It was a night from Hell.  We have plenty of them.  I went to be early in hopes that my presence would help her sleep.  Not so.  She wanted to go home more than once.  Often she would get up and when I asked, admit that she didn’t know why she had gotten up.  Once she woke up and said she had swallowed a snake.  I have no idea from where that thought came.

It went on through the night.  Once there were only seven minutes between times of getting up with some need.  The next one was twelve minutes.  Then came a couple about twenty minutes apart.  I am just tired enough that I went back to sleep during each of those short times, only to be wakened again.  I am not sure what words to say to communicate the level of frustration with that behavior.

One of the times she got up, she agreed to go to the table and eat some applesauce.  We started toward the dining room, and soon it was apparent that she just couldn’t walk well enough to make it there.  I asked her not to move, while I ran a few feet to get the transfer chair.  Of course she fell.  My level of frustration was enough that while I was complaining about her not staying still, instead of patiently working out how to get her off the floor in a way that was safe for me and her, I just picked her up off the floor and seated her in the chair.  Yes, she is only a little over 120 pounds.  No, a small 66 year old man with a family history of back issues should not try to pick up someone from the floor, someone who is not able to help in the process, essentially dead weight.

While it hurts, at the moment (six or seven hours later), it is not excruciating.  I am hoping only minor damage was done and that Advil, ice and a call to Chiropractor Tim will eventually take care of it.

Last night, all I wanted was for her to go to sleep!  She got up early again.  I just insisted that she stay in bed so that I could get another hour of sleep.  Gratefully, she did stay in bed for a while.

When she got up, things were pretty difficult.  I, of course, was not in a very pleasant frame of mind having been up and down every few minutes during most of the night.  She was able to get some of her food eaten by herself.  After breakfast she sat by the television in her PJ’s.  She was in popping up mode.  While at the moment, she is not fainting, her weakness and balance are making her vulnerable to falls.  I got a phone call.  Just as I got into the conversation, she hopped up and headed across the room.  I was frustrated by the timing of it, but after determining it was a bathroom need that precipitated it, I got off the phone and got her into the bathroom and seated.

I have not mentioned this much in the last three days, but there has been intestinal activity verging on diarrhea.  Sunday morning when I was gone, she had some major activity.  That activity required a later cleanup that involved removing the toilet seat, taking it to the large basin I had installed in the basement storage area for things like this, soaking the toilet seat in water with lots of Clorox Bleach, scrubbing the hinges with a toothbrush, rinsing, drying, disinfecting the stool itself and replacing the toilet seat.  This is all taught in Caregiver school.

The good news is that the activity does not come often.  It is just takes some extra effort to keep her and whatever else clean.  We have dealt with much worse in this area.  This morning’s trip to the bathroom was not an easy one.

When she returned to the living room, the popping up continued.  She was almost always getting up to look around at the floor.  I don’t know exactly what she was seeing, but it was some sort of mess that needed cleaning up.  Just going into the kitchen to get a bowl of cereal had to be done in short segments of time, often less than a minute in length so that I could check on her and get her seated again.

I had not yet gotten my morning shower.  I could not trust her to stay seated for the ten to fifteen minutes it takes for me to get ready.  She often agrees that she will stay seated, but pretty much does not do so.  I finally realized that the only way I was going to get ready myself, would be for her to be napping.

There is such an conflict of wants and needs that converge on this simple process.  I want her to stay awake during the day and sleep at night.  I want her to be sleeping even during the day so that I am not dealing with the popping up, the constant needs, the hallucinations, not knowing what will come next.  I should keep her up in the daytime, but when she moves into her need-for-sleep mode, she ends up hanging her head and sleeping in her chair, if not in her bed. There is a sense of relief when she is sleeping during the daytime hours, but a dread for the horribly frustrating nights that come when she can’t sleep then.

I suppose I could sleep during the day while she is sleeping.  I don’t want to shift days and nights for both of us.  I want to be tired enough at bed time that I can go to bed and sleep, if she will allow it.  When she is asleep, I have the freedom to do things that nurture my own well-being both for my own sake and so that I don’t lose the capacity to care for her.  These posts have been long and detailed lately because she is sleeping enough during the day that I am free to write.  These posts have been long and detailed these last days since we are almost entirely homebound now and the task is frustrating enough that I need the outlet of writing these posts as therapy.

Then there is the question, how is Mary Ann dealing with this new place in our experience.  She is stuck with the frustration of not having the mobility and mental acuity she has had, and she is stuck with Grumpy Caregiver who gets frustrated with things she cannot control.  She vacillates between days when she is exhausted and just wants to sleep, and nights when she can’t sleep, wants to be up while the person on whom she depends is scolding her and insisting she stay in bed.  She needs food but often not what is in front of her.  She hates the feeling of needing to be fed but often needs to be fed.  She wants to do things for herself but is constantly being asked to sit down, being reminded that she can’t do them.

I wish I were better at this caregiving task.  On the positive side, I think that most of the time I act in ways that are caring and helpful and affirming of who she is.  I try to treat her with respect, recognizing that my words are not always respectful when I am frustrated with some difficult behavior that seems still to be under her control (probably most often a result of the disease more than her willfulness).  I work hard at keeping her neat, hair washed, dressed appropriately, the house in order, beds made, kitchen in order.  I work very hard at determining what she needs or wants and if it is possible, trying to provide whatever it is.  With that said, in fairness, my assessment is based on who I want to be, not necessarily who I am in her eyes.  In the area of this sort of self-awareness, my propensity to feel guilty when I have been unkind provides some internal metrics.  My self-centeredness drives me to do things that allow me to feel good about myself.  My batting average in that task is probably just that, painfully average.

Back to our day: When med time came after she had been sleeping for a couple of hours, I decided not to make yesterday’s mistake.  After I took her to the bathroom, she stayed up for us to head to Glory Day’s Pizza to bring a couple of slices home for her (lunch and supper).  Her mobility was very poor, and she still would not open her eyes, so the trip out to the car and back afterward was pretty difficult.

She insisted on eating the slice of pizza without help.  She only managed to eat the topping (cheese only) from a little more than half of the one piece.  Then she was done.  After refusing once, she finally agreed to a dish of ice cream.  She is about five pounds lighter on our scale than she was the last time she weighed herself before the trip and the hospital.  She has been eating so little it is no wonder.  When I took her to the bathroom after the pizza, as I was getting her clothes down so that she could sit on the stool, she stopped me, asking what I was doing.  She thought we were still in the dining room.

At about 4:45pm, she wanted to get her bed clothes on and get into bed. She got up again when a paid worker from Home Instead to stay for a few hours while I honored a commitment that was important to me.   She was still up when I returned and went to bed at about 9:30pm.  Let’s hope for some sleep 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.

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Then why don’t we act on the obvious solution and solve the problem!

She napped for over five and a half hours today.  She napped for over three and a half hours during the day yesterday.  I can’t remember how long she napped the day before that.  Isn’t it obvious?  Just keep her up during the day and she will sleep through the night.

I just read an article in the online newsletter from ScienceNews.  Apparently a recent study using rats associates sleep deprivation with an increased risk of experiencing Alzheimer’s Dementia.  The assumption was that the sleep problems were a result of the disease.  It now seems possible that they are part of the disease process itself. (Yes, I, too, wonder how a technician can determine if a rat has Alzheimer’s Dementia —  actually, I do know the answer to that, but I am not saying here — suffice it to say, once the information is obtained, the rat no longer needs his/her pension.)

Back to the solution.  Why not just keep her up all day?  I am sure that solution seems obvious.  If it is hard to keep a two-year-old awake when those eyes fall shut and that little body goes limp, if it is hard two get a two year old up early from a nap without a major meltdown, imagine trying to get a strong-willed, independent adult who has a right to make her own choices up from a nap when she wants and needs very much to continue sleeping.

I can remember a day some weeks ago when I managed to keep her up all day with trips here and there.  She was restless that night anyway, up and down for most of it.  On the other side of it, while things may change at any time, after having that more than five and a half hour nap today, she was tired and went to bed early this evening.  She has been sleeping soundly for the three and a half hours since then.

Obvious solutions don’t always work.  With that said, I admit that it would make sense to try to get her to sleep less during the day to increase the likelihood of sleeping soundly at night.  One of the struggles with being very assertive in waking her up is that when she is napping, I have time to myself.  I am able to concentrate on tasks and accomplish things that can’t be done when Mary Ann is awake, up and about.

Today was a spectacularly beautiful day, warm and breezy.  With the video monitor on the table next to me, I was able to sit on the deck and read, while enjoying weather, the waterfall, the birds (hummingbirds buzzing over me regularly).  I finished the book on weight control (The Volumetrics Eating Plan) with time left over for a snack of potato chips (just kidding).  I did try to get Mary Ann up a number of times after the first three of the five and a half hours, but she just couldn’t do it.  She had said she felt pretty bad when she laid down this morning — no wonder after two nights of almost no sleep.I knew she needed the rest.

I guess, if I appreciate the time the daytime napping gives me, I shouldn’t whine about the restless nights.  I concede the point.  The glitch is that I am not getting much sleep either.  I could try to nap whenever she naps.  That also makes sense.  Were I to do that, my every waking moment would be centered around her needs.  To survive and remain useful to Mary Ann, I need some time to myself when I am awake.

Sometimes obvious solutions don’t really work as well as logic would suggest they should.  I suspect that those looking in from the outside lose patience when obvious solutions are not used to solve the problem about which the Caregiver is complaining

As I was preparing to write this post, I thought about the legions of Caregivers out there.  First of all, every parent has experienced the challenges of caregiving, unless they have abandoned their responsibility to their child[ren].  Single parents, especially those with more than one child have challenges I can’t even begin to comprehend.  There are many who have responsibilities to their children (they never end, no matter how old the children become) and at the same time responsibilities in caring for their aging parents.  There are those who have severely troubled children, physically and/or mentally.  They struggle to care for them, some have to make tough choices demanding allowing others to do the care at a facility outfitted for that care, having around the clock staff to give that care.

I have the luxury of having only one person who needs my full time attention.  Gratefully, our children do not need our care.  In fact they are members of the sandwich generation, raising their children and concerned for our needs as well.

All in all, I guess I should stop whining.  I won’t, but I should.  I think those who are full time Caregivers need some whining time.  Blogging is great, since it creates the illusion that there are people listening.

Whether anyone is listening or not, it helps to talk about it.

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.

Last night was pretty tough — up and down all night long, then up this morning at 6:45am.  The same is happening as I write this and has been going on for two or three hours.  There is no point in my trying to head in to bed yet since the activity is constant at the moment.  She has been climbing in and out of bed for no apparent reason with only minutes in between. 

While, again, it is a function of the disease, it is no less frustrating.  The time that I have generally claimed as my own in these late hours after Mary Ann goes to bed is coming to no longer be my time.  Tonight I set upon having some spiritual renewal time.  There is a podcast of  the Saturday worship service at the Taize Community in France.  The music is the sort that draws the participant in with a beautiful simplicity.  The readings are done in at least three, often more, languages.   There is a calm and peace that seems to include in community people like me, listening from thousands of miles away. 

I had first read a weekly poetic devotion by Fr. Ed Hayes, whose writings have had much impact on my personal Spiritual journey.  The reading suggested lighting a candle.  I haven’t done it in a very long time, but I pulled out a votive candle, placed in on the worship center, a cabinet built precisely for that purpose, with stained glass inserts in the doors.  I lighted another candle in a tall walnut candle stand made by my Dad, many decades ago.  Next to that candle stands the Shepherd’s Staff made by a parishioner and given to me at my retirement, a symbol of my forty years of ministry. 

A small iron Celtic Cross stands on the cabinet next to the votive candle.  Joining the Cross and candle on the worship center is a large ceramic bowl with lettering and symbols painted on by the other Staff members and again, given at my retirement.  The words are the summary of the congregation’s sense of purpose, “Grow in Faith.  Share Christ’s Love.”  The bowl is a symbol of Baptism, in our tradition, understood to be that first encounter with the Grace of God, an act of unconditional love by God, initiating relationship. 

One other item on that worship center is a simple memento of a long-standing friendship with a small group of parishioners from the first parish  I served as pastor.  It is a small beveled glass case with found items, pine cones, dried weeds, parts of plants, stones picked up on a trip together to Alaska many years ago.

With the candles and the light from the computer screen only,  I began the Taize worship.  As I settled in enjoying the sensations that come with such an experience, the monitor screen that keeps me aware of what Mary Ann is doing as I sit here, revealed the activity.  Since she is at risk of falling when she gets up, needs help to use the commode, to manage the cup of ice water next to her bed, to turn over in bed, her activity demands my participation. 

I have stopped and started the worship a number of times, getting more frustrated each time, resenting the loss of the freedom to enjoy the experience.  There is a odd sort of irony, that the very thing that helps me maintain a healthy equilibrium in caring for Mary Ann, is doing the opposite tonight. 

As the Neurologist allowed, I have just this evening increased the dosage of Seroquel, which is the medicine that both reduces the hallucinations and helps with sleep.  The last increase was not enough.  It is too soon to assess the effectiveness of this increase.  Certainly, the hallucinations have not decreased yet, they continue to be on the increase.  Just moments ago she told me to be careful of the little girl when I was adjusting her sheet.  This morning when she first got to the table for pills and breakfast, as soon as I turned on the light, she tried to show me the blood on her hands.  I think she believed it to be from the raccoons or whatever biting her.  There was, of course, no blood. 

Last night’s post mentioned my need for better choices in the area of diet and exercise for the sake of this Caregiver staying healthy.  Last night, today and tonight have revealed again the difficulty of following through with such plans.  When there are nights like these that string together, it is just survival mode.   A steady pattern of changed behavior seems completely out of reach.   I am still reading the book offering helps for improving the diet part of the problem.  Maybe some changes can be folded into our days. 

As Scarlett would say, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

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.

There is no clear and consistent reason that is obvious to either of us that explains the restless nights that come at random — and far too often.  Sometimes there have been a couple of long naps during the day that might explain it.  Not this time.  Sometimes there is caffeine later in the day; there was a little in the mid-afternoon.  Sometimes there has not been enough in her stomach, occasionally due to poor timing of an ice cream treat, stealing her appetite for supper.  Sometimes there is an activity the next day that has caught her attention and refuses to allow her to relax.

Sometimes it is the hallucinations.  That was the presenting reason two nights ago.  When I was using the monitor to watch, her head would lift up quickly and the she would look intently at something.  Her head moved in that way every minute or so, often less than a minute.  Often she would be up on her elbow, many times up and sitting on the side of the bed.  It lasted until some time between 3:30am and 4:00am.

The hallucinations were the usual ones, animals, threads, needles, people.  While I recognize there is a disease producing the problem, nonetheless, I got more frustrated as the night wore on.  There was, of course, no reasoning away the hallucinations.

Not long after we both finally got to sleep (a couple of commode trips during the sleep time), it was time for me to get up, since Wednesday morning is the Spiritual Formation group that meets on the deck at 7:30am.  I get up at 6:30am each Wednesday and move as quickly as I can to get myself showered and dressed, the coffee made (the most important task), set up the deck, get Mary Ann’s pills and yogurt and ice water and granola bar opened.

Normally on Wednesday mornings, I set up all the above items in the bedroom on a table next to her transfer chair so that if she wakes up before the group is done, she can get her pills taken and food in her stomach on her own.  She almost always sleeps until the bath aid comes around 9am.

Not yesterday!  After being awake and active until perhaps 3:45am, she got up shortly after 7am.   As a result, I needed to stay with her rather than go out to join the group.  After about forty-five minutes, she chose to get back into bed for a while.  I was able then to go out and participate in the group for a time.

It is embarrassing to admit how selfish I am, but I was mostly concerned about the pain in my back and the fact that both the night and my morning were being stolen from me.  I should have  been  more concerned about the challenges the day would bring Mary Ann, since she would be tired and the hallucinations would be worse  than usual.

The day went surprisingly well yesterday.  I began this post last evening but was too tired to finish it.  I just shut down.  We both got a decent night’s sleep last night.  For a few hours today, we had the wonderful gift of a young lady who lifted the wheel chair in and out of the car for a grocery store trip and our Parkinson’s Support Group meeting.  Since then a challenging commode trip and return to bed has irritated my back again, but it still seems to be improving some.  She appears a little restless at the moment, but I hope for some rest tonight.  As always, we will just see what tomorrow brings.

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 11:40pm local time as I start this post.  It is not unusual for me to be writing until 1am or 1:30am.  Why on earth don’t I start doing this earlier?  Beyond lack of organization of time and self-discipline, there are some reasons built into the task of Caregiving.

First of all, when someone for whom you are caring cannot take care of personal needs or walk very far without falling, every waking moment is bound to the care and protection of your Carereceiver.  As a Caregiver, you are doubling the number of basic tasks associated with a human’s daily needs.  You are living two lives at the same time. 

One of the lives you are living is, of course, your own.  You know what you want and when you want it.  When living someone else’s life also, just discovering what the wants and needs are takes a great deal of attention and mental energy, especially, if that someone has difficulty vocalizing those wants and need. 

When nature calls the one for whom you are caring, he/she may not hear the call until it is too late to make it to the necessary destination.   Mary Ann can be up and off walking to one place or another in seconds.  Often I discover that she has gotten up and headed off by the sound of the thump when she lands on the floor.  It is exhausting to keep attention so tuned as not to miss those moments of need.  I have heard and believe that mental exercise is far more tiring than physical exertion.  The stamina needed to pay attention to someone else’s every move, every need, every want, uses up endless amounts of the Caretaker’s reserves.

One of the consequences of the constancy of the needs is the inability to find time to concentrate on a task that needs more than a few minutes to do.  Writing a post for this Blog cannot happen while Mary Ann is up and moving about.  My time belongs to her all the time she is awake and some of the time she is sleeping.  I suspect that the same is so for most Caregivers. 

In a sense, my day starts when Mary Ann settles in bed.  There are periodic needs during the night, but the general pattern is that the time I can call my own comes between about 9pm and 1am. Now that I am retired, I am able to sleep longer in the morning, assuming Mary Ann is willing and able to sleep later also. 

Before I retired, the pattern was about the same, except that sleeping later in the morning was not as often an option.  Those of you who are working full time and caregiving full time are likely to be exhausted most of the time, especially if you also claim that late night time as your own.  Here is the logic of staying up.  The moment the Caregiver gets up in the morning, assuming the Carereceiver gets up then also, it all starts over again.  Waking up in the morning is waking to intense demands.   To go to bed at the same time the one for whom you are caring does leaves no time just for yourself — just to be one person only.  

Of course this is an unhealthy pattern.  Sleep deprivation has very destructive consequences.  It affects negatively our ability to perform daily tasks effectively and efficiently.  We are hardly at our best.  Coping with little stresses becomes more difficult.  Mole hills actually do become mountans in our mind.  We can become forgetful, irritable, our thought processes can slow.  I need no scientific studies to demonstrate the truth of those conclusions about the impact of too little rest. 

Now comes the time to share wonderful solutions to the problem of Caregiver exhaustion.  If I had this one solved, I would not be writing this post at what now is about 12:20am.  I will offer some of the feeble attempts I have made over the years of dealing with this particular dimension of the Caregiver’s challenge.  For one thing, I structured the week so that I had some long days and some days to sleep in.  It seemed to work better for me to work many hours in one day than normal hours two days.  By the way, I realize that doing so breaks the rules for sleeping well, the ones that say, get up at the same time every day, go to bed at the same time.    Another rule I regularly break is the one that says, no caffeine later in the day.  Caffeine is my drug of choice.  Evening meetings, if I hoped to actually be awake during them, demanded a heavy dose of caffeine through my chosen delivery system, PT’s Coffee (by the way, the best in the nation as far as I am concerned — sorry, Starbuck’s fans). 

On occasion (too rarely), a Volunteer or my daughter would come over and sleep upstairs to care for Mary Ann during the night, while I got a full night’s sleep in the downstairs.  Especially when I was working, those occasional two night retreats would include nights in which I slept ten or twelve hours. 

Had I continued to work much longer, circumstances would have demanded using the local resources I mentioned in last night’s post to provide paid time covered by others so that I could get rest on occasion.  

Since it is now heading for 12:40am, it is apparent that I need counsel from any who happen to read this post and have ideas for how to minimize Caregiver exhaustion.  One possible solution would be to simply stop trying to write posts for this blog any longer.   Two reasons speak against that solution.  One is that I would be likely to just sit in front of the tube flipping between inanities there.  The second is that I find doing this writing very satisfying and energizing.  Anticipating writing adds interest to my days and makes be a better (and more sane) Caregiver.  The processing I do here has had a very positive effect on my ability to reframe sometimes frustrating tasks in ways that allow me to discover meaning in those tasks, at the same time giving my life meaning.  Why so tired?  It is heading for 1:00am now.  All in all, I am willing to endure being tired if it allows me to live meaningfully. 

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.