick her up.

Anna: My husband should be coming to pick us up soon for church. Is yours coming along too? We better get ready….
Penelope: I don’t really know if I … my son maybe … he’s the one with the, with the ….
Anna: How’s my hair? Do I need any more lippy? Come on girls, up you get; it’s getting late.
Penelope: It certainly is! We can do it when the time comes over the you know that thing I was telling you….

Of the ten residents in the dementia house, Anna is the one who, on first impression, seems absolutely fine. It is only when you get to know her that her dementia, and associated agitation, becomes apparent. Tonight, after dinner, when most of the residents had been helped by the carer into their pyjamas and dressing gowns and were watching the television, I began to make supper (tonight’s was milo and bananas or biscuits, quite a popular combination). Anna thanked me a few times for her ‘delicious’ drink and gave me a beautiful smile. She seemed so much more content than usual, but, with only six shifts per fortnight, I can’t possibly know what is usual apart from hearsay.

Anyway, I was delighted to overhear this:

Anna: They’re good here, aren’t they. You never have to be perfect.
Dorothy: Yes, dear, very good. Now drink your tea.

The laughter that fills this dementia house is a wonderful, wonderful thing and, in many instances, is due to the unfinishedness of conversations, like Anthony asking me today if I could wash the car in readiness for tomorrow’s trip down south. My pause was followed by “Can we talk about this tomorrow, Ants?”

Anna: Are you cold, love? Do you want me to get you a cardigan?
Ellis: (under her breath) Do you want me to get you a bullet, bossy boots?

Note: Except for Anthony’s, names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty – ha!

 

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