A gap in the joy

Oh, the irony. Less than a week after my post about the joy I can still find with Mom despite her disease, I get a shove in the face from her. Is it karma? Was I gloating about the joy? I didn’t intend to. I am very aware of my tendency to see the negative all around me, so I do feel lucky about any joy I experience with Mom and I’m relieved that our visits together usually go very smoothly. But maybe I overstated how things really are. Or maybe not. Actually, what happened today wasn’t exactly a disaster. Just a surprise, and, I hope, an isolated thing. But still, the timing is not lost on me.

I actually got a call Sunday evening from the Alz center, alerting me to the fact that Mom had knocked another resident to the floor. Mom was back to normal by the time the staff member called, and the other resident wasn’t hurt. But knowing this had happened, I wanted to check in on Mom today. I couldn’t go to the Alz center at the time of the call because I was out of town at the calling hours for my sister-in-law’s father, who passed away last week. (Interestingly, I have two in-laws, including this one, whose relatives have struggled with some sort of dementia. Boy do they have stories to tell, too, about the family chaos surrounding these illnesses.)

So this morning, I stopped in to the Alz center just to check on Mom, and to get the whole story. I stopped to talk to a nurse, who explained that the previous evening, Mom was sitting on a couch in the program area. Another resident, a tiny woman who uses a walker, was yelling – she was saying Mom! Mom! Mom! over and over. And apparently my mom was annoyed by this, so when the resident walked by, Mom just pushed her right over. I’ve seen Mom interact with residents many times in a much more cordial way, so I was sad to hear that she lashed out like that. But I know she can be agitated by loud noise. I wonder if the word “Mom” had anything to do with it. I still call Mom “Mom” sometimes, but I also call her “Bonnie” a lot, so she knows I am addressing her. “Mom” usually doesn’t mean much to her.

After I talked to the nurse, I caught up with Mom, who was walking hand-in-hand with Mr. R in the program area – yes, Mr. R, the first boyfriend. (I stopped in Friday to see Mom, too, and found her relaxing on a couch with a leg hoisted onto Mr. Beard’s lap. She was pretty out of it that day, just nodding off for a nap, so I didn’t stay long.) I took Mom’s other hand and we took a nice walk, down the hall, through the lobby, around to the skilled nursing side and then back again toward the lobby.

The calm before the storm: Mom and Mr. R reach the end of the hallway on the skilled-nursing side of the Alz center.

A nurse saw us at this point and said that Mom was scheduled to see the podiatrist today. And since I was there, she suggested that I go in with Mom to help her sit still as the doctor worked on her feet. I popped in to the room to make this arrangement with the podiatry staff, and by then Mom and Mr. R were halfway back to the program area. I encouraged them to turn around and come back with me toward the lobby. This was probably when Mom started to build up some frustration with me. She seemed a little resistant to being told where to walk. I know this about her – she does not like to be told what to do, ever.

We got into the treatment room and I patted the chair by the doctor, asking Mom to sit down. The social worker put another chair next to it so Mr. R could sit down next to Mom. Good strategy. They sat. I leaned over and hugged Mom as the doctor pulled off one of her socks, and she pushed me away. So I sat on the floor and massaged her leg, exerting pressure on her thighs so she would stay relatively still whenever she tried to pull her leg away. When the doctor began cutting away dead skin from the bottom of her foot, Mom began to complain more vigorously, and she reached down, placed her hand on my face and pushed my head away with a decent amount of force. My glasses smudged after being forced up against my skin. So then I just put my hands on Mom’s arms so she couldn’t do that again. I felt embarrassed, because there were several people in the room who saw her do this. But better me than them, I suppose.

Eventually, the doctor switched feet, and as he cut Mom’s toenails, she began to scream. She was not hurt; she was just mad. I explained to him that this was her method of protesting and that it didn’t mean he was hurting her. He did just a little trimming off the bottom of this foot, and Mom kept talking angrily. Poor thing, she kept up a steady stream of complaints, but the words she said didn’t make sense. She was getting her point across, however. And then she said, “I’ll be a goddamned son of a bill.” And I stifled any urge to laugh. We finally got her socks back on her and she stood up and paced around the room, not sure what to do. She took my hand at one point. The doctor began working on Mr. R’s feet, and he sat patiently. Mom and I went out to the lobby, and I suggested she find a couch. Which she did. And she reclined immediately. I imagined she was tuckered out from the stress. “It’s the first time,” she said. “I know,” I said. “I’m sorry I made you mad.” She seemed just a little regretful, or maybe still mad, I don’t know. I like to imagine I know what is going through her mind, but of course I don’t really know. I told her it was OK. That she did a great job. I asked her if I could kiss her goodbye, and she held up her face so I could give her a quick peck. And then I left, with hopes I was immediately forgotten.

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8 comments so far

  1. Megan on

    Wow Emily. Sounds stressful.

    My mom’s found some new and more dramatic ways to communicate recently too.

    I’m glad Bonnie’s staff seem to understand and are realizing that she’s just trying to meet her needs, even if it’s not socially appropriate. Sometimes I want to move to Ohio so that my mother can live where yours does. I’m always impressed by how they handle things there.

    In any case, it’s hard to see these behaviors and know that they’re losing their other tools to communicate.

    Take care,
    Megan

  2. Ann on

    Just found your blog. Thank you for sharing these experiences, my mom and I are in a similar situation and its comforting to read about your journey.

  3. momsbrain on

    Hi, Megan – The staff is great. They’ve seen it all, and they do handle just about everything without adding drama. At the same time, yes, it’s a bummer to think there might be more behavior like this in Mom’s (and my) future. I’ll just have to do my best to stay out of the line of fire when I’m trying to help out.

    Ann – Welcome! The journey is no fun, I imagine, but it can have special moments. Thank you for reading and commenting, and best wishes to you and your mom.

  4. jennifer jayhawk on

    The picture of your Mom and her friend is just so sweet. I feel like with my Mom each day is a new adventure and you just don’t know how many fires will need to be put out.

    We have a great team lined up but unfortunately she can no longer remember to put on a colostomy bag. The “team” is not happy with this situation and I don’t blame them.

    I hope everything goes ok with your Mom.

  5. Jeff on

    Hi Emily – I’m glad your visit ended okay. I’m so curious what a scream from Mom sounds like. I can imagine a yell, and heard her whimper and cry out in her sleep, but screaming seems so unusual. I’ll be interested to see what happens in the next post. Also, what does Beard so when R is around? Maybe better in an email…
    Love, Jeff

  6. momsbrain on

    Hi, Jennifer – I like this picture of Mom and Mr. R, too. I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s colostomy bag. I don’t think I realized she had one of those. That would definitely pose a challenge to any caregiver…

    Hi, Jeff – When Mom screams, it’s sort of like a wail. Not a frightened horror movie scream. I have never seen Mr. Beard and Mr. R encounter each other. Mr. Beard is definitely laid back. Mr. R got a little mad at Mom when she screamed at the podiatrist, but he got over it quickly. He is not laid back.

  7. patwhite67 on

    You know, I believe the condition of Alzheimer’s releases basic instincts. I remember my mother would have never shown displeasure at another adult in her normal life. But later in the disease she would try to ‘spank’ the younger aides other than her Linda, who would come in to change or bathe her. She would also raise her voice at whatever was not pleasing to her. This kind of behavior was totally out of character for her.

  8. momsbrain on

    Pat, I think you are right. I tried not to take it too personally when Mom smushed my face. She was just expressing herself in the only way she could in that moment. And better to do it to me than a doctor…


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