Can it get tougher?  Apparently so.  Those who read this regularly must be getting awfully tired of hearing about the list of problems Mary Ann is dealing with and my complaining about their impact on me.  I debated even about writing a post today. It was ugly and messy.  My reaction was noisy and complaining.  There was absolutely nothing entertaining about today’s perfect storm of problems converging at one time. There is no resolution in sight.

Each of the elements of this perfect storm by itself is enough for Mary Ann and me to deal with.  I will describe again the ones relevant to this meteorological marvel.

One element:  Mary Ann has had Parkinson’s Disease for more than 23 years.  The medication of choice for Parkinson’s is a form of L-dopa.  The brand name is Sinamet.  That is the only effective medication for providing mobility.  Without it, Mary Ann stiffens and becomes rigid from head to toe.  After years of taking Sinamet, a side effect is wavy involuntary movements of body, arms and legs (as seen when Michael J. Fox is in the public eye).  Those movements are called dyskinesias.  The result is legs twisting together, body shifting one way and another, arms moving this way and that.

Another element:  People with Parkinson’s Disease develop problems with the functioning of the Autonomic Nervous System [ANS), the part of the brain that runs a whole list of activities in our bodies, activities that happen without conscious intervention.  In a small percentage of those with Parkinson’s, the ANS’s ability to quickly constrict blood vessels when they stand up keeping their blood pressure high enough to make sure that the brain gets enough oxygen no longer remains consistently able to do so.  That means the person affected gets dizzy at best and loses consciousness at worst.  Mary Ann has won the unfortunate privilege of having a severe and erratic version of that problem.

Another element:  Again, only a moderate percentage of those with Parkinson’s Disease develop Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  There seems not to be a clear and consistent assessment of the percent of folks who move on to the dementia. This form of dementia is a form of Dementia with Lewy Bodies.  While there is no good dementia, it is a particularly insidious form of dementia.  More than memory issues, it is about visual hallucinations, delusions of all sorts, and vivid dreams that cease to be differentiated from reality.  There are few available in the way of medications that control the symptoms.  Most that might do so ultimately make the symptoms worse.

Another element:  One of the problems that comes with Parkinson’s is bladder activity.  There is the need for many trips to the bathroom day and night.  Because of the movement problems that come with Parkinson’s, help is needed when using the bathroom or bedside commode.  Another of the problems that come with Parkinson’s is sleep issues, the ability to get to sleep, stay asleep, disturbing dreams that interrupt sleep.  Another problem is that those with dementia often hallucinate most at night.  The combination of those problems is that those with Parkinson’s and those who care for them often have sleepless nights.

Another element:  One of the central non-motor problems with those suffering from Parkinson’s is constipation, intestinal issues.  The ANS not only runs the smooth muscles around the arteries, but the smooth muscles that move food and waste through the alimentary canal.  Those muscles slow reducing the natural ability of the intestines and colon to move things along.  Miralax and Senna are the tools of choice needed for Mary Ann to keep her insides running.  The result is not always orderly when finally there is activity.

Now to the Perfect Storm.  We have had two sleepless nights in a row, hallucinating has gone wild, morning, noon and night.  Just as we headed into the bathroom, the dyskinetic movements kicked in with a vengeance.  Then came the horrifying last element of the perfect storm.  There was soft and nasty matter that ended up spread on her back side and legs from her waste (on shirt) to her ankles.  My job was to clean her while she was popping up (the dementia – no matter how many times or how loudly I asked her to stay seated), fainting again and again, legs twisting and crossing and rubbing against one another when sitting or standing (with me using all the strength I could muster against her leg muscles to keep them apart), again, while trying to clean her up. There was another bout later in the day — not as bad, but not too far from it.

The hallucinations are still continuing tonight.  She has been hallucinating all day.  A short time ago I had two trips into the bedroom trying to convince her that it is time to go to bed, not get up.  Four minutes after the second trip in, finally convincing her that it is dark out, time to be in bed, she got up trying to get ready to go to church.  Last night once I woke to her sitting on the side of the bed yelling “help” and when I sat next to her she said someone was going to rape her.  This morning she woke me as she was sitting on the side of the bed crying, describing her beating at the hands of a policewoman who kept pounding on her.  I am afraid that the images from all those Law and Order episodes are folding into her hallucinations. I have been in at least a dozen times in the last hour or so.

Even though we had difficult nights, the the last two nights, this morning I managed to sleep while she napped for a couple of hours.  The perfect storm came right after that nap.  I was completely exhausted physically and mentally after the major bathroom battle.  Everything hurts, muscles, gut and mind.

These events are hacking at my resolve, my commitment to see this through to the end here at the house.  I am disappointed in my own seeming inability to handle this, but more horrified at the thought of not keeping my commitment to caring for Mary Ann at home.  I don’t want her not to be here, so that resolve is not just for her sake.

I wrote a bit on my dilemma in an email to the online Lewy Body Dementia Spouses’ group (many of whom have had much more difficult situations than mine).  One response was simply this little poetic piece:

who knows who knows
what do you do
when you break your commitment
or it breaks you

For now, I am taking some small comfort that while what happened this morning took me far past my ability to cope, I still did it.  I had to.  I am still alive, in some more pain than I care to have, but alive.  …and, for that matter, so is Mary Ann, alive and clean — still hallucinating in a steady stream.  I doubt there will be much sleep in this house tonight.

One reminder to those who wonder that you don’t hear from me (a retired pastor) glowing words about my faith life making this task easier to endure. Nowhere does there come any promise that life will be easy, that we will feel less pain, experience less frustration, because of our trust in our Maker and the One who healed our relationship with that Maker and the One who inspires us with His Power.  My faith is not weakened by my human weakness.  Instead, the One who does the healing retains the power.  I am all the more grateful that the healed relationship does not depend on my strength, but His.  His strength, my weakness.  That is the heart of the message of the Cross.

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