Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just another Day at the Funny Farm


Greetings from the World of a Geriatric Caregiver
No. 5 in a series

Had the character in the acclaimed movie "Rainman" been rainwoman she could have been played to perfection by Mom. Our late night exposure to Mom's diminishing mental state, via the wondrous baby monitor, is evident nightly with a constantly exploding repetition of numbers and names. For several nights she called her brother Roscoe over and over again. Another night was reserved for her brother Thurman and then came the chanting for senior brother, Lincoln. Recently, her mantra was 110, 110, 110, etc. The following night she had digressed to a sing-song eleven. eleven, eleven, eleven and twice we were lulled back to sleep by the loud, defiant broadcast of 119, 119, 119 during a fifteen minute period in the dead of night. Could it be that Mom is a former frustrated NY Stock Exchange bidder, a train conductor, or possibly a reincarnated auctioneer? The majority of her rants and screams end with bone chilling pleas of help me, help me, help me! Sadly, day and night, light and dark mean nothing to her fragmented mind.

How true that, as a caregiver, if you can't laugh… you can't survive.
We strive, in our daily desperation to survive, to rejoice and focus with laughter on the tumultuous, yet often comedic aspects of our everyday existence. Otherwise, we would be engulfed in a cascading waterfall of never ending tears and frustration.

Yesterday, after numerous requests from Mom as to what she could do and resisting every suggestion I offered, I decided to invite one of her old friends over for Mom's diversion and my own self preservation.

When I spoke with Thelma she kindly declined the invitation, due to a recent cold, which she didn't want to share with Mom. I understood, appreciated her thinking and said that perhaps another day they could get together. Five minutes later she called back to say that she had changed her mind. It was then 10 AM and we could expect her shortly.

As the morning dragged on and I attempted to keep Mom occupied, as one would do with a two year old toddler, I began to wonder if I had misunderstood what Thelma had said. Finally, at 2 PM, a hot, sweaty, frazzled and agitated Thelma knocked rapidly at the backdoor with a crudely scribbled map to our home in her hand, that some kind soul, along her three mile trek of being lost, had penned on the back of a hastily retrieved church bulletin.

At this point of Mom's dementia she is not a very easy person to converse with and poor Thelma, in an attempt to fill the void, chattered away like a metronome on super high speed as she repeatedly requested and downed tall glasses of refreshing ice water. All the while Mom sat, ramrod straight and "yepped" and "noped" at occasional intervals.

Thelma rose to leave at 4 PM and listened, with a confused look on her face, as I gave explicit verbal directions for her drive home. The backside of her church bulletin came to mind, but I resisted, since there were only a total of two turns the entire way, surely she could comprehend and recall such sparse directions. Telling Mom that I was going to walk Thelma to her car and would return momentarily, the two of us stepped out the front door . I should have known better. Anyone dealing with a dementia patient knows that the passage of time has no significance in their brain. If Mom is not sleeping or eating, she is constantly calling my name, as one would summon a dog, to loyally sit by their side. As Thelma and I chatted and strolled to her car in the front drive I suggested that , rather than attempting to back out of our rather long country driveway, she would probably find it easier to follow the drive around the barn, make a circle and be headed back to the main road. I smiled, waved good- bye and as I hurriedly headed back to Mom I could hear her frantically screaming my name through the open front door. Glancing back, to check on Thelma's progress, and sincerely wishing that she had GPS, I viewed a little frizzy gray head straining to peek over the large steering wheel of her long, black Pontiac, which was weaving and circling through the vast back yard as she precariously dodged two barns, a hog parlor, the potato house, pump house and corn crib. Poor Thelma was in the frightful clutches of a maze and for the second time today… was totally lost!

At this point I suddenly erupted with laugher while recalling the story of the wise, biblical king who had the difficult task of choosing which mother should get the child that the two women both claimed as their own. As I scurried in the king's "moccasins" I was mentally torn between assisting Thelma and answering Mom's repeated urgent calls for help. Since Thelma seemed oblivious to her dilemma and Mom's calls were growing louder by the moment, I chose to assist Mom and wished the best for poor meandering Thelma. As I hurriedly darted through the front door I glimpsed Thelma's brake lights at the end of the driveway and hoped she would follow my instructions to turn left… not right and eventually, before nightfall, discover herself at home or at least close enough that some good Samaritan would take pity and lend a helping hand to her driveway . After getting Mom calmed and settled I considered calling Thelma to inquire if she had gotten home safely, but instead, just sighed, shook my head and chuckled, while rewinding a mental image of our comical afternoon.

In early evening, when husband, Ray, returned from the hay patch he cheerily said to Mom, "Well, I understand you had a nice visit with Thelma today." Mom glanced up from her chair on the patio with a vacant stare and replied, "Thelma who?"

So goes it in the daily life of a geriatric caregiver.
J.A. Heitmueller

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