January 20, 2012

Dad has continued to have difficulties since his mini stroke of early December. In particular he’s been very tired much of the time, and unable to concentrate on the TV, his old stand-by. Instead he’s been making use of a relaxation CD he received during a follow up visit from the stroke nurse, and he’s been playing patience a lot on the dining room table.

In his own way, Dad’s been trying to stay on top of things. Nevertheless when I arrived at his house in order to make lunch for us today, he told me he was at the end of his tether. He’d been in a similar state of distress a couple of years before, which turned out to be a response to the withdrawal of the blood pressure pill Atenolol. On that occasion, taking Diazepan for a few days relaxed him, and his anxiety receded. So today I found the remaining pills, encouraged Dad to take one, while confirming with Ian’s GP that this was a reasonable course of action.

The 5mg dose of Diazepan did calm down my father. But it also made him groggy and Ian had a fall within an hour of taking the pill. This left him shaken and I’ve encouraged him to use the Zimmer to get around for the rest of the day. No doubt this comes as a further blow to his morale. Mine too.

It’s Mum’s spare Zimmer, the one that she would use when she came to the house on a Saturday afternoon. What I mean is, the Zimmer was used to help transfer Mabel from wheelchair to commode. Now Mum can no longer stand even with the help of a Zimmer and so I can’t help her to the toilet on my own any more. Does that mean she’ll never set foot in her house again? No, not necessarily. But I don’t think she’ll ever formulate the desire to inhabit what used to be called her home. If I brought her here for a quick visit I’m fairly sure the place wouldn’t mean anything to her. As it advances, dementia takes away spatial awareness and a sense of place, just as it takes away so many other mental qualities.

I ask Dad if he feels up to visiting Mum today. Because of tiredness and shakiness I’m expecting a negative answer. But Dad rouses himself. “Yes, I do want to see Mabel.”

Slowly, Ian Zimmers to the back door, then he transfers his allegiance to his stick to make the journey across the chips of the drive to the car.

I’ve phoned ahead as usual, so when we arrive at the care home, Mum is in her wheelchair, dressed in her coat. She’s slumped in her seat though. Gone are the days when I was greeted with enthusiasm, joy even.

She raises no objection to all the movements necessary in transferring her from wheelchair to the front passenger seat, just whimpers slightly when I use the belt around her to haul her into the car. When I finally fasten her seat belt I ask if she’s OK. “I don’t know,” she says. Great - a response! It’s enough to slightly cheer both Ian and me. In some ways Mum has become a symbol to us. As long as she’s sitting in her place in the car then not too much can be wrong with the world.

Still, there’s a surreal feel to our glide through the countryside this afternoon. Partly this is due to Dad’s singing. He starts with the jaunty nursery rhyme:

‘Ting-a-ling a lang tang, my cat’s dead.
What did he die of? Of a sore head.
All those that knew him when he was alive,
Come to his funeral at half past five.’

Then he moves on to the ballad of Molly Malone:

‘As she wheeled her wheelbarrow.
Through streets broad and narrow
Singing, “Cockles and mussels,
Alive, alive-oh!”’

With my help, Mum manages to drink a cup of tea and eat a biscuit. But I have to monitor the process so closely that I don’t get much pleasure from the beauty spot we spend half an hour in.

When we get back to the home, my contribution to the disembarkation process is as follows. Get the platform into place. Get the wheelchair into place with one side removed. Get the transfer board firmly under Mum. Haul Mum from car to wheelchair. Remove transfer board by getting back into the car and tugging it from under Mum's backside. Re-attach side of wheelchair. Remove wheelchair from platform. This has to be contrasted with Ian’s contribution, which is to hauntingly sing:

"Oh, oh, Antonio, he has gone away.
He’s left me all alone-ee-o; all upon my own-ee-o.
I would like to meet him with his new sweetheart.
Then off will go Antonio and his ice-cream cart."

Before I whisk off Mabel on what I’m now thinking of as an ice cream cart, I ask Mum to say goodbye to Dad. But she won’t have any of it. I think it’s because of all the pushing and pulling she’s had to put up with. I can’t even get her to look in his direction. On my fourth: “Say goodbye to Dad, Mum,” she tells me she’s not interested. Oh dear. So off she and I trundle to the front door. A sad looking pair, no doubt.

It’s not been a good day. Mum’s shutting off is dispiriting for Dad and me. And Ian’s physical and mental distress at the whole situation makes things worse for me. But I’m not the real victim here, my parents are. I’m just here to help them through it.

Here's a photo of Ian and I looking a little shell-shocked. 'Alive, Alive-Oh!' has got to be an ironic title for this particular blog. 'Together in Shell Shock', would be more honest.

Photo on 2011-08-16 at 13.25