Archive for March, 2015|Monthly archive page

A few key phrases

When I can, I will feed Mom her lunch on Sundays. My work schedule is unpredictable, so establishing a weekday routine might be more than I can manage right now. But on Sunday, I can be helpful. And I have time. There is no need to rush.

Today I found Mom sitting at her table, waiting with some other ladies for the lunch trays to be delivered. I tied her bib on and started talking to her. She was peppier than the last time I saw her, which was a relief. But her talking was as bad as it has ever been – just a series of nonsense sounds really no more complex than nah nah nah nah nah.

And then she said, “I love you.” It wasn’t perfectly clear, but I knew that was what she said. I told her I love her and wrapped my arms around her awkwardly, since we were both sitting in chairs. And she patted my arm. She might say that 10 times a day to the staff. I don’t care. She said it to me, and it was meaningful. I could have had a good cry then and there, but I was able to suppress it.

Once her tray arrived, we focused on the food. I am getting better at preparing small bites. I cut the breading off of her chicken to make it less chewy. I gave her drinks more frequently than usual. I was patient. That is, until she started grasping her bib in her hand and raising it to her mouth, and eventually biting it. I worry that that is a sign that her teeth hurt, but staff members have told me it is more likely just a disease-related behavior. I took her bib off of her so she wouldn’t do that anymore.

Midway through the meal, she said, “Where do you live?” I told her I live in Clintonville, where I grew up, and that there is a new restaurant at the bottom of the street we lived on, and that it is weird to see the street corner changed so significantly. A nurse came by to give another resident some medicine, and she said Mom had been laughing earlier in the day. “She’s loud when she laughs,” she said. That was good news. I think Mom might still have the ability to crack herself up.

After she finished eating, a fairly new resident came up and appeared to want my chair. So I let her sit there and I got another chair and sat to Mom’s right. I rubbed her back a little and just planned to stick around until she got sleepy – which was almost immediately. I gently rubbed her head and ran my fingers through her hair. “You’re a good woman,” she said. “It makes me feel good to hear that,” I replied.

Not there much; not much there

And just like that, though of course not at all just like that, Mom is not very communicative. Doesn’t display much of a personality. Barely vocalizes. Can’t seem to sit herself up in her chair. Rarely walks anymore. But does still have an appetite and eats her entire meal.

I am pretty sure, but not absolutely certain, that the span of time between my last visit and my visit today was the longest in the history of her illness that I had gone without visiting Mom. More than a month. As I was walking into the Alz center, I was thinking, people have told me I’m a good daughter. I don’t feel like a very good daughter today.

And yet, I don’t have much to offer. Or, more accurately, Mom doesn’t have much capacity to absorb the affection I show to her or the stories I tell her or the compliments I give her. That’s a giant rationalization, though. I’m a believer, in many instances, that something is better than nothing. Some human contact is probably better than no human contact for someone with advanced Alzheimer’s. The staff and other residents interact with Mom from time to time, but only I am completely devoted to her – when I’m there, anyhow.

She couldn’t seem to open her eyes for quite awhile after I arrived. I had intended to get there in time for lunch so I could feed her. Turns out I was early. Mom’s tray is on the second of two carts so we sat at her table and I rubbed her shoulders and arm and tried to encourage her to wake up. A table mate chatted with me from time to time, saying she liked my hair and my earrings. The last time I had visited at lunch, this same resident was very weepy and a little bit difficult. Today, she was calm and seemed content.

When Mom’s tray arrived, I started to feed her bites: pork with gravy, scalloped potatoes and cooked carrots. Red jello for dessert. Except for opening her mouth when the fork was within range, she remained unchanged. No shift in position, no real awareness that food was on the table. I praised her for every bite. She occasionally seemed to respond with a little smile and once, a laugh.

When she was finished, I tried to stand her up to take a short walk. I pulled on her arms and she said, “Ouch ouch ouch,” the same way she had after her fall before Christmas. I got behind her and tried to lift her, all the time saying I thought it would be fun to take a walk. “I don’t realize,” she said, before completing her sentence with nonsense words. It’s interesting to me how a negative experience can bring out some understandable words. I gave up and pushed her chair back toward the table. Her toe got stuck against the foot of the table. I pulled on her leg and she yelled out in pain.

A nurse came to check on her and took off her sock. No signs of an injury to the foot. She told me it takes two people now to get Mom out of a chair. She doesn’t walk much at all. After lunch, the aides put Mom to bed for a nap. That I knew. I don’t know what had come over me, to think about taking a walk. I have always been against the idea of pushing patients beyond their capabilities or their interests, because that is usually something a family member needs but it doesn’t necessarily benefit the patient. And there I was, trying to satisfy my need to see that Mom can still walk when she clearly had no interest in getting up. And no need to get up, either.

She can still tell when I am coming in for a kiss goodbye. But she opens her mouth. She doesn’t know how to pucker anymore. On the way out, the receptionist said Mom isn’t very with it anymore, but she’s a good eater. Eating might be the only pleasure left for her. Human touch and conversation, at least today, had no effect.