January 2010

The “fall out” on this leaning day is that Mary Ann fell out her chair at the table.  She was sitting in the chair and had been leaning to one side.  I kept straightening her up.  Then, all of a sudden she was in a heap on the floor beside her chair.  She did not move slowly toward the side on the way down, she was up in the chair and the next moment she was on the floor.

She was not hurt.  It took quite a while to get her up since there is not much room between the table and the wall.  I needed to get her situated on her back so that I could pull her up using my own weight as a counter balance with our feet together as the fulcrum.

There were two Volunteers in the morning, one during the Spiritual Formation Group that meets at our house.  The other was there while I headed out for an appointment.  I don’t know to what degree the leaning was a problem during those times, but from the time I returned shortly after noon until she went to bed, the leaning was prominent.

It was at lunch that she fell.  Mary (who schedules Mary Ann’s Volunteers) came over for a visit this afternoon.  Mary Ann leaned over the side of her chair the entire time.  I helped her sit up straight again numerous times, but she only remained erect for a few minutes at the most each time.  Others in the online group of Spouse Caregivers of those with Lewy Body Dementia often mention the leaning issue.  It is neither unusual or alarming.  It does not happen every day.  This just happened to be a leaning day.

For supper, I switched chairs at the table so that Mary Ann was sitting in a heavy oak chair with arms.  It did not stop her from leaning, but at least she did not fall out the chair on to the floor.

Mary Ann seemed sometimes to be napping when she was leaning, but she was often awake while leaning.  She was tired, and has gone to bed a little early.  She fell asleep pretty quickly.  That does not mean she will stay asleep, but for the moment she seems to be sleeping soundly.

When I got her changed and into bed, I noticed that her feet are a little swollen.  I will watch that carefully.  That is, of course, a sign of fluid retention which could put her at risk of another bout with Congestive Heart Failure [CHF].  The two times she has had to go to the hospital with CHF, she did not have swollen feet.  I asked her if her chest hurt, and she said it did not.  We will certainly not go to the hospital unless the signs are absolutely clear that we need to.  We lose too much ground during hospital stays.

I talked with the Neurologist’s Assistant today about Mary Ann’s Seroquel, the medication that’s purpose it to diminish the hallucinations . It is time to renew the prescription.  We revisited the decision to increase the dosage since the hallucinations have been on the increase.  With the permission of the Neurologist I tried increasing the med early last fall but ended up moving back to the original dosage.  Given present circumstances, it seems wise to try again.  The Neurologist concurs.  As soon as the new prescription comes in, I will titrate her from the 100mg tab to the 100mg plus a 25mg for three days, then move to 150mg, one and one half of the 100mg tabs daily.  That is still not a large dosage compared to others.

Today was a sort of ingathering of food, for which we are always grateful.  Maureen came in the morning laden with food, some for the freezer (soup and bread), some for supper (roast beef, potatoes and gravy, green beans), some blueberry muffins for a morning treat, and cookies to be enjoyed for the next few days.  Margaret came later in the morning with some Jello cups, a couple of cinnamon rolls and a couple of containers of chili along with crackers.  Mary brought with her some cookies from the Copper Oven, some chocolate treats and a large container of Mary Ann’s favorite version of Seafoam Salad.  Why does Mary Ann refuse to gain weight???  I, of course, can barely button my trousers.  I could do that commercial in which buttons fly, breaking household items.

Yesterday, I had a treat.  A member of the congregation from which I retired is celebrating her 101st birthday today.  I got to hand deliver a birthday card from Mary Ann and me to her yesterday.  Bernice (pronounced Burr’ niss – emphasis on the first syllable) is one of the most pleasant, sweetest people I know.  What a joy just to interact for a few moments.  Mary Ann was in the van, so I could not stay and talk.  The last time I visited with her a little more than a year and a half ago, we talked about the early years when she was growing up, all the hard work and happy times.  While I did not make as many of those calls on the homebound as I should have, it was not because I didn’t enjoy them.  In fact, twenty-five years ago, when I was responsible for the Youth and Education programs of a congregation, it was a couple of visits with a homebound member of that congregation who was in her 90’s that convinced me that I needed to move to a setting in which I could include that dimension of ministry regularly.  It is hard to find words to describe the extraordinary faith and gracious demeanor of those two ladies.  In each case when I left the visit, my spirit had been nurtured.

A trip to help Mary Ann use the commode revealed that she is seeing people again tonight.  I hope the hallunations don’ t keep her up.  I am very tired, and hope to get a decent night’s sleep tonight.

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“Would it be okay to bring supper over for you and Mary Ann?”  I was sitting by the phone and answered quickly.  Maybe it was a premonition.  Not really.  That is not part of my understanding of reality.  It was however a very pleasing phone conversation.

Then at about 5pm, the phone rang again: “Just a heads up, we are on our way.”  Shari and Martin are among the most thoughtful and generous people I know.  I would be hard pressed to name all the people between them they have helped out in one way or another.  They help with their time and attention.  They accommodate their busy schedules, they are both professionals working full time, to the schedules of those they help whenever possible.  I have no idea how they do it, but we are greatful at our house that they do it.

It was not just any food.  Shari checked one of the last church cookbooks to find recipes Mary Ann had provided when the book was produced.  That way she was sure Mary Ann and I would like what she and Martin brought.  Mary Ann loved it and ate more voraciously than has been her recent norm.  Catalina Chicken (Mary Ann’s recipe), baked potatoes, corn, a freshly baked loaf of bread, a hot rhubarb pie (Mary Ann’s recipe), and vanilla ice cream to have with the pie.  All of it was piping hot (except for the ice cream) and ready to eat.

That makes twice in three days, since Edie and Daughter Gretchen brought over part of the midday meal they had prepared on Saturday, a very tasty Taco Salad with wonderful and creative toppings.  They stopped by to show Mary Ann some quilts that Edie’s Sister had made.  It was a treat for Mary Ann to look at the fabrics used and the patterns and the stitching and the colors.  Norma likes best piecing the quilt tops.  Mary Ann also enjoyed that the most in the process of making quilts.  I remembered enough of the jargon from those years to recall out loud some of her experiences.  There was the first quilt, a Sampler Quilt, hand quilted over the span of two years.  There were the six baby quilts Mary Ann brought out and put in front of Becky when she was pregnant with our first Grandchild, Chloe (who, by the way, is also Son Micah and Becky’s Daughter — you Grandparents catch my drift).  Mary Ann clearly moved back to those days as she examined and handled the quilts, even if there were few words.  The quilts were strikingly beautiful.  The quilts, lunch and a pot of flowers, Gretchen had put together provided us with a very bright day in spite of the lingering fog outside.

Tamara came over tonight to spend time with Mary Ann.  She had been sick a number of weeks ago and had not been able to visit in a long time.  Mary Ann had a refreshing break from me, and I was able to get done some things in my office that demanded uninterrupted attention.  Not only that, but two more people have taken slots in the next two weeks to allow me to connect with others and give Mary Ann the stimulation of communicating with people outside of our little, confined world.

Mary Ann has been doing reasonably well in the past couple of days.  Saturday night was not the best for sleep, and tonight she just said the raccoons have returned.  I told her that there has been not trace of them in many weeks outside.  The snow would have immediately revealed evidence of their presence.  She was not convinced.  On the contrary, she simply said, “Well, two raccoons have returned!”  That does not bode well for tonight’s hope for very many hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Well, I had best get to bed.  Tomorrow will be an early day, since the Bath Aide was off for Martin Luther King Day.  I will need to get Mary Ann’s hair washed in the morning before her Tuesday morning group at church.  She was not up to going last week.  I hope she goes tomorrow.  She really enjoys that group of good friends.  They have a love and concern for her that warms my heart.

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Yes!!  Caregivers need a Plan B.  Today was not a good day, but it certainly did not demand a Plan B.  I spent the day with espophageal spasms of varying intensity.  It was not the worst I have had, but the discomfort made it tougher to deal with the duties that come with the caregiving role.  The needs do not change when I am not feeling well.  Every parent who has been sick has experienced the challenge of dealing with the children (and sometimes spouse) who continue to need care.

Actually, the seed for this issue was planted by some of the members of the online Spouse Caregivers of those with Lewy Body Dementia group.  There was a thread of posts talking about times either they or someone they knew ended up unable to care for his/her Loved One for a time.

The thought has crossed my mind lots of times that if I were to have a stroke or heart attack or whatever, Mary Ann might not be able to manage to call for help.  She hasn’t used the phone for at least a couple of years.  It is not at all a certainty that she could manage the dexterity and negotiate the spatial issues, the same ones that make it hard to get food to her mouth, to get the three numbers punched in order.

Then, if the EMT’s did come and I were not conscious or coherent, what would happen next?  What would she know to do to get care for herself?  She doesn’t know people’s phone numbers.  She can’t be alone for very long since she needs help with most of her personal needs.

There is a booklet we have made that contains lots of contact information and medical information that a Volunteer staying with Mary Ann can use if the EMT’s need to be called.  That book is easily accessible, but it would be hard to find for an EMT who would have no idea where it is or even that there is such a book.

If I am conscious, I have done enough checking to have options available should I have to go to the hospital.  Mary, a good Friend who schedules the Volunteers for Mary Ann, has checked with a few folks who, if they are available, would be willing to come to the house on short notice.  I have called the Agency we have used over the years for times when Volunteers were not available.  They have assured me that one way or another, they would have someone at the house within an hour or so. Our Son and Daughter-in-Law live about an hour and a quarter away.  Once they were involved decisions could be made and any major issues dealt with.

All of that is contingent on the first contact being made. As is so for people who live alone, there is the fear that it will be days before anyone discovers there is something wrong.

After thinking about this for a bit, I asked Mary Ann what she would do if I had a heart attack or whatever.  She did not really have a response. I asked her if she remembered where the Lifeline button that she wears if I am away from the house (seldom any more) for a short time is located.  She knew that it was always on her dresser next to the lamp in the bedroom when she is not wearing it.  I suggested that she go and push that button if something happens to me.  I also suggested that we practice that on occasion.  The monitoring folks ask us to test it regularly anyway.  When the button is pushed, a loud voice comes on a speaker phone unit asking if everything is all right.  It picks up sound well enough that Mary Ann’s voice can be heard.

I am going to find a place to put the contact information that will be very accessible and easy to find for EMT’s when they come, then put a very visible note somewhere that would be seen by EMT’s coming in the front door.

A Plan B is often the plan you think of when it is too late to be of any value.  I hope the online conversation and today’s minor health issue will get me moving to actually do what I am suggesting.

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Is it a dream?  Is it real?  Are there one of them or two?  Do you see that?  Where did it go?  Who are those people?

I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be to sort out all the messages that Mary Ann’s visual cortex is sending to her awareness of what is around her. It would be one thing if all the messages were confused.  That would be horrible to experience.  The insidious nature of Lewy Body Dementia is that there is not just one consistent pattern of processing reality.  Someone with LBD or in Mary Ann’s Case PDD [Parkinson’s Disease Dementia – a Dementia with Lewy Bodies] can be absolutely clear and lucid and sharp mentally one minute or hour or day and virtually unable to comprehend where she is or what is being said to her the next minute — no exaggeration, the next minute.

The online group of caregiving Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia often contains posts from someone who is constantly searching the landscape for studies on LBD and related matters.  Coincidentally, the day after the appointment with the Ophthalmologist about Mary Ann’s eye problems, there was a post containing the notes from a presentation by Swaraj Bose, MD, a neuro-ophthalmologist at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, UCI.  Here is the purpose of his talk according to the Support Group Leader, Vera James: “His main reason for speaking with us was to give us a fair idea of the eye problems and why do the eyes behave in the way they do in Parkinson’s/PSP/Atypical Parkinson’s and what the caregiver can do.”

You can imagine how pleased I was to see that timely post. What happens is that the Lewy bodies, sort of like the lesions that build up from cholesterol, build up on neurons.  With LBD and PDD, they often attach themselves to the cells in the Visual Cortex. That is one of the ways LBD and PDD are different from Alzheimer’s Dementia [AD]

The notes from the meeting included this comment: “Visual perception is defective in probable DLB. The defective visual perception plays a role in development of visual hallucinations, delusional misidentifications, visual agnosias, and visuoconstructive disability charcteristic of DLB.”

Here are part of the notes:

Common eye complaints:
#1 – Related to disturbance of down-gaze PSP.
– Difficulty in coordinating eye movements while reading even if their vision is normal, especially through their bifocal glasses.
– Difficulty in eating because they cannot look down at their food on the plate.
– Difficulty in going downstairs and stepping off curbs.

#2 – Related to lack of convergence/ fast and slow tracking- Parkinson/PSP/ Atypical PD. (Note:  Convergence means to bring the eyes together)
– Difficulty in focusing, words run into each other.
– Hard to shift down to the beginning of the next line automatically after reaching the end of the first line.
– Inability to quickly move eyes up or down.
– Inability to track moving objects or maintain eye contact.
– Double vision. One eye sees one thing, the other eye sees another and the brain brings them together. Kind of the way 3D glasses do. When you have double vision, the brain isn’t bringing the eyes together to get the one vision.

#3 – Related to vision disturbances- Parkinson/ PSP/Atypical PD.
– Difficulty in focusing/blurry vision/visual hallucinations. Visual hallucinations can be in all of these illness. Some visual hallucinations can be from to much medication, but it can also be from a lack of dopamine in the cortex where the signal is fallen and gives false images and causes these visual hallucinations also. So not all visual hallucinations are psychotic. Other things that can also cause visual hallucinations are benadryl and OTC cold meds. They can also cause spasm.
– Changes of reading glasses at a quicker intervals.
– Decreased in contrast sensitivity (difficulty in distinguishing shades of gray) and color perception.

#4 – Eyelid abnormality
– Difficulty in voluntarily opening their eyes (apraxia)
– Forceful eyelid closing (blepharospasm) .  This is treated with botox.
– Decrease in the rate of blinking (3-4/min vs. 20/min)

#5 – Dry eyes
– Burning sensation, redness, watering, itching, excessive tearing, rubbing of eyes, blurry vision.
– Double vision with one eye.  Usually results in ‘ghosting’ of images or shadowing of images.

Those notes are almost an exact list of Mary Ann’s visual problems. The eyelid issues have been pronounced for a long time.  Often she just has not been able to get them to open.  We have learned how to walk together with her eyes shut with me holding her tight at my side.  Sometimes we stumble around a bit, but we get the job done.

She has commented more than once that she is seeing two of something.  She has asked often to go to the Optometrist to get new glasses.  The burning, redness, dry eyes, excessive watering, rubbing her eyes all happen often.  She has struggled with reading for a very long time.  I can only guess that a number of the problems listed above combine to make reading almost impossible for her.

I have talked often about the hallucinations she endures. In our online group there has been a thread of posts about our Loved Ones losing the ability to discern the boundary between dreams and reality.  Sometimes Mary Ann confuses with reality what she is hearing on the television as she lies in bed at night.  I would turn the television off, but she insists on having it on when she goes to bed.

One problem, described as “down gaze” seems to fit her problem with seeing the food when eating.  One suggestion mentioned in the notes is raising the food to eye level.  Last night I got out an old lap tray and a styrofoam cooler lid to make a platform at the table on which to put Mary Ann’s plate.  It looks obnoxious, but for today’s three meals, it actually seemed to help.  I am not sure how long Mary Ann will tolerate using it.  I will look around for something more aesthetically pleasing to use regularly.  I would love to find something portable enough to use when we are out, although she will probably not allow such a public display.

I plan to ask the Parkinson’s Clinic folks at KU Med Center if they have a Neurological Ophthalmologist on their staff.  One suggestion in the notes was that such a specialist be consulted.  Most of the rest of the suggestions in the notes are things that we already have been doing.

I am glad we ended up getting the appointment with the Ophthalmologist here.  It has helped us understand better what it is we are dealing with.  Again, I am learning more than I ever wanted to know.  I am sure that M.D. degree must be in the mail by now.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Maybe it’s Lori’s Chocolate Chip cookies (see yesterday’s post) doing their anti-depressant wonders.  Maybe it is having an almost normal (for us) night’s sleep.  Maybe it is reading yesterday’s post in the morning — late in the evening it is easy to become pensive and full of self-pity.  Maybe it is the dramatic contrast of all that we in our household have compared to the pain and suffering of tens of thousands in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.  Maybe it is just getting tired of hearing myself whine.

Whatever it is, I need clarify for myself and any who follow this blog, that what I am feeling in regard to my change of circumstances from Senior Pastor of a large, thriving congregation to the full time primary Caregiver of my wife Mary Ann is just experiencing to the full the dynamics that come along with any major change in life.  There is a letting go of the past and settling in to a new set of present circumstances.

What I am experiencing in letting go of the past has nothing to do with the congregation from which I retired.  In fact, if anything, the wonderfully nurturing and loving people, the caring and competent Staff that actually served as my primary support group during the very toughest time trying to work full time and care for Mary Ann, the generosity of the Leadership of the congregation, the Volunteers (as many as 65 of them at one time) who stayed with Mary Ann all the time I was working away from the house (sometimes staying with her when I needed time to work at home), the Volunteers who have continued to stay with Mary Ann at times for a year and a half now since I retired from being their Pastor, the huge cadre of people there who threw the most fantastic party imaginable when I retired, all of that kindness just dramatizes the contrast between that part of my life and this part of my life.

Would it have been easier if they had all been mean and ugly to me?  I suppose in one sense it might have made me want to get out of there.  I have often reminded people who were hurting after the loss of a loved one, missing them so much, that their pain is a sign of the depth of their love for the one they have lost.  In that sense, I am grateful for every moment of gut-grieving.  It validates the value of the years of service in the church.  It reveals the depth of love for so many over the decades.  It is one way my gut reminds me that those years were good years.

Then, there is the truth of the matter.  No one asked me to retire.  There was plenty of reason as I struggled to do justice to the ministry and give Mary Ann the care she needed, for the leadership to say to me, “Don’t you think it is time for you to retire?” Instead, they said, “What can we do to help?”  I am the one who chose to retire.  It was without a shred of doubt exactly the right thing to do for me, for Mary Ann, for the Congregation and for the Lord who granted me an easy and certain decision-making process.

My struggles now are just the living out of that decision, the living through of the transition from one career to another, one identity to another.  What the whining in these posts reveals is the ugly underbelly of a very ordinary, flawed, self-absorbed, sinful (the Biblical word for such things) somebody going through that transition.  On the positive side of it, I am convinced that the journey will be completed more quickly and completely by allowing the ugliness to emerge without sugar-coating it — naming it for what it is.  That way it is less likely to sneak up later and cause some unpleasant and unexpected consequences — at least that is the hope.

I have always marveled at the enormous power and generosity of God to be able to and to choose to use people like me to actually do stuff to accomplish God’s goals on this clump of dirt on which we all live.  As those of us in the business know and will (hopefully) admit, most of what God does is not so much done through us as it is in spite of us.

Mind you the recognition of what I have been doing recently in these posts, and my own charge to “get over it” does not carry with it a promise that I will no longer whine and complain.  Why on earth do you think I am writing this blog!  It is so that I will have a place to whine and complain.  What I do hope and pray is that what I am experiencing and my reflections on it, the processing of the feelings will provide some bit of comfort to others who sometimes think they are going crazy, can’t go on any longer, are the only ones feeling that way, aren’t as good and nice as they should be, are failing to meet their own expectations.

What I hope is that other Caregivers who read this will understand that they have a harder job than anyone who hasn’ t done it realizes, that what they are doing has as much value as anything anyone has ever done no matter how important it might seem in the public forum, and that their lives have a depth of meaning they might never have found without the privilege of caring for another human being who needs them and whom they love deeply.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

“My supper is gone!”  Since she had not been eating for a while, I asked her if she was done.  Almost all the leftover Quiche from lunch was still there.  The fruit had not been touched.  She said her food was gone.  I turned the plate, pointed to the Quiche sitting there and asked if she saw it.  She said she did.

We had ended up at McFarland’s Restaurant for lunch because of the awkward fit of the retired pastor in the life of the parish from which he retired.  We attended the funeral of one of the people I respected most over the years.  Ann was 93.  Just imagine what she had seen in those 93 years.  In our tradition we do not canonize saints.  If we did, Ann would be one!  She and husband Maury, who died about ten years ago, had helped found the congregation in the late nineteen forties.  I remember a few visits with both of them at their home after I first arrived in the parish in 1996.  Ann was doing with Maury what I am now doing with Mary Ann.  She was doing it with much more grace and humble acceptance than I have demonstrated.  While wishing to spend time talking with the family and close friends, I was not comfortable inviting myself and Mary Ann to the meal provided for them.  With a little more of that gut grieving going on, we headed to McFarland’s for lunch.  I keep wondering how much of this sort of grieving the Pastor I followed suffered in silence without my ever knowing it.  Thinking about that helps me put into perspective what is just part of this step in the journey.  It also surfaces some guilt that I was not more sensitive to his place in life at that time.

The most exciting event that wound some joy and anticipation into that same gut was the gift of the most effective anti-depressant of which I am aware, Lori’s home made chocolate chip cookies — a huge container of dozens of them.  Lori’s thoughtfulness will provide some pleasure for days to come — actually longer if I get some into the freezer before we devour them all.

At McFarland’s Mary Ann worked on the Quiche she had ordered for a full hour after the food arrived at the table.  I offered to help in one way or another at various times, trying not to make her feel as if I was rushing her.  She would not accept any help.  She struggled to get pieces on the fork that were secure enough not to fall off on the way to her mouth.  Toward the end of the meal she did allow me to cut a large piece of watermelon that accompanied the Quiche into smaller pieces.

After that hour, she had eaten about 30% (at the most) of the Quiche and one small piece of the melon, none of the rest of the fruit on the plate.  Of course people had come and gone all around us.  The folks who sometimes come, eat, and play bridge were starting to play at the table next to us.

I left the tip, got Mary Ann into the wheel chair, gathered the take home container and her purse together so that we could pay the bill and head to the car.  When I put the check and the twenty dollar bill on the  counter in front of Walt McFarland, the Owner, he just wished us a Happy New Year and did not pick up the twenty.  He said it was on him.  It is surprising how powerful kind gestures can be when a person is stressed and struggling.  He carried our containers out to the car and opened the doors for us on the way there.  Mary Ann just can’t negotiate styrofoam containers without crushing them or losing them off her lap (understandably) as the chair moves.  As a result, I have the challenge of holding the styrofoam containers (leftover meal and left over Coke in a takeout cup), pushing and steering the wheel chair, getting the doors open and holding them open so that we can get out.  Walt is a good guy!

Mary Ann started trying to get up this morning at 4am.  Between then and about 8:30am there were the usual snacks, little plastic containers of applesauce and tapioca pudding, some commode trips, some arguing about my need for her to stay in bed so that I could accumulate enough sleep between tasks to function during the day.  When we got up, she was determined to make sure we got ready in time to attend the funeral.  She was alert about many things at that point, except that there were things she could not do by herself.  After getting her usual yogurt and cereal to eat with her pills, I wanted her to sit securely in her chair while I showered and dressed. She could not sit.  She was too determined to get ready to go.  She said I could take my shower while she got dressed.  She hasn’t been able to get dressed by herself in a number of years.  I got her completely ready to go, and finally she was willing to stay seated long enough for me to get ready.  We had plenty of time.  We were ready almost an hour before we needed to leave.  By the time we left, she had sort of shut down mentally and physically.  We were able to get to the funeral, but not without much difficulty.

When we got home after the meal, she was not tracking well.  I asked her if she needed to use the bathroom; she said yes.  I was trying to tranfer her from the chair to the toilet stool, and as she was standing up, she began reaching forward and down. I asked her what she was doing.  With a very irritated tone that I could not see what was so obvious to her, she said she was washing her hands.  I don’t remember what I said, but I managed to get her seated and afterward get her to the bed for a long nap.  Just before she awoke, I had opened and shut the front door, leading her to decide that she had missed Zach and Erin coming by with there new baby.  She had been dreaming and, as she admitted at that point, she can’t tell the difference between dreams and reality.  Later this evening she told me that she had just seen me smoking a cigarette.  Other than a few days in college almost fifty years ago, I have never smoked cigarettes.

This has been and continues to be and interesting time in our journey.  There seems to be some transitioning going on for both Mary Ann and me.  I am not sure to where we are transitioning, but I guess we will figure that out as time goes by.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

It was the top line, one letter only, an E.  It was huge.  With her right eye, Mary Ann could not read it.  The Nurse had gone through all the sizes of letters available until finally she had the screen full from top to bottom with that one letter.   She could not read it. 

While Mary Ann seemed unfazed, I was taken aback by the impression that Mary Ann was essentially blind in one eye.  She had been to the Optometrist within the last year and a half.  She had gotten new glasses.  It was hard to imagine what could have caused such a dramatic change so quickly.  Neither she nor I had noticed her losing sight in that eye.  It just did not compute.

The Doctor came in to get more information and do a check of her eyes before the dilating procedure that would follow.  When the Doctor checked her right eye, she was able to read with difficulty letters on the screen that were large, but a size that allowed four somewhat smaller letters to show on the screen instead of only one huge letter.

After the glaucoma check and the dilating procedure had taken effect the doctor returned.  I asked her what might have caused the swelling that appeared yesterday and had disappeared by today.  She said it might have been a  chalazion, a blocked oil gland.  She observed that sometimes they will go away after a time and sometimes they have to be surgically removed. 

Then I asked her about the large quantity of thick, dark mucous that would sometimes gather on the edges of her right eyelid.  She mentioned the possibility that it might just be a flareup of blepharitis, an inflamation of the hair follicles of the eyelashes.   She prescribed a topical antibiotic if that should flair up again.  I will admit, having experienced blepharitis before, I am not convinced by that explanation, but we will use the antibiotic should it happen again to see if it helps.       

Neither the chalazion or the blepharitis are anything of major concern.  Then the Doctor checked the retina in each eye very thoroughly.   Her observations were good news in that Mary Ann’s retinas appear to be in very good condition.  The margins (?retina or eyelids) are in excellent shape, clear and clean.  She has cataracts, but ones that are a long way from needing surgery. 

The bad news is that the vision problems seem pretty clearly to be neurological.  The images from her eyes mechanically are being transmitted appropriately, all the parts working well.  The problem is in the processing of that information by her brain.  The Doctor did not say it, but it seems reasonable to conclude that there is no treatment for that problem. 

While I forgot to mention the stroke Mary Ann had about three years ago, it seems reasonable to consider that a factor in this problem.  The cluster stroke effected her right side.  The problem is with her right eye.  Ever since her stroke she has had problems using utensils to eat.  I mentioned in earlier posts the time she couldn’t see the meatloaf on her plate but could see the baked potato, the time she got up to get her Pepsi when it was right at the top of her plate inches from the food she had been eating. 

When I asked Mary Ann how she felt about the appointment, she asked if she needed new glasses.  I don’t know how much of what was said settled into her awareness.   We will make our routine appointment with the Optometrist since we are due anyway.  Mary Ann very often says she needs new glasses.  She seems to be convinced that any problems seeing are the fault of the glasses.  Since the iris of the eye is run by the neurotransimitter (Acetyl-choline) used by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), her compromised ANS (and the medications that treat it) has been affecting her vision for many years.  More of what the Parkinson’s and the Lewy Body Dementia have brought along with them when they joined us on our journey through life.  

As always, Mary Ann is just taking it all in stride.  It seems to be something of a blessing that some of the things she is dealing with have just not fully entered her awareness.  That may be by choice, or it may be a function of the Parkinson’s Disease and the Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  It may all be sinking it, may simply be choosing not to talk about it.  It may be a defense mechanism to keep from dwelling on the problems.  It may be any combination of all of them.

Whatever is so, there seems to be nothing resulting from the appointment with the Eye Doctor that changes our current version of normal.  That is about the best we could have hoped for. 

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It was an odd night.  Mary Ann struggled with the hallucinations and restlessness again last night.  I was up late working on last night’s blog post. After settling, she slept reasonably well.  I got up this morning to get her ready for Bible Study.  Her need to sleep trumped her will to get to Bible Study.  It was clear that she would not be able to get up.

I had showered and cleaned up in preparation for getting her ready to go.  When it was clear that she would not be going, I laid back down on the bed, since I had accumulated a need for sleep also.  It was not until almost noon that I woke up.  She got up about forty-five minutes later.  As I was getting dressed she asked if we could use the Visine again this morning.  She had not yet opened her eyes, which is not unusual for her — one of the collection of problems that come with the Parkinson’s and the medications used to treat it.

When she lay down for me to put the Visine on her eyes I saw it.  There was a swelling about the size of a small marble, more accurately, the size of a garbanzo bean (how is that for descriptive) in the corner of her right eye next to her nose.  It looked as if a tear duct might be clogged.

Mary Ann has had problems for a long time with her eyes.  She has had the struggle to open them frequently.  They have on occasion started watering profusely.  It has not been unusual for her to ask for the Visine.  In recent weeks sometimes there has been a large quantity of matter at the edge of her eyelids, usually her right eye.

Today’s swelling precipitated the call to the Ophthalmologist (an Eye Doctor with an MD).  At first the call was a little uncomfortable.  The receptionist seemed almost annoyed that I was calling about an appointment.  She tried to get us to go to our Primary Care Physician or Optometrist first.  I made the point that we would just end up back with the Ophthalmologist.  I had explained what was going on with Mary Ann, and finally she said she would try to talk with the Dr.’s nurse.  Gratefully, when she returned, there were a couple of options for tomorrow.  We will see the Doctor at 2pm.  I was puzzled that from the moment the call began the tone of the receptionist seemed to suggest that I had no business calling to get an appointment. I have met the doctor before, years ago when I had a cyst on an eyelid removed.  She seemed very pleasant and very competent.

This afternoon we had another appointment with Stacey about the remodel.  She brought some great options for window coverings for the new sunroom, and a book of samples of cork flooring for that new space.  The look of the cork, its durability, the warm feel of it, its ease of installation and its ability to cushion a fall have all combined to convince me that the cork is the way to go.  One thing drawing me to it also is that it is not one thing pretending to be another.  Ceramic tile would hurt Mary Ann if she fell.  The laminates look great, but still try to look like something they are not.  There is more deciding to do, but we seem to be progressing.

In reflecting in last night’s post on my retirement and the grief work that needs to be done as I let go of a life-long career and identity, I concluded the post this way:  “I now serve here at my house.  The need here is clear.”   The grief work that is going on at this point in my journey involves letting go of what has been.  It also includes making the transition to what my life is about now.  I suspect that transition is not yet complete.  One of the reasons writing these posts is so helpful is that doing so provides me the opportunity to gain a better understanding of what is going on in my own heart and mind as we tackle the Parkinson’s and its consequences in our lives.  Sometimes my mind is in one place and my gut in another in acceptance, feelings of fulfillment, and finding meaning in what we are doing her together.

The journey goes on, the processing of each experience is another step in that journey.  Just as is so at this time of the year in the thawing streets of this city in Kansas, there are a lot of potholes to be negotiated.

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She started trying to get up for the day at 3:30am.  It was all I could do to convince her to lie down and stay in bed.  Every time she needed help of any sort after that, she tried to get up and head to the table for breakfast and pills.  Finally, some time before 7am she/we got up.  The usual happened.  By the time the Bath Aide left, she was dozing in her chair.  I got her to the bed and she slept about three hours. 

Yesterday morning (Sunday) there was a Volunteer with Mary Ann, so that I could have some respite time.  I went to the lake to check out the Eagles again.  There were only a few, and the river was frozen offering them nothing on which to prey.  It was still a spectacularly beautiful day with the snow cover and the bright sunlight. 

When I got home, someone had dropped off the new Pictorial Directory for the congregation from which I retired.  We are still members.  We worship in the Sunday Evening Service, since it is the most easily accessible for Mary Ann due to the lack of a crowd and the time of day.  That service also provides a lower profile for my presence as the former Pastor of the Congregation.  Having followed two long pastorates, I know what a welcome gift it is to a new Pastor to be given the opportunity to settle in without the former Pastor around vying for attention.  I was given that gift by the two pastors I followed earlier in my career. 

I looked through the new Pictorial Directory.  It seems to be well done.  There were folks pictured who have been members for  years and some who were new to me.  There were some who just come for the pictures, but no longer attend church.  There were many whom I have not seen in the year and a half since I retired because they attend the morning services.  I miss them.  Members become extended family to the Pastor, especially since so often the ministry involvement comes at times in their lives when there is a certain level of vulnerability.   

The front section of the Directory was filled with pictures of the Staff, both paid and volunteer.  There were classes and worship events and gatherings of all sorts pictured — group after group.  What was exactly as it should be was that, of course, I was not in any of them.  That fact is evidence that what I sought has happened.  The Congregation is going on without me.  It is being led by a very capable Pastor, who is doing effective ministry.  All is as it should be.

If that is so, why did my insides hurt so much yesterday afternoon?  The answer at one level is obvious.  I was just doing some more grieving.  The visual impact of the new Directory was the verification that I am no longer a factor in the life of the Congregation.  What I sought when I left has happened.  It is a good thing.  The necessary letting go is just hard to do. 

There is another level  of grief that was deeper.   Looking at the pages left me with the sensation that it was as if I had never been there.   Understand, the folks with whom I interact from the parish are always gracious.  My feelings are no different from those of anyone who has left a career to move on to something else.  Yesterday afternoon I thought about the Pastor I followed in this parish after almost thirty years of ministry.   I wonder if or how often John had those feelings of grief. 

What happens when most Pastors retire is that they continue to serve in their profession, just in other venues.  Circumstances have not allowed me to continue in my profession in any way.   As a result, Sunday afternoon was just another time of grieving the loss of a life long career, one that served to define my identity.  This is the sort of grief work that can only be done by the person who has experienced the loss. 

I guess I was surprised at the intensity of the feelings that were triggered on Sunday.  It helped to attend church later that evening and hear the Vision of the new Pastor and the Leadership for the future direction of the congregation.  I resonated with the assessment of the current need and the commitment to tools that can help meet that need.  The grief work I continue to do does not include any perception of losses in the health and quality of ministry at the congregation I no longer serve.   It is just doing the work of accepting that I no longer serve there.  

I now serve here at my house.  The need here is clear. 

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Have aliens come and stolen my Mary Ann, replacing her with with a look alike imposter???  She ate the whole thing!  Mary Ann ate the chicken salad that I made from scratch with my own culinary-challenged hands. 

On three or four different occasions in the last few days, I put a couple of spoonfuls of that home-made chicken salad on her plate.  It is shredded chicken (from the freezer, prepared by our Daughter Lisa when she was here), grapes, pecans, celery, Miracle Whip, some fresh dill and a little onion powder mixed together.   She ate every bit of it every time I put it on her plate.  Potato chips and Pepsi rounded out the meal each time. 

If that is not enough, when I listed the options for supper tonight, she chose the beef, potatoes and carrots I had cooked in the crock pot the other day — and she ate it!!!  Now do you understand why I have posited the alien imposter theory?

On another matter, last night I asked three questions of the people in the online Caregiver Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia: 

The first question was about Mary Ann’s hair.  It seemed as if there was more hair than usual coming out on the brush when washing and combing her hair recently.  I asked if others’ Loved Ones had experienced hair loss.  Some Loved Ones have lost their hair, with no explanation from their doctors.  Group members mentioned the dry air at this time of the year, stress, too much washing, thyroid problems, and Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE).  Since the problem seems to have subsided, I suspect it was just a natural occurance with no long term implications.  Needless to say, I will pursue it if there is more evidence warranting it.   Mary Ann’s hair is thick and dark with some gray mixed in.  She routinely gets compliments on how nice it looks. 

The second question had to do with disinfecting items in need of washing.  At the risk of being indelicate (I have been painfully explicit many times before), when there is need for cleaning matter (euphemism) off clothing before putting it in with other wash, I use Clorox in the water in a downstair sink we had put in for such things.  The last time I used the Clorox to disinfect some clothing, it was new red plaid pajama bottoms from LLBean.  I moved very quickly in the task of putting the pj bottoms in the water, swishing them around to get all the matter off, then rinsing and squeezing a number of times to get the Clorox water out of them.  Needless to say, they magically turned from red plaid to pink plaid pajama bottoms.  The suggestions from the group included OxiClean and Vinegar.  After some checking, it appears that OxiClean may and Vinegar certainly does disinfect pretty well.  I will probably substitute a 5% vinegar solution for the Clorox water when this need arises again. 

The third question had to do with disposable underwear.  The latest marketing tool is to replace unisex disposables with disposables specifically for men and for women.  The problem is that the women’s are made to be more comfortable for daytime use by enlarging the leg holes.  The net result is that  while they may be fine when up and walking, they leak badly if there happens to be a daytime nap.  Daytime naps are routine for many who need disposables.  I asked the group for suggestions of disposables that work for them.  I have had no responses to that one yet.  I suspect one reason is that the vast majority of those in the online group are women caring for their husbands.  The needs in this area are gender specific. 

One other note concerns a member of the congregation that I served before retiring.  He has had Parkinson’s longer than Mary Ann, over thirty years.  He fell and ended up in the hospital.  He has a strep infection that is interfereing with the healing of the arm on which the skin was broken when he fell.  In Emailing back and forth with his Daughter, I noted that people in her Dad’s and Mary Ann’s circumstances live in a narrow margin of functionality.  This fall and infection are taking Norm to the Rehab Unit of a local nursing home for a while.  He has been declining for the past few weeks.  Apparently, the treatment for the infection is helping him regain much of what he has lost in the last six months.   

In a sense, we are living on the edge.  In reality, all of us are living on the edge.  Anything can happen at any time.  Those who are in circumstances like Norm’s and Mary Ann’s are just more aware of it.  We can choose to live in terror of what might happen, or we can just choose to live. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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