As we look back on today, it will be remembered as a good day.  Instigated by a birthday gift, we went out a couple of days ago and bought lots and lots of plants, plus potting soil with fertilizer in it.  Yesterday we bought the trowel and hand cultivator to help us do the planting. 

Today we did round one of the planting.  It was a very hot day, so the sweat flowed freely from both of us.  Mary Ann was in an old lawn chair, one of four, that serve as our deck furniture.  (No, kids, we still haven’t gotten decent deck chairs.)  There was a steady shower of little brown seeds from the neighbor’s River Birches.  The air was full of them. 

My job was to do the planting in the large pots on the deck and an area just off the deck next to the chimney, the only shady spot we have.  It seemed to take forever just to get everything ready to go.  We had intended to do this planting for the last three days.  I was doing a bit of procrastinating, but the timing of the daytime long naps filled the times that seemed most appropriate for planting.  When the need for a nap comes, Mary Ann almost collapses into the bed and sleeps for two hours, sometimes two and a half.  It can happen up to twice a day. 

It was a big deal to finally actually get started on the task.  Plans had been frustrated for three days.  Today we got started.  It took a while to prepare the three containers on the deck.   I always asked Mary Ann what she wanted to put where as I planted.   She had had a nap earlier in the day, but she was still having a little trouble processing any questions about what to plant where.  I would end up just saying how about this, and she would answer, yes.  It is what is called the executive function of the brain that is the first to go with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (a Lewy Body Dementia).  Things went pretty well as I got the containers filled with the plants. 

Then came the area next to the chimney.  Our kids had dug up the sod, put down landscaping fabric, covered the area with mulch, made a few holes in the fabric and put in some plants a couple of years ago. 

I headed to the garage to get a couple of rakes so that I could move the mulch to get on with the planting project.  All I did was walk from the back to the front of the house, into the garage, grabbed the rakes and headed around the house to the deck again.   Just as I was coming to the deck I heard the sound of her falling into the gate by the stairs to the lower area. 

As happens so often, when I was out of sight, she got up to do something, which she could not remember when I asked her afterward.  The falls are disturbing when in the house on the carpet.  On a wooden deck, against an open gate at the top of some steps was frightening.  My mind went immediately to the possibility of a trip to the Emergency Room. 

Gratefully, there was no damage to be found other than to our attempt at just enjoying a normal activity.  It was frustrating to me that it was the moment I was not there to help that she chose to stand up and walk.  It seemed impossible to continue doing what we had planned for so long and were enjoying doing.  The only safe thing seemed to be to go back inside where there was carpet and where with the monitor I could get to her quickly if she got up.  That decision would have stopped in midstream something we wanted to do, something that needed to be done soon if the plants were to survive.

I chose to continue the planting by the chimney.  Another time would be no better in terms of risk.  As I went on with the task, Mary Ann started to get up again.  I went up on to the deck and asked her what she was doing.  She wanted to see what I was doing.  The rail and the Air Conditioner condenser were blocking her view.  I helped her stand and asked her to hold on to the rail while I went back down to arrange a couple of plants so that she could approve their placement.  Before I went down, I pulled the lawn chair behind her so that she could sit right down if she needed to.  When I got to the plants by the chimney, I looked down at them for a moment and heard her fall into the lawn chair.  She had fainted.  I am grateful that she fell into the chair and did not go down on the deck again.  I ran up to her to hold her in the chair until she regained consciousness.

After that, she finally seemed convinced that she should not try to get up unaided again while on the deck.  I was able to finish the planting.  There is more to be done tomorrow in a couple of other areas.  We will manage somehow. 

Our version of normal includes the recognition that we may not be able to do anything we hoped to do, planned to do on a given day.  Yesterday, I had things in the car and was ready to take her to get something to eat, when the need to nap came on with a vengeance.   When that happens, she just slumps over in the transfer chair with her head on the arm or the table next to it. Today, the same thing happened shortly before we were to begin the planting.  It was delayed a couple of hours. 

Tonight I took a break three or four paragraphs ago to help her use the commode.  I saw on the monitor that she was moving.  When I got to the bedroom, she asked me to close the door because a mother and two children were outside the bedroom door.  Her eyes were wide open as she looked at what appeared very real to her.  Apparently the Thursday people (as she once called them) chose to come on Friday this week.  Of course there was no one there. 

As she got on the commode, she fainted and was out for many minutes.  Then I got her up from the commode, and just in trying to get bed clothes pulled back up, she fainted again.  Since the commode is right next to the bed (I pull it behind her to minimize the travel distance), I was able with much difficulty to shift her so that she was sitting on the bed.  After a bit, I helped her stand again to finish pulling up her PJ’s, and she fainted once more.  I finally just laid her on the bed and pulled them up as best I could, arranged her on the bed, her head on the pillow, covered her and now she is sleeping soundly.   

Our version of normal is not really very normal by most people’s standards.  But as the years have gone by, I have realized that there are very many whose normal is either like ours or much worse.  As I read the posts on the caregiving spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia, I can put our situation into perspective.  We have a quality of life that many would envy. 

The falls tried but did not steal the joy from our day.  Plans are hard to make, but can be changed now that I am retired and make no commitments.  Our normal is very liveable in spite of its challenges.  The plants will grow (hopefully), and their will be flowers on the deck to enjoy for weeks to come. 

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.

It finally happened this morning.  I went to the kitchen just for a moment.  Then came the usual thump.  She was down.  The last time she fell, we had to go back to the Dermatologist to re-sew a two inch row of stitches, actually two rows, one deep in the wound and one pulling the surface of the skin together.  She had fallen directly on the wound and had broken the stitches.  The Plavix thinned blood ran freely.

It was just the other day that it dawned on me that we were then almost three weeks out from that drama, and there had not yet been another fall.  To appreciate the significance of that record, you need to know that Mary Ann has fallen multiple times a day, up to a dozen, in the recent past.  Up to that last disastrous fall, the pattern had been that falls came daily, sometimes two or three times.  On occasion there would be a day or two without a fall, but that was rare.

Mary Ann falls for a variety of reasons.  One of them is a symptom of Parkinson’s.  In fact it was one of the central symptoms that took her to the doctor when we first suspected that there was something wrong late in 1986.  She had pain and tight muscles in her left shoulder.  She had pain and stiffness in her left hand.  She would on occasion lose her balance and roll to the ground.  Maybe five years before that, we went on a couple of three day long church ski trips with other famiilies.  Mary Ann struggled especially with getting off the lift.  She always fell and had very much trouble getting up.  Finally, she just chose to stay in the lodge while we skiied.  Little did we know that a few years later the diagnosis of Parkinson’s would come.

That particular symptom of Parkinson’s cannot be corrected with a pill.  Physical therapy can help, but other than that there is no medicine that restores the balance.

A central symptom of the particular expression of Parkinson’s with which Mary Ann has been diagnosed is called bradykinesia.  Wikipedia has a good definition of bradykinesia: “Slowed ability to start and continue movements, and impaired ability to adjust the body’s position.”  When Mary Ann tries to start moving, the top part of her body may move forward while her feet refuse to move. Of course, when that happens, she falls unless there is an arm or a walker supporting her.

She seldom tries to use a walker any more.  She doesn’t have the physical strength to move it ahead of her.  When she did use it, she would often lean forward, body moving and feet cemented to the floor, leaving her in a very precarious position, hanging on to the walker for dear life.

With bradykinesia, a soft carpet may as well be wet cement.  Her feet just won’t move.  We have replaced all the carpet in the house with a short-knapped berber that is firm enough that she can move her feet (and we can roll the transfer chair), but soft enough to cushion her falls.  Most falls still leave a rug burn or a bruise or both.

When Mary Ann gets out of her transfer chair and tries to turn to walk around it, falls often happen.  When she tries to pick up something from the floor (now it may be something that is not actually there) she is, of course, vulnerable to falling over.

Since her stroke and the addition of the Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, a Lewy Body Dementia, Mary Ann has had some spatial perception problems.  Getting the utensil where she intends it to be when eating is a problem now.  When she is walking, sometimes she just does not perceive accurately where things are so that she can move her feet around them rather than trip over them.

In the last few years the Orthostatic Hypotension has been added to the mix.  That is a term that refers to the body’s inability to constrict the blood vessels fast enough to raise a person’s blood pressure to counteract gravity when standing up.  An adequate supply of blood is not pumped to the brain.  The result is called syncope, a fancy word for fainting.  It is not hard to figure out what happens next.  When people faint, they fall.

The time not so long ago when Mary Ann was falling up to a dozen times a day, it was the fainting that caused the increase.  She now takes medicine (Midodrine) to raise her blood pressure.  The medicine has helped some, but it has not eliminated the problem.  In fact the high blood pressure is taking a toll on her heart and her kidneys. There are often trade-offs that need to be made to maintain a reasonable quality of life.

Maybe now you can understand just why it was such a monumental accomplishment to make it twenty-two days without falling.  I am not completely certain why we managed to avoid falling for so long, but there are some things that seem to have potential for helping reduce the falls.

One thing is that Mary Ann’s last fall was pretty traumatic.  She has fallen hundreds of times and rarely done much damage to herself.  This time there was damage.  The return trip to the Dermatologist to be sewn up again was no picnic.  Mary Ann’s automatic pilot may have been reset to reduce her inclination to put herself at risk for falling.

Another thing has been my increased commitment to getting to her before she has a chance to fall.  I now spend less time in another room unable to see her.  I move more quickly when I suspect she might be on the move.

Since that last major fall, I have obtained the audio-visual monitor that allows me to see as well as hear her when she is lying in bed or sitting in her chair and I am at the computer.  I am now able to anticipate her getting up and heading out.  I can see her shifting or leaning forward, about to get up.  I am able to be there and help her before she falls rather than waiting for the thump and running to pick her up.

One recent change that may be having some sort of subtle impact on her stability is the new medication she is taking, the Exelon Patch.  It is intended to help with memory and alertness. To my knowledge it is not supposed to have any impact on the motor symptoms.  While I can’t put my finger on any identifiable dramatic change since she has been using it, she does seem to be doing better in most areas of functionality.  Since we live on a roller coaster of symptoms that come and go, sometimes very quickly, most of the time there is no clear reason for declines or improvements in Mary Ann’s ability to function well. There is no telling for sure how much, if any, impact the patch is having.

In the matter of this morning’s fall, Mary Ann, as is usually the case, did not hurt herself.  I still contend she could lead workshops on how to fall without hurting yourself.  I was upset that it happened, but no one can prevent the falls completely. As a full time Caregiver, I have to accept that. Most of all, I am still celebrating twenty-two days without a fall. Of course any decent celebration requires ice cream.  Two Pecan Cluster Blizzards from Dairy Queen beats a champagne toast any day.

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.