She watched the director, knew the music, sang with her mouth open wide just as she should, and brought some joy to her Grandparents (and, of course, her parents).  This Grandpa loved every minute, since singing was in the center of my life during most of my first two decades of life, and has remained a love until now.

We drove a little over an hour to the church at which Chloe’s choir performed.  Her other Grandparents made a trip more than twice that length to come to the concert.  The choir is sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC). Auditions are required to be able to sing with the choir.

Then logistics needed to accomplish the day’s activities were not always easy.  Churches try hard to be accessible for the handicapped, but old buildings often will simply not cooperate in the task of becoming welcoming.  We thought it wise to make a bathroom stop before the concert.  There was an accessible bathroom inside the ground floor doors near a handicapped parking spot.  The doors were locked to force the attendees to use a door that would allow entry to the room from the back.

Gratefully, we got the attention of then attendant who let us in and waited while we used the restroom.  The need to change the pad due to incontinence resulted in removing shoes that are difficult to get on and off.  We used an elevator to get to the floor on which the concert would be held.  As a result of the time spent in the bathroom, we barely made it in through a door in the front of the room, the same door through which the choirs entered.  We were directed to the indentation in the pews for wheel chairs, but all the seats around it were filled.  Gratefully, a family offered to split up with Dad moving the pew behind so that I could be right behind Mary Ann.

After the concert, to get to the reception area, we had to return the same way, take the elevator to the lower level, pass through the kitchen, and then arrive at the reception area.

Before the concert, we ate out together.  The handicapped parking spaces were a block from the restuarant.  To get to the booth, we had to go through the serving area.  Booths are always a bit of a challenge.  Ordering was pretty difficult, as it always is, since a compromised executive function of the brain is among the first of the problems to emerge with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (Lewy Body Dementia).  She really struggled to track and then decide what to order.

Again, getting the food to her mouth, coordinating the straw so that she could drink did not go very well.  Then twice, she just fell to the side. [See an earlier post on leaning to the left.]  After the second time, I moved from sitting in the chair that had been added for me, to sitting right next to her on the booth bench, with my body supporting hers.  When we ate at BoBo’s earlier in the week, she had fallen to the right twice while sitting in the booth.

After the concert we had a nice time with the kids at their house, along with Daughter-in-Law Becky’s parents.  Mary Ann was sitting off to the side a bit since she needs a hard, straight-backed chair to keep from being trapped in the chair, unable to assist when she needs to get up.  I stood near her so that the conversation would include her, even though she said only a few words.

I need to ask the kids to confirm, but today seemed to indicate that Mary Ann has lost ground in the recent past.  I am beginning to accept the possibility that this is just the way it is now — that we have moved to a new normal.

When we left their house, we headed down to see the Plaza Lights.  Kansas City is a beautiful place for the most part.  The Country Club Plaza, built in the 30’s with all the buildings done in Spanish Architecture, is a wonderful spot.  There is a huge fountain on one end.  There are parking garages built with the same architecture.  There are horse drawn carriages, people walking the sidewalks.  There are lots of exclusive stores, most having very expensive merchandise.  The lights outline all the buildings and have been put up from Thanksgiving through Christmas for many decades.

We lived in an area a mile or so south of the Plaza for fifteen years.  Our children grew up there.  It felt wonderful tonight to be driving those same streets that had become so familiar.  I realized how much I miss the feel of a metropolitan area that has people walking about, families, young people, folks out walking their dogs, local ethnic restaurants, curved streets, tall trees everywhere.  I guess we just fell in love with Kansas City during those years there.  As we drove, Mary Ann admitted that she would still like to move back to KC.  There are a number of reasons that pretty much eliminate that option, but this is not the first time she has said that.  One of the reasons moving back is unlilkely is that the house we bought for $22,500 in 1972 was on the market a couple of years ago, listed at $310.000.  What is it they say, “location, location, location.”

All in all, today was a good day.  While there were signs of Mary Ann’s apparent decline, the joy of getting out, hearing Chloe sing, enjoying conversation, and seeing beautiful Christmas lights more than compensated.

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

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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!

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.

I’ll bet you wish you had seen hundreds of Wilson’s Phalaropes swimming in little circles at a dizzying rate of speed, a White-faced Ibis, lots of Black-necked Stilts, a bunch of cute little Semipalmated (not fully, but only semi-palmated) Plovers, very many American Avocets and Hudsonian Godwits, not to mention the White-rumped Sandpipers and the Scissortail Flycatcher — all this along with forty-eight more varieties of birds.

I got a day off yesterday, and so did Mary Ann!  We both had a great time.  I spent the day birding with an experienced birder, a new friend that I now call Bob, and Mary Ann spent most of the day with our Son, Micah.

Arranging a day off is no small task for a full time Caregiver.  Those routines that provide the structure to the day and provide assurance that everything that needs to be done gets done, are not easily explained to someone who does not do them on a daily basis.  To write down instructions for all the routines and appropriate responses to the variety of situations that might arise would be almost impossible.  It would read like the instruction manual for a computer program.

To have a day off, I needed to have enough confidence in Mary Ann’s safety and security that I could let go of any concern, relax and enjoy the day’s activities.  There are pills to be taken, a medicine patch to be replaced, a wound to be dressed, bathroom needs to be dealt with, food to be provided, a commode to be cleaned out, maybe a shower and/or hair washed.  There are endless possibilities for problems to arise, from falls to heart pain to fainting spells.

I was able to relax completely.  Here is why:  For the last years of my ministry, we had an agency provide a paid person to do Companion Care with Mary Ann for three hours from 6:45am to 9:45am on Sunday mornings.  That was a time that it was not appropriate to ask a Volunteer to serve.  We have used two agencies mainly.  One is called Comfort Keepers and the other Home Instead.  Both are very good.  The one we have used most recently is Home Instead.  For the last couple of years of ministry, Debbie came each Sunday morning.  She became very familiar with the morning routine, including shower and hair washing, dressing, taking meds, providing breakfast, cleaning the commode and dealing with the fainting spells should they happen.  Debbie was available yesterday for the early morning shift. The cost is about $16 per hour.  It is worth the sixty dollars that it will cost to have her there, to have a day off for both of us. (Home Instead: http://www.homeinstead.com/; Comfort Keepers: http://www.comfortkeepes.com/)

For the evening three hours, Margaret was willing to come.  She is a very good friend to Mary Ann, as well as the Parish Nurse for our Congregation.  She has all the skill and experience anyone could ask for.  She has taught nursing for decades and, while retired, still keeps active, serving on call as a home health nurse for a local hospital along with serving full time as Parish Nurse — volunteering her time in that role.

During part of the afternoon, until a virus laid her low, Edie was going to spend a few hours.  She is also a good friend to Mary Ann and has dealt with everything right up to calling the ambulance to take her to the hospital when it was needed.

The best part of all was that our Son, Micah, was able to come from 9:30am to 6:30pm to be with his Mom.  Our Daughter-in-Law, Becky, and Granddaughter, Chloe, were on a Girl Scout campout this weekend.  That freed the time for Micah to come.  For a Mom to have her adult Son to herself for a full day is a treat beyond description.  Micah always brings out the best in Mary Ann.  She was alert and able to communicate.  They talked on the phone with our Daughter, Lisa.  They played some Scrabble.  Needless to say, the game only went a two or three rounds, but Mary Ann managed to come up with some of the words on her own.  She used to be merciless in playing Scrabble with the Volunteers.  They knew they were in the presence of greatness.  Micah took her outside for a trek to the nearby park, looking at flowers and enjoying the weather as he wheeled her along.  They ate some leftovers and then later headed out to get a milkshake from Sonic.  Micah and ice cream too!  Can’t beat it!

One of the special benefits of the day were the bits and pieces of conversation that Micah had with his Mom.  He got to have her at her best some of the time.  He experienced some of her hallucinations.  There were some times when she was not tracking, but much of the time she was.  While their conversations were between the two of them, one interaction that Micah shared was very revealing.  She wondered if it was not so that once a person needed to be fed, they would have to go to a nursing home.  He assured her that as long as there was someone at home willing to help, that was not so.  She has in recent days begin allowing me to help her with food, even in public.  That need must have been a great concern to her, carrying with it in her mind powerful implications.

As I processed the day, one thing popped into my mind when thinking about how good the day was for the two of them.  Mary Ann and I have enjoyed hopelessly spoiling our Granddaughter Chloe when she is with us before returning her to Micah and Becky to deal with the aftermath.  Turnabout is fair play, as they say.  After a day of Micah’s full attention, entertaining her and enjoying her every minute of the time he was there, I have to deal with the aftermath!

If there will be a Caregiver’s day off (as well as a CareReceiver’s day off), there are all sorts of things that need to be done over a period of time to allow it to happen.

For one thing, we had developed a relationship with an agency, using it on a regular basis, if only for a short time each week.  That way the option was available and familiar.  We  had already developed the booklet with all the pertinent information if any problem should arise.  (See this blog’s March 29th, 2009, post titled “Caregivers’, Carereceivers’, Volunteers’ Safety Issues” for more information on the booklet.)

We had allowed some good people to spend time with Mary Ann over the past eight or nine years, providing a cadre of people to call on, people comfortable with her, experienced in dealing with a variety of contingencies.

We planned the day far enough in advance to allow for the scheduling needed so that it could actually happen.

It was helpful to make a commitment to the day and to make the commitment to another person so that the motivation to follow through would be there.  It surprised me that I was ambivalent about going as the day approached.  I realized that as I have settled into the role of full time Caregiver, the role has come to provide a certain comfort and security.  I was apprehensive about being away for the day.  I have come to find meaning in what I do here to the extent, that it was a little uncomfortable to think of being away from that fulfilling task.

The day off was good for both Mary Ann and me.  We had a chance to be ourselves, each separate from the other.  It was reassuring that we both had a very good day. That the day went well encourages us to do it again some time in the future.  It took lots of planning, but it was worth the effort.

Caregivers, take a day off! It will do both of you a world of good.

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.

I just finished a piece of wonderfully decadent chocolate pie.  Life is good!

For a few months we are providing a place to stay for the Pastor who is now the Senior Pastor at the Congregation from which I retired nine months ago.  His children are finishing the school year before the family moves to town.  The Congregation is bringing a meal a couple of times a week so that he can have real food once in a while.  Cooking is not one of my gifts. What a treat it has been to greet people at the door, loaded down with containers of nourishing food, providing an entire meal including dessert!

What was the norm for meals before he arrived, and what will be the norm again when he and his family settle into the home they have found here, is not so lavish and nourishing.  On a good day, there may be a relatively nourishing full meal.  A good day does not usually come more than once or twice in a week.  I like vegetables, and I can steam broccoli and will do the same with the freshly picked asparagus I hope to find at a local country market in the next few days.

The reality is that our normal does not include daily home cooked meals, far from it.  There are some dynamics in our pattern of living that do not make healthful eating an easy thing to do.  I suppose that Caregivers who have had food preparation as an element of their portfolio prior to the addition of the chronic illness to the family, do a good job of providing regular.  Cooking was not part of my portfolio.

Among the dynamics of caregiving that works against eating regular, balanced and nourishing meals, is the impact the chronic disease has on the appetite of the one receiving the care.  In the case of Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia, one of the early signs is the loss of the sense of smell and taste.  I have in the past asked Mary Ann how she determines what she likes and dislikes since from long before she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s those senses had diminished.  I don’t know exactly how she answered, but my memory of what she said is that there are some flavors she can pick up, then there are textures and visual cues and just a general awareness of what she likes and dislikes.

One thing that many of the Lewy Body Dementia Spuoses online group say is that their Loved Ones like ice cream.  One said that a health professional told her that the taste buds that sense sweetness are the last to go.  Mary Ann could easily eat two large servings of ice cream a day if it was available.  I need to add quickly, that when I was growing up, at least during the summer months, I remember my parents and I heading to the Oatman Dairy for hot fudge sundaes (topped wtih salted pecans) pretty much every evening.  My taste for ice cream is legendary among those who know me.  Don’t start a conversation with me about ice cream unless you have a substantial amount of time to give to that conversation.

Here is one of the problems Caregivers have in their attempt at healthy eating and weight control.  It is the needs of the one for whom they are caring that take priority.  Especially when there is some level of dementia in the picture, food issues emerge.  Just finding foods that are acceptable is no simple matter. The house ends up filled with what the one affected by the disease will eat.

Sometimes there are diet restrictions placed on the one with the chronic or progressive disease.  He/she may have diabetes or heart disease added to the primary illness.  It would seem then that it would be easy to maintain good eating habits.  Not so!  When your Loved One is suffering from some sort of major debilitating disease that steals them much of what brings them joy, how can they be denied a few simple pleasures.  If Mary Ann likes ice cream, that is what she gets.  The ice cream may be a couple of scoops from Baskin – Robbins, or a Sheridan’s Concrete, or a Turtle Sundae at G’s Frozen Custard, or a Dairy Queen Blizzard, or a Pecan Caramel Fudge Sundae at the Braum’s Dairy an hour away.  She likes Glory Days’ Pizza.  She gets a couple of slices of all meat pizza once a week, providing her with two meals.  She likes burgers and fries and KFC and Long John Silver’s and Steak and Shake and a Steak Burger and Cheese from the Classic Bean. She loves sweet jello dishes with cool whip and sour cream or cottage cheese.  She likes bratwurst and sour kraut and beef and potatoes and pork roast and chops.  Lunch at home almost always includes handfuls of Fritos and a regular Pepsi.

Yes, she has heart issues and should not be eating red meat or anything with cholesterol.  Yes, she has had congestive heart failure suggesting a diet low in sodium.  But she also has Orthostatic Hypotension (low blood pressure episodes) that is controlled better when fluid is retained allowing blood pressure to remain at a higher level.  Salt provides that fluid retention.

After weeks or months or years of trying to negotiate the mine field of evil foods, after fighting endless battles on what should and shouldn’t be eaten, this Caregiver, and most with whom I interact have concluded that there is more to be lost than gained by continuing the battles.  What is the point of denying someone simple pleasures just to add some more years to avoid those simple pleasures.

One thing that militates against a Caregiver eating a healthy diet is that the house is filled with food that is not helpful to maintaining a good balanced diet.  Of course the presence of that evil food does not force the Caregiver to eat it!  Isn’t the obvious solution simply to have healthful foods in the house to eat as well as the evil foods?  It may be the obvious solution to the problem, but it doen’t work.

The real culprit that sabotages efforts at healthy eating is the stress that comes with the task of living on a roller coaster going at breakneck speed completely out of control.  Food is the drug of choice for Caregivers.  We may not be able to stop the roller coaster, but we can head for the kitchen and eat a bowl of ice cream followed by a handful (or two) of cheddar cheese flavored Sun Chips.  We can slather the back of a a couple frozen cookies spoonfulls of Nutella.  We can eat a heaping spoon of chunky peanut butter dipped in a dish of chocolate chips.  Caregivers’penchant for late nights provides plenty of time for more than one foray into the kitchen. If we can’t stop the roller coaster, at least we can treat ourselves while we ride.

This is where suggestions for solutions to the problem usually come in these posts.  If I had a solution to this one, I wouldn’t have 165 pounds hanging on a frame built for 145.  I guess I need to watch Oprah while I eat my afternoon snack.

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.