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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This morning Mary Ann began the day feeling very weak and wobbly.  She had fainted more than once during the night at commode times.  She fainted more than once this morning.  She took her pills with juice and yogurt, but was not interested in the usual cereal afterward.  She just wanted to go back to bed.  She slept for a couple of hours. 

For the rest of the day, she has been able to walk only very short distances until she either fainted or couldn’t go any farther needing to sit down.  She did manage to get to the car so that we could, using the wheelchair as usual, head to Perkin’s for pancakes. 

While she was restless and in popping-up mode after that through suppertime, she still could not walk more than a few feet without having to sit down.  That, of course, meant I was also in popping up mode. 

Today has not been unlike many days in the last couple of weeks.  She did seem weaker even than prior days in that period.  The question is the one that is always at least in the wings but now has moved to center stage again.  Is this a temporary decline or a permanent one, a new plateau on the journey down the Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia path? 

I realize that worrying about whether it is permanent or temporary accomplishes nothing, but it just seems to be time for a little fretting on the matter.  What is especially of concern with this disease is the rate of decline.  We understand there is one direction this is going.  The rate at which it is traveling is at issue. 

The hallucinations are becoming stronger and more relentless, and the fainting is returning with a vengeance.  Moments of confusion seem to be more frequent.  All of those things are around all the time, so the challenge is to measure their intensity and frequency.   That is easier said than done since changes for the better and for the worse are incremental and seldom consistent.  

It is hard to know when the change is enough to warrant calling the Cardiologist or Neurologist.  If we do, what will either of them do that is not already being done?  We know the cost to be paid in destructive side effects if we raise levels of medication to control the problems as they worsen. 

There is no stopping the progression of this disease.  None of the medications currently available have the p0wer to slow the disease process, at least by the time the disease reaches this stage.  We have pretty well exhausted the options for controling the symptoms.  We are now left to the vagaries of the the daily and weekly and monthly ups and downs of the disease itself. 

There may be a change for the better coming, who knows, certainly not I.  We will continue to do as much as seems doable.  We have a major trip scheduled at the end of this month.  My hope is that the current apparent decline does not put that in jeopardy.   Maybe this time, what goes down will come up again on this roller coaster ride. 

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.