Even though at the family meeting we all heard Mary Ann say yes, she would like to have the Do Not Resuscitate order in place, it is not easy to formalize that decision.  There is a paper to be signed and witnessed by someone outside of the family to make it valid.  It can, of course, be rescinded at any time. 

It was a help to have a long conversation with our Cardiologist who knows Mary Ann’s situation intimately.  It was almost seven years ago that she went into the hospital through Emergency with Congestive Heart Failure.  That was his first exposure to the complexities of Mary Ann’s unique situation.  He is the one who said she was within a hair’s breadth of going on a ventilator at that time. 

It was then that the silent heart attacks were discovered.  We apparently assumed it was just bad reflux from taking all the medications every day for the Parkinson’s.  The Cardiologist confirmed just how unlikely it would have been then to imagine that almost seven years later, she would still be here and we would be having today’s conversation.  In fact, he admitted that while none of us can predict such things, even with all her heart problems, he does not expect that to be what finally ends the journey for her. 

Mary Ann is one tough Cookie!  I respect his assessment of the her situation.  In fact it encourages me that while Hospice works with a six month trajectory, Mary Ann may have a different idea.  As difficult as this is sometimes, I would rather continue for a long time than lose her. 

In fairness to Mary Ann, we need not to do things that could prolong her days past her ability to have some quality of life.  Yes, we seem to have moved into the last leg of the trip.  We need to be realistic and put in place plans that fit those circumstances.  We do not, however, have to assume any specific time frame.  We can’t know that.  While we are here together, we are here together.  It is not that somehow there is less of Mary Ann because she has a cluster of health problems that seem to be moving into the end stage. 

Earlier today I read a post in the online Lewy Body Dementia Spouses group that was a lengthy article that was published in England containing a detailed description of LBD and stories of folks who have had it.  It was interesting to see in such specific terms so many of the problems Mary Ann has, especially the hallucinations and delusions.  Mary Ann’s is a textbook case.  The article pointed out that the whole person is still present in someone with LBD pretty much to the end.  That whole person comes in flashes or for longer periods of time, without warning when that whole, lucid person is about to return or about to leave again.  It is confusing but at the same time comforting to know she is likely to still be with us some of the time to the very end. 

One thing about which the Cardiologist was adamant was to let go of the heroic measures and do exactly what the Hospice folks asked us to do.  Call Hospice, don’t call 911, don’t go to the Emergency Room, don’t use the paddles, don’t do CPR, don’t go to the hospital, don’t insert a feeding tube or other mechanisms for prolonging days that are coming to an end naturally as her body winds down.  Yes, use every medication available to treat immediate symptoms.  If there is an infection, use antibiotics.  Control pain to the degree possible.  Gratefully, most of the things above are already in the pretty standard Living Will Mary Ann and I had done by a local Attorney credentialed in Elder Law. 

It was very helpful to have confirmation by the Cardiologist that we have made the right decisions along the way.  In Mary Ann’s case the combination of End Stage Parkinson’s, Parkinson’s Disease Dementia that is progressing rapidly, and a Cardio-Vascular System that is well past repair, made the decision process less challenging than others might have. 

With all that said, this is Mary Ann we are talking about.  Seven years from now the Cardiologist and I may be having another conversation about Mary Ann much like today’s –” Who could have guessed seven years ago….??”

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I think spending the day last Saturday while Mary Ann was sleeping, moving into and through the feelings about where we seem to be headed allowed me to listen better and and come to terms with where Mary Ann is now in the disease process.

In the phone call about the fax I sent last week, Dr. Pahwa’s assistant relayed the option that Mary Ann see a Psychiatrist to look over the medicine regimen to see if there are some better options for her.

When we talked with Dr. Pahwa today, it was apparent that the Psychiatrist option made sense if I was still uncomfortable with the Seroquel.  We would need to use a local Psychiatrist where we live (an hour from KU Med) since one of the main alternative meds demands monthly blood tests to monitor it.  I have read enough to know, and Dr. Pahwa confirmed, for the sort of dementia Mary Ann has, Seroquel is by far the better choice.  The alternative also is likely to make the fainting worse.

Here is the heart of the matter.  There is no one around this area who knows the unique characteristics of Parkinson’s as well as Dr. Pahwa.  I suppose it sounds arrogant to say so, but I would have to explain the uniqueness of Mary Ann’s complex version of Parkinson’s and the character of this dementia to someone who is a generalist and does not focus all their attention on Parkinson’s.

I know of nowhere to get better information on what to do and when in dealing with the complexities of Mary Ann’s expression of Parkinson’s.  Every time in the last 23 years we have gone to anyone other than the Dr. Pahwa and Dr. Koller before him, Mary Ann has done poorly.  She has been where she is now in some ways at least twice before, once 14 years ago and once about 8 years ago.  The first time it was Dr. Koller and the second time it was Dr. Pahwa who brought her back to a high level of functionality each time within weeks of seeing them.

While he was sensitive in how he approached it, and actually simply responded with a look that said more than enough when I said it, Mary Ann is doing as well as we can hope given how long she has been battling the Parkinson’s.  Changing meds in some elusive search for the perfect combination restoring her magically to a former place in the journey would be a very risky exercise in futility.  What might be gained is not worth the risk of what could be lost.  Those are my words, but he agreed immediately.

If we lower the Seroquel, we opt for less sleep time and more hallucinations.  Selfishly, I don’t think I could handle that result.  The two days and nights she sleeps, allows me to sleep.  The times there are streaming hallucinations already push me right to the outer edge of my capacity to cope.

It is time to accept that we are where we need to be.  This is our new normal.

We talked some more about enrolling in Hospice.  We will have a family talk this Saturday when the kids and I are together.  If Mary Ann is awake and alert, we will certainly include her in that conversation.  If she is not, I will talk frankly with her about it.  I have already begun doing so.  I talked openly with Dr. Pahwa, as we were together with Mary Ann in the Examination Room.  I talked about the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order that would be expected for the full Hospice program.

I will try to get someone from Hospice to come over to the house before I leave Thursday morning for three days of solitude at the Spiritual Renewal Center in Oklahoma.  I will also try to get any input the Cardiologist might be willing to give that could help inform the decision.

I mentioned in last night’s post that Mary Ann was beginning to hallucinate.  She also fainted two or three times during that first commode trip of the night.  She did not sleep soundly through the night.  There were a number of trips to the commode.  As happens when we transition from sleep days to hallucination days, she was up more than once an hour in the last half of the night.  I finally fed her a single serving container of applesauce and took her out in front of the television with the promise that she would not get up.  Then I got a few minutes more sleep, until the alarm went off, got showered and dressed.  By that time, she had, of course, gotten up and was on the floor outside the bedroom door.  She did get a scrape on her leg, from what I am not sure — there was nothing obvious that she might have hit.

She took her pills and ate breakfast in time for Bath Aide Zandra to get her showered, hair washed and dressed in time to leave for the Neurologist appointment in Kansas City.

She had pretty much shut down and moved into her head on her lap mode as we moved from the bedroom to the door to the garage.  I have never had a more difficult time physically, getting her out of the chair, to the steps, down the steps, to the car, and into the passenger seat.  I almost had to carry her.

We made it into the car.  She had her head down the entire trip to KC.  Getting her out of the car and transferred directly to her wheelchair went much better there — probably because there was no walking, nor were there any steps.  In the past, steps have been her best thing.  That is one of the  unusual characteristics of Parkinson’s.  The line of the step make it easier to get her feet to move than on a flat plane.

In the doctor’s office, she was in leaning forward mode, although not all the way to head in lap position.  She was minimally responsive during most of the time with the doctor.

We agreed to fill out an assessment that will be used in a study on the impact of non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s — all the problems other than the ability to move arms and legs, and keep balance.  The survey took a very long time.  Mary Ann was really struggling to respond.  I am not sure how helpful we were to the study.  One interesting quirk was that while she managed to say the months of the year backwards, December, November, etc., she could not track with another request.  She was asked to count backwards from 100 by sevens.  I was glad I wasn’t asked to do that.  Kelly, who was administering that part of the survey, explained it and repeated the instructions a number of times.  Mary Ann’s first response was to just count backwards from ten to one.  Kelly repeated that it was counting from one hundred, subtracting seven each time.  She then said what is seven subtracted from one hundred.  Mary Ann answered, three.  She never connected that Kelly said 100, no matter how many times she explained it. Mary Ann always responded with ten.

Admittedly, it was hard to watch as she was asked to write a sentence of any sort, and she made some tiny scribbles and was not able, of course, to read it or say what she wrote.  She was to draw a simple shape matching one on the paper in front of her.  She made a couple of attempts, but to no avail.  Mary Ann was always very good at drawing.  She illustrated a children’s book she wrote many years ago.  She never tried to get it published, but it is very cute.

I know she hates how much she has lost over the years.  It has become just a fact of life now.  It is part of our current normal.

When we got home Mary Ann ate some thick and hearty steak soup with my help, finally falling asleep in her lemon meringue pie. She was refusing to let me help her at that point.  She napped in bed for a couple of hours, got up, ate the pie (this time letting me help), and soon headed back to bed.  Of course, I cannot be sure how tonight will go, but we are on the increasing hallucination time if her current cycle of symptom changes continues.

Today was a day in which the facts of our situation seemed quite clear. Having worked through the strong feelings about the matter last Saturday, and a Sunday morning a month ago, seemed to make it easier to be rational about the information available to us today about where Mary Ann is in this journey with Parkinson’s tagging along.  Dr. Pahwa reminded us how long our battle with Parkinson’s has been going on — twenty-three years now

It is time to accept where we are in the journey.  We don’t have to like it.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.