About 4am Mary Ann was up.  Then again once an hour until a little before 8am when we got up for the day.  There was some of the intensity that can develop into hallucinations and hyperactivity, but this time it did not get out of hand.

I suggested that after I wash her hair we should head to Perkin’s, where she always orders some pancakes and a couple of slices of bacon.  She liked the idea.  She did have juice and yogurt with her pills as usual, just not the bowl of cereal.  It took a while to get the morning chores done today, so it wasn’t until about noon that we actually headed to Perkin’s.  Then we headed to the grocery.  Even though I had a list, we ended up with more than intended.  Gratefully, it was all things that we routinely use.

During the morning, I began taking her blood pressure every hour or so.  Her blood pressure had been so high and the Cardiologist’s office on Thursday that it was pretty concerning.  Her morning meds included a whole Midodrine tablet with the purpose of keeping her BP up so that she doesn’t faint, on account of the Orthostatic Hypotension that has given her such difficulty.

I started at 8:17am, 220/115.  Then ranging from one hour to three and a half hours apart after that her blood pressure measured, 200/110; 160/85; 185/100; 200/100; 200/105.  I took it one other time when it the systolic was 200, but I didn’t get the diastolic.

I could not bring myself to give her even 1/2 of a Midodrine tablet for her midday and suppertime doses.  I know it is not good to stop meds cold turkey, but it just seemed crazy to give her meds that raise her BP when it was already dangerously high.  One thing that caught my ear was the Cardiologist’s ARNP mentioning the fear of a massive stroke.  I had mentioned that Mary Ann already had a stroke.  Angela responded immediately with that concern.  Mary Ann’s stroke was not a bleed, but a cluster stroke (bits of plaque, probably from the ulcerated lesion on her carotid artery).  Nonetheless, it is hard to accept blood pressure that high without major concern.

The last couple of days there has been some swelling of her feet.  She has not had that problem very often.  When she has had swelling it has gone down the next day.  Two days in a row catches my attention. She has not had the heaviness in her chest and the ARNP, Angela, did not hear any crackling in her lungs, the sign of problems with fluid build up.  I need to remember to weigh Mary Ann in the morning to see if she has gained any weight.  That is another of the signs of potential congestive heart failure.

Today, the hallucinations have emerged a bit.  When she started eating tonight’s two scoops of Baskin & Robbins, she asked Ashy if she wanted any.  She saw our youngest Granddaughter sitting in the transfer chair a couple of feet away from her. That Granddaughter is currently living in Kentucky, not in our dining room.

One of the choices we have to make for the remodel/addition of a Sun Room at the back of our town home will be vertical blinds to cover twelve feet of glass for the sake of privacy.  Stacey brought a sample book of blinds that seem ideal.  Mary Ann has gotten in her mind that there is another sort of blind that would be better.  The problem is, it does not exist.  She looked through the latest Martha Stewart magazine and has become convinced that she sees there what we should choose.  She said there are many examples throughout the magazine.  I paged through the entire magazine with her. There were a couple of pages that had what she decided she liked.  They were pictures of an open porch with no blinds, just greenery, vines and bushes in the yard the porch is overlooking.  Then on another page she pointed to some large pictures of pink and red nail polish she said were the weights at the bottom of the blinds.

I could do nothing but tell her that we could not find blinds that exist only in her mind but do not exist in a way that we could actually buy and install.  This one is going to be tough.  I have absolutely no doubt that as long as we live, she will  routinely mention that we did not get the blinds she wanted for those windows and sliding glass doors.

Mary Ann’s ability to feed herself simply was gone today.  At breakfast, I assisted her as she worked to get the pills into her mouth.  I fed her the yogurt and held the cup and straw to her mouth.  At the restaurant at lunch, after I buttered them, cut the pancakes into bite sized pieces and put syrup on them, she got the fork in her hand with my help and was determined to eat the meal herself.  After an interminable amount of time, in which I had long since eaten my entire meal, she was still frozen in place with her hand lying in the pancakes, holding her fork wwith her head down near the plate.  On occasion she tried to get the pancakes up to and into her mouth, but no pancakes ever remained on the fork long enough to make it in.

I offered to help a number of times.  A couple of times I moved her hand with the fork in it so that some pieces were stuck on the fork.  She still could not seem to get them to her mouth.  Finally, she agreed to let me put each fork full into her mouth.  I did the same with the bacon, and with the straw in her Coke.  She ate most of the food on the plate.

At supper at home the same thing happened, she could not get the food to her mouth.  What seems strange to me is that she refused to let me help her even though we were in a completely private setting.  She ate almost nothing.  When I returned with the ice cream from B&R, she could not manage that on her own either.  After a while she did let me help her eat the ice cream.  I can only guess that she really likes pancakes, bacon and ice cream, so she allowed my help.  She was not so fond of the ham and cheesy potatoes at supper, so she was not so motivated to accept the help.

After getting back from the grocery this afternoon, I worked on filling the pill containers for the week, while Mary Ann watched television.  Her head was hanging on her lap much of the time.  One of the times I came over to help her sit up, she said one of the things that always triggers feelings of guilt and some helplessness.  I don’t remember her words exactly, but message was: I am bored sitting here all the time doing nothing but watching television, and I am just wasting away.  The implication was: you aren’t providing me with enough activity and stimulation to provide a decent quality of life for me.

I have talked about this in earlier posts.  I do feel guilty about not providing her with more attention and engagement.  My rationalization is that my life already revolves around her wants and needs all day every day and all night every night.   There are two truths that sort of intertwine as I process what she said.  One is that I really should do more to engage her attention and improve the quality of her days.  The other is that she has Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia and there are resulting consequences and limitations that I cannot fix.  I cannot give her the life that has been taken from her by the disease.

One goal in processing this issue is to keep my feet to the fire to try to come up with things that will keep her interest.  My hope was that the lunch out and the trip to the grocery would help.  Tomorrow I hope to get both of us going early enough to make it to the 11am worship service followed by a meal out at a nice restaurant that we both like.  Then later in the day will come the Superbowl.  She loves professional football and will enjoy watching the game.

The other goal in processing this issue is to accept my own flaws and imperfections and let go of the guilt and frustration that I am not doing more.  This has actually been a better than average week in one regard in particular.  I don’t think I have said a cross word to Mary Ann this week, nor have I felt like doing so.  Sunday morning’s experience seems to have had some residual effect.  I have no illusions that the change in attitude will remain, but it has felt good to set Grumpy Caregiver aside for a few days.

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There are a couple more of observations on Mary Ann’s appointment with the Cardiologist, Dr. M, on Friday that have come to mind today.  They were comments that he made may be of interest to other Caregivers and Spouses.  I mentioned them in passing in last evening’s post, but they seem to me to warrant more reflection.

As I mentioned in last night’s post, I had brought some information from the Internet on a medication that seems to offer a an option for keeping Mary Ann’s blood pressure up when she is standing, to keep from fainting, without raising it when she is lying down, the time it is already too high.

I had brought the information to his office earlier in the week to allow time for him to look it over.  He didn’t see it until he studied the chart before coming into the Examination Room.  He did take time to read what I had brought.  When he came in he said that he thought the medicine sounded very appropriate.  In fact, he indicated that he appreciated the information and would consider using for others when the need arose.

He added that he was not at all uncomfortable with patients bringing in information.  He did not perceive it as a threat.  Not only was I grateful to hear that, but it impressed me as an attitude that any of us, Caregivers or patients, should look for in a doctor.  Dr. M is confident enough in his role, that he is not afraid to deal with any sort of question or suggestion.  He will answer the question if he can and tell us if he can’t.  He will take suggestions when they are good ones, and explain why if they are not good suggestions.

I have the advantage of being in an online group of folks who have all had years of experience dealing with Lewy Body Dementia and often Parkinsonism if not Parkinson’s Disease itself.  The thoughts and ideas and suggestions there are very helpful since they have been tested in real world situations.  One thing may work for one person and not work for another, so the suggestions can only be just that, suggestions, when taking the information to the doctor.  Bringing an arrogant attitude to a doctor’s appointment is sure to produce an unpleasant result.  I suspect that doctors feel the same way about arrogant Patients and Caregivers as Caregivers and Patients think about arrogant doctors.

Another conversation the Cardiologist had with us was triggered by my asking if the Congestive Heart Failure that took us to the hospital actually demanded a hospital stay.  I told him about the tough time we have had since the hospitalization.  He suggested that if we come again, we ask if it would be possible to monitor her situation for a few hours rather than admitting her right away and starting a regimen of medicine administered intravenously. Again, if we explain our reason for asking rather than simply being demanding, it might impact the doctor’s decision.

Dr. M made the observation that doctors factor in their assessment of the Caregiver or Patient’s wishes concerning whether or not they want to be admitted.  I inferred from what he said that there is a sensitivity about whether or not Caregivers and Patients feel able to handle the situation at home, when deciding whether or not to admit the Patient to the hospital.

We have a pretty good system here at home for dealing with Mary Ann’s problems.  If (when) we end up in the Emergency Room again, we will evaluate carefully the value of being treated at the hospital against the toll a hospital takes on her ability to function.

In Mary Ann’s case, that might have meant getting the shot of Lasix and checking the Cardiac Enzymes for a few hours to see if they stayed the same or declined.  While sometimes I feel pretty overwhelmed by what is already needed to give the care that is necessary, I think we would even be able to deal with IV meds at home, as long as a nurse put the IV in, and a nurse would be on call in case it got pulled out and needed to be inserted again.  It is too bad that our system of medical care does not make more allowances for care to be given at home.   It is easier on the patient (more rest) and it would seem to be less costly.

The day was quiet.  PBS had a number of specials today with Celtic music.  I told Mary Ann that I wanted to take charge of the television today and watch them.  As I have metioned before, in our division of duties, she is the boss of the TV remote control.  She stayed awake to listen to the music with me.  She ate pretty well.  She has been a little restless tonight.  I hope she settles in for the night soon.

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Twice today Mary Ann fainted.  She has not done so in many weeks.  The fainting is due to a sudden drop in blood pressure, referred to as Orthostatic Hypotension.  It is another of the systems run by her compromised Parasympathetic Autonomic Nervous System.  That system runs the smooth muscles, such as those that create the peristaltic movement that keeps everything moving through the alimentary canal (esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon).  It also runs the smooth muscles that cause our arteries to constrict when we stand up, raising our blood pressure to compensate for the pull of gravity.

That was a lot of technical language that simply means that people with Mary Ann’s version of Parkinson’s and Dementia are often constipated and often faint after getting up from a sitting or lying position.  In both cases today, Mary Ann fainted when on the toilet stool, after trying to get up.  Having watched this at close range for so many years, it was clear to me that both syncopal episodes (medical term for fainting is syncope) happened when a dose of her generic Sinamet kicked in.  When it kicks in her body starts involuntary wavy motions called Dyskinesias.  Sinamet (Carbidopa-Levadopa) is the main medication that treats Parkinson’s.  It is the same medication that has been used for decades.  Most of the newer meds just help the Sinamet do its job better.

During the hospital stay, I suggested lowering her dosage in half of the medicine (Midodrine) that raises her blood pressure to keep her from fainting.  Last summer we doubled the dosage when the fainting got out of hand and was reducing dramatically our quality of life. That medication and the higher BP slowly damages the heart, reducing its flexibility.  Her heart is enlarging, stiffening, her kidneys are being damaged.  If we eliminate the Midodrine, it might add a little time, but the time would be of little quality.  The goal of my suggestion of lowering the dosage is to find a middle ground that gives us the best we can get of both longevity and quality.

I am not yet ready to raise the dosage of Midodrine.  If the fainting comes only when the Sinamet kicks in, I think we can manage the problem.  If the fainting increases to the level it was last summer (multiple protracted fainting spells, sometimes even just when sitting in her chair) we will need to increase the Midodrine back to the full dosage.  We will do what is necessary when it becomes necessary.  Gratefully, the Cardiologist and Neurologist understand the problem and have given Mary Ann and I the freedom to adjust the two meds (Sinamet and Midodrine) within a prescribed range as we determine appropriate.  I am grateful for the latitude in dosing, and I also feel the weight of that responsibility.

The day continues: Mary Ann slept until about 2pm.  I got her some lunch.  She did reasonably well at feeding herself.  She still is not eating enough.  I convinced her to let me help her with some cake after lunch.  She kept putting the fork to her cheek instead of to her mouth.  She was resisting my help, but eventually I was able to get most of it in her mouth  She managed a snack of ice cream later.

We got to the grocery store!  I was hoping we could get it done.  Since she is in the wheel chair, mobility is not an issue when going to the grocery.  I push her with one hand and pull the grocery cart behind with the other.  It is a little tough on my wrists, especially when she drops her feet to the floor and I am pushing against rubber soles on a tile floor.  Years ago, she used one of the motorized carts.  We gave that up.  There were too many displays put at risk by a driver with spatial issues.

We brought home Sesame Chicken from the Chinese counter in the store, so supper went pretty well.  She went to bed at about 7pm and has been sleeping pretty soundly since.  The first couple of hours after she goes to bed are usually pretty good. I will continue this post tomorrow with a report on how the night went (way more information than any who read this blog actually want or need).

Next day (Friday):  The night wasn’t too bad, but it was another early morning with multiple trips to the commode in the wee hours of the morning and finally up before 7pm.

She ate a good breakfast with my help on the bowl of cereal.  After a while in her chair she wanted to get dressed.  Immediately after getting dressed, she got back in bed for a nap.  That was about two and a half hours ago.  She did get up once for a trip to the bathroom.

The issue of fainting continues to be a concern.  She said that she has been dizzy the last couple of days.  That is usually from the low BP.  I tried to take her blood pressure while she was lying in bed this morning, but it didn’t register on the electronic monitor.  That usually means it is too high for it to measure.  BP is usually highest when lying down, since the heart is not pumping against gravity.

While she hasn’t actually fainted today, she came close to it once when I was trying to get her to the bathroom.  She also has seemed to be dizzy at least a couple more times.  I suspect that the switch to the higher dose of Midodrine will be needed.  I am giving it another day to be sure.

The day continues:  After getting up from her nap, I discovered something mightily irritating.  We had to start using new disposable underwear today.  Kroger’s generic has worked very well for us.  They have just discontinued the combination male/female one for new gender specific ones.  The same size and weight as we used before, but in the new female version managed to leak.  It happened twice.  All her jeans had to be washed.

I can only conclude that someone in the Kroger braintrust decided that it would be better for sales if they marketed gender specific disposables.  That would be fine if they had bothered to make them in a way that actually accomplished their purpose.  To those of us who use them, it is no small inconvenience.  The small amount it took to leak the two times it happened today suggest that a long nap or a long time between trips to the commode during the night would provide enough leakage to demand changing the bedding and washing the linens, as well as whatever she was wearing.

I took them back to the store, got my money back and bought the Depend’s brand in hopes that they will work better.  Even though they also are gender specific, the appear to be constructed in a way more like the generic male/female ones we were using.  The Depend’s brand, of course are $12 and change versus the $9 and change price for the generics.  We buy three or four packages every time we go to the store.  There goes the grocery budget.  We will soon determine if the Depend’s are adequate to the task.

The good news is that I found part of a package of the old generic ones in the bathroom closet.  Hopefully that will get us through until tomorrow.  I change the disposables often to protect against urinary tract infections.

Mary Ann was up for a while this afternoon, after her long nap.  She ate a good lunch, lots of left over Sesame Chicken and a huge piece of cake with ice cream.  We were able to run a number of errands with her in the car while I did the errands.  She is now down for her third nap.  It didn’t begin until almost 5pm.  It is now almost 7:30pm.  She has had no supper.  I don’t think there is a chance there will be much sleeping tonight.

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 is about 11:30am and Mary Ann is still sleeping.  She got up last evening long enough to eat some ice cream and apple crisp.  Then she took her pills, went back to bed and slept the entire night.  This morning, there was a commode trip at about 7am, then at about 8:30am she got up long enough to have juice (with Miralax) and yogurt.  Then she decided she wanted to go back to bed.

The good news about this is that when she has been up, she has been able to interact verbally and has not been picking up threads that are not there, nor has she acted as if she was hallucinating.  Her head is no longer hanging down on her chest.  Needless to say, those are encouraging signs. She is still unable able to eat without assistance.  I fed her last night and this morning, even putting her pills in her mouth.  She did manage to lift the cup and drink most of the juice by herself.

Yesterday, I chose not to awaken her for medications.  Most of her meds are intended to help her when she is up and about.  Most of them have a short half life.  They help when they are in her system, but are not necessarily maintaining a constant level of medicine 24/7.  Missing one dose of the meds seemed to me to be acceptable. I concluded that the rest was more important.  She did take her night time meds, so there has been no interruption in them.  She took the morning pills today, and while she was lying in bed, I changed the Exelon patch she had worn for two days.  That is a med that needs not to be stopped for long.  It is pretty powerful and when initiating the patch, it takes a month on a lower dose to keep from creating the unpleasant side effect of pretty bad nausea — been there, done that.  I am also going to wake her up for the meds that come every two hours during the day.  My goal is to return to and maintain a normal schedule in hopes that will help us return to the pre-hospital norm.

The other parallel recuperation activity needed includes intestinal activity.  There has been some activity, this morning during the 7am trip to the commode.  Then before going to back to bed after breakfast (the yogurt, juice and pills) there was a little more substantial activity.  At the risk of being indelicate (there is nothing delicate about being a Caregiver), it is still at the stage where manual help is needed.  With that lovely image in mind, you can appreciate my excitement when things come out on their own and Dr. Oz’s S appears.  We are not yet back to that wonderful normal.  At this point I am hopeful that in a couple of days we will be there.

Of course I cannot know where this will go, but my intention is to methodically do all the things we have normally done in the past as they are possible.  My hope is that by Tuesday, a week from leaving the hospital, normal will have returned.  Whatever is so by then will probably need to be established as our new norm.

My need to establish a norm of some sort, any sort, comes from the way I am wired.  When I get a set of expectations in mind, it is tough for me to incorporate changes very quickly.  Since retirement, the rewiring is in progress.  By removing almost all commitments, there is space and time to adapt to whatever changes come without the added stress of failing to meet those commitments.  When we went to the hospital, there were a few appointments (dentist, doctor, among them) to be changed, but nothing for which I had to find substitutes or burden others to do for me.

Even though things can change dramatically at any moment (as in Saturday’s entrance into the hospital), the norm is where my pivot foot rests when I turn to meet the unplanned, unexpected.  Unlike Michael Jordan in his best days, I cannot hang in the air for very long without a place to stand.

In a moment of devotional time last evening, I read this prayer.  I receive a weekly email from the National Catholic Reporter web site with a devotion by Fr. Ed Hayes.  (Yes, they allow Lutheran Pastors on their site.)  I have appreciated his writings for decades, and I had the privilege of doing a marriage ceremony with him many years ago.

I need prayers for flexibility!

A Psalm of Flexibility

By Ed Hays
Created Nov 06, 2009

O spirit of God’s eternal springtime heart,
grant me the virtue of elasticity.

Make my heart as boundless as my Beloved’s heart,
which at this moment is creating
new galaxies and infant suns.

Make me pliable and playful with your Spirit
as you teach me the alchemist’s recipe
of how to keep my heart’s skin
like baby’s skin, ever-expansive,
able to hold the wildest of wines.

Stir my mind well with your sacred spoon
to awaken the fermentation of ideas
stilled by the ten thousand little compromises
required of me by the stiffness
of the old leathered skins of society and religion.

Gift me with elastic frontiers of heart and mind,
so I can see before my eyes,
both in the heavens and on earth,
how old and ever-new are those partners
passionately dancing together
in the perpetual birthing of your universe.

From Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Ed Hays

The Spiritual support I receive through Ed’s writings, through the Taize Music from their site, from Weavings, a spirituality journal, through Scripture, corporate worship and the Spiritual Formation Group that meets at our house weekly, helps provide the source strength that has allowed survival so far.

There are many wonderful folks who give personal support to our household.  Yesterday afternoon, John called and asked to come over for a time to talk.  John has been a support for very many years.  Mary, our friend who schedules Volunteers, had let him know that things were getting a little hard to handle at our house.  Yesterday, Edie, the leader of our Spiritual Formation group emailed about the possibility of bringing dinner over.  Don and Edie came over and we feasted on lasagna, salad, gourmet bread, some Shiraz red wine, topped off with apple crisp and vanilla ice cream.  Mary Ann slept through supper, but ate a big bowl of apple crisp and ice cream later in the evening.

It is now about 1:30pm and Mary Ann is still sleeping soundly.  She has had two rounds of the meds that come at two hour intervals during the day.  To administer the meds, I put my hand under the pillow, lift her head, put them in her mouth, hold a straw to her mouth and she drinks until the pill(s) are down.  Often, when I give her the pill(s), she gets up from napping.  The last few days when I let her head back down, she just goes back to sleep.  It has not been unusual in the past for her to continue to sleep, just not so many times in a row.

She finally got up and dressed around 2:30pm.  She ate a little more, then provided some unaided intestinal activity worthy celebration.  She went back to bed at about 5pm.  It is 9:30pm now.  She is still sleeping.  We will see how the night goes.

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.