wings and things

Volunteering 1

It has taken several weeks to sort out the red tape of me volunteering at Anthony’s nursing home. Okay, let me explain: I will now get paid a small allowance if I do 15 hours of volunteer work per week at a not-for-profit organization.

As it happens, Anthony’s nursing home is not-for-profit so last week the Events Coordinator, Ev, showed me the ropes and suggested things like playing cards with Nat, an 83-year-old woman with Parkinson’s Disease and numerous other afflictions, who is in a wheelchair. Then Ev said, “You can always bring Anthony to sit and watch.” My heart did a somersault.

Well, since I already know Nat, it wasn’t exactly difficult to break the ice on Monday, but I was still nervous. I got to the nursing home before noon and helped Ants with his lunch and explained the volunteer thing then I left my bag and scarf in his room, so he would know I was coming back. Then I went to find Ev who wheeled Nat up to the dining room so we could sit at a table for the most complicated card game I have ever played! [more about that tomorrow]

Nat: At a loose end are you, love?
Me: No! I’ve become a volunteer here and you are my first victim, Nat.

Nat cracked up laughing. She is quite famous for her huge, loud, beautiful laugh. Then she said, “Go and get Anthony.”

So I did.


Apologizing to a microwave

Now that Ming is living in his renovated shed (which, by the way, is much more spacious than our house!) I am mostly alone. Of course I am out most days, visiting Anthony, or bringing him home, or taking him out, or running errands, or visiting friends but most of the time I’m home alone.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually love being alone and always have. I never feel lonely, have lots of fantastic friends and family that I see regularly and Ming wanders over from his shed frequently (in search of food!) So being alone does not equate at all with being lonely – well not for me anyway.

However, my aloneness was brought into sharp focus this morning when the microwave beeped for the third time (rather impatiently I thought) to tell me that my coffee was ready. I rushed over to it, saying “Sorry, sorry!” Then, as I took my coffee out, I said, “Thanks!”

It was only as I took my first sip that I realized what I’d done, and couldn’t stop laughing.

You will be relieved to know that the microwave didn’t answer me.


A midnight visitor!

Yesterday evening when Anthony sent me home he was worried about me being myself on the farm with Ming away for the weekend. I reassured him by saying that I love being alone (which I do). But I was disappointed that my idea of staying the night at the nursing lodge didn’t work out. Well I am so glad it didn’t work out because at ten minutes past midnight, someone knocked loudly on the front door and frightened the hell out of me (I was in the middle of watching a murder mystery on television). I thought Ming must have decided to come home from Perth after all so I opened the door without hesitating.

Well, it wasn’t Ming. It was a young hairy guy looking for his lost dog! I said I hadn’t seen it and closed the door thinking it was a weird time to be looking for a lost dog. Then I realized there probably wasn’t any lost dog and the guy was probably casing the joint (is that the expression?) So I peeked out the window, through the blinds, to make sure he had driven away – yes, phew – then I watched the rest of the murder mystery.

If I had stayed the night at the nursing lodge, it is almost without a doubt that we would have been burgled!


If you don’t know what to say, just shut up!

I’ve been trying to find a word that means the same thing as ‘stating the obvious’ but, apart from ‘duh’, there doesn’t seem to be one in the English language. ‘Redundant’ doesn’t quite cut it, ínanity’ only just comes close, so ‘duh’ it is.

A close relative of Anthony’s, who only visits him sporadically, and has baulked at my suggestion of getting him wheel-chair taxied to their place, sent me an email the other day. In the email it was stated that they had visited Anthony but didn’t have time at the moment to arrange for a taxi visit. The irony and inanity of the email’s concluding sentence astounded me:

We notice that he is very lonely.



The shortlist

I have discovered something wonderful and I’m sure Oprah will be contacting me soon to make me rich and famous.

Okay, we are all familiar with the list thing – shopping lists, chore lists, goal lists etc. But you know what the trouble is with these lists? They are too long!

My extensive research, case studies and social experimentation over the last three days have produced extraordinary findings! Yes, indeed, I have found the cure for lethargy!

The two candidates for this study were a teenage son and his mother who were becoming more and more depressed and, yes, lethargic, due to the grief they were experiencing when the husband/father figure went into a nursing home.

Neither the wife or son had been able to adjust happily to the new home dynamic despite having a close relationship. This was compounded by the son having to have major surgery and the mother losing her job.

Even a year after the husband’s admission to the nursing home, the son’s surgery and the mother’s loss of employment, all three were still struggling to accept the new status quo. All three were grieving in different ways and this resulted in numerous arguments with emotions running high, particularly between the mother and son. Both became exhausted and fell into a state of lethargy.

Then, three days ago, a plan was devised. Each day, the mother and son would write down a 3-point shortlist for the following day. This was done in a special notebook, almost like a contract. There would be one task that required both (we called that ‘mutual’), one task for the son, and one task for the mother.

The beauty of the shortlist is that it is ‘doeable'(is that a word?)

Okay, tongue out of cheek now – this is working, so watch this space!


Home is where the heart is

I had planned to get Anthony home today, then decided to wait until the weekend so I could also invite some friends to see him. So I left a message with the nursing staff this morning, then rather guiltily rang him this evening. I needn’t have worried because Anthony thought he was home anyway. This is how our rather strange conversation unfolded:

Anthony: Jules, I’m at Bythorne [that’s the name of our farm]
Me: Are you?
Anthony: Yes, where are you?
Me: Well I thought I was at Bythorne.
Anthony: That’s okay then.
Me: Why do you think you’re at Bythorne, or are you kidding?
Anthony: I don’t just think I’m at Bythorne; I AM at Bythorne.
Me: I thought you were at the nursing lodge.
Anthony: No, I’m at Bythorne! When are you coming home?
Me: I won’t be long.
Anthony: That’s good. I miss you.
Me: Well you sound pretty happy.
Anthony: I am! I love you, Jules.
Me: I love you Ants.

The dementia that is part of Anthony’s Parkinson’s Disease always kicks in after sundown (I blogged about ‘sundowner syndrome once before). But this is the first time he has thought he was at home.

I felt a surge of joy about this because he sounded so happy, but it was a bit surreal.


Disorientation dilemmas

Over the last couple of weeks I have become more and more reluctant to take Anthony out of the nursing lodge to either bring him home or elsewhere, even with the use of the wheelchair taxi, because of how often these ‘outings’ sort of backfire.

One of the nurses said to me the other day that when he gets back to the nursing lodge he is often moodily unhappy and it has been suggested to me by friends, family and staff, that taking Ants out of an environment he is still adjusting to might be detrimental rather than delightful. Now, in principle, I already knew this because I spent many years working as a nurse, then undertaking a PhD about dementia and finally having a book published. Wiithin that book, I devoted a chapter to this very issue, so I do know.

Back then I was writing about a patient who always wanted desperately to go home so one day, I took him out for a walk up the street and, instead of being delighted to get away from the nursing home, he became even more disorientated and I had to bring him back much sooner than I expected. It was a humbling experience because I had thought, at the time, that I would cheer him up but that little venture out exacerbated his confusion and he was more agitated than usual for a couple of days. Yes, I felt bad but I also learned something.

That was years ago – well before Anthony and I were married. I told him the story of this man and Ants was proud of me for undertaking the thesis and he said I was too kind and I should have just left the situation alone. He said, “Jules, he needs to settle.” Ants felt so sorry for that man.

Now he is that man.


I am a genius!

Today’s plan was to meet a bunch of great friends at a brewery up the road. Amazingly, I actually organized it, sort of – like a girls’s get-together thing. I wanted to prove to these beautiful friends that I am, indeed, capable of getting out of the house AND that I adore them.

There were a few glitches to the plan including the fact that after yesterday’s guilt episode I had promised Anthony to pick him up and bring him along. Long story short, I realized I couldn’t meet my friends and pick up Ants at the same time (it’s around a 25km trip to nursing home and back), so I did some detective work. First,  I rang the taxi service and asked if they had a wheelchair taxi; second, I rang the nursing lodge and asked if this would be okay; and third, I rang Ants (who answered the phone!) to say he was getting taxied.

When the wheelchair taxi came to pick Ants up from the brewery, the driver told me how to get really cheap taxi vouchers, and, since I’d already been told this by someone else this morning, I wanted to whoop with the joy of how much easier this kind of arrangement will be for me – not back-breaking etc. – I am elated!

It’s such a wonderful thing to be a genius!


“When are you coming to pick me up?”

The phone just rang and it was Anthony.

“When are you coming to pick me up?”

Then a nurse came on the phone to say she had dialled for him and we had a short discussion about this evening confusion thing. She handed the phone back to Ants.

“I’m at … I’m at Petunia Park – I’ve been waiting for you to come over too.”

“Ants, you’re not at Petunia Park, you are at the nursing home and I’ll be in tomorrow again okay?”

The conversation went on for a bit longer but he calmed down with the help of the nurse.

I have reserved a little bit of my heart for these occasions – that way my whole heart doesn’t get ripped to shreds, just the little bit.


‘Cross my heart and hope to die’

The idiom that heads this post apparently means the same as ‘I am telling you the truth.’

The other day, I said to Son, “If I get sick, or old, or if anything happens to me that makes it impossible for me to take care of myself, then please place me in care – in a nursing home. And, when that is done, I do not want you to feel like you have to visit me, or ring me, because I will be absolutely fine in the knowledge that you are fine.”

I suddenly remembered that childhood saying and, before thinking too much, I said to Son, “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Son looked at me as if I were an alien and said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

And then he threw his arms around me and gave me a huge hug.

Tomorrow, when we go and see Husband, I am going to give him a huge hug and ask him what he is giving me for Mother’s Day.

Cross my heart!