Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Odd girl out

At long last, I saw Mom today. Twelve days after the last time I saw her. That is a record, I am pretty sure, for the number of days between visits, in, I guess, about six years. I meant to see her last Tuesday, the day before Patrick and I left for a trip to Florida, but I ran out of time. And frankly, I just didn’t make it a priority, I guess. I am confident now that she is content and that she does not miss me when I’m not around. I’m not going to stop visiting her, though today I did get this weird feeling that my visits are less important to her than ever.

My in-laws are visiting (we drove them back north after they spent the winter in Florida), so I arrived earlier than usual to visit Mom so I could get home with lunch supplies for everyone. Mom was sitting on a couch with Mr. R. He was in the middle, with another of his girlfriends next to him, also on the couch. Mom said, “There’s Emily” when I walked toward her. I was a little worried that she wouldn’t remember me. The last time I saw her, while we were sitting in the lobby, she paused and said, to me, “Where’s Emily?” So I think her awareness of me might be slipping a little. Not today, though. But she didn’t get up to hug me. No tears or emotion upon seeing me. She was holding hands with Mr. R. Eventually, she let go and picked at her chin. She indicated that she was feeling the little hairs on her chin. So I got out my tweezers and plucked as many whiskers as I could before she started complaining about the stinging pain. While I was bent over to get a close look at her chin, she touched my cheek and told me I have nice skin.

I pulled a chair over by the couch so I was facing Mom. I indicated we could just visit and chat. She said it seemed like 20 years since she had last seen me. I said it had been many days, but not quite 20 years. She seemed to think something should happen, like there would be some activity associated with my presence. I said we could take a walk if she wanted to. Mr. R ignored me. I always greet him and sort of say I hope it’s OK to visit with everyone at the same time, and he just sort of looks at me and says nothing, and I have no idea what goes through his mind, if he recognizes me or thinks a thing about me, good or bad. Mom expressed interest in a walk. She asked Mr. R and his other girlfriend if they wanted to come along. “The only place I want to go is home,” I heard Mr. R say. I was surprised at that – both for the complete sentence and for the sentiment, because he appears content where he is. Usually, he talks quietly, too, so I can’t hear what he says to his girlfriends.

We walked toward the lobby. Mom was occasionally scratching – she is still itchy with the scabies. A nurse had called me while I was away to say those residents with the rash were getting a second treatment. While we were walking, Mom lifted her shirt and said, “These aren’t so bad,” referring to her breasts. I said, “No, they are just right.” And then she said, “My name is Bonnie,” and she laughed and laughed. I guess she tickled herself with that little joke. She also said, “You are beautiful” to me. I can’t help it; I like her compliments.

We got to the lobby, and it was empty and quiet. It was not appealing to Mom to stay there, so she and I turned around and walked back toward the program area. I suggested we go to her room to comb her hair. I noticed she had had a haircut, and I was very glad to see that. But it was a little messy so I thought I could polish her look just a tad. She was wearing just a T-shirt, and I also suggested she put on a warmer shirt. I helped her put on a beige button-down shirt I never see her wear anymore. She buttoned every other button. She also went to the bathroom without any assistance, and initiated washing her hands as well. These little activities are always a little unpredictable.

We walked back toward the center of the program area, and Mom spotted Mr. R again and walked toward him. She went to sit in a chair, but I encouraged her to sit on the couch again, next to him. I sat in my chair again. I felt sort of at a loss. Mom was glad to be back with her friends. They wouldn’t engage with me. I almost felt as if they didn’t want me around. I was tired, so my mood was probably affected by that. But I kind of got a bad feeling about future visits, like they’re all going to be like this – sharing Mom with Mr. R and feeling unwelcome, at least by him. And becoming more and more aware that Mom doesn’t really need me anymore. It’s a relief for me, of course, in many ways. But it doesn’t feel quite right.

Care conference 3

By all staff accounts, Mom is doing quite well. I think many staff members like her. I think they like all the residents, perhaps even love them, in fact. They are so affectionate and attentive to the residents. Mom is just pretty fun these days – friendly, social, agreeable most of the time. Not generally a source of any problems. It is so nice to hear this about her.

I met with four staff members for this latest quarterly care conference – the heads of social work, dietary and activities, as well as a nursing representative who is also Mom’s “guardian angel” under a program ensuring all residents have one staff member specifically looking after their every need.

Mom is steadily gaining weight. She has gained 5.9 pounds in the last three months. And that is just fine. She walks around a fair bit, so she does get exercise and is still very mobile. I think it’s typical for patients to eventually lose weight as they lose interest in, or familiarity with, food. Her health is otherwise good so her weight is really not an issue. She doesn’t always eat 100 percent of her meals, either. She usually does engage in any snacking that is available, like ice cream socials and things like that.

Mom continues to participate regularly in activities and seems to like them all – bingo, arts, games, etc. The activities director said she sometimes observes that Mom will experience brief periods of unhappiness that manifests in a variety of ways – sulking, grumpiness – but which always passes fairly quickly. It is much more common for Mom to just be content, dancing, smiling and socializing.

I now have clarity on the meds situation. One antidepressant was completely discontinued: Wellbutrin. Mom still takes a small dose of an antipsychotic each day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s eventually completely weaned from that. The Trazodone she takes for sleep has been reduced from 150 mg to 50 mg each night. That’s terrific, I think. She still takes Zoloft, which she has been taking for years and years. With these changes, her mood has stayed stable and, it seems to me, has possibly even improved. It’s interesting. I have always been in favor of antidepressants of any kind to ensure that Mom wouldn’t feel sad or scared. With the reductions in these meds, she is certainly not scared, and doesn’t really appear to be sad, either.

The dietary director did note that Mom recently took her shirt off and was walking bare-chested along a hallway. The director asked Mom what was wrong and she said she was hot. So it wasn’t a behavioral thing – just a comfort thing. The director took Mom to her room and got her a lighter shirt. Mom was able to put it on herself. The aides report that Mom’s participation in dressing herself tends to vary from day to day, but she still apparently can handle the shirts. I was starting to help her dress this time a year ago, I think. Interesting that she can do some dressing herself this much later. This was also a reminder that I need to switch out Mom’s clothing – get her cold-weather gear out of her closet and load her up with T-shirts and lighter pants. This reminds me that I also need to make sure her Crocs are returned to her room. Both pairs were missing the last time I visited. I know they’re in the Alz center somewhere, and I assume staffers know exactly where they belong.

Mom is among the residents experiencing a scabies rash at the Alz center. I didn’t realize how common this is until I read a little bit about it. I recall her pointing to a spotty rash on one of her fingers about two weeks ago. I told her it looked like she might be having a little allergic reaction to something. It must have been scabies. And I wonder, given what I read, if this is why Mom recently suddenly pulled down her pants while she and I were taking a walk – if she might have been feeling itchy but didn’t know how to describe it. At any rate, the staff members have treated all of the affected residents. They think I probably am not likely to get it since my skin contact with Mom is never really prolonged, and I typically wash my hands after being with her. I’ll know better in several weeks – it takes that long for the rash to develop.

Meanwhile, Mom is still caught up in her romantic relationship. I visited her after the care conference, and found her asleep on a couch with Mr. R sitting in an adjacent chair. Another of his girlfriends was asleep in the chair next to him. Mom woke up when I approached her, and stood up to hug me. No tears this time. She was a little groggy. We took a walk to the lobby, sat down for a brief time and then returned to the program area. I was short on time so I didn’t wait until lunch began. I told her I needed to return to work, and encouraged her to sit with Mr. R. She seemed a little confused, like she wanted to come with me. But then I more firmly sat her down on the couch and kissed her goodbye. I walked a few steps toward the door and turned back to see what she was doing, and the two of them were in a deep embrace. Now I know another way to distract her when I leave.

Third wheel

I visited Mom on Saturday before lunch. I had a lot to do, getting ready for an overnight getaway with Patrick. We celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary a little early since we will be in Florida with his parents on the actual day (not that that in itself is not cause for celebration – we just spoiled ourselves with a couples massage and a night in a hotel away from the furkids). So I got there a little later than I intended, at 11:30. I briefly met the student researcher who talked to Mom about the memory posters with pictures of important people in her life. I couldn’t tell exactly how she did from what the student said, but I got the impression that Mom wasn’t terrific at recognizing the people in the pictures. I will find out more when the student reports her research in a presentation in May.

So I headed back to the program area to look for Mom. I didn’t see her in the main center area or on a couch in the pod closest to her room. To my right, I could see the legs of someone sleeping on a distant couch. Taking a closer look, I saw it was one of Mom’s rivals for Mr. R’s attention, sleeping alone on the couch. To my left, there was Bonnie, sitting on a couch with Mr. R, hugging and kissing. I walked over toward them and when she saw me, she stood up and gave me a big hug. We stopped embracing for a moment, and she hugged me again and said she was so glad to see me. In fact, she teared up a little. Which made me nearly start to cry. She said she was just full of emotion at the sight of me. It was unusual, and I worried that perhaps she needs to be put back on an antidepressant. I sat in the chair next to the couch, and she slid over to sit near me, leaving Mr. R on the other end of the couch. I didn’t think that was the best arrangement, so I directed her to slide to the middle and I sat on the other side of her, so we were all three on the couch, in a row.

Mom would occasionally turn to Mr. R and kiss him. I would see out of the corner of my eye that his hand was caressing her arm or her belly, and sometimes even her breast, though I don’t know if that was intentional or incidental. She had an arm around him the entire time. But sometimes she would put an arm around me, or put her hand on my leg. She admired my jeans. Within a fairly short time, she said she was happy again. The former weekend receptionist was playing piano for everyone, and Mom would sing along to some of the songs a little bit. Out of the blue, she sang the word “Yesterday,” as in the Beatles song. I asked the pianist if he had played that earlier, and he said yes. So again, a little tune had stayed in Mom’s head. When she and Mr. R kissed, I would sit there looking a little sheepish, not wanting them to stop, necessarily, but definitely feeling like a third wheel.

I am not sure what happens during mealtime between Mr. R, Mom and his other girlfriend(s). I have never seen Mom eat with him. So instead of getting in the middle of that, I told Mom I had to leave before it was actually time to eat lunch. I kissed her goodbye, and she put her arms around my neck and said, “Oh, I love you.” “I love you, too,” I replied. And she put her arms around Mr. R and said, “And I love him.” And I said, “I can tell.”

Body curiosity

I visited Mom yesterday for the first time in a week. At support group Wednesday, I got one report that she was seen holding hands with her boyfriend, but nothing more advanced than that. When I arrived in the morning, before lunch, Mom was sitting on a couch in the program area next to Mr. R, her boyfriend. In a chair next to him, opposite Mom, however, was another of his girlfriends. And he seemed to be paying more attention to her. When Mom saw me, she stood to hug me. “It’s a miracle,” she said. I sat in a chair next to her side of the couch. We just chatted for a little while. She would occasionally look over at Mr. R to see what he was doing. He wasn’t kissing the other woman, but he was leaning over toward her, whispering with her.

Mom touched her chin, which reminded me that it had been awhile since I plucked her whiskers. So I got out the tweezers and plucked away until she seemed to get a little irritated with the stinging pain. Her hair was clean but messy, so I told her I was going to her room to get a hairbrush. When I came out of her room, she and Mr. R were kissing. I just stood there and stared, and smiled. When they were done, I walked back toward Mom and stood behind her and combed her hair (I couldn’t find her brush, but I found a comb). When I was done, I returned the comb and came back to sit next to her. Mr. R wasn’t paying attention to her anymore. We talked a little bit about this and that. At one point, Mom put her hand in her shirt and nearly exposed a breast to inform me that she wasn’t wearing a bra. She has done this a few times before, once lifting her shirt completely to expose her entire chest. When she does that, I usually say, “But you’re comfortable, right?” And she always says yes. There are bras in her little chest of drawers, but she hasn’t really worn one since she moved to the Alz center. I imagine most women residents there aren’t wearing them anymore.

Mom said maybe we could take a walk so we got up. She looked at Mr. R and waved her finger at him affectionately and said something playful to him, but I couldn’t really hear it. We headed toward the hallway that leads to the lobby, which was bathed in sunlight. I was pointing to how brightly the sun was shining and Mom stopped and began to pull down her pants, including her disposable underwear. It happened quickly so I don’t even know how I reacted, though I was worried she was going to pee there because she had briefly mentioned she might want to pee. “There are shoes in here,” I believe she said, pointing in the direction of the crotch of her pants. “It’s a full moon,” a nurse behind us shouted in fun. Mom pulled up her pants and started laughing, though I don’t think she got the joke. The nurse said Mom had been asking recently where her pussy was – if I heard correctly, and I’m pretty sure I did. “I think she is interested in that part of her body right now,” I said. And the nurse said that is true, but that she can’t get her friend to go there. “Just holding hands and kissing,” she said. And I said, “And that’s just fine, isn’t it?” And we nodded and just sort of went our separate ways chuckling. I started walking with Mom and I said, “They were saying there is a full moon because they could see your butt.” And she laughed and said, “Oh, what a wonderful surprise.” It was such a weird and thankfully brief sequence of events.

We got to the lobby and Mom spotted another friend, a frequent visiting family member. Mom went up and hugged him and he very enthusiastically greeted her. He said to me that Mom had planted a big kiss on him earlier in the day. And I just sort of muttered I was sorry, and that I hope she doesn’t bother him. “It’s an interesting situation,” he said. I’m wondering if he is getting a little tired of Mom.

She and I were going to sit on a couch, but before we even got there Mom decided to keep walking, and headed back toward the program area. Which was fine, because it was almost time for lunch. I got her situated in a chair at a table and put her bib on her. The bibs are basically hand towels with straps that reach around the neck and attach with a fabric button. Not everyone wears one, but I encourage Mom to because she is messy and avoids getting food on her clothes this way. And she doesn’t seem to mind. Some more functioning residents don’t like them. And the trays came and Mom’s was one of the first to arrive. She started to eat. I chatted a little bit with the husband of a resident sitting across from us. His wife just moved in. He has come to a couple of support group meetings. He took care of his wife for many years before she was hospitalized and then placed at the Alz center. They have been married for 59 years. He seems to be doing pretty well. He visits every day. His wife has improved since she moved in – she used to not talk at all, and now she can say quite a bit.

I decided to call it a day and told Mom I was going to leave but that I would be back in a few days. “I’ll miss you,” she said. She hasn’t said that before. Though I doubt she actively misses me, that is still weighing on me a little bit.

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