Thursday, October 16, 2014

What I dread most these days

Last weekend, while my best friend and her husband were visiting from Virginia, I got a phone call that Dad was being taken to the ER. He was complaining about severe abdominal pains again. (He has constant problems from not getting enough liquids, but that's another rant for another day.)

Bobbie (my friend), my sister, and I spent 6 hours in the ER with Dad. It was a long, long evening (with Dad's sundowning in full evidence) before they got him squared away and released back to his residence. Another lengthy ER visit to add to the very long list. (And don't get me started on the ER physician who walked into Dad's room and asked, "Sir, can you tell me what's going on?" "Um," I said, "you do know he has Alzheimer's, don't you?" The physician frowned and shook his head. Don't they read charts anymore? This is why a dementia patient should never be sent to the ER alone, and yet it happens all the time.)

Ask me what I dread most these days and my answer will likely surprise you: what I dread most is being asked a simple, well-meaning question: "How's your Dad?"

Because the answer is, not good. Time and Alzheimer's march on, and both are deadly to my Dad.

It sounds like I've given up hope, doesn't it. But damn it, there *is* no hope with Alzheimer's. He's not going to get better. He's not going to improve. He's on a downward spiral that will only end when he does. Where's the hope in that?

The best any of us can do, those of us who have a loved one with Alzheimer's, is practice acceptance. I can't change my father's fate. I can't change what's coming for him. The only thing I can do is try to let him know he's loved, that he's not forgotten, that he's being taken care of. Most of the time, I'm grateful for that much.

But there are days, boy, are there days, when anger is the keyword of the day. Why should anyone, let alone my father, have to suffer through this protracted, undignified, unrelenting march through Hell? Why should any family members have to watch this horror play out? It's a fate I wouldn't wish on my very worst enemy.

If you don't know anything about Alzheimer's, please take the time to educate yourself. It's not, as I heard one woman remark the other day, "just a normal part of old age." No, dear lady, this is not "old age." This is a disease that eats away at your brain until all memories and all physical functioning are obliterated. This is a disease that causes your children and grandchildren to have to say goodbye to you every day for the rest of your life, because -- every single day -- they lose another piece of you. Does that sound normal to you?

So, how is my Dad? Thin. And short. He's lost a couple of inches off his height. He doesn't eat unless someone helps him. He can't remember what a fork or spoon are for. Sometimes he doesn't even remember what *food* is for. I can put a cookie in his hand and he will stare at it blankly, then ask me, "What do I do with this?" "Put it in your mouth and bite down, Dad," I say, trying not to cry. He's becoming more and more agitated as time goes on, losing the ability to filter and control his emotions. He yells at people. Often, he thinks he's at his old job, or back in the Marine Corps, fighting a war in Korea. Sometimes he thinks he's still young and living at the old house with his Mom and Dad. When he asks, "How's Mom?", he doesn't mean my mother; he means his.

When I greet him, I always introduce myself. He doesn't often remember me anymore. He knows my name, but not necessarily my face. If I say to him, "Hi, Dad, it's Cindy," he'll reply, "Cindy's here? Where is she?" In his mind's eye, I'm still very young.

No, there is nothing normal about Alzheimer's. And if you had to spend one day with an Alzheimer's patient or their family, you would know this. I pray you never have to know it, but statistics say you will.

Please consider donating to the Alzheimer's organization to help find a cure for this disease.

This is *not* old age. This is Hell.

6 comments:

  1. I read, I watched the video, and my heart breaks for you. But I am so glad this gentleman has such a loving supportive daughter in his life, treating him with respect, getting him to smile, bringing a treat to enjoy. Wishing you peace.

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  2. Tears came to my eyes as I read your post because I do know what you mean. I think of it as walking along and supporting my mom through this awful journey she has to travel while at the same time figuring out how to let her go. Bits at a time.

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Thank you for sharing this journey with us.