“If not for me, the world would have missed….”   The Hospice Chaplain began his message with that question during the Memorial Service last Thursday evening led by Midland Hospice, the organization that sponsors the Grief Support Groups I attend.   

It is not unusual for people to be so self-deprecating that they find it hard to presume to suggest they have made a difference in the world.  It seems arrogant to talk as if we are God’s gift to the world.  If we happen to be in the mode of feeling sorry for ourselves, we will claim we have done nothing anyone will miss.  If we have had a critical parent or spouse or close friend, we may have concluded that just as they have said about us, we do not measure up. 

Sometimes it is actually our inflated ego that sabotages our ability to finish that sentence with anything of substance.  What I mean by that is we sometimes demand that for something to qualify as an achievement that would be missed, it has to be something so much better than what the ordinary folks can do that we received accolades for it. 

What ordinary things have you done?  They are likely to be the things that the world would have missed most.  That you have survived what you have been through is a remarkable accomplishment — no matter how it compares to anyone else’s accomplishments.

The Chaplain was very insightful when he followed that question with some clarification.  He pointed out rightly that most of us struggle with memories of things we did not do well, times we were impatient, harsh, unsympathetic, times we did not do what we should have done, had we been better caregivers.  He urged us to set those thoughts aside for the moment, and focus on what we did do for our Loved Ones.

I have admitted here more than once that the most painful memories are memories of just how debilitated Mary Ann was getting and how little I allowed that to enter my awareness.  I was not always as sympathic and understanding of her limitations as I should have been.  This morning, a simple question some neighbors asked when we crossed paths at the Farmer’s Market planted a seed that sprouted twenty or thirty minutes later.  The question was about cooking, did I do the cooking for Mary Ann.  I admitted my limitations in that area, but answered yes.   Later, as I was leaving, my mind wandered back to that conversation.  A silly claim that I had made came to mind, that I made the best peanut butter and jelly toast around.  I remembered toasting the bread to exactly the color that she liked, cutting it into four squares and feeding it to Mary Ann, making sure each bite had some jelly and peanut butter in it.  I often added two slices of crisp bacon, each cut in half so that every quarter of the toast had a half slice of bacon on it.  I had a certain order of squares so that she would not have too much dry toast in any one bite.  I anticipated when she would need a drink.  Thinking about that brought back the painful feelings to a level I had not felt in the last three weeks or so.  It was not that impossibly intense level that that could hit like a brick during the first weeks, but it was painful. 

I remembered how good it felt to be able to feed her in a way that brought her some pleasant moments.  I longed to be able to do that again.   As that pain settled in (it stayed for a while), I realized that feeding her that peanut butter and jelly toast with bacon was something that she might have missed, had I not been caring for her.  Obviously, I can’t know what would have happened if I had not existed — whether someone else would have done it.  That is not the point.  I did do it.  I made a difference in her world, just as she did in mine. 

There are, of course, some obvious ways of finishing a sentence like that.  I suspect our Children and Grandchildren would have missed mine and/or Mary Ann’s presence in the world.  Those are easy answers.  It is a healthy exercise to think about the impact we have had, the ordinary impact, just being a part of people’s lives.  Simply having answered the Call to Live by continuing through each day.  I have spent time in conversation with many suffering from depression over the years.  When someone is depressed, just trying to finish a sentence like this one is more depressing.  The Chaplain made the point that each of us in that room had survived our grief until that moment.  We had survived the death of someone we loved.  Just to have survived what we have been through, whether the loss of a Loved One or the loss of our confidence and sense of self-worth that comes whith depression — just to have survived is an achievement worth adding where the dots are in that incomplete sentence.   

There are so many things that I did not do for Mary Ann or did not do well.  She deserved better.  At the same time, I did make a difference in her life, as she did in mine.  The greatest gift we gave each other was ourselves.  We stayed in relationship with each other.  In doing so we did make a difference.  Each of us would have missed a lifetime of the other’s presence, had we not been there for one another.  As painful as it is sometimes to remember, it is comforting to remember what each of us brought to the other.  That remains.  We both get to keep those memories.

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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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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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.

Can it get tougher?  Apparently so.  Those who read this regularly must be getting awfully tired of hearing about the list of problems Mary Ann is dealing with and my complaining about their impact on me.  I debated even about writing a post today. It was ugly and messy.  My reaction was noisy and complaining.  There was absolutely nothing entertaining about today’s perfect storm of problems converging at one time. There is no resolution in sight.

Each of the elements of this perfect storm by itself is enough for Mary Ann and me to deal with.  I will describe again the ones relevant to this meteorological marvel.

One element:  Mary Ann has had Parkinson’s Disease for more than 23 years.  The medication of choice for Parkinson’s is a form of L-dopa.  The brand name is Sinamet.  That is the only effective medication for providing mobility.  Without it, Mary Ann stiffens and becomes rigid from head to toe.  After years of taking Sinamet, a side effect is wavy involuntary movements of body, arms and legs (as seen when Michael J. Fox is in the public eye).  Those movements are called dyskinesias.  The result is legs twisting together, body shifting one way and another, arms moving this way and that.

Another element:  People with Parkinson’s Disease develop problems with the functioning of the Autonomic Nervous System [ANS), the part of the brain that runs a whole list of activities in our bodies, activities that happen without conscious intervention.  In a small percentage of those with Parkinson’s, the ANS’s ability to quickly constrict blood vessels when they stand up keeping their blood pressure high enough to make sure that the brain gets enough oxygen no longer remains consistently able to do so.  That means the person affected gets dizzy at best and loses consciousness at worst.  Mary Ann has won the unfortunate privilege of having a severe and erratic version of that problem.

Another element:  Again, only a moderate percentage of those with Parkinson’s Disease develop Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  There seems not to be a clear and consistent assessment of the percent of folks who move on to the dementia. This form of dementia is a form of Dementia with Lewy Bodies.  While there is no good dementia, it is a particularly insidious form of dementia.  More than memory issues, it is about visual hallucinations, delusions of all sorts, and vivid dreams that cease to be differentiated from reality.  There are few available in the way of medications that control the symptoms.  Most that might do so ultimately make the symptoms worse.

Another element:  One of the problems that comes with Parkinson’s is bladder activity.  There is the need for many trips to the bathroom day and night.  Because of the movement problems that come with Parkinson’s, help is needed when using the bathroom or bedside commode.  Another of the problems that come with Parkinson’s is sleep issues, the ability to get to sleep, stay asleep, disturbing dreams that interrupt sleep.  Another problem is that those with dementia often hallucinate most at night.  The combination of those problems is that those with Parkinson’s and those who care for them often have sleepless nights.

Another element:  One of the central non-motor problems with those suffering from Parkinson’s is constipation, intestinal issues.  The ANS not only runs the smooth muscles around the arteries, but the smooth muscles that move food and waste through the alimentary canal.  Those muscles slow reducing the natural ability of the intestines and colon to move things along.  Miralax and Senna are the tools of choice needed for Mary Ann to keep her insides running.  The result is not always orderly when finally there is activity.

Now to the Perfect Storm.  We have had two sleepless nights in a row, hallucinating has gone wild, morning, noon and night.  Just as we headed into the bathroom, the dyskinetic movements kicked in with a vengeance.  Then came the horrifying last element of the perfect storm.  There was soft and nasty matter that ended up spread on her back side and legs from her waste (on shirt) to her ankles.  My job was to clean her while she was popping up (the dementia – no matter how many times or how loudly I asked her to stay seated), fainting again and again, legs twisting and crossing and rubbing against one another when sitting or standing (with me using all the strength I could muster against her leg muscles to keep them apart), again, while trying to clean her up. There was another bout later in the day — not as bad, but not too far from it.

The hallucinations are still continuing tonight.  She has been hallucinating all day.  A short time ago I had two trips into the bedroom trying to convince her that it is time to go to bed, not get up.  Four minutes after the second trip in, finally convincing her that it is dark out, time to be in bed, she got up trying to get ready to go to church.  Last night once I woke to her sitting on the side of the bed yelling “help” and when I sat next to her she said someone was going to rape her.  This morning she woke me as she was sitting on the side of the bed crying, describing her beating at the hands of a policewoman who kept pounding on her.  I am afraid that the images from all those Law and Order episodes are folding into her hallucinations. I have been in at least a dozen times in the last hour or so.

Even though we had difficult nights, the the last two nights, this morning I managed to sleep while she napped for a couple of hours.  The perfect storm came right after that nap.  I was completely exhausted physically and mentally after the major bathroom battle.  Everything hurts, muscles, gut and mind.

These events are hacking at my resolve, my commitment to see this through to the end here at the house.  I am disappointed in my own seeming inability to handle this, but more horrified at the thought of not keeping my commitment to caring for Mary Ann at home.  I don’t want her not to be here, so that resolve is not just for her sake.

I wrote a bit on my dilemma in an email to the online Lewy Body Dementia Spouses’ group (many of whom have had much more difficult situations than mine).  One response was simply this little poetic piece:

who knows who knows
what do you do
when you break your commitment
or it breaks you

For now, I am taking some small comfort that while what happened this morning took me far past my ability to cope, I still did it.  I had to.  I am still alive, in some more pain than I care to have, but alive.  …and, for that matter, so is Mary Ann, alive and clean — still hallucinating in a steady stream.  I doubt there will be much sleep in this house tonight.

One reminder to those who wonder that you don’t hear from me (a retired pastor) glowing words about my faith life making this task easier to endure. Nowhere does there come any promise that life will be easy, that we will feel less pain, experience less frustration, because of our trust in our Maker and the One who healed our relationship with that Maker and the One who inspires us with His Power.  My faith is not weakened by my human weakness.  Instead, the One who does the healing retains the power.  I am all the more grateful that the healed relationship does not depend on my strength, but His.  His strength, my weakness.  That is the heart of the message of the Cross.

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Things really fired up last night.  It wasn’t our worst night, but not too far from it.  Mary Ann bounced from one reality to another to another to another for most of the first half of the night.  It slowed to two or three times an hour between 3am and 6am and then started in again in earnest.

It was a very bizarre world she was in until she finally rested her head on the little table later in the morning.  She described in great detail a birthday party that was thrown for her — never happened.  She talked to her Dad.  She reported to Bath Aide Zandra that her brother from Wyoming made a surprise visit.  She was constantly seeing and talking with people, describing things that were happening right in front of her as I was there completely confused by the stream of apparitions.  She had to get up early to finish the Blueberry French Toast egg casserole that was not there.  She came back to that a number of times.  It is very good.  I may try to make it soon just so that we both can enjoy it.

As always, I was completely at my wits end throughout the night and morning.  The hallucinations were a constant presence when I was with her all day long.  This morning, she was in hyper-mode.  She was talking clearly and distinctly, walking pretty much on her own. I just held on to the gait belt for dear life as she moved quickly from one place to another either with clear plans in her mind for what she would do or no idea why she had gone there.  It is such an odd combination of dementia and energetic activity and strong communication skills that there is no way I can describe it adequately.  All I can say that from my perspective it is utterly maddening.

Gratefully, Friend Jeanne came over and gave us a break from one another for at least a couple of hours.  This evening Friend and Volunteer Shari was with her so that there was another break. I just sat and watched the sunset, half dozing.  I read a little from the book of devotional observations on the St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer.  Both the sunset rest and the reading helped some, but my brain is just very tired.

I plan to wait at least until Wednesday to phone the Doctor’s office to report on the impact of the increase in Seroquel.  As I said last night, the vagaries of Mary Ann’s symptoms makes it almost impossible to discern what has to do with that change and what is just another of the usual vacillations.  The med is supposed to reduce hallucinations.  The last time we increased it, the first three days of the increase had more and stronger hallucinations than ever.  That is what has been happening today.  I want to give this change at least three days just in case it becomes effective after that, as happened with the last increase.

This continues to be one of the tougher times in the years we have been battling the disease.  I expect tonight to be a difficult one.  I will know for sure in a few hours.

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.