jmgoyder

wings and things

Spring chicken

One of the best things about getting chooks again is telling Anthony the stories that go with the chooks. He gets a real kick out of my ineptitude.

A couple of days ago I picked up another couple of chooks from some serious breeders who go by the name of Chookloop. As soon as I got home, I put them in the chookpen with the other four but they’re a bit smaller so the big ones started pecking them and one of them was smart enough to figure out how to get out of the chookpen – argh (it took me ages to catch her).

So I brought them inside and put them in a box on the back veranda with some food and water. But, as soon as I turned my back, the smart one flew out and followed me into the kitchen where she hid behind the fridge until I was able to ease her out with a fly-swat (another hour).

I ended up putting them outside the back door in an upside down laundry basket which is where they spent their first night. The next morning, I went out to replace their water and, as I was doing so, the smart one got out, so I let the not-so-smart one out as well. They had a wonderful time frolicking under the fig tree. It was only when I attempted to catch them and put them back under the laundry basket that I realised I might need yet another set of ages/hours.

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Notsosmarty was relatively easy to grab, but Smarty eluded me for well over an hour. I finally had to give up being gentle and simply threw myself into the shrubbery under the fig tree in a kind of football tackle which left us both muddy and disgruntled. I gave her a little cuddle, she pooped on me, and a friendship was born.

Since then, they have both spent a couple of nights in the ground cage we raised the guinnea fowl and peafowl in eons ago. I’ve placed this inside the chookyard so that the other chooks can get used to them without being able to peck them. They are also protected from crows, but they do look a bit miserable this morning because it is so cold and wet.

It is great to be able to answer the dreaded question, “So, what have you been up to lately?” with, “I have some new chooks!” instead of my usual, faltering, “Oh, this and that.”

It’s quite refreshing, too, to be able to give Anthony some new news and, as he has always loved chooks, it is a mutually enjoyable topic of conversation. What I like most about this is that the new chooks, despite reminding us both of previous chooks (and even chooks Anthony may have cared for as a child), are a fresh addition to the conversations we have in the cozy world of his nursing home room.

Okay, a bit of dialogue:

Anthony (referring to ‘my hero’ of yesterday’s post after she popped in with his clean laundry): That’s the girl, right?

Me: Yes – she is wonderful.

Anthony: And she’s on our side isn’t she.

Me: Of course!

Anthony: Your hair needs combing (oh why is this such a preoccupation with him?)

Me: Why the hell are you so obsessed with my hair? It’s windy outside, and raining. I’ve battled a storm to come and see you and all you can do is criticise my hair! I’ll have you know this is the best cut and colour I’ve ever had and I adore my hair-dresser.

Anthony: Give me a comb.

Me: What? Why?

Anthony: I can fix you. You’re still a spring chicken.

Hence the title of this post which, remarkably, ties in with the chook thing – ha!

PS. After Anthony combed my hair, I ruffled it up a bit and he smiled the benevolent smile of a chook-owner.

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Restful

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Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for being so totally relaxed and lazy in Anthony’s nursing home room. Okay so I did a bunch of paperwork there today but, for most of the afternoon, I just put my feet up on his knees and watched West Wing while he slumbered on and off.

I think this restfulness is good for both of us; he wakes up from a nap and almost always says, “Jules?” For me, it is good to be there because there must be many, many other times that he asks for me but I’ve gone home.

Most of the staff now know the white lie I want perpetuated – that ‘Julie will be back soon’ – and this seems to comfort Anthony (and me of course!)

This afternoon, as Anthony slumbered, I quietly packed up my things and put a pillow on the chair next to his, where I usually sit. He suddenly woke up and said:

Anthony: Where are you going, Jules?
Me: Just to get some groceries, Ants. I won’t be long.
Anthony: I am crazy.
Me: No, you are NOT crazy!
Anthony: I’m crazy about you.
Me: Oh … well, so you should be!

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I no longer think being restful is a lazy thing; it beats the hell out of anxiety, and it beats the hell into acceptance.

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Changing

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

I have changed my mind so many times over the last few years, months, weeks, days, minutes, moments, about how to best care for a husband, 79, in a nursing home, and our son, 21, embarking on adulthood. It’s doubtful whether Ming will want chooks in his future life!

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Not very long ago, whenever people talked about the weather, or gardening – whether it be small-talk or serious-talk – I would tune out. I have never been the least bit interested in anything relating to the actual job/hobby of gardening despite numerous attempts to get interested.

Okay, I got interested many times; but I didn’t remain interested, mostly because I was busy working at the university and bringing up the beautiful brat, Ming (who, by the way, isn’t interested in gardening either.)

Gardening was Anthony’s ‘thing’. His family (mother and younger brother) came here in the late 1950s to run a dairy farm and Anthony began planting things – camellias, palms, silver birches, flame trees, roses, citrus, hedges … and a whole lot of other stuff.

Up until the year before the nursing home, Anthony was still interested in planting, watering, and wandering about, in the garden. But he would get stuck! We only had the walking stick then so he would go out the back to check on a hose and then become paralysed and sometimes it took a whole hour to get him back to the house. Then, one day, when he was in his armchair in front of the fireplace, I told him not to move while I went up to the shop to get some supplies, only to find him face-down in the front yard; he’d fallen again!

Parkinson’s disease (and all of its off-shoots, including dementia) is an ever-changing condition that can make life tricky for those who care for family and friends inflicted. For example, sometimes I can show Anthony photos of home – the new chooks, the better-kept garden, the mowed lawns etc. and he will think he has been home.

But, at other times, Anthony will ask to come home and I will have to distract him. This is not because I don’t want him to come home; it’s because he is mostly immobile now so I actually can’t physically manage him. The guilt is ghastly of course but it is easily blitzed by my almost-daily company, in the nursing home, during the afternoons. And photos of the new chooks!

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This morning this wonderful group of gardening people came over (it’s a group I’ve recently sort of joined) and each person had a good piece of advice for me. Plus everyone brings some produce to exchange – fascinating!

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I am changing into a gardening person!

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

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Going with the flow of dementia

Here is one of my conversations with Anthony yesterday –

ME: I think we should get chooks again, Ants.

ANTHONY: Yes – good idea.

ME: But this time we should keep them in the chook-yard and not let them out at all – safer from the dogs and foxes. What do you think?

ANTHONY: So when do you start work?

ME: What do you mean?

ANTHONY: F said you’d be working for R.

ME: The vet?

ANTHONY: The veterinarian.

ME: Okay, the veterinarian if you want to be precise! Well, I’m not sure. Do you think I’d be any good at it?

ANTHONY: Yes, I do because of the chooks.

ME: Well I do love animals ….

ANTHONY: You’ll be fine.

There is a fair amount of debate around whether to ‘go with the flow’ – or not – when it comes to interacting with people who have dementia. With Anthony, I tend to fluctuate between ‘going with the flow’ and telling the truth so yesterday I suddenly became a vet.

But other times, when, for example, he is worried that his mother is home alone, I will gently remind him that she died many years ago. He usually accepts this quite well and is sometimes a bit embarrassed that he has forgotten this fact.

‘Going with the flow’ isn’t so simple though. If someone with dementia thinks there is a monster under their bed, it’s obviously not a great idea to agree. But if someone with dementia thinks there is a family pet under the bed, it’s obviously a great idea to agree.

Carers who work in nursing homes walk a tightrope of tact when responding to residents who have dementia. Alleviating dementia-induced distress can be a minute-by-minute challenge.

As Anthony is my husband, I don’t have to be quite so tactful with him and will sometimes go as far as to say, “You’re talking rubbish again!” OR “You’re hallucinating again!” We can turn the confusion into a joke and/or a hug that way.

Anyway, here they are – the two new hens. I was feeling a bit biblical so I have named them Martha and Mary. Mary is the one with the black feather marking. As you can see they have a huge yard!

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I can’t wait to show these pictures to Anthony this afternoon!

36 Comments »

Nonsense!

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Not long after one of Anthony’s nephews had visited us the other day (at the nursing home), during which we all shared a lucid conversation, Ants suddenly said ….

Anthony: I need a dressmaker.

Me: WHAT?

Anthony: A dressmaker. I want to make a dress.

Me: But I don’t wear dresses! I’d rather eat a raw egg than wear a dress! I HATE dresses!

Anthony: Not for you.

Me: So who do you want to make a dress for?

Anthony: For Stuart [this is not the real name of the nephew].

Me: Why the hell would Stuart want a dress?

Anthony: I just want to make him one.

Me: Anthony, are you kidding around or are you really crazy?

Anthony: Just find me a dressmaker, Jules.

Me: Okay, if you say so.

By then I could no longer contain my laughter at the image of Stuart in a dress that Anthony had somehow made for him. I hugged Anthony tight, guffawing, then told him I still loved him even though he was stark, raving mad – and he gave me one of his wonderful smiles.

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This is, by far, the most bizarre conversation I have ever had with Anthony because I couldn’t find a reference point for it. I am wondering today if it could be the outfits worn by the cast of The Good Wife (a series we are watching), but that still wouldn’t explain why Anthony would want to make a dress for his nephew!

One of the things I have decided to stop doing, though, is to try to make sense of nonsense. And I am not being disparaging of Anthony when I say that he often talks nonsense because this is a fact.

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Okay so I tease him a bit when he talks nonsense but that’s all part of the fun really. In fact, I actually find our nonsense conversations absolutely fascinating and much more pleasant than these …..

Anthony: When are you taking me home?

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Me: I can’t. You’re too heavy. Stop asking me to do the impossible.

Anthony: I’m sorry I’m such a disaster.

Me: You’re not a disaster. You have Parkinson’s disease.

Now those no-nonsense conversations are the ones that are heartbreaking.

I prefer nonsense!

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Note: I took a whole lot of photos yesterday to show Anthony today in the hope that he will feel as if he has been home.

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Day off

I decided to take a day off from visiting Anthony so just texted Ming to visit after work and he texted “Sure” – brilliant!

Instead I have been catching up with laundry and housework and further decluttering. It’s astounding how making myself accountable to Dina is so effective!

The weather is winter warm so at one point I took off my jacket and …
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Well at least it wasn’t a cockroach!

My feeding of wheat to the peafowl and guinnea fowl is deliberately haphazard because there is plenty of ‘food’ for them without the wheat and I don’t like them getting too dependent. Nevertheless as soon as they hear the back door open, they start running towards me – it’s so funny.
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Then there is quite a bit of competition as to who gets to eat first.
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Yes, I know she looks like Gutsy but she isn’t.

After they’ve eaten their fill, they bask in the winter sunshine.
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I’m a bit rusty with the photography but wanted to take a few new photos to show the women I’m visiting in the nursing home, three of whom are not in the dementia cottage. Yesterday I visited Gertrude (not her real name) who has only recently become a resident. She has Parkinson’s disease too and she was commiserating with me about Anthony who she said was “so young!” I guess 79-year-old people do seem young to 90-year-old people! At one point we discussed the pros and cons of diseases:

Gertrude: Tell me, which do you think is worse – Parkinson’s disease or that other one? (She pointed to her head)

Me: You mean Alzheimer’s disease?

Gertrude: Yes.

Me: Well Anthony has both now so I’m not sure ….

Gertrude: Both? This isn’t fair for him.

Me: Well it’s not Alzheimer’s exactly; it’s dementia caused by his kind of Parkinson’s disease.

Gertrude: I don’t have that.

Me: No, I can see that! You don’t have the shaking thing either and Anthony is the same.

Gertrude: I’m improving and sitting in this chair is so much better than lying in that bed.

Me: Do you have pain?

Gertrude: Just a bit of arthritis. Nothing much.

Me: I’m so glad. Anthony doesn’t have pain either – such a blessing.

We exchanged a smile and a hug and I went back to Anthony’s room which is in a different section.

Well I better get back to finishing the jobs I need to list as “done” for my email to Dina tonight!

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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.

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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 »

Going, going … gone!

Here are some ‘before and after’ photos of the inside of the two sheds that Dina, her assistant and I cleared the other day:

Shed 1:

Untitled    Untitled 2

Untitled 3      Untitled 4

Shed 2:

Untitled Untitled 2

Untitled 3   Untitled 4

I asked the lovely woman who runs a local heritage park/museum to come out this morning to see if any of the bits and pieces were of interest. She arrived with the man who helps manage the park and they inspected the ‘goods’:

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After some mulling and very interesting chats about what some of the once-upon-a-time objects were, the heritage park people picked out a few items of interest for which they were willing to pay, then, with the Ming’s permission (of course!) took most of what you see in the photo away and gave us double the price we would have received from a salvage yard. Brilliant!

At the same time, Dina was here for her last big job with us which was to finish decluttering Ming’s shed/home. Unlike the other day, with the filthy-old-sheds-job, she didn’t have to wear her astronaut costume.

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At the conclusion of Dina’s work with Ming today, we chatted over coffee and were all a bit sad that this massive job had more or less come to an end. Now that she’s finished, I feel a bit lost in the ghostly space of things gone, not because I miss the things but because I am going to miss Dina’s regular visits and the euphoria of getting so much done!

One of the most interesting aspects of her service is her summaries and here is an example:

Goyder Services Summary Veranda & Kitchen PDF

I now have several of these summaries that span the two mornings per week, over two months, in which Dina has helped me to move forward. The ‘before and after’ photos in these summaries, and the summaries themselves, are a unique part of her service and a source of joy to me!

Going = rubbish tip (around ten ute/truck-loads now!);

Going = given/sold to interested people/family;

Gone = the feeling of being overwhelmed!

Thank you Dina – ps. Can you help me with the odds and ends left from our work so far?

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