What that means is that we have someone to call whatever comes up.  A Hospice Nurse will stop by a couple of times a week.  We have added one day a week of having an Aide to help with shower and hair.  Mary Ann loves current Bath Aide Zandra, so we will continue to use that paid service.  All the Hospice costs are covered by Medicare.

The Hospice Nurse who enrolled Mary Ann today was already helpful.  Mary Ann declined so much in the last few days since we took her off one med (Amantadine), that I thought we should start it again.  Because these are powerful meds, I didn’t want to do it without professional advice.  This is Sunday.  Nurse Jennifer contacted the Hospice Pharmacist and confirmed that it was all right to restart the med.  The most obvious change was the clubbing of Mary Ann’s hands, rendering them useless — in four days.  We are all hoping that her hands will return to functionality when the med reaches the therapeutic level in her bloodstream.  There are no guarantees that she will regain what she lost.

Mary Ann was a little more responsive this afternoon.  She was up while the Hospice Nurse was here, and she responded appropriately a few times.  She has been sleeping much of the day, but up for breakfast and to get dressed, as well as an hour or two after the Hospice Nurse left.  She was actually lying with her head down and her eyes closed, but at least she was out of the bedroom.  She ate lunch, the usual half sandwich, chips and a Pepsi, followed by a good-sized bowl of Buttered Pecan ice cream.  As hard as it is to hold her head up and feed her at the same time, I am cherishing every moment we have together.

She has not yet eaten supper.  I have been going in to talk with her every half hour or so to see if she is hungry or wants to use the bathroom.  She finally got up to eat at about 8pm.  She ate a substantial supper capped off with a small Boost and ice cream shake.  The Boost should help assure adequate nouishment.

As the evening has worn on, it is beginning to appear that the Amantidine is a very problematic medication.  She is now very alert, unable to sleep, doing some hallucinating, and when she was in bed complaining that she couldn’t move.  She is up and in the living room watching television, sitting up and it is 11:15pm.  There is no sign she is slowing down — I take that back.  She just decided to lie down in bed.  I don’t know how long that will last, but she has been sleeping most of the time for almost five days, so I guess it would be no surprise if she is up many times tonight.

It is tiring be be jerked around so much of the time by medications that wreak havoc with her functionality.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they do exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to do.  Then in an hour or a day or a week, they start doing what they are supposed to do — or not.  I will wait to see if her hands open and resume usefulness.  If they don’t, I will talk with the doctor again about the possibility of removing it.  When looking at side effects, Amantidine’s list contains very many of Mary Ann’s problems.  Stopping it seemed to result in the clawed hands and weakness that does not allow her even to assist in a transfer, let alone walk, even with assistance.  Today after restarting the Amantadine this afternoon, it has seemed to produce more strength and alertness, sort of bringing her back to life.  Of course I can’t be sure the medicine is causing all the changes.  It is just that the changes seem to associate directly with the times we stopped and then started again the Amantadine.

Even the professionals, Doctors and Pharmacists can’t help very much since people don’t always react in the same way to the same medication.

On the positive side of taking the Amantadine, if it helps with her alertness and ability to communicate, that will be a very good thing in the next few weeks.  Some of Mary Ann’s friends and family intend to come and visit.  They would appreciate being able to interact meaningfully with her.

Some readers have asked about the time at the Retreat Center — how it went.  I have already written about the two evenings.  The day Friday was wonderful.  It was 70 degrees and full sun all day long.  Thursday night, when heading out to watch the sun set, I was spotted by a deer, who headed over to be with ten more deer.  I watched them for a long time.

During the day on Friday, I walked at a leisurely pace along the path that wanders back and forth through a large wooded area.  The moss on the path was in its new spring shade of green.  The trees were budded out ready to burst open with flowers for leaves.  There were birds to be enjoyed. There were some I couldn’t identify (not unusual).  Even though they are common, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker that doesn’t have a red belly, and the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, that does have a yellow rump are just fun to call by name.

I did see something out of the ordinary.  It is what one of the staff there has dubbed the Mutant Armadillo.  It is certainly an Armadillo, but the largest one I have ever seen, dead or alive.  I suspect it would take five or more of the ones that are routinely spotted on the side of the road with their feet in the ari to match the weight and size of the monster I saw.

I sat for a long time on the three legged stool in the fartthest corner of the property I could reach.  I read Psalm 104, a great description of the creation and all that’s in it.  Then I read the a few chapters in the book probing the implications of physics in regard to the presence of God.  It was a good grounding for me as we ride the roller coaster we are on here at home. I did take a moment to phone home from that place.  I have done that on the last few retreats.  It helps me keep the world of prayer and meditation connected to the day to day reality.

I continue to be overwhelmed by the words of support through the electronic media.  There is no chance to feel isolated and alone when so many are thinking of us and praying for us.  Thank you all for that.

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Last night Mary Ann contiued her confusion.  While lying in bed, she asked about the group of people somewhere behind me or in her view in the living room — was it the Thursday group.  She asked if it was time to get up a couple of times, once at 9:20pm and again at 10:30pm.  She said something explaining what she was thinking, something that just did not compute, something about her relationship in location to others.   Once she got to sleep, she slept pretty soundly.

This morning, when she got up and was eating breakfast, I was looking through the Christmas card list.  I mentioned one couple at one point and she reminded me where they lived and that their daughter had twins.  These are folks with whom we have not interacted in decades, whom we remember mostly just at Christmas Card time.  I did not remember about the twins since it happened a year or so ago (I think).  Mary Ann asked about a former parishioner, whether or not she had died.  About a month ago she had gone into a Hospice House here, but had since stabilized and gone back to her Assisted Living apartment.  That Mary Ann remembered her situation was a surprise.  Mary Ann’s Bible Study about three weeks ago may have talked about it.   She said she wanted to go out to lunch today.   When I asked where we should go, she immediately said, “the Irish place.”   What a contrast to yesterday!  The place is called O’Dooley’s.  She always orders bangers and mash there.  Since she has never been an adventurous eater, it surprised me the first time she ordered it.  It actually is pretty straight forward, mild sausages and cheesy mashed potatoes. 

After an hour or so of alertness, she fell (while I was taking a shower), but as usual was not hurt at all.  After I finished showering, I got her back in the transfer chair — she fainted.  It was apparent that there had been some intestinal activity during or after the fall.  She became tired and asked to lie down.  There was some more intestinal activity and some major fainting on the stool.  She is now napping.  This was a particularly speedy trip down, up and down again on this roller coaster ride.

After her nap, we did go out to O’Dooley’s.  She had the Bangers and Mash.  I enjoyed the Portobella Mushroom sandwich with home made potato chips with a very tasty cheese dip and a Black and Tan (Guinness Stout and Bass Ale).   And I wonder why I am 25 pounds overweight.  When exactly is it that those New Year’s Resolutions go into effect?

What was sort of entertaining about the time at the restaurant was that when I asked the waitress if we had met, since she looked so familiar, she reminded me that during the five years she worked at G’s Frozen Yogurt she had often waited on us.  She remembered our usual order of two Turtle Sundaes, one in a larger cup so that Mary Ann could handle it better.  More reason for the extra twenty-five pounds.  It is still not fair that Mary Ann eats those good things and refuses to gain a pound.  That she brought half of her meal home and they didn’t even have to wash my plate since I licked it clean, might have something to do with that apparent lack of fairness. 

In addition to knowing the waitress, a young man from the kitchen caught me.  I recognized him as a former member of the parish I served before retiring.  He came over to the table, and we talked for quite a while, mostly about his future plans.  Both of the two were within a few years of high school.  It always pleases me when young people take the time to talk to us Geezers.  He also made a point of acknowledging Mary Ann by name as he left to get back to the kitchen.  That was a very thoughtful gesture, since so often someone in a wheelchair gets ignored.  Now that I think about it, I guess I am complicit in that problem, since I did not make a point of introducing him to Mary Ann. 

We rented some movies and watched one this afternoon.  After the Law and Order Marathon yesterday, I was grateful that we had been given a gift card at the local Family Video.  The movie was not very entertaining to us.  We were grateful when it was over.  Mary Ann was tracking well enough to recognize that she wasn’t impressed with the movie (“He’s Just Not That Into You”).  A customer in the video store had recommended it. 

Mary Ann went to bed very early again tonight.  I was in the living room when I heard the telltale thump of her falling to the floor.  She did not hurt herself, but she was pretty confused and seemed unable to come out with any words that made sense.  She was willing to lie back down and has been sleeping since.  That was about an hour ago.  By the way, she has had a stroke in the past.  This fall seemed like a pretty ordinary one.  The confusion afterward did not include the kind of speech pattern that is a telltale sign of a stroke.  She had no weakness on one side of her body.  Of course there are no guarantees since the range of some of her reactions often overlaps stroke symptoms.  We live in a narrow range of functionality.  There is a vulnerabilty we have just learned to live with.  Most folks who have lived very long are not unfamiliar with that vulnerability.

One especially pleasant phone call was one from Mary, who schedules Mary Ann’s Volunteers.  There are already ten slots filled for January, beginning tomorrow morning.  Those slots vary from two to three hours in length.  The weather may interfere with those visits, but it is a help to both Mary Ann and me that they are scheduled.  We have not had much time away from one another in the past week or so due to the blizzard and its aftermath. 

The ride the last couple of days has taken us up and down with rapid changes between the up and the down.  We continue to hang on for dear life during the down times and celebrate the up times. 

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She knew exactly what she wanted us to make for Christmas dinner.  I had no idea what she was thinking until that moment in the grocery store.  I had asked a number of times what she thought we should make for Christmas dinner when the family gathered.  Each time I asked there was no response.  I made suggestions encouraging a yes or no answer, but there were no answers, neither yes nor no.

At the grocery, she said something out of the blue about making a list.  Then I think she said the word “salad.”  The interaction caught me off guard, since she seemed to be saying that we needed to list ingredients for something for Christmas.  We were in the throes of shopping, dealing with the person in the deli department slicing cold meat for us.

That conversation ceased for the moment.  When we were passing by the meat counter, on the way to get something on the other side of it, she stopped and said something about ham.  The options I had been suggesting as options in those earlier attempts at deciding what to prepare included things we have had in the past, a spiral cut Honey Baked Ham, a brisket, turkey, even a take out Prime Rib special from a local restaurant I had just seen.  Through some asking and answering it became clear that she was talking about ham steaks.

We got two large ham steaks.  Then she said something about grapes.  Finally she said “Grape Salad.”  That is a very tasty salad that again had never been mentioned in the many times I asked about Christmas dinner.  I had gotten only complete silence in response.

What apparently was happening is what I remember Thomas Graboys talking about in his book, Life in the Balance.  Mary Ann seemed to have had conversations in her mind that never included any words coming out of her mouth.  There have been times that she seemed convinced that she had said something, or we had talked about something when there had never been any spoken words.

Occasionally, Mary Ann has seemed to blur the line between dreams and reality, convinced that there was an interaction, a conversation about something, providing information that sounded as if is was the matter of fact recounting of something someone had told her.  What complicates things is that sometimes she is remembering absolutely perfectly something that did happen, was said, something I either wasn’t around to hear, or simply forgot.

On the positive side, it forces me to listen to her without dismissing what she says immediately even if it sounds bizarre.  It may be true.  It may not be true.  On the negative side, I am always pretty unsure and often frustrated trying to figure out which is which.

Mary Ann has not been able to participate much in the shopping for Christmas gifts.  I have gotten lists or thought of or seen something in most cases.  There was one item she remembered for someone, something mentioned to her when I was not around.  We got it.  I am not sure if it is a memory of a converation in a dream or a real one.  In this case, I am fairly confident it is something she is remembering from a real conversation.  I will find out when the presents are opened this Sunday, when we celebrate an early Christmas.

I do have to admit that while sometimes pretty frustrating, it is not boring around here.  There are often surprises, sometimes pleasant ones, sometimes not.  I suppose a couple of days of boring might be okay, as long as there was a good night’s sleep included.

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In the past, Mary Ann would do almost anything to avoid going to the dentist.  Dr. Ron when we were in Oklahoma City and Dr. Bob here have had a gentleness that won her over.  She goes four times a year now, without balking.

Four times a year may seem more often than necessary.  During the years we had dental insurance, it only paid for two of the four times each year.  Why four?  Two reasons: 1. lack of manual dexterity; 2. lack of adequate caregiving.  This is among the many things of which I am not proud.  I just can’t bring myself to do the mouth care for Mary Ann that she cannot do herself.  I have no excuse.  I do a reasonable job of a number of other things, but not that.  Going to the Dental Hygienist four times a year helps compensate for the lack of good care at home.

As is so often the case, medication that does much good in one area of health care can create problems in another area.  The combination of Plavix and Aspirin helps protect against another stroke as bits of plaque can break loose from the lesion on the wall of one of Mary Ann’s carotid arteries.  That combination of meds thins her blood to the extent that by the time the Dental Hygienist is done, there is much bleeding.

After each cleaning of her teeth, we put a Chux (absorbent pad lined with plastic) on her pillow so that the blood from her gums will not stain the bedding.  We learned to do that the hard way, as is so with most of the things we have learned over the years.

There was a point at which we were looking at multple thousands of dollars in potential work on her teeth.  Dr. Bob has managed to keep her mouth in pretty good shape without doing major work.  The prospect of many hours in the dentist chair with the vacillations between stiffness and involuntary movements did not make major dental work an acceptable option.  There were a couple of extractions along the line.  Surprisingly, Mary Ann found the extractions easier than having crowns done.  She was surprised at how fast she was in and out of the chair when the extractions were done.  She had no problems associated with those procedures.

Actually, the dental issues that come with Parkinson’s are seldom mentioned.  We have tried a number of electric toothbrushes.  Mary Ann has a very small mouth providing little room for normal sized brushes.  We have often gotten children’s toothbrushes.  Even the smallest head for an electric brush does not seem to work for her. The manual dexterity needed for brushing teeth is just not there.

Along with many other diseases, it is often problems that are not directly caused by the disease process itself that come to be the most troubling as time goes by.  They are things that are not symptoms of the disease but rather consequences of its long time presence.  As an example, I am watching the skin on the underside of Mary Ann’s forearms.  She spends most of her days in the transfer chair, with her arms resting on the arms of the chair.  I am watching to be sure that the skin under her arms does not begin to break down.  The impact on her dexterity and spatial judgment affects the ease of eating and drinking, making her vulnerable to weight loss and dehydration.  Our Cardiologist feels that the heart issues were a result of the intense dyskinetic movements that are a side effect of the primary Parkinson’s Medication after many years of taking it.

When a person becomes a Caregiver, it is not enough to listen to and read about the disease itself and its symptoms.  It is interacting with others, in support groups, online communities, talking with other Caregivers, reading what has been written by people who have either had the disease or cared for someone with the disease that provides the full story.

I had the advantage of being in a profession that took me into hospital rooms often many times a week. Folks made a point of sharing their medical problems with me as I ministered to them.  As I looked and listened, I learned much of what has helped me tune in to Mary Ann’s problems.  I learned how to talk with and listen to the medical professionals, making it easier to ask the right questions and understand the answers.

For now, I just hope the gums heal and the bleeding subsides.  It is surprising how helpful it is to use a cold substance to ease mouth discomfort after a visit to the dentist.  A chocolate shake from Sonic did the trick this time.  Did you know that Sonic just switched to using real ice cream in their dessert specialties (shakes and sundaes and blasts)?  Does that news leave you also wondering what it was they used to make those treats before they switched to real ice cream?

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The meal was good.  The eating was not.  Mary Ann got some food eaten, but not very much.  She would let me cut the meat and break the dessert’s crust into bite-sized pieces, but, again, she would not let me help her by feeding the food to her

This public place was tonight’s Parkinson’s Support Group Holiday meal.  Since everyone there is either a Caregiver or the one with Parkinson’s, I hoped Mary Ann might be more willing to allow me to help.  Not so.  The meal was catered by folks who do a nice job on the food.  They also had extra servers, more than would normally be needed when using a serving line.  The extra servers helped those of us who were trying to carry plates for two and those whose dexterity is limited.

We sat across from former parishioners that we have known for many years.  He has had Parkinson’s much longer than Mary Ann.  We enjoyed the various conversations. I guess to be more accurate, i enjoyed them.  Having retired from a profession filled with hours of converations and interactions with others, retirement has put a crimp in my opportunities to talk with folks.  As a result, when any opportunity arises, it is hard for me to shut up!

While I always tested very well in the quanitative portion of the standardized tests, the verbal scores were not quite as high.  That seems pretty odd to me since my life has always been about words.  I always loved words.  I used them to get out of fights with bullies (it helped that when I was in elementary school I was among the tallest and strongest of the kids  — I am still the same height I was in the Sixth or Seventh Grade).  I loved learning to use big words, always making sure I used them correctly.  Some people express their sadness with tears, their anger with violent actions, their frustrations by acting out, their happiness by shouting for joy, I talk.  I think and analyze and process and then frame the feelings with large quantities of words that help dissipate the pent up nervous energy created by the feelings.

At the same time, I love solitude.  I can spend hours just soaking in everything about the moment and the space I am in and the thoughts that fill my mind, often bumping up against one another.  I love the periodic retreats that provide almost three full days of utter solitude, walking, watching the wildlife, gazing at the clouds, smelling the scents, reading, thinking, journaling.

I guess what precipitated the above diversion from Mary Ann’s challenges  to my love for words is the fact that I need the time out with others more than Mary Ann does.  It is part of my therapy.  I am usually pretty ambivalent when outings are approaching, wanting to stay home to avoid the hassles associated with going out.  But when I get to the gathering, I thoroughly enjoy the interactions and conversations.

Back to Mary Ann’s struggles with eating.  When I asked Mary Ann about lunch today, she said she wanted BoBo’s for lunch. The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives did a special on BoBo’s.  We didn’t really have time to go into the diner to eat (it is the size of a postage stamp), so we got take-out from a drive-in stall.  I have to admit that it was a bit of a relief that we did not have time to go in.  One reason is that I wanted to eat the food we already have in the fridge (my frugal streak).  The second reason is that I have a hard time watching Mary Ann eat when the soft fish sandwich with tartar sauce is squishing through her fingers, dropping on the table, her clothes and the floor.  There, I said it!  I am ashamed to admit it.  Here she is struggling to deal with all she has been through, just trying to enjoy food that brings her pleasure, and I am so petty as to let a little messiness disturb me.

If we had had time, we would have gone into the diner to eat.  At least I usually don’t let my aversion to the messiness keep me from taking her out to whatever restaurant she chooses.  I am trying here to salvage a little positive self-image after admitting to such pettiness!

Mary Ann slept well last night — good for both of us.  She went to bed a little late tonight.  Let’s hope for a night filled with sleep!

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In forty years of calling on the sick, I can’t tell you how many times I heard from people who had gone through a surgery after they had recuperated, “I didn’t know how bad I felt before I had the surgery until now, now that I feel good again.”  I don’t think I realized just how heavy the weight was that I felt, thinking Mary Ann was declining at a faster and faster pace.

I can’t know how long the feeling will last since this is such a roller coaster ride we are on, but for the moment, it feels as if a deep and heavy sadness has been lifted.   Like a little child, I tend to act out when I am struggling with something.  I act out by getting grumpy.  I make no promises to anyone that I will now be nicer for a while, but there is a profound sense of relief.

Our Cardiologist, Dr. M, was a parishioner for the last dozen years of my ministry.  We have come to appreciate him very much.  He combines a lot of traits that a patient looks for in his/her doctor.  He takes the time to listen well.  Not only that, but he takes what the Patient and Caregiver have said into account when making decisions.  He is decisive in a way that respects those whose lives are impacted by those decisions.

He has made clear that he is not in the business of predicting the future and cannot answer the “how long” questions.  What he will do is disclose what he knows, analyze it and make a logical assessment of the situation.  While I am always looking for something that help clarify where we are on our journey, there simply are not definitive answers to my questions.

Today, I took an approach that allowed Dr. M to analyze the data with me and compare where we are to where we were eight months ago (the last round of tests).  He also looked back farther so that we could get a sense of the trajectory we are on, at least in terms of Mary Ann’s heart and kidneys.  The Neurologist is the one to ask about the Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  The heart issues in particular provide the most concern in terms of longevity.

Dr M’s look at some key indicators seemed to reveal, that while Mary Ann’s heart and kidney health has declined, in most ways she has been moving back and forth along a pretty level trajectory.  Her numbers have been worse at times in the past than they are now.  They also have been better than they are now.

The conclusion seems to be that Mary Ann is fairly stable, not on a trajectory that is taking her quickly toward free fall.  Mary Ann and I are fully aware that something precipitous could happen, but the truth is, that is so for all of us.  The Parkinson’s itself has been moving very slowly.  There are not likely to be dramatic changes in its progress.  The Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, is another matter.  It is very unpredictable.  It changes in fits and starts and can turn on a dime in a new direction or return to a better place thought never to be seen again.  Other than trying to control the Autonomic malfunctions to the degree we can, we have only the Exelon patch to help with cognitive issues.

As to her heart and kidneys, it is the high blood pressure that is the enemy.  Today Dr. M responded favorably to my suggestion that we consider the addition of  Mestinon to Mary Ann’s medication regimen.  That drug has the potential of helping control the fainting by raising her BP only when she stands up, the time it drops thereby precipitating a fainting episode.  It is an off-label use of the drug, but there are no major concerns that militate against trying it.  It does not conflict with anything she is currently using.

My intention is to cut in half the dosage of the Midodrine (okay with Dr. M) for a few days, then add the Mestinon. It is always wise to change only one med’s dosage at a time so that any problematic changes that might occur will be easier to trace to the source.  I will try to take her BP as often as possible and ask our Parish Nurse if she would stop by to check it also. The goal is to use as little Midodrine as possible since it raises BP all the time, not just when standing.  BP is highest when lying down, since it does not have to fight gravity.

The information received today through Dr. M’s analysis helps in a couple of ways.  Both Mary Ann and I perceived what he said in a positive way.  I feel a sense of relief that revealed just how down I had felt about her perceived decline.  We understand her to be pretty stable and on a fairly flat trajectory in the progression of the heart and kidney problems.  Another way that we are helped by having more clarity on where we are in this journey, is that we can use our ability to deal with the challenges more efficiently.  We can’t afford wasting our days fighting things we cannot change.   We can’t afford to waste our energy because we are in denial about the realities of our situation.  As I have said before, a certain amount of well-placed denial can be very helpful in living through our days as meaningfully as possible.  However, we need to know what to accept and what to fight.  We don’t want to accept something when we should be fighting it, nor do we want to fight something that it is time to accept.  Today helped us better discern what to fight and what to accept.

At least tonight, my assessment is that I had moved toward acceptance of a more rapid decline than is actually happening.  I feel more bold now about stretching the limits of what we are doing.  I will, of course, not be foolish about tackling things that put us at an unhealthy risk.  A certain amount of risk, however, is necessary to stay alive and well.  After so many years of practice, we have ways of dealing with most of the problems that arise when things do not go well.  If we try something and it goes badly, we will deal with it and try something else.

I guess it has been a good day!

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Mary Ann’s day seemed to go reasonably well.  There was no napping, although a few times during the day her head hung pretty low, resting on the arm of her transfer chair.  Each time I asked her if she wanted to go in the bedroom and nap or stay out in the living room, she opted for the living room.

Zandra, her bath aide, came this morning, but she was pretty sleepy through the shower and getting dressed.   By lunch time, she was open to going out to get something to eat.  She did pretty well with a hamburger cut into quarters.  She let me cut it into quarters for her, but she would not have tolerated my putting it to her mouth to help her since we were out in public.

After lunch, we headed to the grocery store.  As tired as she seemed, she loves going to the store and reminded me that I had mentioned that possibility.  It is still a marvel to me how it is possible for us to go through so much food, as little as Mary Ann eats.  A few items on the list always seem to grow to a basket full.

After supper (Mary’s pork, dressing and gravy), Mary Ann watched television for a while, went to bed, got up again to watch some more televison in the living room, then returned to bed, where at the moment she seems settled.

In between lunch and the grocery, we drove up to Cedar Crest, and while Mary Ann sat in the car, I took about a mile long walk.  That is the first time I have walked for exercise since before the trip to Hot Springs.

My excuses for not keeping up with the exercise walking that began a few weeks ago are legion:

First, there was a break in the pattern that had developed.  The trip to Hot Springs was the first break — about a week.  Then came the hospital stay.  The walking was beginning to take on the character of a habit before the break.

Then, the hospital stay wore us both out.  I was pretty tired when we got home.  Mary Ann was dealing with such confusion and a lower level of functionality pretty much precluding my leaving her to walk.

Those first days back from the hospital, she slept pretty much all day long every day.  I couldn’t leave the house for a moment while she was sleeping.

After a while, she was and still is often getting up pretty early in the morning.  Before the trip she was doing so well that I felt comfortable walking for about a half hour before she got up for the day.  I always made sure she had gone to the bathroom, and I put the Lifeline button around her neck.  When she gets up early, walking is not an option.

When Volunteers have come recently, once I did take a walk.  The other times, the weather has been bad, or I just decided I was too tired to do it.

The last few weeks after the hospital stay have seemed especially stressful.  That is my excuse for returning to eating endless snacks to provide a treat, or just give me something to do to self-medicate.

It is true that working out times to walk has been more difficult in these past weeks.  The trouble with that truth is that it is not the only truth in this situation.  I am a resourceful person.  With enough commitment and will power, I should be able to figure out how to get regular exercise.

And, of course, no one is shoving the food into my mouth.   If there will be food in the house or food on the table, I am the one who will put it there.  It is not as if I have no choice about what ends up on that table.

My excuse relative to food, is that I am trying to give Mary Ann things she likes and she needs lots of calories.  Of course, I do not have to eat the same thing she is eating.  It is my choice.

I have cancelled, at least for the moment, the exercise and weight control program at the exercise therapy clinic that I was going to begin after the trip.  After the hospital stay, Mary Ann was doing so badly for a while that I didn’t think it would work to try to have her with me, sitting in on an exercise class.

Mary Ann is enough better that I should be reconsidering starting that program.  Now with the holidays looming, that excuse has kept me from making the call to set the appointment.

Under the best of circumstances it is hard to develop and maintain a good set of self-care disciplines.  We are not in the best of circumstances.  All sorts of excuses to avoid good eating and exercise habits are readily available.  The irony, of course, is that good eating habits and good exercise habits translate directly into feeling better and being better able to do the task of Caregiving.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

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Mary Ann got up early this morning since she had no supper last evening, other than a couple of snacks during the night.  She ate a good breakfast with help, took her pills and ended up back in bed for almost four hours. 

She ate a pretty good sized lunch, and we spent a while just sitting with the television on.   Actually, I tend to be up and about doing anything I can think of to keep from just watching television.  I was back and forth to the computer, outside to check on the birds, got the mail, paid some bills. 

Finally I asked Mary Ann if she would be willing to head out for a bit, even if she just sat in the car while I did a couple of things.  I had mentioned that I wanted to visit a small but nice art gallery on a local college campus.  Our deal was that I would just go in for a short visit, assuming she wanted to stay in the car.  That seemed to be her intention.

I had reached the point in the day that I just could no longer tolerate sitting around the house on a warm day, cloudy, but warm enough to be out.  Gratefully, she decided she would go into the art museum with me.  It took a while to find the handicapped entrance, on the opposite end of the building from the handicapped parking places. 

Once inside, there were two major exhibitions that were very interesting.   One is called “Stickworks.”  It is pretty much indescribable.  There are huge sort of huts on the lawn of the museum.  People can walk into and through them.  They are made from intertwining saplings into surprising shapes and structures. 

Inside the museum are photographs of one after another sculptures made with willow branches and saplings, each stretching the imagination more than the last.  Even though they are two dimensional photographs, the sculptures seem almost living.  That room in the museum left me wondering how someone could even imagine creating such unusual pieces.  The link for the artist is http://www.stickwork.net/news.php

The next exhibit made the one I just described seem quite ordinary.  It was called “Hybrid Visions” by Ken Butler.  An article online from the university described what he does in this way:  “He is internationally recognized as an innovator of experimental musical instruments created from diverse materials including tools, sports equipment and household objects.”

This exhibit has to be seen to be believed.  Ken Butler takes everything from the backs of old wooden chairs to a laptop computer and creates musical instruments that, apparently, can be played.   This is impossible to describe because no one who has not seen it would have existing in their minds reference points to which to relate the descriptors. 

While this has nothing to do with Caregiving other than our getting out of the house, doing something stimulating to keep this Caregiver from going crazy, there is an odd sort of metaphorical implication for framing our existence in terms of the exhibit.  If it is possible to piece together found items that appear to have been gathered from dumpsters and front parkings on garbage day, add some guitar/violin/cello strings and make music, maybe we can piece together a life of good quality and make our own sort of music. 

I think that interpretation is a little contrived and heavy-handed for something so whimsical as “Hybrid Visions.”  Oh well, remember, I spent forty years looking for sermon material wherever I could find it, so that the message of the Scripture readings could become more accessible in contemporary terms.  It is an occupational hazard.

Mary Ann has gone to bed and seems to be settled for the moment.  We will again hope for a quiet night.

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Who knew there was a word for it?  The online caregiving spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia (or some form of it) recently contained a line of posts titled Anosognosia.  Wikipedia defines it this way: Anosognosia is a condition in which a person who suffers disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability.

Actually, those who have been reading this blog for very long, have heard me describe a variety of behaviors that could be described with the word Anosgnosia. 

When anyone asks Mary Ann about cooking, her response is always: “They won’t let me in the kitchen any more.”  What she seems to be saying is that she could cook and chop and handle hot pans and sharp knives and prepare meals, if only we (I) would let her. 

Mary Ann will often start to undress while standing up, even though for a number of years now, her balance and coordination have not allowed her to do so without falling. 

She has headed into the bedroom to get sewing paraphernalia to do repair work, most often on something that ends up being a hallucination. 

While I sometimes do it, I dislike reminding her that what she is attempting  is something she can no longer do on account of the Parkinson’s.  I think the better choice when confronting some attempt at doing something no longer within her capability, is to redirect her attention to something else. 

As troublesome as are the times she acts as if she has no limitations on account of the Parkinson’s, I can’t help wondering if they are not part of the reason she is doing so well.  As much as she has been through, it is hard to understand how she is able to do maintain such a high level of functionality in so many areas. 

Today went pretty well.  She slept in late, essentially tacking her morning nap on to the end of her night’s sleep.  She had a good breakfast, a fairly substantial lunch.  We went out for a ride to Ensley Gardens (I walked through them while she chose to stay in the car) and a treat at the Baskin and Robbin’s on the other side of town. 

Mary came over, brought the promised pork, dressing and gravy, and spent about an hour talking with Mary Ann while I worked at the computer.   Since I tend to be quick to respond in conversation, my presence makes it hard for Mary Ann to be engaged in conversation.  My leaving the room for a time allows her to interact more freely with friends. 

Again, she has gone to bed early, without supper.  I guess by now I should know that a mid to late afternoon ice cream treat is going to interfere with her eating supper.  I suspect she will be up to have snacks during the night.  I will, of course, need to assist in that activity. 

The last couple of afternoons (before today), I have left the house for a time while a friend spent time with Mary Ann.  I have spent the time in a different way from usual.  Rather than sitting in the car in some natural setting to read or listen to music, or going for a walk, I have visited a number of small art galleries here.  I am pretty much devoid of any knowledge in the area of the visual arts, but I am intrigued by them. 

At most of the stops at galleries, there has been a docent or artist or owner there who was willing to spend some time in conversation.  I have learned a bit about the art scene here, and how some of the artists have approached their subjects, what processes they have used.  It has been very interesting, opening a new window on reality for these well-worn eyes. 

The conversations have nourished a discovery I made decades ago.  There is more than what first meets the eye in most of what we see.  Whether it is a landscape, a city street, buildings, trash, telephone poles, growing plants in any stage, people, there are many ways to see them.  What artists often do is provide new ways to see the ordinary.  While I have no natural ability or inclinations in producing visual art pieces, my interest has been piqued. 

One of the artists described her fascination with shadows on the water in a pond or stream or lake.  The shaded area of the water’s surface reveals what lies beneath the surface.  Lighted areas show a reflection of what is above.  It is a phenomenon I have noticed when out walking with my binoculars around my neck.  Often I will look for those shaded areas to see if I can locate fish or turtles or frogs. 

In a couple of the visits yesterday and the day before, the descriptions of a particular art piece triggered the impulse to write and preach a sermon using the piece as a visual aid.  I had enough sense to spare the poor person describing the work from my launching into three part homily on the implications of that piece for their spiritual growth. 

One of the artists described her fascination with shadows on the water in a pond or stream or lake.  The shaded area of the water’s surface reveals what lies beneath the surface.  Lighted areas show a reflection of what is above.  It is a phenomenon I have noticed when out walking with my binoculars around my neck.  Often I will look for those shaded areas to see if I can spot fish or turtles or frogs.   That thought caused my sermon muscles to twitch for a moment. 

Maybe I can convince Mary Ann to consent to a trip into KC to the Nelson again.  There are rooms filled with art pieces, some incomprehensible, some boring (in the eyes of the beholder — me), some exciting, some very thought provoking.  They also serve a great lunch in the Roselle Court.  We will see.

After such a tough time post hospital stay, this one has been a pretty good week. 

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Noma called this morning and asked if she and Herb could bring over a couple of bottles of Herb’s home made wine.  For a number of years, Herb has provided home made wine for the Thanksgiving Communion services at the congregation from which I retired.  He makes very good tasting wine.  Herb and Noma also brought a little meatloaf that Noma had made, and some home made peanut brittle.

The week started with Jan bringing with her a very tasty Mexican chicken pie on Sunday when she came to spend time with Mary Ann.  Then early in the week Mary brought by a large container of soup made using the Olive Garden recipe for their Pasta E Fagioli.  Jeanne came over for a part of the day today and brought a Quiche from Copper Oven, along with a piece of pie from there for each of us.  Mary Ann’s pie was one of her absolute favorites, Lemon Meringue.  Tomorrow, Mary is going to bring us some pork loin and dressing.

So much of the time Mary Ann is forced to eat my culinary creations, which I just decided to dub, Pastor Pete’s Pottage.  Mercifully, the pottage is interspersed with Glory Day’s pizza slices, Bobo’s burgers, Perkin’s pancakes and a variety of take out foods.  This week Mary Ann is eating like a Queen.  I, of course, am not wanting for good food either, since she needs help in consuming it all.

When food is brought to us, as it has been this week, very often it is brought with the instructions that it can be put in the freezer (or some portion of it) to be enjoyed at some time in the near future.

One of the best things about the food this week is that it is coming at a time when I have been concerned about getting more calories in so that she can stop losing weight.  Convincing her to let me feed her is not always an easy task, but she has let me do so here at home more often.  When I help her, she eats much more.  She has been eating very well with all the good food that has been appearing at our home. We weighed her this afternoon and found that she had gained back about a pound, after having dropped five pounds.

At lunch today, Mary Ann age a full quarter of the Quiche, followed by that very large piece of Lemon Meringue pie.  With my help feeding her, she ate every crumb of both.  She had eaten a good breakfast, the usual yogurt, juice and a large bowl of Shredded Wheat Mini-bites.

She was very tired today.  Yesterday, she got up fairly early and then went back to bed for a relatively short nap.  She ate well and was up the rest of the day.  Today, after the good breakfast, she really shut down and needed a nap.  Shortly after Herb and Noma came by followed by Jeanne’s arrival, Mary Ann got up and was up the rest of the day.

There was one episode that moved me to go ahead and increase the Midodrine that raises her blood pressure.  Between the Quiche and the piece of pie, as she was sitting in the chair at the table, she just went out, had a fainting spell.  I managed to take her blood pressure after she came out of it.  Her BP was 100/60.  That is pretty low for just sitting in a chair.  It sometimes drops lower than that, much lower, when she stands up.  (One time during a tilt table test at the hospital, it dropped to 50/30, when she was moved from lying down to 70% of the way to standing upright.)  When she is lying down it is often as high as 180 or more, over 105 or more.

I have changed out the pills in her daily pill containers so that the dose of Midodrine will return to the pre-hospital stay level.  I have also printed from the Internet an article by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a component of the National Institutes of Health.  The article describes a study of a drug named pyridostigmine (brand name, Mestinon), which seems to help the problem of Orthostatic Hypotension (low blood pressure when standing) without raising the patient’s blood pressure when lying down.  The drug’s intended use is to treat myasthenia gravis.  This is an off-label use of the drug.  The study concluded that a low dose of Midodrine combined with therapeutic dose of Mestinon was able to control the Orhostatic Hypotension in most of the subjects.

I will fax or mail or take the article to our Cardiologist to see what he thinks of the idea of trying this new approach.  Our Neurologist, a nationally known authority on the treatment of Parkinson’s, had suggested the option of using Mestinon when the problem of fainting got so much worse last summer.  The goal, of course, is to gain a manageable quality of life without raising her BP to a long term harmful level.

At the moment, Mary Ann seems to be sleeping soundly.  We will hope for a good night.  The weather is supposed to be great tomorrow.  Maybe we can get out of the house for a while.

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.