There are a couple more of observations on Mary Ann’s appointment with the Cardiologist, Dr. M, on Friday that have come to mind today.  They were comments that he made may be of interest to other Caregivers and Spouses.  I mentioned them in passing in last evening’s post, but they seem to me to warrant more reflection.

As I mentioned in last night’s post, I had brought some information from the Internet on a medication that seems to offer a an option for keeping Mary Ann’s blood pressure up when she is standing, to keep from fainting, without raising it when she is lying down, the time it is already too high.

I had brought the information to his office earlier in the week to allow time for him to look it over.  He didn’t see it until he studied the chart before coming into the Examination Room.  He did take time to read what I had brought.  When he came in he said that he thought the medicine sounded very appropriate.  In fact, he indicated that he appreciated the information and would consider using for others when the need arose.

He added that he was not at all uncomfortable with patients bringing in information.  He did not perceive it as a threat.  Not only was I grateful to hear that, but it impressed me as an attitude that any of us, Caregivers or patients, should look for in a doctor.  Dr. M is confident enough in his role, that he is not afraid to deal with any sort of question or suggestion.  He will answer the question if he can and tell us if he can’t.  He will take suggestions when they are good ones, and explain why if they are not good suggestions.

I have the advantage of being in an online group of folks who have all had years of experience dealing with Lewy Body Dementia and often Parkinsonism if not Parkinson’s Disease itself.  The thoughts and ideas and suggestions there are very helpful since they have been tested in real world situations.  One thing may work for one person and not work for another, so the suggestions can only be just that, suggestions, when taking the information to the doctor.  Bringing an arrogant attitude to a doctor’s appointment is sure to produce an unpleasant result.  I suspect that doctors feel the same way about arrogant Patients and Caregivers as Caregivers and Patients think about arrogant doctors.

Another conversation the Cardiologist had with us was triggered by my asking if the Congestive Heart Failure that took us to the hospital actually demanded a hospital stay.  I told him about the tough time we have had since the hospitalization.  He suggested that if we come again, we ask if it would be possible to monitor her situation for a few hours rather than admitting her right away and starting a regimen of medicine administered intravenously. Again, if we explain our reason for asking rather than simply being demanding, it might impact the doctor’s decision.

Dr. M made the observation that doctors factor in their assessment of the Caregiver or Patient’s wishes concerning whether or not they want to be admitted.  I inferred from what he said that there is a sensitivity about whether or not Caregivers and Patients feel able to handle the situation at home, when deciding whether or not to admit the Patient to the hospital.

We have a pretty good system here at home for dealing with Mary Ann’s problems.  If (when) we end up in the Emergency Room again, we will evaluate carefully the value of being treated at the hospital against the toll a hospital takes on her ability to function.

In Mary Ann’s case, that might have meant getting the shot of Lasix and checking the Cardiac Enzymes for a few hours to see if they stayed the same or declined.  While sometimes I feel pretty overwhelmed by what is already needed to give the care that is necessary, I think we would even be able to deal with IV meds at home, as long as a nurse put the IV in, and a nurse would be on call in case it got pulled out and needed to be inserted again.  It is too bad that our system of medical care does not make more allowances for care to be given at home.   It is easier on the patient (more rest) and it would seem to be less costly.

The day was quiet.  PBS had a number of specials today with Celtic music.  I told Mary Ann that I wanted to take charge of the television today and watch them.  As I have metioned before, in our division of duties, she is the boss of the TV remote control.  She stayed awake to listen to the music with me.  She ate pretty well.  She has been a little restless tonight.  I hope she settles in for the night soon.

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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 barely talks, and I can’t seem to stop talking.  I have just written two posts titled “Who am I” chapters one and two.  When does Mary Ann get to say who she is?

There are different stages in the journey of a Caregiver and CareReceiver team.  Some are at a stage in which each can speak for him or herself.  Some are in the stage in which the CareReceiver can no longer speak at all.  We are somewhere in between those stages, a little closer to the latter than the former.

Mary Ann has never been very talkative.  She has been a very private person.  She was never one to spill her guts to others.  Mind you, when she spoke, it was always pretty direct. 

Now, it is very difficult for her to get thoughts into words.  It sometimes takes so long that she doesn’t get a chance to get those thoughts out before the conversation has moved to the next subject.  Sometimes she seems not to be able to follow the conversation.  Other times, her words when they do come reveal that she is tracking the conversation perfectly and just needs time to get a word in edgewise.  When she does speak it is often so softly that what she says is lost to the rest in the conversation. 

I want Mary Ann to be as fully present as she can be at all times.  I want her to have a chance to be heard, to be listened to.   I want people to discover who she is.  The challenge for me is determining when to speak for her and when to just shut up. 

More times than I can count, when people new to us have interacted with us they have looked at me and referred to Mary Ann in the third person.  “How is she doing?”  “Does she want this or that?”  When that happens, I usually move my body in a way that brings her into the conversation’s physical space, and I relay the question to her.  I don’t snap back with “Why don’t you ask her?”  Also, I don’t want to force the issue, since sometimes she is not able or does not want to respond.   What I do know is that if people refer to her in the third person when she is sitting right there, it feels as they have concluded that she is not actually there any more.  It is as if at that moment, were she to ask, “who am I,” the answer would be “Nobody!”  She is Somebody, somebody special.  I want people to know that. 

Another odd little quirk when folks do talk to her, is that some raise their voice as if she has a hearing problem.  On occasion someone will put his/her face right in front of hers and shout.  Some folks use a sort of baby talk, as if they were talking to a toddler.  The tone sometimes sounds as if it is an attempt to be sweet to her.  Without intending to do so, actually it seems to diminish her presence as a whole person worthy of adult respect — as if she is a poor handicapped little person in need of them descending to her level.  It is hard to watch and listen when she is approached in a way that seems to make her something less than she is.  I am not confrontational with people when they talk in a way that feels inappropriate, since they are doing their best to be kind.  I suspect that I need to be more assertive and find a way to help them understand that it would be better to talk with her the same way they would talk with any other adult. 

Again, one of my greatest challenges in the role of Caregiver/Husband is to determine when Mary Ann wants me to talk for her, and when she wants to talk for herself.   I try to deal with that challenge directly by asking her if she wants me to talk or not.   Sometimes she will answer me when I ask that question, but sometimes the words just won’t come. 

One of the times it is most difficult to be sure I am talking enough for her but not too much is at the doctor’s office.  The doctors generally handle this pretty well.  We have been going to most of them for a long time.  When they ask her a direct question, if she can, she tries to answer.  It is especially hard when her answer does not at all reflect what I think would be a more accurate response.  Sometimes I can jump into the conversation and address Mary Ann, reminding her of the specifics that would suggest her first answer not to reflect her actual experience. 

At the doctor’s office especially, when I do speak for her, I immediately ask her if what I just said reflects accurately what she understands to be so.  As a Caregiver, I have to be especially careful that I don’t project on to her my perceptions and feelings and conclusions. 

To be able to determine accurately when to speak for her and when not to, to be able when I do speak for her to reflect accurately what she is thinking and feeling, as a Caregiver, I need to listen very carefully to what she says about what is going on with her.  I need to to ask her questions such as, how does it feel to you when this or that happens, when I say or do one thing or another. 

All the listening skills I have tried to develop over the years of counseling are important skills to apply to communicating with Mary Ann.  I have to look for non-verbals, read lips, listen for code words that give a clue to what she is feeling.  Then I need to do everything in my power to elicit words from Mary Ann, especially those times she is most alert  and connected.  I need to be quiet long enough to give her a chance to form the thoughts and get them into words. 

When shall I talk for her?  When I have listened carefully to determine what she is thinking and feeling, when I have been quiet and patient long enough to allow her to speak if she is able and willing, then it is my job to bring her presence into whatever the conversation so that those with whom we are conversing recognize and affirm her identity as a whole person.  She is Somebody, somebody special!

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.