wings and things

An argument about Anthony’s smile

You know how I’ve been saying how wonderful it is to see Anthony smiling again, and that I’ve been crediting myself with having made a huge effort to get that smile back? Well, Ming disagrees.

Today was a day off work for Ming so he went to see Anthony and I had a day at home. When he got back he told me that he had Anthony laughing!

Ming: Mum, Dad never lost his smile!

Me: You don’t see him as much so you don’t know – anyway you can always make him smile because you’re Ming!

Ming: So can you and so can anybody!

We left it at that; after all there is no point having an argument about a smile. Nevertheless our brief argument got me thinking about Anthony’s Parkinson’s ‘mask’ (the blank, unblinking, slack-jawed expression on his face, typical of PD). And I realised that the only reason I see this more than anyone else does is probably because, when I visit, I am there for hours so I see the fluctuations.

For example, when staff come into Anthony’s room and banter or flirt with him, he smiles; when friends and relatives visit, he smiles; when Ming and I visit, he smiles. So perhaps I should adjust my thinking to the possibility that it has become easier to conjure/coerce that smile? Maybe Anthony’s smile, and even his laugh, was always there, always ready to be there.

Maybe it was my own smile that went missing for so long.


The Anthony book

I am finding it extremely tedious and time-consuming (and a bit traumatic) copy/pasting bits of my blog into a possible book about our journey into the land of Parkinson’s so I’ve decided instead to begin to write the story afresh. Going back to the sadder blog posts is only making me sad whereas writing the story with the benefit of hindsight, and from a position of acceptance seems a better way to approach the project. The blog posts are a reliable historical record of events so I can always refer to these, and even quote myself (weird!) if need be.

I don’t want the book to be in any way academic because my last book, We’ll be married in Fremantle, was a rewrite of my PhD thesis so didn’t quite get the interest (or sales!) that it might have if had been marketed differently. For instance, the title of that book in no way indicates that I was writing about Alzheimer’s disease and about how to appreciate the storytelling abilities of sufferers.

Rewriting something seems to me a bigger task than writing something from scratch; rewriting the thesis as a book was a very long process (two years!) so I don’t want to have to do the same kind of rewriting thing with the blog. I have a bit of a problem at the moment with the whole re thing!

Instead, what I want to write is a book that is partly auto/biographical, partly how-to, and partly humorous. I want each chapter to incorporate each of these attributes and to work as a stand-alone essay/story.

Today I saw the biggest smile I have seen on Anthony’s face for a long long time and the carer who came into his room to give him his pills was astounded! He has almost begun to grin again now – incredible! Is my conjuring of daily smiles actually improving the muscle function in his face? If so, maybe some scientific person could research this and send me the findings ha! Hint to the Michael J Fox foundation….

The Anthony book will not be a very big book because I don’t want to repeat stuff that everyone already knows about the hardships of disease and caring etc. I just want to write, in the same personal style I use in this blog, about our slant on the more difficult dilemmas Ants, Ming and I have faced, in the hope that this will be helpful to someone/anyone!

Here is my chapter plan so far:

1. Thinking about the unthinkable (diagnosis shock, incontinence, fear of nursing home possibility)

2. Losing the love story (how having to care for someone takes its toll and affects relationships – Ming’s perspective useful here)

3. Hiding (carer withdraws, escapes, becomes workaholic in her job in order to avoid husband’s constant needs)

4. It’s not just all about you! (finding some sort of balance between young and old, sick and well, angry and happy, sad and funny etc.)

5. Lost and found: Anthony’s smile.

Anyway, that’s what I have come up with so far in terms of structure and content and any feedback appreciated!


Lost and found 2

During one of my shifts in the nursing home the other evening, I was chatting with one of the carers who had come down to the dementia house to help with supper (in order to give the carer I was working with her own supper break). As we made the milos, and cups of tea and served the ten women residents, she chatted about how much she liked Anthony and loved working in his section (high care). She even described situations in which, when he was asking for me, she would quip, “Well I’m your mate too, buddy!” and they would share a bit of banter despite the fact that his retorts are now mostly whispered.

On the days when I am not on duty but simply sitting with Ants in his room, this particular carer will drop in and banter with Ants while I watch, happy and grateful that she, and many of the other carers, domestic staff, kitchen staff and supervisors, like him so much.

I have now told all of the staff to answer his constant question of “where is Jules?” with “Jules will be back soon.” This works quite well in covering the hours I am not there – early morning/late evening – but it probably wouldn’t work if I didn’t spend big portions of the daytime with him.

Anyway, I told this particular carer that he used to be a very loud, laughing, life-of-the-party bloke and she was amazed. I was a bit amazed by her amazement until I realised that of course he now presents as a very quiet, sleepy, incoherent, expressionless old man, diminished by the Parkinson’s.

Now that we are entering the fourth year of Anthony’s time in the nursing home, his physical deterioration is starkly evident however his ability to smile has come back! I am thrilled because for a couple of years there was no smile – not because he was unhappy exactly; it was more to do with his facial muscles not working due to the PD.

Around a year ago I made it my goal to make him smile every single day and I mostly tried this with banter, teasing, tickling, dancing, toilet jokes (sigh), and funny reminiscences. Well, this has worked! And the fact that some of the carers understand/intuit his need for banter, and play the game, is brilliant.

To see this beautiful man’s lost smile come back is the most amazing gift; it takes a bit of conjuring but it always happens and it is like magic to me! When I leave him to come home all of the tears I might have shed are absorbed into a great big grin.

Lost and found: Anthony’s smile.




The smile

Not quite sure how a light-hearted bird blog transmogrified into Julie’s gutspill but I am hoping to turn that around again soon. Tomorrow is Ming’s second court hearing so I guess I am a little bit anxious because I have just found out that this is when he will plead guilty. Apparently there is no risk that he will be whisked off to jail tomorrow so that is good and I am no longer sure what the hell I am crying about any more. Sad and happy tears look exactly the same, so it’s confusing.

Queenie camouflages the chicks so well that they are almost invisible to predators. I wish I could do this for Ming but he is a little too big and obvious!


Yesterday afternoon I took two beers into the nursing home and Anthony and I had a drink together (the way we always used to at home). I apologised for my melodrama yesterday and he just said ‘Any time, Jules – I know you.’ Mmmm!

Then we had a rather weird but lovely interchange:

Ants: I just want you to come home.
Me: You mean here?
Ants: Yes, here – Bythorne.
Me: We’re not at Bythorne now, Ants, we’re at Wattle Hill Lodge.
Ants (trying not to look confused): That’s right.
Me (trying not to notice his confusion): Exactly – this is our second home.
Ants: So why are you leaving?
Me: Because I have to take dinner home to Ming.
Ants (hallucinating): Is that Ming there in the corner?
Me: No – he’s at Bythorne.
Ants: So where are we now?
Me: Wattle Hill.
Ants: So where is home?

At this point, I felt a bit lost, so I knelt down in front of him and threw my arms around him and said (rather profoundly I think now haha!) “Wherever you are, Ants, that is my home.”

And I finally got a bloody smile!