It All Started With A Surgery:
Dad was starting to get a little more used to his new home (the assisted living facility). He was at least allowing the male nurse there to help shower, shave, brush teeth and change him. To this day I regularly think to myself how I wish assisted living facility caretakers and nurses could be paid A LOT more money for what they do everyday. I have a lot of respect for them. Anyway, the kids and I visited him once a week or so. It was difficult though. Most of the residents have pretty severe cognitive impairments and suffer from dementia. Every time we visited, the residents would follow us around saying things that didn’t make any sense and touching my kids’ hands and cheeks. The children were like magnets for elderly people. It was frustrating at times. Dad wanted out of there pretty badly. He kept asking me when he could go home. I told him when his doctor says he can go home…which we all knew was never going to happen. At least my mom didn’t have to worry about taking care of him at home. She could finally get some rest at home and heal.
Mom was released from the rehabilitation facility after she begged them to let her go home. I think they were pretty tired of her and more than willing to send her home. While in that facility, I started to notice she was having a tough time explaining things to people. I often had to translate what my mom was trying to say. She was also much for irritable than before her accident. Luckily, we got her a private in-home personal assistant right away. She was willing to allow this lady to help her out for a while.
Things were going pretty well for a few weeks at home and mom was actually starting to walk on her own. I suggested that she take a look at an another assisted living facility for dad in Sunnyvale near where I lived. The personal assistant drove my mom up to Sunnyvale. Both of us had secretly hoped that my mom would want to live there as well. Many facilities these days have three sections for residents: An independent living section, an assisted living section (which is often in the same section as the independent living area) and a “memory care” section. The memory care sections are almost always behind a secure door that requires a passcode or has a receptionist who lets visitors in and out. The residents cannot walk out of these facilities without an alarm going off and if they do tried to do so, the caretakers are all trained to gently lead them back. The independent sides of these facilities are more open and may only have a receptionist that can keep an eye on people who come and go. Incoming residents are evaluated by qualified staff members. Residents are then placed in a section based on their cognitive skills and their ability to care for themselves. Once placed into a facility, residents are re-evalualated annually to see if their placement is still appropriate for them or if they need to be moved to another part of the facility were more care is available for them. It’s a really good system and takes a lot of stress off the backs of many families.
My mom got a nice tour of the facility that I thought was perfect for her. The tour director showed her all the great activities available to the residents and gave her a free lunch at their cafeteria. He tried his best of convince her that she should consider this for herself as well as my dad. She laughed and said that she had a beautiful house that she built from the ground up in Hollister and she could take care of herself. It was worth a try! He later privately told me that once an elderly person has a surgery under general anesthesia, their cognitive skills can slide pretty quickly and alzheimer’s become accelerated from this.
Two months later, my mom starting walking with just the aide of a cane. She was starting to get very irritated with her personal assistant though. She thought the lady was too overbearing and talked too much. The next thing I knew, the lady was calling me in tears because my mom had yelled at her and told her she was fired. I felt so sorry for this woman because I knew she really enjoyed helping my mom. My mom tried to survive without her for a few days, but really struggled to keep her house clean. We convinced her to try another caretaker. She agreed to get someone who would work less hours in her home on a more part-time basis. A girl in her twenties was sent to her home by a lady who ran her own small private agency. My mom liked how quiet the girl was. She just went about her business cleaning the house and checking on my mom now and then. Mom was still was still very irritable though and every time I visited with my kids, she had something to complain about. She would constantly nag me about what I was doing wrong with them. It was hard to visit her. I remember one day she was really cranky and we just could not take her criticisms anymore. A few days later I called her to see how she was. She told me that she thought she had a stroke because her she woke up with one side of her mouth feeling numb. She couldn’t really smile properly in the mirror and her arm was tingling.
“You better go to the hospital,” I told her.
“Well, it’s the symptoms are all gone now,” she told me with a very stern voice.
Two weeks after this had happened we visited her again. She was smiling and happy to see us. She spoke clearly and seemed to comprehend everything I said. It was like nothing had ever happened to her. She was her old happy self again. Not one criticism was thrown at me and she really enjoyed playing with the kids that day. I felt that joy along with her. That day I felt some security, like everything was going to be just fine. She was grandma again and I loved every minute of it. Weird!
The Poisonous Rag:
My uncle (my mom’s brother) and his wife flew down from Canada to visit my mom for two weeks. My uncle’s wife had been going through treatments for ovarian cancer and was starting to improve a bit, so they made the trip to California for what I think my uncle probably thought was the last time he would see my mom and dad. They stayed in my mom’s house and were more than happy to offer some help. They cleaned, organized the cabinets and cooked for her. She complained about something every minute they were there. She also thought she had had another stroke, but would not go to the doctor because she thought the doctor would just take her money. She complained that she was running out of money fast. I took a look at her finances and showed her on a spreadsheet that this was not the case at all. She wouldn’t believe that this was her money I was showing her! My aunt and uncle could not wait to go home after two weeks with her. They left pretty heartbroken. It was very obvious something had happened to my mom’s brain and that she was becoming more cognitively impaired. It was at that point that I started telling people that my mom has alzheimer’s. I didn’t know what else to call it!
Two or three weeks later my uncle called my mom to see how she was doing.
“I wish you two had stayed home!” she yelled over the phone. He was shocked and puzzled.
“What?!” he yelled back.
“You left a stupid dish rag in the sink and it went down into my garbage disposal. I couldn’t figure out why my garbage disposal wouldn’t work until I stuck my hand down there and pulled out this black, stinky rag. The whole house has been smelling bad every since then…including my water. Now I can’t drink any water out of my sink and my whole house has a poisonous gas in it. My grandkids probably breathed that in too. Now they are going to get sick!”
“That’s ridiculous!” he told her.
We all tried to explain to my mother why a rag in the drain pipe cannot poison tap water. She refused to believe this. The next thing I knew, her Alhambra bottled water had been contaminated by the gas from this rag as well. A few weeks later, her personal assistant left to pursue a college career. My mom refused to hire a replacement, even after the lady who ran the business tried to convince her that she could send her a replacement person. We begged her to allow another person to help her out at home.
“No!” she yelled.
Ugh! The rollercoaster was speeding downhill fast.
The Two Cats:
A few months after my first child was born, we gave away my two ten year old cats “Mikey” and “Sasha” to my mom and dad to enjoy at their home. I had raised these cats since they were small kittens but Mikey had started acting up a lot ever since our first child was born. He had become very jealous of the baby and too difficult to take care of. My husband was allergic to cats anyway. My mom and dad graciously took the cats into their home and took good care of them for a few years. As my mom’s symptoms progressed, the care for my cats was declining. Their litter box was filthy and they were starting to look very skinny and weak. She was forgetting to feed them and just didn’t have the focus and energy to clean their box. My mom started telling me that she wanted to get rid of them.
“Get these cats out of here!” she complained.
I told her that I would do my best to find them a home. I put flyers up with their pictures on it everywhere I could think of. I called all the facilities that took in cats, but nobody had room for older cats.
“Nobody wants to adopt an older kitty,” they told me.
I was still determined to find someone to take them into their home. They were full of fleas so I bought some flea soap and washed both cats in it. I applied the flea treatment to their necks and made plans to put up more flyers in the next town over. That night I got a call from my mom.
“I hate to tell you this but your cat is dying.” she said.
“What!?” I exclaimed.
“I think you poisoned her with that flea soap and now look what you’ve done!” she screamed. “She’s dying on the carpet and I don’t know what to do with her.”
“Take her to the animal hospital.” I told her.
“They won’t take her.” she yelled. “I think she’s done for. It’s too late Leanne.”
The next morning my poor cat had died and my poor mom, who was already an emotional mess, had witnessed this. It was my fault…kind of. The cat was already in poor health and apparently I had not rinsed off all the flea soap. She had ingested the insecticide from the soap. I felt terrible and I still had one more cat to find a home for. After two weeks nobody had called about adopting the cats and I had run out of options. The Humane Society said they would take Mikey, but the chances of him being adopted were very slim and I could not bear the thought of him sitting in a cage scared and lonely wondering why this is happening to him. I would be too traumatic. I made the very difficult and emotional decision to have him put down at the local veterinarian’s office. I called my mom to tell her my plan for this. She was distraught over the death of Sasha and would not allow me to get rid of Mikey. I quietly walked into my mom’s house but was immediately verbally attacked by my mother who followed me around the house screaming at me. “You killed your own cat. You’re a terrible daughter! Why did I even have you? I wish I had never had a kid. How could you do this to your own cat! You’re going to get arrested by the SPCA for this because that’s animal abuse!”
“Wait a minute,” I asked her. “Where did you put “Sasha?”
“I buried her in the back yard,” she told me.
“Oh God!” I thought.
I knew my mother was not strong enough to dig a hole. Sure enough, I found a cardboard box buried in two inches of dirt in the backyard. What can I do about this! I thought. I could try to burry her, but I’m not sure I can dig a hole that deep in such hard dirt. What if a stray animal digs the cat up again? I decided to search for a place that might cremate animals. Luckily there was one in the next town over and they were more than happy to take the body of this cat that afternoon. I unearthed my beloved Sasha and put the cardboard box with her inside of it in the garage. I drove her to the cremation place later that day. I explained what happened and the lady was very sympathetic.
I drove back to Hollister the next day to get Mikey. I was in tears all the way to Hollister thinking I’m going to sentence a perfectly healthy cat to death. I’m a horrible person!…and I have to sneak this cat out of the house without my angry mother knowing about it. I listened to Sarah Barielles’ song “Hercules” over and over again in my car all the way to Hollister. The lyrics go something like “I have sent for a warrior, get on my knees and make me a Hercules.” That’s exactly the kind of song I needed that day. I had already made an appointment to drop him off to the cremation place that afternoon. I pulled up to the house and tried to sneak in without my mom knowing I was there. She caught me and began following me around the house screaming.”What are you going to do with him! Don’t take him, I want to keep him. I changed my mind.”
“I’m taking him to the Humane Society. They said they would take him” I lied.
There was no way I was going to tell her that I was planning on putting him to sleep. I was able to trap him in his cage. She followed me to the car still yelling at me. I closed the door and drove away with my mom yelling at me from her front porch. I felt lower than low. This is a nightmare! I pulled up to the veterinarian office thinking “How in the world am I going to get through this!” This vet is going to hate me for what I’m doing. To my surprise, she and her staff were very understanding.
“I think it’s his time to go and I totally understand this situation,” she told me.
“This is a good, comfortable death for him. If he stays at home with your mom he might not have a good death.” With that thought for me, she put an I.V. in his foot and gave him a shot of some type of general anesthesia just to help him relax and fall asleep. I watched him as he slowly closed his eyes. I cried and told him how sorry I was for all of this, that I hoped he would forgive me in the next life and that I loved him very much. I began realizing how parallel this situation was with my parents’ lives. At that moment I was reminded that nothing in life is permeant and all things in nature have a beginning, a middle and an end.
To be continued… Part 4: “Sometimes There Is No Easy Solution”
O.k., I lied. This story is turning out to be way too long to only have three parts to it. LOL! Part four plus a conclusion coming at you in the next couple of weeks.
One thought on “Part 3: The Rollercoaster Ride Called Alzheimer’s Disease.”
Leanne although you are going through hell right now, I do enjoy reading your blog. My dad died when I was 9, but my mom is alive and does live alone. She does not have Alzheimer’s, but is in desperate need of some in home care for bathing, cleaning house. Of course she refuses this and says she can do everything herself. I thank you for sharing your story.