Kippers

Figure i will save the tins of kippered herring i keep buying because my AWOL darling loved them… gonna save them for the ensuing famine if we don’t get this darn bug under control. They would each be a week’s worth of nutrition in a famine.

Right now we are all struggling and huffing and puffing with having to  fight covid on its natural terms… distance, avoiding infection, etc. instead of what we are used to — pop a pill, brew some magic herbs, call the doc,  go to Emerg.

Nope, says Covid-teacher, welcome, earthlings. It’s my world, for now.

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Shelter in the storm

My love’s care home at Comox Valley Seniors Village is once again closed for an outbreak. Not the dreaded Covid-19 but influenza A. It has spread from ward to ward, but not so far tonight to his special care unit.

Fortuately he has no concept of any of this, except his old belief that they were all being held there to be killed and eaten… and he has mostly forgotten even that, thankfully, enjoying his bed and his food, and occasionally engaging in this or that, as he wanders round and round. That content is due to care aides who know and understand his rhythms.

Also a beefed up Rec Department has interesting things happening every hour or two so all residents are more engaged.

This afternoon a small number of our Crying Out Loud group got together, widows and long term caregiver survivors. We did not hug, and mourned that loss of contact.

We were all remembering the disastrous norovirous outbreak a year ago, when the care home, with almost no management, failed to do necessary cleaning. Two of our life partners died during that outbreak.

Now the same care home is about to lose its public administrator. Her time is up. She has put lots of stuff in motion which might bring this place up to the level of the non- profit homes in the Valley. But none of those measures have yet matured or endured.

And in a massive gesture of non- confidence, the newly-hired Director of Care has quit.

You can’t change corporate culture by forcing them to hire an extra kitchen aide and a couple of cleaners. Or the rec folks who are making a huge difference in the atmosphere. Less like a prison, more alive.

So here we are – a year later – in yet one more outbreak, with no reason to believe cleaning protocols will be inspected or enforced, top management again missing a critical leadership role. And the Health Authority ordering no recreation or visitors.

The same old grim scene that kills people, from infection or despair.

And yet in the face of this, our group gathered, laughed, understood each other’s pain, respected each voice, enjoyed the food (Grazie mia amica) and the stories, and then we figured out the next steps in our action plan.

The comfort eased my pain-filled heart.

May we all find such kind shelter in this storm.

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Thoughts on care

I am bemused tonight and wondering.

This afternoon i watched an incredibly talented dental hygienist talk and massage my darling into letting her first look at, and then step by step triage his teeth. Oh not fillings, but checking for pain, cleaning, investigating and fluoride. And some other magic tricks.

Some months ago, he bit and hit her but she agreed to try again.

Lo, the new happier Don, the one off hydromorphone, and with a whack of loving care –  kisses from me and her chin massages –  Who knew! – and happy calm chat (she kept queuing me back to MY happy memories, managing both my emotional messages and Don’s receptors) …

That Don was perfectly happy to lie down on his bed and let us coo and fuss over him.

It was touch and go from time to time. He can be cranky guy, running on pure emotional intuition. Natually defensive. Anyone would be – will be – if what people were doing to you made no sense that you could understand.

Each time she backed off, came back calmly, and slowly as each step was accepted, extended her wish list for his tooth care.

This dementia whisperer persisted. When we started she told me,  “Relax, I have all afternoon.”

As she packed up, he was happily snoring!

Later I realised that her having enough time was totally amazing. It took me awhile to feel or believe  the luxury. Not in a rush, not answering a call bell,  having the time to just be with us, for as long as it took, and relax us both.

Care is for dementia is so complicated. The talented ones, care aides and the many other professions, should be honoured as special healers.

They give our beloved ones the care they need, mental and physical,  and they help heal our tormented caregiver souls.

 

 

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I only want to be with you

I haven’t written here for a long time, partly because nothing much has changed with my guy. Or me, except I am crazy busy.

Yes, I still visit almost every day, and always check, because i need to know he is ok. Sadly I still do not trust the systems at the care home to be on top of that.

He is still going through days long sleep/wake cycles, but maybe now more and more sleep.

The staff let him get up when he is ready, and he is a more amenable camper. He seems mostly content and very often happy.

There are a small group of us family members who have resolved to bring more games and music and joy into that once-dreary dementia ward. The company has few volunteers, and no wonder.

We and the Recreation Dept have flooded the place with magnetic blocks and Big Piece Lego and construction sets and nice noise rattles and big piece colourful puzzles and fiddle muffs and squishy balls. Oh yes and the ever popular dolls and many weird soft fluffy critters. There is a donkey and a huge pink rabbit, among others. Somewhere the mechanical cat has disappeared, but you know cats, it might come back!

Of course it all comes and goes as residents walk off with it, clutch it for hours, and then leave it in random places …  window sills, the hallways, someone else’s room, the middle of their dinner plate, occasionally their own rooms.

My guy is one of the most klepto, so one of our group, (“Friends of 1F”?) made him a spectacular vest, with big pockets for all the bits and pieces, and bells. It also has an encoded message… butterflies, after the “Butterfly Model” which is our goal for dementia care.

That is, while we kick the profit-skimming and lack of due diligence from the government to the curb.

We are doing our best in the ward, feeling our way, and the residents seem to like the cheerful anarchy. The rec dept moved the big table for six back into the lounge area, and it is functioning like a kitchen table – people instinctly gather round. Such a small change and such a big difference. Who doesn’t like to gather round the table where things are happening?

I am overwhelmed with love and respect as I see my friends, both very recent widows, lovingly sing and dance, with just a hint of tears in their eyes, with the residents.

Words cannot express the courage and determination of these women. I can only honour their strength, to come back to the ward where their loves died, in rather poor circumstances. Now they are working  to make it better for others.

Of course to be honest, they are also new uke players. “It was fun,” my dear friends laugh, “We have to practise somewhere!”  Er, well yes, but this was of course much more.

NOTE: Nothing i am talking about here costs much money, just a tiny bit of staff time and a change of attitude. Guess what? This is not a jail, it is a group home!

We have also decided to push forward as a political group, Crying Out Loud for quality residential dementia care. Open to all who want to see this system change. We are just getting organised.  That’s ok, this issue isn’t disappearing overnight and neither are we!

All of that, and our new involvement in the potential class action suit against Retirement Concepts and the Ministry of Health province wide (yes there needs to be consequences) has kept me too preoccupied to write.

But today, I was encouraging my dazed but still upright love, who seemed to not know much of anything,  to go to my friends’ music. He grabbed my hand and said clearly and firmly, “I want to go with you.”

What he has said for almost forty years.

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Seasonal Reflections

I first called this post Holidays are Dreadful.

Well, they are. Not, of course, only for dementia victims, although many of them have lost a sense of the significance so they are actually fine, but for everyone struggling with loss. While everyone else is kissing and hugging with family, we are on the edge of our sanity, trying to put a brave face on all the well-wishing.

Like millions around the world,  for us caregiver survivors, the celebrations have a dark edge we tiptoe around, while our friends and family try their best to make it better, and we pretend they are, because it is what it is,  and there is no alternative.

But that was that post, and now i want to move from the dark and the pain to the light, if i can.

The gifts this long journey have given me need full acknowledgement. Hold on, it is a pretty long list.

I have learned to dance in public. Always too embarassed to get up and boogy, now i do, at the least opportunity. Especially in the care home, trying to help others to moments of joy.

I have met and grown to love my caregiving sisters, because we know each others’ hearts in special ways. This is a priceless gift.

Most of those sisters are people i would not, in normal day-to-day business, have had the opportunity to get to know. My life is richer.

I am slower to judge (still a work in progress) and most of the anger has been burned out of my soul.

I am learning to listen, not to the words, but to the person speaking, and this is glorious. Truly, really listening puts you into a glorious space.

I am unimpressed by incontinence. We come into the world as babes and now i see incontinence as an artificial fear. The people remain, despite the disability.

I am more inclined to speak my mind and heart, and damn the torpedoes, but less inclined to be mean about it.

Trust has always been difficult for me, too much and bad consequences, or too little, and ditto. Now i am much happier in the dementia world, and its framework, where you might get whanged if you are in the wrong place and say the wrong thing, but where people are right there, bold-faced, up front, they are what they are. I am learning to be so too. It is good and life is short.

I am spending many years contemplating how, as my love got more ill, he went out of his way to rescue earthworms, save spiders, and generally show respect for life. Which was a bigger change than those who know him now would imagine.

I have learned with great difficulty, and to my disbelief, that i am not special. Disaster strikes and you … cope. Or fall apart…. or do both! The choice laid on you could be slow or instantaneous, could be because of a diagnosis, a natural disaster, a war, but none of us are immune. And we don’t know what strengths we have until we need them.

I remember a dear friend of mine, lost to the cosmos too young, who would not put up with regrets about the past. What–Ifs are useless baggage and we need not drag them around. But we can listen undenfensively and unregretably  to those voices woven through our lives, and every day is richer for them.

And that is just life and death on planet earth.

And in a funny grief-ridden way, I am content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kilt?

The husband of a dear friend of mine has just died in the dementia ward. He was a sweet dear man who always had a hi and a smile for us as we wandered past.

But now my sweet, surviving on his intuitive senses only, has started talking again about being kilt.

There is a back story here from about 3 years ago, when one of the bodies was taken out through the little lounge area when everyone was there.

Well Don and his friend freaked out, deciding this was proof they were being held prisoner to be killed and eaten. The eaten theme sounds like my guy in his worse hours of delusion. i must have written about this before (and heaven forbid this blog gets boring, although it is my life so i guess if i want to be boring, i can! Reading is optional)

Anyway,  the guys held a mini jail riot, Don tearing papers off the walls and his friend overturning the laundry cart. And who could blame them, operating on the limited evidence they could access and process, and the clear facts that they were locked in and people were dying…

Honestly, they weren’t that far off, except for the eaten part.

Anyway, now my friend’s husband has departed and the being kilt has returned to my love’s shadow mind.

“Let’s walk around here,” i suggest, pointing down the same old hallway that bores me to screaming after almost 4 years.

“Sure,” he says brightly, smiling, not in the least afraid. “Is that where we will be kilt?”

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Walking on the earth

The care aides and staff are worrying about his snoring and snorting at night. I laugh and say, “oh yeah, he always did that. The trick is to hug him and whisper in his ear, ‘Roll over, I want to cuddle.”‘

Snuffling and complaining, the big bear would roll over, protesting, to me peculiarly and incompehensibly, “But the gods sleep on their backs.”

The correct answer of course is –  No no not, stop snoring jerk! – but honeyed words…  “But i want to cuddle you, so roll over … Chum.” (Can’t encourage the gods’ swelled heads you know!)

And after some wiggling and snorting, peace would descend in the night.

The care aide, a big guy, laughs and  says… well i don’t think i’ll try that, he’d probably punch the dickens out of me.

Too bad, i laugh as i skip out, home to blessed freedom from dementia for another day.

But later that evening,  i remember how, after he started the fire in our cabin and made coffee for me, he would crawl back into bed with icy feet. As i tried to warm him, (oh yes, more cuddling) he would say, “I am glad to be back; I have been walking on the earth.”

oh my i miss those sweet mornings  and my coffee in bed, delivered mostly with a kiss, but sometimes an annoying “Time to get up, Layabout Lout,” and then a kiss.

Eventually he got too confused to deal with the coffee anymore, even when after we moved to the city we got a coffee maker with a timer.

Then it was time to improvise, so I would hop out of bed, and pour a half cup, (because he wasn’t steady enough to carry a full cup and it distressed him when it spilled).

I would give him the cup, and scurry back to bed, so we could continue his love offering on the morning.

Now we are both walking on the earth, apart.

 

 

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