It is about 11:30am and Mary Ann is still sleeping.  She got up last evening long enough to eat some ice cream and apple crisp.  Then she took her pills, went back to bed and slept the entire night.  This morning, there was a commode trip at about 7am, then at about 8:30am she got up long enough to have juice (with Miralax) and yogurt.  Then she decided she wanted to go back to bed.

The good news about this is that when she has been up, she has been able to interact verbally and has not been picking up threads that are not there, nor has she acted as if she was hallucinating.  Her head is no longer hanging down on her chest.  Needless to say, those are encouraging signs. She is still unable able to eat without assistance.  I fed her last night and this morning, even putting her pills in her mouth.  She did manage to lift the cup and drink most of the juice by herself.

Yesterday, I chose not to awaken her for medications.  Most of her meds are intended to help her when she is up and about.  Most of them have a short half life.  They help when they are in her system, but are not necessarily maintaining a constant level of medicine 24/7.  Missing one dose of the meds seemed to me to be acceptable. I concluded that the rest was more important.  She did take her night time meds, so there has been no interruption in them.  She took the morning pills today, and while she was lying in bed, I changed the Exelon patch she had worn for two days.  That is a med that needs not to be stopped for long.  It is pretty powerful and when initiating the patch, it takes a month on a lower dose to keep from creating the unpleasant side effect of pretty bad nausea — been there, done that.  I am also going to wake her up for the meds that come every two hours during the day.  My goal is to return to and maintain a normal schedule in hopes that will help us return to the pre-hospital norm.

The other parallel recuperation activity needed includes intestinal activity.  There has been some activity, this morning during the 7am trip to the commode.  Then before going to back to bed after breakfast (the yogurt, juice and pills) there was a little more substantial activity.  At the risk of being indelicate (there is nothing delicate about being a Caregiver), it is still at the stage where manual help is needed.  With that lovely image in mind, you can appreciate my excitement when things come out on their own and Dr. Oz’s S appears.  We are not yet back to that wonderful normal.  At this point I am hopeful that in a couple of days we will be there.

Of course I cannot know where this will go, but my intention is to methodically do all the things we have normally done in the past as they are possible.  My hope is that by Tuesday, a week from leaving the hospital, normal will have returned.  Whatever is so by then will probably need to be established as our new norm.

My need to establish a norm of some sort, any sort, comes from the way I am wired.  When I get a set of expectations in mind, it is tough for me to incorporate changes very quickly.  Since retirement, the rewiring is in progress.  By removing almost all commitments, there is space and time to adapt to whatever changes come without the added stress of failing to meet those commitments.  When we went to the hospital, there were a few appointments (dentist, doctor, among them) to be changed, but nothing for which I had to find substitutes or burden others to do for me.

Even though things can change dramatically at any moment (as in Saturday’s entrance into the hospital), the norm is where my pivot foot rests when I turn to meet the unplanned, unexpected.  Unlike Michael Jordan in his best days, I cannot hang in the air for very long without a place to stand.

In a moment of devotional time last evening, I read this prayer.  I receive a weekly email from the National Catholic Reporter web site with a devotion by Fr. Ed Hayes.  (Yes, they allow Lutheran Pastors on their site.)  I have appreciated his writings for decades, and I had the privilege of doing a marriage ceremony with him many years ago.

I need prayers for flexibility!

A Psalm of Flexibility

By Ed Hays
Created Nov 06, 2009

O spirit of God’s eternal springtime heart,
grant me the virtue of elasticity.

Make my heart as boundless as my Beloved’s heart,
which at this moment is creating
new galaxies and infant suns.

Make me pliable and playful with your Spirit
as you teach me the alchemist’s recipe
of how to keep my heart’s skin
like baby’s skin, ever-expansive,
able to hold the wildest of wines.

Stir my mind well with your sacred spoon
to awaken the fermentation of ideas
stilled by the ten thousand little compromises
required of me by the stiffness
of the old leathered skins of society and religion.

Gift me with elastic frontiers of heart and mind,
so I can see before my eyes,
both in the heavens and on earth,
how old and ever-new are those partners
passionately dancing together
in the perpetual birthing of your universe.

From Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Ed Hays

The Spiritual support I receive through Ed’s writings, through the Taize Music from their site, from Weavings, a spirituality journal, through Scripture, corporate worship and the Spiritual Formation Group that meets at our house weekly, helps provide the source strength that has allowed survival so far.

There are many wonderful folks who give personal support to our household.  Yesterday afternoon, John called and asked to come over for a time to talk.  John has been a support for very many years.  Mary, our friend who schedules Volunteers, had let him know that things were getting a little hard to handle at our house.  Yesterday, Edie, the leader of our Spiritual Formation group emailed about the possibility of bringing dinner over.  Don and Edie came over and we feasted on lasagna, salad, gourmet bread, some Shiraz red wine, topped off with apple crisp and vanilla ice cream.  Mary Ann slept through supper, but ate a big bowl of apple crisp and ice cream later in the evening.

It is now about 1:30pm and Mary Ann is still sleeping soundly.  She has had two rounds of the meds that come at two hour intervals during the day.  To administer the meds, I put my hand under the pillow, lift her head, put them in her mouth, hold a straw to her mouth and she drinks until the pill(s) are down.  Often, when I give her the pill(s), she gets up from napping.  The last few days when I let her head back down, she just goes back to sleep.  It has not been unusual in the past for her to continue to sleep, just not so many times in a row.

She finally got up and dressed around 2:30pm.  She ate a little more, then provided some unaided intestinal activity worthy celebration.  She went back to bed at about 5pm.  It is 9:30pm now.  She is still sleeping.  We will see how the night goes.

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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As they swung the pickaxe and wielded shovels trying to dig through the huge roots of a Bald Cypress Tree and the rock hard Kansas clay just below the roots, the heat index reached 111 degrees yesterday.  Three young men sweated and strained, pulling up water soaked sod to get to the roots and the clay. 

In this heat and at my age, it seems much better to watch others work than to join in the digging.  Today the work continued with more digging, with the addition of the job of bringing huge rocks from the truck in the street in front of the house to the back where they now lay until they find their way to their permanent place in what will be a waterfall, a pondless waterfall.  

They had a little walk-behind Bobcat to move the rocks, but the rocks had to be loaded into the bucket and carried from it.  The well is dug, the liner laid out.  Tomorrow the pump will be installed, the filter filled, the rocks arranged, and later, maybe the next day, the native plants put in place. 

There will then be a waterfall flowing into a manmade wetland to provide an aesthetically pleasing solution (hopefully) to an ugly problem with standing water fed by regularly cycling sump pumps of three houses, ours being the middle one.   

We have committed substantial personal resources to this project.  I cannot be sure that the days and weeks and months will confirm it, but my expectation is that the setting on our deck become more of a sanctuary than it already is. 

This little place where we live is our world most of the time.  We are not completely homebound, but we spend the vast majority of our days here.  To put it bluntly, my goal is to keep from going crazy.  I will do Mary Ann no good if I lose my bearings.  The spiritual grounding that provides me with stability is the primary source of equilibrium.  That grounding needs to be sustained.  We have been through enough to confirm that I am not invincible.  It would be stupid of me to think so.  No human is. 

I recognize the need to have times of respite to help keep balanced and maintain the ability to care for Mary Ann’s needs in a way that nurtures her as a whole, complex, vibrant somebody who happens to have Parkinson’s.  I need the respite to be husband rather than a grumpy and reluctant care provider.  

Mary Ann and I are more grateful than we can ever say for the Volunteers and Mary who schedules them.  We recognize Mary to be a very special gift from God to our household.  The Volunteers give both of us time away from each other.  That time away makes our time together better. 

Tonight, Mary Ann enjoyed the company of good friend Barb.  While Barb was with Mary Ann, I ran some errands and spent time in my favorite close by place of respite.  There I encountered the doe that has been there the last few times.  The two wild turkeys returned to feed for a bit.  The view was as good as ever.  The humidity in the air created layers of mist with varying density, giving depth to the plains that extended for miles in front of me.  I encountered a nice young man there, watering some new plantings.  He is the realtor, excited about the open house coming this weekend, an open  house with the purpose of seeking folks to buy the twenty-eight lots that will be filled with homes, thereby eliminating that place of respite. 

For me to be a good care partner to Mary Ann, there need to be accessible places of retreat and respite, places I can be while we are at home together and there is no Volunteer available.  My office with the computer and the worship center is a place of respite.  The A-V monitor allows me to be here while Mary Ann is in bed or in her transfer chair in the living room. 

The deck can be such a respite with a little planning.  It is possible to plug  the monitor into an outlet on the deck.  My hope is that the addition of the waterfall will increase the power of that setting in providing renewal and refreshment.  Without the need to have a Volunteer scheduled so that I can drive to some other place for respite, our little corner of the world can provide more of what is needed to keep our system healthy and functional. 

Meaningful Caregiving will not happen by accident.  Sometimes it takes pickaxes and shovels wielded in 111 degree heat index weather to help create what is needed to nurture the spirit and sustain mental stability so that meaning can be found day after day in the tasks of caring for someone loved deeply. 

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.

Who can we talk with about our predicament, who isn’t tired of hearing it or just doesn’t have any frame of reference to really understand what we are going through?  It is terribly easy to become isolated.  Since conversation isn’t an easy thing to accomplish when words for one are difficult to find, let alone get out where they can be heard, a longing to talk and listen and be understood. 

Last Thursday evening Mary Ann and I attended a monthly Parkinson’s Support group meeting in our area.  The group varies in size, but lately I would guess there have been thirty-five to forty-five of us in attendance. 

I remember the first support group we attended just a few years into Mary Ann’s diagnosis.  It was in another city — a large group with Parkinsonians at all levels of symptoms.  I can remember seeing one man in particular who was so dyskinetic that it was all he could do just to stay on the chair, arms and legs flying everywhere.  I suspected it would be so.  After that visit to a support group, it has been all but impossible to get Mary Ann to another one anywhere.  It just seemed scary to see the possibilities for her future right there before her eyes.  It was a denial shattering experience. 

Now that I am retired, we have started attending a local Support Group.  Mary Ann is now far enough along in the progression of the disease that there are few, if any, more debilitated than she is present at any given meeting.  Last Thursday was one of the times we separate into two groups, Caregivers and Carereceivers.  Those who attend the support group seem to especially appreciate the evenings we divide into the two groups. 

There is an agreement we make when we head into our respective rooms.  What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.   We are free to talk openly about our respective struggles without concern that what we say will be shared with anyone outside those gathered there.  That means, I will not share what was said, at least in specific terms, only in general terms. 

Both Mary Ann and I especially appreciated our respective group conversations last Thursday.   In the Caregiver group, we share our unique circumstances and our central problem.  We understand each other.  We help each other by sharing how we have dealt with challenges that are just coming over the horizon for others.  We pool our knowledge and each leaves with a new piece of information, a new possibility for dealing with whatever we are going through at the moment.  If nothing else, we have had a chance to vent for a moment with people who actually do understand what we are going through. 

It takes courage to break out of our isolation and open ourselves to people, most of whom we barely know.  When I was working full time, my circumstances allowed me to talk freeling with caring people with whom I worked.   When I retired, that outlet ceased.  That support group ended.  I realize now even better just how important it is to take seriously the need to connect regularly with people who are traveling the same landscape, who can support us in very concrete ways with information and insight. 

The Leader who facilitates our group on the evenings we divide into the two groups is the Caregiver Program Specialist for this Area’s Agency on Aging.  The website for our Area Agency is www.jhawkaaa.org. I suspect that in most other areas there are such programs available.  We discovered that help is available for some of the equipment that is needed to help with the mobility and safety of our Loved Ones. We discovered that there are programs that provide respite care so that Caregivers can have a break from hours to days, including overnight.  There is even some funding that allows that care to be given at little or no cost to folks who need the help, with no income guidelines restricting its use.  While there may or may not be funds in your area, it is important to look for support options.  We cannot do this for long by ourselves.  For our sake and the sake of our Loved One, seek support options. 

In our case, the combination of family, Volunteers, paid workers from private agencies, and County or Regional programs for the Aging combine to help us find a balance that raises our quality of life.  For those who have earned income and must use paid help to keep working, there is a tax credit available for dependent care. 

One piece in the support puzzle for me is an online group for the spouses of those who have Lewy Body Dementia.  Since Mary Ann has now been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, the group has been a meaningful addition to my world of Caregiving.  That group is available at any time day or night.  They are as close as the keyboard on the computer.   Members of that group share completely openly, confident that others understand.  Someone in that group has been, is now, or will be experiencing their plight.  Members can cry on each other’s shoulder or laugh at the silliness we sometimes encounter.  Whatever the chronic disease that lives at your place, there is likely to be an online group to be found by searching for the name of the disease adding words like support or support groups.  I found this group through the Lewy Body Dementia Association site,  www.lbda.org.

Caregivers do not only give the hands-on care, we are charged with the task of seeking out and managing options for support that keep us and our Loved Ones safe and healthy.  When someone asks what he/she can do to help, suggest conducting a search of resources.  As Caregivers we are often overwhelmed with the steady stream of needs.  It is important for each of us to move out of our isolation and through our reticence to reach out to others for support. 

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.