jmgoyder

wings and things

So much for the autumn hiatus!

Well my autumn hiatus didn’t last long did it! Neither did my ambitiousness haha! I had another look at the full-time behaviour consultant job description and realised that although it seemed a perfect fit for me, there is no way I could do it and keep my job at the nursing home. More importantly, there is no way I could do it and spend enough time with Ants. I did email the association asking if it might be possible to job-share the position but I haven’t heard back yet. There was a public speaking/teaching component to the job but there were also a lot of administrative duties (of people and paperwork and policies) and the latter does not appeal to me in the least! I’m much better at being bossed than being a boss.

So that’s that for the time being – maybe down the track I will do something like that but in the meantime it’s back to writing, including blogging, for me. And I discovered a wonderful program yesterday that will convert your blog into a PDF document and it’s called blog2print. In just an hour or so and for less than $100 I was able to convert 2000 pages of blogging, from 2011 to now, into seven PDF documents inclusive of photos. For more money the program will also convert your blog into a hard cover book, or books, but I didn’t want that because I want to be able to edit and revise and rewrite all those blog entries into a book about our personal experience with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. I had already begun the tedious job of copy/pasting bits into a word document but it was taking forever partly because of having to read the blog backwards and getting confused with dates etc. It wasn’t until I googled “how to turn a blog into a book” that I discovered blog2print and other programs that will do what would take hours and hours manually in just a few clicks – extraordinary!

Anyway this discovery also reminded me of how much blogging has become a part of my life. Not only is the camaraderie between bloggers a fantastic source of joy, but if I hadn’t written all of those posts I never would have remembered the chain of events of the past few years. I guess what I’ll do now is to print it out in 50-page sections and do the hand-written editing in the nursing home with Ants, then come home and finish the job on the computer. That way I can add material retrospectively.

Also, in anticipation of a blog break, I suddenly felt quite bereft! It is such a great way of keeping a record of things that can easily be forgotten – especially conversations both with Anthony, the women in the dementia house, and with the Ming.

For example, he rather reluctantly came to find me at work the other day and I let him into the dementia house and introduced him to the ten women who he proceeded to charm easily, simply because he is a male, and young! Oh I am so relieved not to be going for that behaviour consultant job. I work this afternoon and I can’t wait! I have never felt like this about any other job and I am very much ‘at home’ in my OT role now. Even though none of the women remember me, I am greeted with welcome smiles and the oft-repeated “Oh you look so familiar. Have we met before?”

Anthony doesn’t remember who any of the staff are either and the other day introduced me to one of the carers by saying to her: “Have you met my wife?” She and I exchanged a grin and a ‘yes’; after all, we have known each other now for over three years.

Blogging helps me to remember and record these tidbit gems, these moments of pleasure and humour in amongst the pain of illness and age. And autumn is a good time to write and be because it is too rainy to go for a bike ride, Mr Tootlepedal!

It might also be a good time to convince Ming to get himself some new shoes. IMG_4473

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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.

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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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Dementia dialogues

When I first entered the world of blogging, “Dementia Dialogues” was my chosen title. I wrote a few posts but nobody read them and now I can’t even find the site (I thought that once something was on the internet it was there forever!)

Anyway I’m rather glad that those first few clumsy attempts at blogging are now in the trash because I feel a bit stupid now for even trying to write about these kinds of conversations. I also feel presumptuous in thinking that I had some sort of secret solution to the dilemmas faced by carers of people with dementia because there is no one-size-fits-all. Every single person with dementia is an inviolable individual with a history, attitude, idiosyncrasy, personality, humour, passion, memory, skill, dream, ability that is theirs and theirs alone.

In my new job in the dementia wing of the nursing home where Ants resides (he is in the high-care section), there are ten amazing women who are utterly different from each other but, due to their dementia, are also the same.

Getting to know each of these women as individuals has been a learning curve for me. Of course I have travelled this curve before as a young nurse working in nursing homes many years ago. And now, of course, I am dealing with Anthony’s Parkinsons’ disease dementia.

We all have conversations with each other where we forget to end our stories, leave loose ends, lose the plot of the point, pause, interrupt, argue, joke, and forget what was said. Sometimes we worry about our manners, our bad hair days, our inability to bring perspective to a situation, our dirty shirts, our sneezing fits, our unswept kitchens, and our fear of dementia.

For me, a ‘dementia dialogue’ is a conversation between a person with dementia and someone without dementia and I think it is very important for the latter to just shut up and listen.

I am so lucky to have a job where I can actually do this!

(To be continued….)

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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!

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Time, times, timing and a riddle….

From as far back as I can remember, I have had a problem with the seven-day week, its orderliness and its paradoxical unevenness – either Sunday to the following Saturday, or Monday to the following Sunday or any alternative combination. As a child this did my head in a bit and as for the 24 hours enclosed inside each of the seven days – well, we won’t go there. After all I failed high school maths, ha!

I would much prefer a Sunday to Sunday, Monday to Monday etc. arrangement but of course this would be impossible. Or would it?

As an adult, I still find days and times problematic if I am trying to accomplish something difficult (it used to be the writing of lectures to deliver at the university; then it was what day to do the washing; and now it is how many hours I can spend with Ants in the nursing home).

In wrestling with the aftermath of multiple situations, especially the traumatic ones, I have tried and failed several times now to get back to a normal week, a schedule, a routine, a way of fast-tracking a bad Monday into a hopeful Sunday – that kind of thing….

And earlier this week I thought I had successfully reinvented what my week would be. I had listed goals, routines, early morning meditations, bike rides, photo-scanning, photo-taking, writing ‘the book’, polishing the silver etc. and NONE of this happened!

Instead, I spent the week hugging Ants from time to time as we watched Luther, and, at home, hugging Ming from time to time as we watched Game of Thrones.

I now think it is impossible to reinvent the week. That whole seven day thing still does my head in. My preference now is for moments: Anthony’s unexpected grin; my Mama’s amazing pork with caramelised onions for dinner with my first nephew and his girlfriend last night; reconciliations with friends and relations; cheaper than usual watermelon; photos of my first great-niece, reading Elizabeth Jolley’s biography; picking the last fig today….

And the once-a-year blooms of the magical moonflower.
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1977
Anthony: Jules, come out and have a look at this!
Me: What? (amazed that he has taken my hand in his)
Anthony: The moonflower – only happens once a year, kid (removes my hand from his and looks embarrassed).

2015
Me: Ants I brought you two moonflowers, but they’re closing up already! I’ll get a vase.
Ants: You are beautiful, Jules.
Me: Really?
Ants: Just brush your hair.

Is it possible to reinvent what a week was? No.
Is it possible to fall in love again with someone whose disabilities made things difficult? Yes.
Is it possible to reinvent a week in a day-by-day way? Yes! It’s a bit complicated when you use a calendar or diary but an eight-day week, ten-day week (or anything you like) is entirely possible (I think!)

If the moonflower here only has one day of the year to bloom (as has happened here) then what the hell is it doing for the rest of the 364 days?

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Values

On Tuesday, Dina and I arranged all of the stuff I wanted valued onto two tables ready for the antique guy, Mike, to value and/or purchase. When he arrived, introductions were made and he got his little eye-magnifier-thingy out and began what ended up being over four hours of a fascinating adventure into the history and mystery of everything from chinaware to silverware to walking sticks to coins etc.

Every time Mike said “Oh, you know what this is?” or “Now that is beautiful!” I felt quite chuffed. As Anthony was/is an antique enthusiast and, to some extent, a collector, it was interesting to find out what the things he had bought, or we had bought together (prints/lithographs; a piano stool, the grandfather clock, coins/banknotes, a silver egg coddler, willow pattern china, a Gallopili photo, etc.) were actually worth.

As the three of us went through the wares, I wrote down what things might be worth and what Mike would pay me for items he was interested in. Anything chipped or cracked was either discarded or put into the garage-sale box; most of the silver-plated and brass goods were deemed low in value as nobody wants to polish anymore. Mike wasn’t interested in any of that so Dina and I put these items onto a separate table for me to sort out later.

Interestingly, it was the little tangled-up trinkets plus my grandmother’s collection of Royal Doulton teacup sets, that had more value than the bigger, more impressive-looking objects! I sold a few of these to Mike but kept this one (see the peacock?)

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Family heirloomy stuff for Ming went straight into my now decluttered office at the back of the house; give-to-relatives stuff went into a couple of boxes; stuff to keep (because I love it) will go back into the living room; garage-sale things ended up in several boxes!

Call me mercenary but I had not wanted to give away or sell anything that might be worth a fortune so, thanks to Mike, I am now in the position of being able to give/sell things more cannily – ha! And it is almost a relief to know that none of this clutter is particularly valuable monetarily.

This means that I can now retrieve the objects that have/had sentimental value for Anthony’s mother, Ants, Ming, my own mother and father, and me … and put them back on display. I particularly like the silver and brass because I can remember polishing it with Anthony’s mother, Gar, and then with Anthony. I haven’t polished any of it for some time so will not take a photo until I have, but it is beautiful!

Towards the early afternoon, as Dina and I sorted things according to Mike’s valuations, I remembered to show him the coin I’d bought for Anthony in the Christmas of 2000. It is a one-kilo silver coin produced by the Perth Mint for the year of the dragon – absolutely beautiful and very heavy. Mike was impressed and suggested I do a bit of research into what it might be worth now (I paid $600AUS at the time).

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Well, after doing a lot of googling and ebay-scouring and general research I found out that this particular limited edition coin is now worth up to $5,500! People appear to be selling them at lower prices than this, but it is interesting and rather wonderful to find that this random Christmas gift has turned into a worthwhile investment and I feel quite clever.

You should have seen Anthony’s face when I took the coin in to show and remind him, and tell him its value had increased so markedly. He actually grinned! Money does that to him.

Later that day, I was telling Ming about how it all went and he was a little nonplussed at my thrill. But, just as I was about to put Gar’s plastic tomatoes, which have hung in the kitchen for over 50 years, into the bin, Ming yelped “Nooooooo!” So they’re freshly washed and back where they were!

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It is now the fifth week of my experience with Dina, who has helped me to declutter, reorganise and create space where there was chaos. I have discovered, in this process, that I can do such things without the anxiety of Anthony’s hoarding, my sentimental attachment to objects that just made me sad (eg. a pair of glasses once worn my my father), Ming’s fickleness. There has definitely been a bit of a power struggle between Ming and me but I have now reasserted my authority haha!

I have learned so much about the notion of value and it has got absolutely nothing to do with things. Of course I already knew that but the reminder has been wonderful!

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Taboo topics

I am always very careful not to write details of our story on this blog that might embarrass Anthony. The taboo topics are to do with matters of the groin area: sexuality, ablutions, incontinence, libido, that kind of thing. These topics are not taboo for Anthony and me of course and actually provide us with some rollicking conversations in a slapstick comedy sort of way and some of his male friends who visit love to tease him about his past exploits (not me, I can assure you ha!)

One of the things that most amazes me when I watch various television shows/series is that no matter how long a particular character is trapped, or imprisoned etc. he/she never seems to need to go to the toilet (I think Nicole Kidman was one of the first do so in her last movie with Tom Cruise – not sure).

Anthony is utterly unembarrassed by incontinence and made me laugh my head off the other day when he said, “I hate having a wet nappy!” when I tried and failed to get him to the toilet in time at the nursing home. Unabashed, he said, “Those kids will help me soon” (he calls all of the staff ‘kids’ for some reason.

But even writing the above paragraph makes me worry that (a) this would embarrass him; and (b) that relatives and friends who read this blog might think this is ‘too much information’. However, whenever I present my worries to Ants and/or read bits of the blog to him, about him, including the above, he reassures me with his half smile. He has a very healthy ego! Libido is of course another taboo topic but the hilarity with which Ants has approached this now diminished capacity (“This is a gold bar”) is, I think, an important part of a story of extraordinary resilience.

I remember thinking, years ago, that if this or that were to happen I would not be able to cope any longer. I was right; when this and that happened, the nursing home idea saved us – our marriage, friendship, love.

If I write the Anthony book, I want to be honest about these taboo topics; I want to demystify them, make them less scary, put it out there for those who are going through the same kind of thing.

Off to the toilet now!

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Writing

It has been a very long time since I have had anything published, which is probably due to the fact that it’s been a very long time since I have submitted anything for publication, which is probably due to the fact that it’s been a very long time since I have written anything new. Sigh.

Of course I realise that blogging IS writing and I am very grateful for the fact that I have kept some sort of written record of the last few years’ events via this blog. And I am also grateful for other bloggers’ support. However, I am frustrated with my writing self in that I STILL haven’t put together a manuscript about Ants and Parkinson’s disease. I have begun the process of copy/pasting blog entries into an manuscript but it is quite tedious work as I have to do this post by post by post, get rid of the photos and ensure the dates are correct. I’m doing this but am still in 2012!

And now that I am spending many hours of most days in the nursing home, where this kind of job is impossible due to internet connectivity and my own iPad ignorance, I find myself slackly watching series with Ants, and always quite tired! Not that this time with Ants is wasted; it is brilliant to be together but when I began to do a crossword today (for me this is what old people do – no offence to older readers) I realised that I had to make better use of this time than pass it in such a passive way.

So, I am going to retrieve the notebooks from the top shelf of Anthony’s cupboard and begin to type our conversations out (the ones I began to jot down before he became so quiet). I can do this on either the iPad or the laptop as neither will require the internet.

I can easily put aside all of the things I don’t do very well: photography, acrobatics, raft-building, gardening, cartooning, etc. etc. because I know I can do one thing really well and that is writing. I want so much to write something meaningful and moving and encouraging for those who are afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, and those who care about them/for them. I want to write unsentimentally about the pragmatics of hope and care and comfort, beginning with Anthony’s story.

Writing.

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The irony of my one and only published book (about Alzheimer’s disease) is that I had no idea, at the time, that my own husband would one day look at his windowsill and ask me to get the dog out of the room.

http://www.fremantlepress.com.au/books/1039

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Dusk

I went outside specifically to take photos of the cheeky willy wagtails but of course they disappeared as soon as my clumsy presence was felt, so I just took photos of anything and everything. And they are not very good photos because, even though I have a camera or two, I am not a photographer.

So this is Blaze, son of Doc 3 (deceased):
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And this is Jack, the Irish terrier, who was gentle until Blaze taught him to hunt which is why we no longer have any poultry:
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Blue wren:
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Flame trees from dog yard with one of our many Christmas trees somehow flourishing in the heat:
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Blaze again:
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Feeding time – that’s Gutsy9 in foreground:
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The last figs:
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And, just a moment ago, Ming’s best friends about to take him out on the town:
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This afternoon I sat with Ants watching two episodes of our latest series, ‘Luther’ then came home around 5.30pm having told him, as usual, that I would be back later. I hate this lie but it works! When I leave Anthony in the late afternoon, or evening, and promise I will be back soon, I re-enter the reality of dusk on the farm, and a sense of peace. Of course I wonder if he will be okay as the carers put him to bed but, now that I am a staff member as well, I hear wonderful stories about his sometimes witty okayness with the way things are.

In the summer, dusk can be dusty here, but it is also rather beautiful in a dry way!

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