That January, Mary Ann could simply no longer care for herself.  I didn’t know what to do.  I needed to work to support us (60-70 hours per week as a Pastor).  We couldn’t afford that many hours of paid help.  It would cost more than my salary. The options simply weren’t there.

Then Margaret came to the rescue.  Margaret was (still is) the Parish Nurse at the congregation I was then serving.  She just started phoning people and before I knew it, there were Volunteers from the church staying with Mary Ann when I was away from the house at work.

After it became clear that she could not do the scheduling task and still continue her work as Parish Nurse, Carol stepped in.  For over six years, Carol scheduled Volunteers for weekdays while I was at work, evenings while I attended meetings and did Counseling, Friday evenings and Saturdays for weddings and retreats, Sunday mornings (I had paid help for the early morning hours), even emergency Calls when there was a serious illness or a death.  At one point there were at least 65 different Volunteers.  Some days had as many as five different people filling two or three hour slots.  I have never figured out how one person could manage all that.  I have nominated Carol for Sainthood.

By February, we had gotten back to KU Med Center, the Parkinson’s Clinic. They had transitioned to a new Neurologist, Dr. Pahwa.  He was able to put together a new regimen of meds that allowed Mary Ann to return to a significantly higher level of functionality.  The bathroom needs and the falling would still not allow her to stay by herself for any length of time.

After a year or so, we entered the two years from Hell.  Mary Ann had often complained of heartburn, since she was taking so many pills (I think 30-40).  At least that is what I thought.  It has always been hard for me to accept that I didn’t pick up sooner on the possibility that it might have been more than heartburn.

On June 30 of 2003, Mary Ann was admitted to the hospital through Emergency with a case of Congestive Heart Failure that came within a hair’s breadth of putting her on a Ventilator.  It was discovered that she had had a number of silent heart attacks.  Two of the three main arteries on her heart were completely blocked.  The surgeon was able to stent a branch of one of the arteries, but that was all.  She had another MI (heart attack) while in the hospital.

Mary Ann always moved into a hospital psychosis when hospitalized, hallucinations, agitation, inability to sleep, trying to get out of bed, pulling at tubes.  I stayed all night every night since the Parkinson’s meds were so complex, the various shift changes made it necessary for me to track what was going on.  The staff needed my help to manage her reactions, day and night.  I had to be there when the various doctors came to check on her or report the results of the endless tests and procedures.

By the end of those eight days, after an entire night of Mary Ann repeating “help me” over and over again, for the second time in my adult life, I broke down in tears.  Gratefully, Son Micah was there to hold me.  When she was released and came home, it was one of the lowest times in our life together.  Everywhere I turned to come up with a solution to how we could go on came up empty — except for Carol and the Volunteers.  They are the only reason I was able to continue in the ministry and we were able to survive.

Almost exactly one month later, she was back in the hospital with another MI and another unsuccessful attempt and getting through one of the blockages.  It was a shorter stay.  She came home again.

For a while after that she was doing better.  We returned to a reasonable quality of life.  It would take more than a little heart trouble to stop Mary Ann.  After a year and a half we even risked going on a week long trip by plane from Kansas to Tucson, Arizona for a retreat for older adults.  We had decided that we were not going to just sit at home and feel sorry for ourselves.  We chose to live as fully as possible given the circumstances.

I still blame the air quality on the plane.  Mary Ann was fine when we left the Kansas City airport but had some congestion when we arrived in Tucson.  By then we were using a wheelchair most of the time.  We joined in the activities, got to visit a wildlife center outside of Tucson.  As the week wore on, she was having some labored breathing.  It was March 10 of 2005. I called an ambulance to take her to the nearest hospital.  On the way, the dyskinetic movements that come with the Parkinson’s medicine were so bad that the tech in the back with her could not keep an IV in her arm.  Mary Ann was flailing around and almost flying off the gurney.

They sedated her when we got to the Emergency Room.  Then they took an X-ray.  When the ER doctor returned he said that all he could see what white where her lungs were supposed to be.  By that time she was completely unresponsive.  When I asked if I should call our children to fly into Tucson, he said yes.  The ER nurse confirmed that — so I did.  I will never forget the feelings I had as I sat alone in that ER room, knowing no one there, having been told she might not survive the night.  Mary Ann had been taken for some other test.  I am now living what I feared that night.

The Kids came, Lisa with baby Ashlyn in tow.  Mary Ann was so agitated that even with me there, they provided a hospital sitter to be in the room also.  Four days later, Mary Ann and I were on a plane home.  She had bounced back from that flirtation with death.

Within one day of a month later, the Ambulance came to out house in Kansas to take her to the hospital again.  She had had a stroke. It was April 9 of 2005. At first her speech was gone and her right arm was virtually useless.  It was not a bleed or a large clot, but a cluster stroke, plaque from her carotid artery broken into tiny pieces, lodged in a cluster in one part of her brain.  With a few weeks in the hospital, rehab, followed by outpatient therapy, she regained almost everything.  She was left with some spatial issues that reduced the control of her right hand making feeding herself more of an issue.

Mary Ann refused to give up.  We continued to have a reasonably good quality of existence in spite of the limitations.  The Volunteers and Mary Ann’s strength of will, kept our life on course.  Also by that time I had come to know a great deal about the diseases that had assaulted her and the medications used to treat them.  I was able to make helpful recommendations to the doctors and monitor her condition daily.  I think my advocacy for her with the medical professionals helped the quality of her life, until finally in the last weeks, nothing I did could stop the inevitable.

Before that inevitable day two months ago came, there was more of life to be lived.  That will come next.

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I have tried to write about our experience honestly.  To do so has required my revealing the harsh realities of painfully ordinary people.  I could try to create the illusion that we are a saintly household above all the weaknesses and failures and missteps that plague regular folks.  I could try, but this blog is not fiction.  It is too much work to make up stuff and keep it all straight.

I got up this morning after a night of watching her, feeling for her pulse, putting my hand on her chest to be sure she is breathing, getting up and putting my ear next to her mouth to be sure I could hear the breath going in and out.  I was tired and grumpy and angry.  Why does she have to be so stubborn?  Why can’t she just let go?  What a jerk I am to be angry at someone who has suffered so for so long and is now in the throes of dying!  I just can’t stand seeing her weak and vulnerable and in pain.  She would hate it!  She is a proud and strong-willed person, not about to be found to be weak.  I am not angry at her.  I am scared and sad and in pain with absolutely no one to blame.

I suppose I could waste a lot of time and energy being angry at God, but pain and suffering are not God’s idea.  God often gets the blame for the bad stuff (usually perpetrated by people doing the opposite of what He has asked us to do).  God more rarely gets credit for bothering to give us the breath of life and everything we just assume is our right, belongs to us.  I can’t waste my limited stamina being angry with the only One who can actually help both Mary Ann and me as we pass through this transition in our lives.

I wish I could cry, but I think the tears are waiting until this is over.  Every day seems like an entire lifetime.  This morning I was grumpy and angry.  I went to the computer to find that one of the other two in our online Lewy Body Dementia Spouses group at the same stage we are in lost her husband finally this morning.  Here is what I wrote to her:

Doris,
My thoughts are with you.  We are still in that time that has extended beyond the fear of the end to a longing for it to be over.  Rest now from your and Philip’s winding, uphill, exhausting and exciting journey to this point.  I wish you well as you take the best of what Philip has brought into your life, discover who you will become now that he is not with you here, and find joy and fulfillment when finally the pain finds a quiet place to remain as your own adventure continues.
Peter

Somehow reflecting on her loss, helped me regain a bit of perspective.  My anger and grumpiness are just a function of feeling utterly helpless, struggling to accept something I don’t want to accept, already missing horribly someone who has been in the center of my life for decades.  Yes, we could irritate the Hell out of each other sometimes, but that is precisely because we matter so much to each other.

The lifetime lived today included treating sores (none open yet), inserting Tylenol suppositories, cleaning and turning bones stretched with bruised skin over them, administering Morphine before the three times of turning to lessen the pain revealed by her grimacing as we worked on her.

The lifetime lived today included good friend and former co-worker Jim and Joanna, hugs and conversation and prayer.  A full, hot meal appeared at the door, delivered by Shari, member of our little Spiritual Formation group that meets for a couple of hours weekly.  Good Buddy Jimmy came by bearing a gift and concern for us.

Today’s lifetime included moments with Granddaughter Chloe, lots of words and acts of support for one another between Daughter Lisa, Son Micah, Daughter-in-Law Becky.  Today included the return of Son-in-Law Denis and Granddaughters, Abigail (who now wants to be called Abby) and Ashlyn, both full of energy and grateful to be in Mom’s arms again after being gone so long.

In today’s lifetime our downstairs bedroom and family room have become a campground.  It is very good that our small town home has three full bathrooms now that we have finished the downstairs and many people in it.

During this lifetime, the one lived today, fatigue has been a constant presence.  The consensus was that it would be good for me to go into the bedroom with Mary Ann, shut the door and just rest. Grumpy Grandpa is not their favorite family member.  I did so at least three times in this lifetime, today.  It helped.  Nothing can remove the tired with which I woke up, but it helped.

Lifetimes include sunshine and storms.  Today began with rumbling thunder, and moments ago the power went off for a moment, turning off the computer and the oxygen machine.  Needless to say, both are working again.

This day’s lifetime will now continue into the night.  At least intellectually, I have determined that it is not necessary for us to be awake and with Mary Ann at the moment of her death.  We love her and she knows it.  We have cared for her and doted on her for days.  Micah asked Lisa how long she has been here.  It has been eleven days that this watch has been going on.  It actually started two days earlier. We would love to have the privilege of surrounding her at that moment.  It is, however, not necessary for me to try to stay awake all night checking her breathing.  While I know that intellectually, we will see if knowing that has even a shred of influence on my insides and my actions.

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That was the question Son Micah asked.  He had not been with us at the time Hospice Social Worker Kristin answered some of those questions.  In forty years of ministry, I have become painfully aware of the process.

We will call Hospice.  The Nurse will come and make the declaration.  We will have all the time we want with the part of Mary Ann we can see, though life has left for another place.  The Nurse will call the Funeral Home to come and take pick her up to begin preparing her for the service.

We will begin going down the list of folks to notify.  I will not put anything on Facebook or the Blog until we have connected with as many as possible of those whom we intend to notify by phone or email.

When the funeral home vehicle arrives, we will send with them the dress, a picture to help them in their holy task of preparing her for viewing.  Once the Funeral Home folks have left, we will conclude the contacting, and try to begin processing what has happened.

We will set an appointment with a Funeral Director for the next day.  There will be an obituary to work out.  We will go over the plans we made many years ago.  Since we have those plans in place, we will not need to go to the casket room and make all sorts of decisions. They are already made.  We will need to write a check for the opening of the grave site into which the ashes will be placed the day after the service here.

One of the things I did today was work out a proposal for the flow of the service, the hymns and readings.  That job is normally left to the Pastor who will do the service.  Pastors are trained to do that, equipped to do that and experienced in doing it.  Since I served as a Pastor for forty years, Pr. Jim is willing for me to have input.  I finalized the hymns we prefer and did what I have done hundreds of times before.  I put them all together into a traditional Lutheran Funeral Service — admittedly, one with a little more music than usual.

It felt good to put that service together.  It did not feel good that the service will be for Mary Ann.  I couldn’t bring myself to actually write her name into the proposal I sent to Pr. Jim and Director of worship Young.  It just felt good to do something, something I know how to do.  Everything else is so completely out of my control, many of the things I am doing with Mary Ann are new to me, we don’t know from one moment to the next what will happen — it just felt good to accomplish something I am actually equipped to do.

We are all getting tired.  Sleep is tough to come by.  I get up at various times during the night to put my hand on Mary Ann to see if she is still breathing.  I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and just lie there, thinking and trying to doze a little.  The kids downstairs sleep fitfully, listening for my footsteps — reassured when they hear them and there is no pounding on the floor for them to come up.  Actually, I will also push the button Mary Ann used to push to get my attention when she needed me.  It is an electronic battery operated wireless doorbell system.

When I went out to run a couple of quick errands late this afternoon, Mary Ann’s breathing acted up, there were some odd and distressing movements, so the kids called and I came back quickly.  I appreciated that they called right away.  She seemed to settle down, but her breathing continues to be very shallow and a little less steady than it has been.  Otherwise, we remain in a holding pattern.  We keep hoping she will let go. It clearly is harder and harder on her when we move and shift her to avoid the bed sores.

Nurse Emily came and delivered some more briefs and adhesive pads for the red spots to keep them from becoming open sores if possible.  She reassured us that we are doing a good job of caring for Mary Ann.  When I asked about it, she said that when we see her in pain, it is better to give her the low dose more often than increase the dose.

I spend a lot of time talking with Mary Ann when I go in to be with her. I have talked about how fulfilling our life together has been.  Whatever we have done, we have been given the gift of wonderful children who have married good people, and produced beautiful, vibrant, healthy Grandchildren, filled with potential.  We could hardly ask for more.   It seemed odd when I realized that I fell in love with her shortly after I turned 19.  I am 67 now.  When I mentioned that to my Daughter, Lisa said she couldn’t remember back to when she was nineteen.  Mary Ann and I have had a lifetime together.  I have said that I have no regrets.  As I think about it, I do regret that we didn’t hug more.  She is too fragile for me to do it, but I just want to hug the stuffings out of her.  (There are no stuffings left to hug out of her — she is skin and bones.)

Don and Edie (and Son Zach) came by to drop off some orange sweet rolls — very tasty.  Don and Zach spent a little time with me talking about how to deal with the pump problem in the waterfall, the Calcium buildup.  Later, Volunteer Coordinator Mary brought by a Tuna Casserole, some of which we enjoyed for supper, along with leftovers from last night’s dinner.

In the evening, I ventured out for the fifteen minutes it takes to get a cup of coffee at PT’s and return home.  One of the owners, the one who travels to visit the locales and the farmers all over the world from whom they buy the coffee beans was there.  Jeff has a wonderful and caring relationship with all those with whom he works to provide the best coffee possible.  I have interacted with him on occasion since we arrived here in 1996.  He handed me his card and told me to call him if we need coffee brought to the house tomorrow.  He would arrange for it or do it himself.  Home delivery is not one of the services coffee shops provide.

Terry, one of Mary Ann’s three friends from childhood phoned this morning to check on her and wish her well.  All three of them and so many others have been checking on her, sending their love, and including her and the rest of our family in their prayers. This is a humbling experience for us — one we, of course, would never have chosen.  It is the capstone of Mary Ann’s life and an experience after which I will never be the same, hopefully a better person for it.

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Here we go again!  Last night included a number of times up, suggesting that we were cresting the hill on the way back to hallucinations.  During the night, they were not as intense as I expect them to be the next couple of nights (hopefully only a couple) before there is any realistic hope of a break from them.

This morning she started trying to get up very early.  I managed to get her back in bed a number of times until about 7am.  I gave up on that strategy and got her up.

The truth is, I am more frustrated with my reaction to the hallucinations than I am the hallucinations themselves.  I want to become able to take them in stride and respond without getting grumpy.  I apologized for being so grumpy and explained to her that I was frustrated from trying to deal with them for so long and feeling helpless to do anything about them, especially with no medical help from a competent doctor at the moment.  I was a little surprised that she responded in a way that suggested what I said had found a path through the hallucinations to Mary Ann herself.  She seemed to understand what I was saying, recognizing especially the issue of trying to deal with this with no doctor in the picture yet. In fact she managed to describe of whom she was thinking well enough to determine that she was suggesting a local Neurologist whom we have used in the past (when she had a stroke), a doctor we like.  He is not likely to have the specialized knowledge that we need, but it is worth a try.

At the moment, I have not received return calls from two contacts made last week.  I am disappointed, since in one case a nurse from a dementia clinic was supposed to phone with answers to my questions about Lewy Body Dementia.  In the other case, I left a message on an answering machine. The only option from which I have the information I need that would allow us to proceed is the one I find the most distasteful.  It would involve a few days in the hospital.  The hospital has always thrown Mary Ann for a loop.  In each case there was pretty much a psychotic break from which we never really regained the lost ground.

Today, after our conversation, Mary Ann managed to stay seated long enough for me to get a shower.  I gave her the morning pills and got her breakfast.  It was not too long thereafter that she ended up back in bed.  She said she wanted to go to the bathroom, but she fainted to such an extent that I could not get her on the toilet stool.  I put her back in bed and she has been there ever since.  That was around 9:30am.  It is now almost 4pm.

Volunteer Tamara, came at 10am to give me a chance to nap if we had had a difficult night.  The timing was perfect since this was the first bad night in the last five.  When Tamara was with Mary Ann last Monday evening in a regular Volunteer slot, it was obvious to her that I had not slept much either in the prior 8 days of Mary Ann’s intense hallucinating.  She suggested the option of adding a nap time option on Saturday and one other day next week.

Volunteer Coordinator Mary and I are talking about adding a Saturday time slot regularly just for that possibility.  There is no way to be sure when bad nights will come, but having the time to nap or just get away for a while is helpful.  This morning I was able to nap for a couple of hours and also leave the house to do a couple of errands before Tamara was due to leave at 1pm.

While, since Mary Ann has slept so long, I would have been able to nap today, I would not have been able to get out to do the errands.  I could not have known in advance that she would sleep most of the day.

What lies ahead is still unknown.  Of course, that is always true, but there are not even clear expectations.  The pattern from before the increase in dosage of Seroquel was that Mary Ann would hallucinate for two days and three nights, then sleep for two days, then have a transition day during which the most lucid moments came. Then the hallucinating would begin again.  Since this disease is so erratic in its presentation, using the word “pattern” is pretty silly.  It does what it will do when it chooses — and that is that.

…It is about 9:30pm now.  She slept through until about 6:30pm.  She had indidcated that she wanted something to eat, but by the time we got to the table, she was no longer able to speak intelligibly.  I couldn’t figure out what she wanted or if she still wanted anything.  I just held her for a while.  At that point, she couldn’t sit up straight — almost fell off the chair.  I did manage to get her to take some spoonfuls of applesauce.  Finally, she just could not respond in any way.  It was tough to get her from the dining room chair to the transfer chair.

I managed to get her to the bed, but by then it was apparent that there had been some intestinal activity.  She was almost completely limp, but I needed to get her to the toilet stool, cleaned and changed and back into bed.  If last Saturday’s struggle with that task was a 10, this one was a 9.9.  It all got done and she ended up back in bed.  I was physically as exhausted as I was last Saturday.  I was not as emotionally exhausted.  For whatever reason, I kept my cool during this one.  I just did what needed to be done.  I hope some progress has actually been made in dealing with that problem.  Admittedly, I was much more rested today than I was last Saturday.

I settled on the deck for some devotional reading.  It was a beautiful evening, warm, but with a pleasant breeze.  After a short time there, I saw on the video monitor that Mary Ann was moving.  I went in to check.  She was able to speak more clearly.  She wanted to eat something. This time it was some vanilla ice cream with hot fudge and pecans.  After eating, she watched Dr. House for a half hour or so, and has now taken her bedtime pills and gone back to bed.

Today while she was lying in bed, on occasion she would be there with eyes open, talking to people only she could see.  While we were sitting next to one another in front of the television before she finally went to bed, she was doing the same, this time with her eyes closed.

Sleeping all day and having moved into the hallucination cycle leads me to expect a more difficult night tonight than last night.  She appears to be restless at the moment.

…This time it was another trip for #2.  This time it was at least a 9.95 compared to last Saturday’s 10.  She was sort of dead weight thrughout, but including enough involuntary twisting and moving her weight against what I was trying to do as I sought to hold her up, that I almost could not get the task done.  If nothing in this short and chubby body gets broken, pulled or herniated, I am going to be a force to be reckoned with physically.  This is like going to the gym multiple times a day.

I had better close, otherwise I may be writing all night and have nothing left to write about tomorrow — unlikely!

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She was awake for almost half of the day!  I enjoyed having her present with me again.  Her presence included a question about when we would hear the verdict.  One of her dreams, the one to which she woke crying because she had been beaten by a police officer, included a follow up in which we were to go to court.  She was referring to that dream, still confused with reality.  It is what I suspect is part of a series of living dreams that have collected bits and pieces from Law and Order episodes and thrown them into a new configuration.

She was lucid enough to at least hear my suggestion that she is free to take that off her list of worries since it never actually happened and was only a dream.  So far, the hyper hallucinating has not returned.  It certainly seems to be on the horizon.  I thought the hallucinations might fire up last night, but they didn’t.  Since she was awake more of today and spoke of the dreams as if they were still a reality, it seems more likely that the return is near.

The last four days have provided a chance for Mary Ann and I to reconnect a bit.  It is very hard to connect with one another when she is constantly in a world of delusions and hallucinations.  The last few days we have been able to express a gentle warmth with one another, a lingering hug when moving her from one chair to another, a soft kiss while in front of the fridge getting ready to pick out something for lunch. I will miss that when the hallucnations return.  I have a quiet hope that by reducing the Seroquel, the intensity and frequency of the hallucinations might diminish a bit, allowing a little space in between to reconnect.  I hesitate to hope since so often that for which I hope gets lost in the next crisis.

We did get out in the car today.  Mary Ann ate well at breakfast, stayed up for a couple more hours until Hospice Aide Sonya came to give her a shower and do her hair.  Mary Ann was hungry for lunch as soon as that was done. She ate a good lunch with a half sandwich, chips, Pepsi, and Concrete from Sheridan’s that had ended up in the freezer one evening a couple of days ago.  After lunch, I got her into the car and we headed out for some errands.  She stayed in the car, while I ran in and out of three or four places.  It was not long before she was dozing in the car, but at least we were out.

She slept for a couple of hours when we got back, then she got up and ate a small supper.  This seems to me to be the first day in many in which she has eaten three meals, even if the last one was small.

She is back in bed, having taken her pills.  She slept reasonably well last night.  My expectation of a difficult night has increased tonight based on the increase in her activity today and the questions about the dream she has mixed with reality. She also seems restless at the moment.

The good news is that if it is a bad night, Monday evening’s Volunteer Tamara offered to come for a time in the mid-morning tomorrow and the afternoon next Tuesday to provide some nap time options for me if needed.  I was very obviously suffering from lack of sleep last Monday after the 8 day run of intense hallucinations at night as well as parts of the days.

I made a belated phone call to my Brother and Sister-in-Law who had a combined surprise birthday party in conjuction with the Confirmation of one of their Grandsons.  One turned 80 and the other 81. Happily, they are both in good health and as feisty as ever, and they certainly are a feisty pair.  They have a genuine woodland and pond in their back yard measured in acres rather than feet.  Their garden is huge.  The bee hives provide them with honey. When it is cold, wood cut from their and their Son’s property warms them in the wood burning stove.  Two of their Children and three Grandchildren live moments away.

I was disappointed not to be able to travel the ten hours to the surprise party.  My four Brothers and Sisters were together at the party.  Three had come a five hour drive to attend.  As a Pastor, we have lived at various places, none close to our families of origin.  All five of us have discovered more interest in getting together in recent years, but Mary Ann’s and my circumstances have not allowed us to join them very often.  We have a great time when we are together.

For now, it is my intention to try to get to bed earlier tonight in anticipation of what might come during the night.  I suspect the respite is coming to an end.

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I felt pretty low this morning. She was up some during the night, but not as bad as some nights.   Mary Ann’s dementia was pretty strong.  Her words were still pretty much unintelligible. She insisted on getting up very early.  I was not sure if she would ever calm down.  She was hallucinating and grumpy.  I felt pretty much trapped, barely able to manage a shower and responding to my own call of nature with Mary Ann up and moving. I felt unusually tired, not just physically.

She finally did become more subdued, putting her head on the table as she sat.  She ended up in bed and was only up for a small breakfast and a very small lunch.  At lunch I had to hold her head up to get any food in her mouth.  Later in the day, she was up for a short time when Volunteer Coordinator Mary phoned and brought us Baskin & Robbins ice cream.  Mary Ann ate only a very few spoons of ice cream with me standing up beside her holding her head and upper body up, feeding her while Mary held the cup.  She then pretty much fainted and I took her back to bed.

She has had no supper either.  Once in the afternoon she did get up for a very short time.  She stood up to go in the kitchen to get something to eat and when she got near the bedroom door, she changed her mind and went back to bed.  She has at various times been doing a lot of vocalizing and jerking when lying in bed ostensibly asleep.

I have no clear expectation concerning how she will react to removing the additional dose of Seroquel she had been taking for eight days. This is the second day with only the evening dose. I am pretty apprehensive about the impact of the change.

It is easy to feel very helpless in the face of things over which we have no control.  Losing the care of the doctor on whom we have depended for so long, who has performed veritable miracles with medications over the years, was just another evidence of our vulnerability.

What has happened throughout the day today has provided a glimmer of possibility — only a glimmer, but at least something.  Talking with the folks at hospice, phoning a couple Psychologists in the city whom I know and respect, began to produce some results.  Both Psychologists called back with helpful information, the Hospice Nurse made her weekly visit and had done some checking, the Hospice Social Worker phoned and came over with some helpful information. Then Volunteer Coordinator Mary brought us the ice cream treats.  I am still bone tired.  I don’t know what that means exactly, but it sounds as I feel.

As tired as I feel, there is also the feeling that we are beginning to regain a little control in a situation that is hopelessly out of control.  It may only be an illusion, but if it is, it is a helpful illusion.

At the suggestion of one of the Psychologists, I have contacted a Senior Diagnostics program at a local hospital.  Apparently the Psychiatrist in charge is especially capable of dealing with complex clusters of symptoms and diseases — that certainly is Mary Ann.  The person with whom I spoke on the phone knew about Lewy Body Dementia and seemed to understand that it had to be treated differently from Alzheimer’s Dementia. While a few days in the hospital would be among the last things either of us would choose, at least it is an option.

The other Psychologist gave me the name and number of a Neuro-Psychologist whom he knows well and respects very much.  While a Psychologist is not the one who prescribes the medications, he/she always has a close relationship with a Psychiatrist who can do so.

The Hospice Nurse had talked with their Medical Director, a Physician in Kansas City, about our situation.  She indicated that if we don’t get someone soon, he can make sure we have the medicines we need.

The Hospice Social Worker reviewed the residential options and will do more checking on those.  She provided an idea of costs, indicating the layers from least expensive of having help here at home (of course our preference) to the next layer of small care centers that are in homes with very personal care to the larger nursing homes that accommodate those with dementia.  She mentioned one not far that a Social Worker friend had declared to be wonderful.  A clearer picture of options helps fuel the feeling of having some little bit of power in this situation, some choices.

I also sent the fax to the Neurologist who declined to continue to treat the hallucinations.  I asked if we should still plan on keeping out next appointment in a few months since Mary Ann still has the Parkinson’s, which he has treated for so long.  Then I asked if he would still respond to requests for refills of the medications he has currently prescribed for Mary Ann.

There was one especially interesting sidelight to the day.  Many months ago a request came through the online group of Caregiving Spouses of those with some form of Lewy Body Dementia.  It was from someone in the Chicago area who writes articles targeting Seniors for a Health Insurance provider’s magazine.  The magazine just goes to enrollees in Northern Illinois (if I understand correctly).  When the request came, she was looking for Seniors who did Blogging and had an Illinois connection.  Both Mary Ann and I grew up in Northern Illinois (Aurora).  I responded, but heard no more.

Yesterday she emailed and today interviewed me on the phone.  She had great questions about our situation, how and why I started blogging and what purpose it serves in our situation.  It was just nice to have someone from completely outside our circle spend forty-five minutes paying attention to our situation.  Now that I am not in a circumstances that provide much feedback, it felt good to hear someone who is actually a writer assessing my blog posts in such a positive way.  I have no way to judge the quality of the writing.  I just need to write to get this stuff out of my gut.

When she asked one question, what popped into my mind and out of my mouth was very revealing to both of us.  All through the day I am thinking about what is happening in terms of how and what I might write about it.  I realized that I actually feel as if I am not alone when things happen, especially things that push me past my limits.  Whether or not it is true, I feel as if you who read this are part of what is going on; you notice us; and, judging from the occasional comment, you are concerned about us.  I realize that sounds very self-serving and ego-centric.  It is.  I admit it — but it sure helps.

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.

One foot is in Juarez, Mexico and the other in El Paso, Texas.  I bring no political agenda to this analogy to where Mary Ann is now living.  She lives on the border between two worlds, one visible to others, the other only visible to her.  There are uncontrolled border crossings with no hope of closing the border and controlling the traffic in the foreseeable future.

In fact, she has one foot on one side and one on the other.  There are not always clear indications which side is which.  She apparently holds dual citizenship.  She is documented in both places.  Some days I think she is only on a temporary visitor’s visa to the hallucination side, residing in reality.  Other days I am afraid that it is a permanent visa leading to full citizenship on the hallucination side of the border.

I took some comfort this morning that Volunteer Jan got to see and hear Mary Ann while she was standing on the border between the hallucination side and the reality side, switching with ease from one side to the other with no cue as to when she was where.  It was, of course, clear when Mary Ann was talking to me where she was standing.  At that moment I was a dozen or more miles away at the Lake, mostly sitting in the van vegetating.

After another night of hallucinations and confusion, she got up painfully early, had breakfast and then crashed just before Volunteer Jan arrived.  After a couple of hours sleeping, she got up, and Jan got her lunch (along with some less pleasant duties — sorry, Jan).  It was then that Jan experienced the multiple border crossings.

By the time I got home about an hour later, Mary Ann was napping with her head on the table in front of her chair.  After a while I asked and she chose to go in and lie down in bed.  I probably should also be napping, but here I am writing this.  It is impossible to work on a post while she is awake.

At this very moment, I suspect the Youth of the congregation are coming to the climax of the musical, Godspell.  I realized that we would most certainly not be able to go together to the evening dinner and performance last night.  I thought we might be able to attend the matinée this afternoon.  It was not in the cards.  Mary Ann’s vacillating between hallucinations and deep sleep just won’t allow that option.  I also am too wasted to enjoy it.  My ministry has always been filled with wonderful relationships with Youth.  I focussed on ministering especially to high school Youth for 18 years of my ministry, including three years teaching at a large parochial high school.

As a result of the importance to me of that ministry, I find great power and joy in experiencing the journey Youth are on.  They experience life as if it were being lived under magnification.  Everything is intense and vivid.  Last year I missed the performance of Godspell.  There are many unbelievably talented Youth in the congregation. I heard a CD of their performance last year.  It was not only powerful because I know and care about so many of the kids, but because is was so professionally done.  Just listening to the recorded musical last year produced a lump in my throat and water in my eyes.  As vulnerable as I am at the moment, it is probably best I am not there.  I might have embarrassed myself.

Decisions have to be made about how to proceed now from here, given our life on the border.  I emailed the online Yahoo group of Caregiver Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia about yesterday’s and recent challenges with Mary Ann and my ability to care for her.  The responses came from a thorough understanding of our circumstances since those folks live with this situation day in and day out.  Some have been through and are past what we are now going through.  Some are in the same place.  Some are looking at our situation as descriptive of what is to come for them. They empathized and reflected back the painful reality that I will be no good to anyone if I try to go beyond the limits of what I can handle for too long.

My first intention is to call the Neurologist, describe what has been happening and ask how best to go about eliminating the recently added morning dose of Seroquel.  For a week now, the problem it is supposed to help has gotten measurably worse.  I suspect he might again suggest going to a local Neuro-Psychiatrist to check out other options for medication.  I have little hope that there is anyone more competent in dealing with this particular form of dementia located in our community which is much smaller than Kansas City.

In addition, I will continue to experiment with paid help to see what the best times might be and how much we can afford.  I realize a dementia unit will be many times more expensive than having some help here.  The challenge is determining where the tipping point is that shifts the weight from home to facility.  My physical and mental stamina are a part of what will weigh into that measurement.

…It is now a couple of hours later in the afternoon. The doorbell rang a few moments ago.  It was former parishioner Dave, delivering a rhubarb pie that had been saved back to bring to us from the reception after the production of Godspell this afternoon.  You know, the fact that as I was writing about missing the production and the kids, someone was thinking of us warms my insides. After retiring almost two years ago, it is a comfort to think that while gone, maybe not forgotten!

Mary Ann is still in bed and not interested in getting up.  Her eyes are open, but she wants to remain there in bed.  I hope she is willing to get up for a while yet today.  Maybe she is resting up for a busy night of hallucinations/delusions/dreams mixed with reality.  I certainly hope not.  I did nap for an hour this afternoon, but I do not look forward to being up tonight.

She did get up to have a little applesauce, but has now gone back to bed. She was hallucinating almost constantly while awake in bed and out of bed to the table, while eating, and back into bed.  Enough for now.  Maybe I can try the early to bed option on the outside chance sleep will be possible.

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.