I am at the computer in the upper lobby of Lookout Point – Lakeside Inn in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  We made it!  As always the last hour or two includes lots of winding two lane roads, but we are here and settled in.  Mary Ann is sleeping soundly.  At least she was when I left the room.  The television show “The Closer,” which is pretty much her favorite at the moment, is on the television, so if she does wake, she should be content.

While we ended up here past the time of the afternoon wine, cheese and freshly baked sweets, it was still out.  We both enjoyed a glass of wine, some cheese and a homemade Macadamia nut cookie.

After bringing in all our clothes and paraphernalia, getting Mary Ann changed for bed and settled in bed, I headed out to forage for some snacks.  There are endless goodies available in an area off the downstairs lobby.  I wandered through the library and glanced at some of the books.  There is a great section on Spiritual Formation.  Mary Ann and I will check out the videos together some time tomorrow.

After a trip through the small reading room which is an area with comfortable chairs and a fireplace, I looked around the large sitting area that includes lots of games as well as space to just sit and look out of the windows at the bird feeders, the garden and the lake.

Then I headed out to the patio to sit under the overhang to avoid the rain, while listening to the fountain/waterfall and look at the lake framed by the lights on the other side.  Numbers of Canada geese squawked loudly periodically as I sat soaking it all in.

The trip from the motel in Shawnee, Oklahoma went reasonably well.  The first two and a half hours was on Interstate 40.  In spite of construction at various times, the traffic was light and we made great time.  The weather was overcast but dry for most of that first half of the trip.

From Fort Smith to Hot Springs is a little more challenging and at the same time more interesting.  It was raining lightly throughout the rest of the trip.  There was never enough rain coming down to create any problems in driving.  What the weather did provide were some spectacular views of clouds covering the tops of some of the taller Ozark hills and spilling down the sides among the trees.

There were times when we looked at thick white clouds just about even with us in elevation.  Some were close to the road as we passed.  The cloudy weather muted the fall colors, but sometimes the colors were visible, contrasting with the white of the brightest clouds.

The trees close to the road as we traveled were very colorful.  What was most striking to me what the contrast between the colors of the deciduous trees and the deep green of the conifers.  The green was darker and more vibrant because of the contrast with the palette of colors interspersed between them by the changing leaves of so many different species of deciduous trees.

One treat that will be appreciated by those of you who are Caregivers.  At one point, we stopped for a break after a long time driving.  I can’t really remember the last time we stopped at a Pilot Truck stop, but that is what seemed most promising when we needed to stop.  The treat was that as we were checking the restroom situation, a staff person happened to be nearby.  He asked if he could help us find anything.  I explained what we were doing.  He responded by offering to get a key to one of the showers for us to use.

What a Godsend!  The little shower room had a toilet stool in it and just enough room to maneuver the transfer chair and get Mary Ann’s needs met.  I will now keep the Pilot Truck stops at the top of the list of places to take a break.  There was also a Wendy’s attached to the building, so we were able to get a snack to keep us going for the rest of the trip.

All in all, we seem to be off to a good start.  As always, anything can happen, good or bad.  We will hope for the good and deal with the bad!

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First hugs from the Grandchildren answer that question.  It just isn’t easy!  Of the many things that are more difficult when traveling as a Caregiver, one of the most frustrating is the sole responsibility for packing. 

I remember hearing from single parents and those who have lost their spouse in death one of the most difficult challenges is making all the decisions without access to consultation.  There is no one to ask, should I let the kids do this or not — should I do that repair on the house? 

When packing for a trip, each has a certain amount of responsibility for remembering what to bring along.  There are endless decisions to be made.  What clothes should we bring so that we can be fitting for weather and formality of events.  If we bring one color/style of shirt or top, there need to be shoes and socks and slacks to match. 

Decisions are tough to make at best when one has the beginning stages of dementia and the other isn’t exactly on his best game.  I asked Mary Ann what she wanted to take along.  She wanted what I call her fancy pants and top.  The most hated black shoes with short heels are a part of that outfit.  I hate them (not too strong a word) because they are treacherous for her to walk in and they refuse to stay on her feet — I am chasing them constantly.  Their favorite trick is to pop off midstream in getting on or off an elevator, going in or out of a door.  Maybe it was due to a subconscious aversion to them that resulted in my forgetting to put in the knee high nylons that she wears with them. 

I work very hard at creating and sustaining certain rituals associated with medication so that there are no missteps in having what is needed, and administering it on time each day.  There are, of course, multiple prescriptions, many including more than one dose a day.  There are four compartments in each day’s plastic pill holder.  The morning one has six pills, the next one has six pills spread through the day, the next compartment has three pills spread through the day, and the night time compartment holds four pills.  There is also a powder to mix with water or juice four of the seven mornings each week.

All of it was in order for the trip, along with all the meds needed to refill the compartments for the last half of the trip.  At least that is what I thought to be true.  Saturday, after returning for the night to the extended stay motel, I began filling the compartments.  To my horror, there was no pill jar of Midodrine there.  That is the powerful med that raises Mary Ann’s blood pressure to keep her from fainting.  To stop cold turkey the next morning would be dangerous.  When I have adjusted that med in the past, the doctor has insisted that the dosage be raised or lowered a small amount at a time over many days. 

What had happened?  I had broken ritual.  The caps of the medicine bottles are numbered (Mary Ann’s idea many years ago).  Refills not yet in use have no numbers on the top.  I transfer the old cap to the new bottle when the old one is empty.  I had not put a numbered cap on the new refill of Midodrine already in use.  I grabbed only the numbered cap bottles.   

As I sat there Saturday night, looking at the pills, my panic shifted quickly to planning.  I am grateful for the national database maintained by Walgreen’s Pharmacy.  I phoned the nearest 24 hour Walgreen’s here in Louisville, KY.  They accessed our account in Kansas.  While we normally use mail order meds, the recent change in dosage had required a short term prescription at Walgreen’s.  There was a current prescription that could be filled here to rescue us from our distress. 

After I phoned and was told the refill would be ready in 45 minutes (about 11pm), I resumed filling the bottles.  To my chagrin, the Thyroid med bottle only had two pills left in it.  I suspect you can imagine just how horrified I was at my own incompetence.  This morning I suggested to Mary Ann that she might want to trade me in on a more competent Caregiver. 

This med will demand a new prescription from the doctor, since we have only the mail order prescription open.  The request is now in the hands of the Pharmacist who has assured us that by tomorrow afternoon it should all be worked out.  Gratefully, the two pills will cover Mary Ann until then.

The other travel trouble is less appropriate for publication.  It is in the area of the Caregiver’s role in waste management [see earlier post].  There has been a difficulty in that area demanding my hands on involvement for three days now, with two or three sessions each day.  Those problems seem much more troubling when dealt with away from home.

Since there is a need for a handicapped friendly environment in which to stay, the costs of traveling have increased dramatically.  Staying with folks in their home, no matter how gracious and welcoming they are, is often simply not an option.  Lodging costs add up at a frightening pace.  A trip that we have in the past made in one day, now demands an overnight stay, adding still more to the costs. 

It is a little embarrassing just how long it takes us in the morning to get ready to leave the room so that we can start the day’s activities.  The usual multiple times up at night make early rising a less than satisfying option.  The result is that there is not so much time for doing things together each day, the object of the travel. 

While this is a litany of struggles that come with traveling, the hugs more than compensate –  the smiling, enthusiastic little faces drain away the frustration and replace it with joy and satisfaction. 

Is traveling worth the trouble?  Yup!

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.

We are now into the later stages of Parkinson’s and moving into Parkisonson’s Disease Dementia (a Lewy Body Dementia).  Traveling is tough.  We can’t really plan much of anything since we never know from one hour to the next whether Mary Ann will crash and fold for a couple of hours of napping, have a major intenstinal event, or need a trip to Baskin and Robbins, or Sonic, or DQ or Sheridan’s.  Getting very far from medical facilities that can handle the complexities of her convergence of medical problems, provides a strong disincentive to venturing very far. 

To a certain degree, we are trapped by the Parkinson’s.  The dream of that train trip across Canada appears to be left to the world of fantasy.  My dream of a log cabin in the country is not an option, although I doubt I would be willing to do the work necessary to take care of such a place anyway.  That trip to the Snowy Mountain region of Australia is out of the question. 

There are all those other retired folks who travel and dine out and go to shows and concerts.  We have never so much as seen the Grand Canyon.  Just watch cable television for a while and look at the beautiful, exciting places to go and things to do.  There will be no dinner-dances (gratefully, since I can’t dance).  There will be no treks into the woods or wetlands for rare bird sightings. 

What are you missing?  What are the things you planned to do before the Chronic Illness joined your family?  Are you going stir crazy looking at the four walls of your home, or the inside of your car as you make short local trips, or the waiting rooms of multiple labs and doctors offices?

I have to admit that at the moment, I do not have identifiable feelings of resentment about what I am missing.  I can only speak for myself on this.  I will not presume to speak for Mary Ann. 

We have had some adventures in our life together, however low key they may be.  We have toured England, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium.  We have cruised the Virgin Islands and traveled to Denali in Alaska and cruised the coast to Vancouver.  We have skiied in Colorado.  There was also that trip to DesMoines — the notorious diversion from Colorado triggered by uncooperative children in the back of the station wagon. We have made it to see Santa Barbara and the Carolinas. 

All that is not to impress you with our travels.  For over forty-three years of marriage, that is nothing to brag about.  That is not the point.  The point is, as much as we were in awe of the beauty we saw, it did not give our life meaning and purpose.  What we saw was interesting greenery, colorful flowers, varied topography, beautiful structures.  Sometimes we stayed in rooms with nice looking decor, sometimes in very ordinary accommodations. 

When a Volunteer comes to stay with Mary Ann for a couple of hours, I sometimes head to a nearby lake with some of the most beautiful gardens imaginable, filled with ponds and waterfalls, colors dramatic enough to take my breath away.  I can head out to places where Eagles are nesting and water birds are migrating by the tens of thousands.  Within an hour and a half of here we can find restaurants as good as any anywhere and take in the occasional show.  When all the pieces fall in place, I can travel to a spot a few hours away and spend two or three days in utter solitude, hiking and reading, observing wildlife, feeling the warm sun and the soft breeze on my face, the rustle of the leaves, sunsets that fill me with wonder. 

Yes, I am missing wonders that are spread all over the world.  What I am not missing is the capacity to experience the marvel of all there is to see as the sun and the moon and the stars illuminate the part of the planet in which we live.  The topography (admittedly, pretty flat in this Midwestern location), the flowers, the birds, the trees, the wildlife, restaurants and stores and movie theaters are here to be experienced. 

More than that are people of all sorts, with stories to tell.  In fact, through the wonders of technology, I can interact wtih people from all over the world.  In our online group of Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia, there are people from New Zealand, from Italy, from Wales, from Canada, from all over the this country.  There are children and Grandchildren to be celebrated.

I guess I am just not sure I am missing anything so important that it needs to make me sad.  Sure, if circumstances allowed it, we would take that train trip across Canada or see the Grand Canyon, I would venture off to Australia, live in a log cabin in the country, but if none of that ever happens, I will not despair at all that I have missed in life.  Life has been full to the brim.  More than I ever thought to dream has come to be in one way or another. 

Again, I have to ask, what would you like to experience were it not for the commitment to Caregiving that shapes your life now and limits possibilities?  How does it make you feel no longer to have the option to realize those dreams as you had imagined them?  What do you do with those feelings?