Her head is hanging over the side of the transfer chair resting on the table next to it.  I suggested that she go to bed, but she insisted on staying there for another half hour.  That half hour will be up in a few minutes.  I wlll take a break and get her into bed in a moment.

After a restless beginning last night, sleep finally came and stuck around.  There were only a few commode trips after she finally settled.  She chose to sleep in until about 9:45am.  That rest seemed to help her alertness and responsiveness.  She has often put her head down on the table today.  I think the restless nights and early mornings have finally caught up with her.

I am heading off to get her to bed now.

She is in bed and already appears to be asleep.  It is too early to tell, but I certainly hope she sleeps well.  She needs the rest.

When the phone rang this morning it was the call I was expecting from the Cardiologist’s Nurse.  She had in hand the reports from the echocardiogram, the carotid sonogram and her blood work.

The call was another encounter with realities that are not visible.  Probably the most serious concern is the increase in the severity of her Pulmonary Hypertension.  That is the disease that took the lives of those who had taken the diet medication called Phen-Fen (sometimes designated in reverse, Fen-Phen).  Pulmonary Hypertension has been a part of the array of Mary Ann’s diseases for the last two to three years.  It is a funcion of the high blood pressure, which is, of course, raised by the Midodrine.  Any treatment would involve medications to reduce her blood pressure, bringing on the return and probably increasing the frequency of the fainting spells.

As last summer’s posts reveal, the fainting spells lower dramatically our ability to function.  Gratefully, both Mary Ann’s Cardiologist and her Neurologist understand the dilemma well and respect our decisions on how to proceed.

As I mentioned a number of posts back when reflecting on the report we had received on her blood work, her kidney function also has declined in the last six months.  She is now only one point away from Stage 4 (of 5 stages) of Chronic Kidney Disease.  A couple of years ago, her Nephrologist agreed that any treatment would lower her blood pressure, creating the same problem as the treatment for the Pulmonary Hypertension.

The Cardiologist’s Nurse said that the lesion in her left Carotid is still not past the 50% mark, which is the point at which the need for surgery comes into play.  She mentioned that there is a build up on her right side also.  I don’t remember whether that has been mentioned before.

The Nurse confirmed that there is leakage in more than one heart valve, including the Mitrovalve.  That regurgitation seems to have worsened some, but the language of the tests was not clear on that issue.  At our last appointment with the Cardiologist six months ago, the leakage was not bad enough for the surgery option to be up for consideration. There are also enlarged chambers in the heart, especially the left Atrium.  That problem has worsened.

All of the above has been factored into our consciousness at some point already in the past.  Hearing the results of the tests bring it all to the surface.  My questions always probe the rate of change.  This set of test results seem to indicate a more pronounced decline that in the past.

I plan to fax the Neurologist to probe further any treatment options for the fainting that might not raise the blood pressure.  At one point he mentioned an off label use of a drug called Mestinon.  The Cardiologist was unfamiliar with it and unwilling to prescribe it at that point.  I may try to get them to talk with one another about that or other options.  Getting doctors to talk with one another is not always an easy thing to accomplish.  They are both good doctors — maybe it can happen.

On the matter of the quality of life and the health of this Caregiver, the power of the Alien possession is now getting scary.  This is the Alien from planet Pedometer Prime who, as in the movie the Body Snatchers, is trying to change me into some sort of walking, exercising pawn.  This will frighten you.  Mary Ann and I made an afternoon run to the store for something.  Afterward, I offered to get some ice cream.  We went to Sheridan’s Frozen Custard for a what they call a concrete.  The one of choice is made with chocolate frozen custard with pecans mixed in.

Here is the terrifying development.  As we approached Sheridan’s, the Alien simply took possession and overpowered my will to eat ice cream.  Those of you who know me well (or have been following this blog) understand just how horrible this was.  I got Mary Ann a concrete as described.  Then the Alien took over the car and drove it to Cedarcrest where I walked the path while Mary Ann ate her treat.  It is a miracle we made it safely.  I certainly had no control over that car or, at the very least, we would have veered left at 17th and headed for Maggie Moo’s.

If that is not horrifying enough, the Alien had already forced me out to walk in the neighborhood early (for me) this morning while Mary Ann slept.  Keep alert, you never know when one of those Aliens will try to take you over too!!

By the way, Mary Ann actually said she liked what I made for supper tonight.  There were a couple of pork chops in the fridge recently thawed and needing to be cooked.  We had some red potatoes, onions and fresh broccoli in the there also.  I cut up the potatoes and veggies and put them on a foil covered cooking sheet (I hate cleaning pans).  We had some Hendrickson’s dressing and marinade that we have used in the past and liked.  I tossed the veggies in it.  Then to make the food preparation easier, I put the pork chops in a baking dish and covered them with the same marinade.  Both dishes went in the oven (375) for almost an hour.  I really liked the meal, but then I like everything.  Mary Ann only ate the meat, but volunteered at one point that it was good.  There is such a feeling of victory when something has passed muster with those finicky taste buds!

Just in case the Alien attacks again in the morning, I had better settle in for the night and get some rest.

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Mary Ann and I both had appointments with the Cardiologist today.  We knew him as a parishioner before he became our Cardiologist.  We like him very much.  He is good.  Very good.  We are grateful that he is good since Mary Ann has so many problems associated with her heart and its functioning.  He is an important member of the team.  It is a team.  The team includes the Cardiologist, the Parkinson’s Clinic Neurologist, the local General Neurologist, the Gastroenterologist, the Primary Care Physician (General Practitioner),  the Nephrologist, the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, the Dermatologist (who has removed her four Basal Cell skin Cancers), the Endocrinologist, her Physical Therapist, Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Clinical Psychologist, two or three hospitalists, along with numerous medical technicians and nurses of all sorts, some seen only once, some who are practically like family.  We have great medical care.

Each of these people is very good at what he/she does.  Each has specialized in a certain body system or body part.   The Primary Care Physician has the largest chart for Mary Ann, but there is no way he can keep up with all the tests and treatments and medications with so many different people making independent decisions about what to do to treat the problem in their area of expertise.

Here is the obvious problem in this marvelous Team effort.  Mary Ann is actually a single living being who is not simply a gathering of independent systems and body parts.  She is a whole somebody.   Every system is connected to every other system, making up a single functioning human someone. 

Any of you who has been a primary Caregiver for a Loved One with Parkinson’s or any other chronic illness understands very well nature of the your role as a Volunteer Medical professional.  All those people listed above know more than I do about their area of specialty.  I know Mary Ann better than any of them.  I pick her up when she faints or loses her balance.  I know when those problems come in relationship to how much medicine she has taken and when.  I have discovered that when the recommended treatment for her heart is put in place, her Parkinson’s is unmanagable.  I know that when she has some major intestinal activity there is likely to be some fainting and maybe a time of mental confusion.  I know that if there will be a test done that demands her lying still, we need to skip the dose of her main Parkinson’s Med (brand name Sinamet) or the test will almost be impossible to accomplish, because of the dyskinetic movement that is now a side effect of that medication.  I know about how long we have to get from one place to another before she is likely to faint.  

One of the somewhat unique characteristics of Parkinson’s is that there is not much that is consistent and predictable. Medicine may work or may not work on a given day or at a given dosing time.  She may be able to walk long distances without fainting or faint sitting in a chair or immediately on getting up.  She may be up a dozen times on the commode during the night, or just a couple of times.  She may be wobbly or steady, sleepy or restless.  Even the best specialist in the field knows that one regimen of meds may work for one person but not another. 

Your Medical Degree is in the Mail!  You as the Caregiver actually serve as the Primary Care Medical Practitioner.  You need to know what medicine is being given for what symptom(s) and what impact it will have on the others.  The clearest example of the problem of competing treatments came for us when the treatment for Mary Ann’s Congestive Heart Failure and Cardiac Heart Disease stood in direct opposition to the treatment for her Parkinson’s.  The diuretics and low salt diet lowered her blood pressure.   The Parkinson’s meds lowered her blood pressure also, and the progression of the Parkinson’s compromised her body’s ability to adjust quickly enough to keep blood pressure high enough to stand up and remain conscious. 

Let me put it this way.  One doctor said, no pizza and Pepsi, the other one said, yes, pizza and Pepsi.  One treatment was to keep from retaining fluids, making the heart work harder, the other treatment was to keep enough fluids in her body to keep her blood pressure from dropping suddenly.  At one point I inferred from what the Cardiologist that the side effects (the dyskinetic movements) of her main Parkinson’s meds was threatening her heart’s health.  We stopped the Parkinson’s Meds and she turned to stone. 

Caregivers are advocates for the quality of life of their chronically ill partner.  In our case, the doctors we regularly use now understand the narrow margin of functionality within which we live. 

I wonder how many of you who are primary Caregivers have taken your Loved One to the doctor, only to be ignored by the staff and maybe even the doctor, treated as an annoyance who should keep your questions to yourself.  I do not have enough fingers and toes to count the times, either in doctor’ offices or hospital rooms that I needed to explain to the medical staff some of the very basic dimensions of Parkinson’s, the way meds should be given and what the side effects will be. 

Caregivers are the Primary Medical Technicians for their Loved Ones.  Don’t get angry about it, just do it.  Learn everything you can about the disease.  Go to workshops and support groups, whether face to face or online.  Write down the questions and demand answers in terms that you can understand.  Ask what every medicine is supposed to do, what its side effects are and how it will impact other problems and the medicines being taken for them.  Advocate for the best quality of life you can obtain, even if you run into some attitude along the way. 

Like it or not,  you are the Team Leader.  No,  you are not a doctor, you do not have the breadth of knowledge and training, but you know your Loved One better than anyone else.  You are an expert on his or her disease and its impact on your lives.  You see the whole person, not just the separate systems and body parts. 

Our experience has been that any time we have encountered a medical professional who is good, very good, who knows the area well, he/she has always been open and inclusive, listened well and explained well.  Seek them out.  They will help you find the best quality possible for and your Loved One in your time together, however long that may be.

If you have a story to tell from your experiences with medical professionals, tell that story here.  It might help someone who happens to find her/his way to this site.

By the way, today’s news from the Cardiologist was good news.   There has been no measurable deterioration, nothing new in the last six months.   For the moment, we get to keep our current normal.  We can live with that!

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.  Comments are appreciated.