Every day is a journey and the journey itself is home.
(I've been away for awhile, as I imagine some readers have noticed. My personal problems are still looming, but I thought it was time to get back to my blog. Meanwhile, my parents have been lurching from crisis to crisis. My father, particularly, has had one mishap after another.)
It began with a fall on an icy sidewalk in February. Dad had taken a cab to the barber shop and then, for reasons known only to himself, decided to walk home even though the sidewalks were icy. He stopped at a Subway on the way home to rest, he told me, but no - of course - he didn't eat or drink anything. Even though he was tired and hungry, he almost made it home. Then he spotted the friendly neigborhood mailman, waved, lost his balance, and fell. Bam! Luckily, he caught most of the fall with his right wrist, which was badly bruised but not broken. Less luckily, he fell on his head and got a mild concussion. Both events sent him to the Rehab Center for two weeks. Since then, Dad has fallen at least three more times. Falling on his head hasn't helped his cognition. The final crisis happened about two weeks ago. Dad spent the night pacing around the house and the next day didn't remember that he hadn't slept. During the day, he continued acting strangely. In a nutshell, he was delirious. Delirium is an often overlooked condition in older people that can worsen cognitive decline. Luckily for my father, my sister had met delirium before and suspected that Dad was sick, which indeed he was. When she took him to the doctor, he diagnosed a urinary infection or UTI.
After a few days on antibiotics Dad seemed much improved. At first, that is. Then it became obvious that he wasn't back to "normal." When my sisters talked to him he was disoriented, yet not in a way that was easy for him to explain. Things were the same, but different, was all he could say. Then, several days ago, my younger sister Val was visiting and looked out the window and saw my dad mowing down the beautiful flower bed in my parents front yard. "Dad, Dad," she yelled, as she rushed outside. "Stop, stop!" Her cries fell on deaf ears, literally, so she had to run back into the house to get the caregiver, a larger and stronger woman, to help. The two disengaged Dad from the lawn mower and brought him inside. He didn't seem unhappy Pam told me later. Actually, she said, even though he's disoriented, he seems pretty cheerful.
That's what I discovered when I talked to him the day after the lawn mower episode. I listened as he told me his version of what had been going on. He'd been away, he told me. He thought maybe he'd been at a Rest Area - I guess he meant those places along the freeway where you stop on trips - and while he was there they'd moved the entire house they'd lived in before to the house where they live now, except, as far as I could follow his story, it looked the same. "When I came back," he told me, "it was a different house, but the same." "Hmm," I replied. "The good thing," he continued, "was that they gave me the same room. I know that's what happened, but I don't understand it. I'm getting used to things though," Dad continued. "I feel pretty good about it and some days I even feel like I've lived here all my life."
When I thought about what he'd said later, as I was writing down what I could remember of our conversation, I felt a chill go down my spine. His description of what had happened after he got sick was an unconscious, yet moving, metaphor of how his life was going these days. He had "gone away," been sick, and now that he was "back" things - i.e. his life and his body - were the same, yet not the same. And now he had to adjust to that. So far, I was impressed by the way he seemed to accept the changes - if I overlooked his attempt to mow down the flower bed.
"There's so much to do in the yard," Dad told me, as we continued our conversation. "I'm still trying to decide where to put the strawberries." As far as I know, the last house we lived in where Dad grew strawberries, was our first house which we moved out of in 1967. Or, maybe Dad was even back in his childhood home where they'd had a huge garden with strawberries and asparagus. Who could say? Losing a sense of time happens to some extent with all older people. Those with Alzheimer's or Dementia have even more trouble tracking time, however. I like to think of it as being unmoored in time. Without being sure about what happened yesterday, it can be difficult to be sure WHEN today is. (got that?) Actually, it's not such a bad thing. You could say that people with dementias live in the Eternal Now - you know that place that others strive to achieve? Only they call it Enlightenment. Seriously, not knowing When it is can be distressing, but sometimes it's more distressing for the caregiver than for the person with dementia.
After I hung up the phone, I phoned my sister Pam. "Hey," I said, "I think I know why Dad was mowing down the flower bed."