When I Told You I Was Normal …

normal exaggerated

I love this thought. For people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia their perception is reality. Their normal is different from ours. One moment Rodger would be living with his son and his pesky daughter-in-law who insisted he use his walker and made him eat pureed food when what he really wanted was pita bread and a big juicy orange. “Pita bread is delicious you know.”  The next minute he had gone back in time. He was young and strong living on a farm in Italy. He had no idea who I was or how I got in his house.

Sometimes he’d look up from the TV he watched hour after hour looking lost and confused. I always wondered where he was and what he was seeing when that occurred.

He liked to watch reruns of old television shows. Bonanza was one of his favorites. He said it reminded him of Italy. When Mike asked him why, he looked puzzled for a moment before replying, “The way they cook all the time.” I believe he was thinking of his mother and how she would make polenta before going to church each morning then coming home to prepare meals for the rest of the day.

He liked to look at the Blueridge Mountains from the deck or out the family room windows. “Those are hills,” he insisted. “In Italy we have mountains.”

The days when the voices came were hard for both of us. “They make me confused and suspicious,” he told me. He would never tell anyone what they said to him.  “Nothing good,” his doctors told me.  When I began to recognize the signs that he was hearing them I’d know “the others” were among us. I have to admit they me suspicious too.

All this was part of his normal. It became a new normal for me as well. Normal was never knowing what would happen on any given day. Normal was accepting that things were not as they appeared to be most of the time.  Saying that either one of us was normal was often more than a slight exaggeration.

Dr. Phil, caregivers need help.  Here are more comments from those who hope you will accept the Dr. Phil Challenge and use your influence and the Dr. Phil Foundation to provide grant funds to help caregivers.

Vicki Kleutghen – Comment: As caregiver to my husband of 38 years while he battles primary Plamsa Cell Leukemia ( an extremely rare – 100 US cases per year- and very very rare variant of Myeloma), I don’t want to hear the mantra “eat right, exercise, take time for yourself.” it’s meaningless unless someone else is there to provide support for the caregiver.

Take the advice one at a time:

Eat right.  Would love to, but when spending hours/days/weeks  sitting in waiting rooms, clinics, hospitals, you’re limited to what the vending machines offer. You can’t run out and get something healthier as who knows when your patient will be examined or called in for mess, etc. we all know how timely physician appointments run. At home, You’re often cooking anything and everything that might appeal to your patient. As my husband is receiving chemo, tastes change daily. As caregiver, I’m more concerned with making sure he gets enough nutrition and calories. As he is immune suppressed, fresh fruits and vegetables are off the table unless they carefully, individually washed in a bleach/vinegar solution. So if the smell of baked chicken and green beans makes him sick, it’s on to something else, often ending with protein shakes, soups or whatever else palatable. After trying all that, my meal often ended up as a dish of ice cream! Let alone shopping for food. my husband could not be left alone as a result of orthostatic hypertension so grocery trips consisted of him sitting in the car while I ran in and grabbed whatever was handy.

Exercise – see above! orthostatic hypertension means he would pass out suddenly. After he had two stem cell transplants (yes 2! within 2 1/2 months) he could not be left alone as he could spike a temperature suddenly. Exercise inside would have to squeezed in between routine care giving, routine household chores and, if there was anytime left, dealing with the piles of medical bills, insurance papers, etc.

Take time for yourself – hahaha! The stress and worry of caregiving, finances, etc makes it extremely hard to concentrate on anything other than your loved one. I read several books when I couldn’t fall asleep after a night in the ER , or  a rough day of chemo side effects but today I can’t tell you a thing about them. I did knit while sitting in the back breaking chairs for caregivers – but couldn’t follow a pattern. I ended up with dozens of dishcloths, straight scarves… Totally boring items. Clinics often suggest caregivers run out while their patient is there – but the length of clinic visits vary… Some days 30 minutes, some days 8-10 hours with the possibility of leaving every hour or until the next set of labs come back.

The stress of caregiving takes a serious, unseen toll. Everyone’s concern (including the caregiver’s) is for the patient. As a caregiver, I couldn’t forgive myself if something happened to my husband while I wasn’t there. No one knows what might happen when. What if he went into convulsions while I was getting my haircut? (Which I didn’t do for over 6 months)  what if we accepted one of the many meals offered by friends and neighbors and they hadn’t washed or cooked everything thoroughly and he came down with one of the many food born bacterium that can kill an immunosuppressed person?

Relying on friends and family is often suggested. Unfortunately we live over 1000 miles from any family – which in discussions with other caregivers is more the norm these days. My husband’s treatment required us to move 200 miles from home to a strange city where we knew no one. so much for the help of friends. As for emotional support, I found the most helpful to be other caregivers, in person or over the Internet, who truly understood what you were going through.

Dr. Phil, the platitudes of what a caregiver “should” do for themselves  would be much more effective if practical, common sense solutions could be devised.  Finances are often stretched beyond breaking with the costs of medical care, so indulgences like having food delivered or hiring home health aids are out of reach. Counseling is also a luxury that caregivers forgo in order to be sure that their loved one has everything that THEY need.

A program of Caregiver Assistance Grants would make an incredible difference in the lives of families struggling with the demands of caregivers.  Please don’t make the blithe suggestions again that you did in your show. They are meaningless to anyone actively involved in caregiving and only serve to salve the guilt of others.

Kristina Hopkins  – Comment: as a full time caregiver to my disabled husband, Mom to 2 daughters and help with my father in law, who lives with us, I appreciate advice from people, but please tell me when in my day am I suppose to take time for myself? It’s easy for people to give advice when they do not spend a day in my shoes or the shoes of wives like me.

Amy ganos  – Comment: I would like to see this happen. Caregiving is very time consuming

Chris MacGregor – Comment: I am. 62-yo woman caring for my blind, hard of hearing & now in the end stages of dementia with Alzheimer’s. I’ve been living with her for almost 10 years now, and am sole FT caregiver with limited support from my siblings who mostly live out of state. As the disease has progressed, my mom has become severely anxious, afraid, and depressed. For the last year or so she is terrified to be alone. I can’t leave the house without her, and there are few people she trusts to stay with her. I have little time for myself, and often get an argument from my siblings when I try to take a couple of weeks twice a year. I’d love to take better care of myself, but my mom ALWAYS comes first. What solutions do you have for those of us in my position? I had breast cancer and radiation last summer, suffer from depression & anxiety (for many years), and have lived on Social Security Disability for way too many years.mwhere is the money & support supposed to come from to take care of myself first?

Lucinda Rieschick – Comment: Please get help to us caregivers. Not just u should do this and that. We need help. Not just we but me too.

Joan Holt – Comment: I also challenge Dr. Phil to offer his resources to help caregivers everywhere!  This is so important especially if you’re your family members only support. Then it’s crucial that that person gets some ‘down’ time because if not, then if something happens to that person who will step up to do it?

To Contact Dr. Phil and add your voice to mine click on the links below.

http://drphilfoundation.org/   http://www.drphil.com/ @DrPhil

https://www.facebook.com/drphilshow?fref=ts

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