jmgoyder

wings and things

8. Carrot juice

Several years ago Anthony and I embarked on a carrot juice diet and we went through two juicers (warranteed and replaced) in our quest for better health. We did this for around two months until our skin took on a rather strange, yellowish hue and Anthony developed arthritic pain. At the time, I did a bit of research and discovered that an overabundance of carrots can actually be harmful so we gladly quit the carrot juice and laughed ourselves silly about what idiots we’d been.

Looking back to that time, I now think that perhaps Anthony was showing signs of the Parkinson’s Disease Dementia that has now pretty much paralysed him, physically and cognitively. I guess I was trying desperately to find a solution?

I am a great fan of cold-pressed juice but I also know that it takes a hell of a lot of carrots to make a single glass of this elixir and nobody in their right mind would ever eat that many carrots in a single day. Nowadays I make juice with the outer lettuce leaves most people throw away, a single carrot, an apple, and orange, and a bit of ginger. This quest for health has consumed me lately due to my recent battle with mycoplasma pneumonia; I need to be well again and it has taken so long to get better. The hospital doctor did actually include (in his written report) my suggestion that my illness might have something to do with grief but, in the end, that was dismissed, the evidence of the mycoplasma bacteria was found, and I was given mycoplasma-specific antibiotics.

Anyway, back to carrot juice; once I was out of hospital I decided to go on a health kick. I’d lost five kilos so fast that my arms were (and still are) wasted and (hilariously for Ming) still stick-like. The other day, I reminded Anthony of our carrot juice adventure and he smiled. He remembered!

Anthony: But it’s good now isn’t it?

Me: Yes.

Anthony: I prefer chocolate.

 

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5. Banter

Anthony, Ming and have always enjoyed bantering and, fortunately for us, Anthony still enjoys it, despite his Dementia. He has very thick skin when it comes to being teased and has always loved making people laugh.

Sometimes, he flabbergasts with his one-liners and his quick-wittedness. Last Christmas we all decided to forego presents and instead just partake in some very expensive crayfish.  Anthony feigned disappointment and I became defensive.

Me: You didn’t get me a present either!

Anthony: Well, that was a calculated risk.

For someone who is so often unable to articulate what he wants to say, both cognitively (the Dementia) and physiologically (the Parkinson’s Disease’s effect on this throat muscles) he comes out with some absolutely brilliant come-back remarks. It’s not just us he banters with, he also responds to the banter of friends, family and the staff. If there happens to be a group of more than two in his room, he finds it difficult to follow what is sometimes a very lively conversation but one-to-one his wit is often surprisingly apt.

Nevertheless these kinds of dialogues are few and far between now as much of what Anthony says is either indecipherable or incoherent much to his obvious frustration. At those times Ming and I have learned to divert the conversation back to banter and this usually works really well.

Ming’s style of banter is very boisterous and he will pretend he is going to leap onto Anthony’s lap just as he did when he was little, and/or actually sit on his lap, ruffle his hair and yell things like, “Daddywaddy, my favourite parent!” (He especially likes to say this when I am there too) much to Anthony’s amusement.

Diversion is also a great way of steering a distressing conversation away from itself. For example:

Anthony: When are you taking me home, Jules? This recurring question is always tricky for me as Anthony has no idea that it is now years since I have been able to bring him home. So I resort to banter. I know it seems contrived but it works for us. In answer to the home question, I will often say something totally off topic, as I did the other day:

Me: You have such a BIG nose, Ants. 

Anthony: You just want to see me naked.

And in a matter of seconds the fraught and heartbreaking reference to home is forgotten.

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3. Existence

One of the most poignant conversations I’ve ever had with Anthony was a few months ago. From time to time he comes out with the most profound observations and I scribble these into my notebook because I know that later – sometimes much later – I won’t believe that he really said that.

Me: Is it okay if I write a book about you, Ants?

Anthony: No.

Me: Why?

Anthony: Because I don’t exist.

Was this dreadful statement about not existing a wisecrack, a joke, sarcasm? Anthony always had the most incredible attitude to life, and still has! He has no idea that he has Dementia and, now that he is virtually bed-ridden, I just tell him it’s the Parkinson’s Disease that makes him so tired.

Way back when we weren’t even married, there was an enormous spider in the kitchen which I rather shriekingly killed with a can of mortein. Later on, Anthony came in from milking the cows and I told him about my adventure. He looked at me, grief-stricken. “That was my pet spider, Jules!”

I was devastated! How could this man possibly ever love me when I had killed his pet spider? How could I make amends? Could I find another spider that looked like the one I’d killed? Did pet shops sell spiders?

We had a rather subdued meal until finally, unable to contain his mirth, Anthony guffawed and admitted that he was just joking. I am yet to experience a ‘phew’ quite like that!

And what is the point of this chapter? Well, maybe – just maybe, Anthony is just fooling around with us. Maybe he doesn’t have Dementia after all. Maybe these recent years have been a strange nightmare.

Me: Is it okay with you if I write a book about that spider, Ants?

Anthony: Of course.

 

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2. “Where is Mum?”

Anthony asks this question at least once a week and, because it distresses him, I have to be really careful with my answers. If I say she is fine and at home on the farm, he worries that she is alone and I have to reassure him that Ming is there with her.

This wonderful woman, Anthony’s mother, fondly called ‘Gar’ by family and friends, died over two decades ago. I adored her, was frightened of her (she was a true matriarch), and I was with her when she died at the age of  86. Her last words to me were, Will you look after Anthony? And, buzzing with all of the feelings that come with first love, I said yes.

I was a teenager, just 18, and Anthony was 41. My adoration of him was embarrassingly obvious to both Gar and Anthony. Gar encouraged it in a rather mischievous way but Anthony spurned my clumsy adolescent love-sick self, out of respect for my youth. It would be many years before he and I graduated from platonic to romantic.

Finally, at the age of 56, this workaholic, dairy farmer, best friend, bachelor, proposed. By then, I had steeled myself to imagine life without Anthony, but I had this absolute certainty about our son-to-be. And I was right. But I didn’t know that then.

Anthony’s proposal of marriage was almost too late as I was beginning a tentative relationship with another man – a kinder, younger, more generous man.  I was in my early 30s by then and thought it best to finally move on and away from Anthony.

Then, whammo, Anthony just came to his senses. It was so sudden and such a shock to hear him crying on the phone and declaring love. I had never known him to express such emotion so I was flabbergasted and cynical. But I got over that and said yes to the marriage proposal.

Gar had always encouraged it, after all!

Anthony: Where is Mum?

Me: She’s in the kitchen, making breakfast, Ants.

 

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Unloneliness, empathy and fatigue

Yesterday’s post about loneliness was, I realise now, not just about me. I had been to a carer support meeting in the morning, then to see Anthony at noon, then to visit some residents at a different nursing home in the afternoon. After I got home in the early evening, I messaged a couple of friends whose loved ones are in care.

In terms of volunteering, it was a great day but I guess I must have absorbed a little too much of other people’s loneliness (in the context of Dementia). The sore throat that I was trying to ignore did a little crescendo thing, reminding me to rest up.

The various talks at the conference gave me some insight into the concepts, and practicalities, of, for instance, empathy. Somebody used the phrase, ’empathy fatigue’ and I thought aha – so that’s why I keep getting sick.

However, when I looked this phrase up, I learned that empathy fatigue happens to people whose empathy resources have dried up due to fatigue. Oh! I guess I got that wrong because my empathy is still on full alert, but my fatigue is extreme.

The responses to my post about loneliness are a reminder to me that I am not alone in my situation. I am so grateful for this support because it helps me to support other people dealing with the grief and loss associated with Dementia.

Unlonely x

 

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Testing

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Making mistakes

This afternoon, my first niece, Ashtyn, came to visit us in the nursing home. I was holding Anthony’s hand and chatting about the Sydney conference to Ash, unaware that sleepy-looking Anthony was listening intently, especially when I lowered my voice.

You see, I obviously don’t want Ants to know Ming and I are going to be away for a few days because I don’t want him to feel abandoned, so I wasn’t going to tell him. And I didn’t anticipate that he would pick up on my conversation with Ashtyn in any accurate way because just before she arrived he’d asked me to clear away the mess of non-existent champagne glasses on the window ledge.

But, as soon as Ashtyn left, Anthony said, “So why didn’t you tell me you were going to Sydney?”

Sprung! I fumbled around with reasons and excuses and reassurances that it wouldn’t be for ages, all the little lies tucked inside my throat like baby mosquitoes, and it took ages to convince him that I wasn’t leaving him.

Oh well, I have three days before we go, so I will spend as much time as possible with Ants at the nursing home. It was a mistake to talk so openly in front of him about my own plans and I accidentally made him feel excluded – argh.

Another lesson learned.

The thing that saved the situation was when I remarked on how beautiful Ashtyn looked (pregnant with second child) and he said, “She knows how to do it.”

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Beautiful bloggers

To those blog and Facebook friends who have commented on my recent posts, thanks so much for your support. I especially appreciate the feedback regarding the conference talk Ming and I will be delivering next week.

 

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Dementia Dilemmas

Okay, so in just a few days, Ming and I will be talking about how we have dealt with Anthony’s Dementia, including the nursing home decision. I have prepared a talk that mostly deals with the positives of our experience. It is, after all, a conference about happiness.

The trouble is that our own experience is possibly unique and may not resemble other people’s experiences of Dementia. So I am probably going to have to be very careful not to generalise, to pay respect to those carers who are dealing with personality changes, behavioural difficulties, and the horribleness of a loved one not recognising another loved one.

It is nearly six years since we finally (mutually) made the nursing home decision and, yes, the first year was a blank of heartbreak. But, since that horrible first year, I have made the nursing home my home too.

Today:

Me: Ants, I so love your big nose!

Anthony: You just want to see me naked, Jules!

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Hesitant

It is kind of weird to have come out of what felt like a near-death experience with something that was finally diagnosed as mycoplasma pneumonia. I had the precursors of this for many weeks, but the dreadful fever finally made it an emergency. Eighteen days in isolation in a hospital with seven days of uncertainty: is it cancer and, if so, did I do this to myself ? The guilt, the embarrassment, the relief – NO TUMOUR.

Now, many weeks later, still physically weak, and with a nasty cough, I see the hospital doctor for my follow-up appointment and he shows me my current chest X-rays (diminished signs of pneumonia) but orders another MRI. No hurry.

I was so terribly worried about Anthony but my mother and Ming visited him daily and rang me so that I could speak to him. Anthony seemed to quite like the drama of me being in hospital and, on the first day I was strong enough to visit him he almost immediately said, “Well, off you go!”

 

 

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