Sunday was a yellow-jersey day.8

The three-week Tour de France raced to its thrilling conclusion Sunday in Paris. Over the years Peter and I have watched the always-exciting Tours, but this year’s race took the prize for nail-biting sprint finishes, new records set, dramatic crashes, more torturous mountain climbs, and global warming induced weather extremes.  All good television as they say, but nothing more so than watching my cycle loving husband watch his sport.

I arrived at his door just before NBCSports began their coverage of the final ride into Paris. I’d dug out Peter’s faded yellow cycling cap, battered and worn though it is, and draped several of his medals around his neck. (Most of them were his badminton medals, but it’s the thot wot counts as his ol’ granny would’ve said.)

In his day, Peter biked a thousand or more miles per year evenings and weekends. He entered local races occasionally and always won his age category. Together we biked with tour groups and occasionally he deigned to ride with me while I “watched the grass grow,” his words for my speed.

Sunday he kept his eyes glued to the TV screen for the whole of the 108.4 km (67.3 mi) ride. Janey, one of the nurses, even brought his lunch in so he wouldn’t miss anything.

Better than any yellow jersey, any trophy, any medal was that Peter was the most present and the most content he’s been, in my presence at least, since before the pandemic. It was a far cry from the torturous months I’d just struggled through advocating for him. Sunday was a podium-worthy day. I smiled all the way home.

Header: Peter holds the trophy he won in the Tour du Utica (NY) in 1989—first place in the over-fifty category.

One year, eleven days hug-to-hug!

On Wednesday March 24, 2021, my fifty-three week, five-day wait to hug my husband ended. The look on Peter’s face told me all I needed to know. Carolynn, here for a week’s visit, went with me. She’d been waiting for a hug from her Poppy for the same 376 days because she was with me last year, the day before the everything closed down due to Covid restrictions.

A lot has changed in Peter’s year. I won’t delve into all that in this post. The fact that visitors could come into the home and into residents’ rooms was reason to cheer. He’d had another haircut and beard trim, only his second in 12 months—he always looks decades younger once his hair is trimmed up. He was wearing clothes that fit after several months of shopping for him without really knowing what size my formerly “slim fit” husband was.

I took him a thermos of tea and a cookie, a treat I thought. The cookie went down quickly, but he wrinkled his nose at the tea. I made it the way he’s always liked it, strong and dark, splash of milk, no sugar. He didn’t drink it.

For the time being, visitors are allowed 30 minutes. Not long enough for us, but long enough for Peter. After about 15 minutes he curled up on his bed and went to sleep!

Up on the rooftop, ho ho ho!

What to my wondering eyes did appear yesterday, but my smiling husband, a grin ear to ear. Like a child on Christmas morning, Peter was obviously tickled as Santa climbed up and down a red ladder, accompanied by carols. When Leslie bought the toy she knew Peter wouldn’t be able figure it out himself, but she also knew it would make him laugh. Activities director Hailey set it up for him and arranged our FaceTime call as she does every week. When I answered, he was grinning delightedly at the clever Santa Claus.

What a thrill to be able to post good news today, a dramatic change from my previous post which oozed gloom to rival Charles Dickens’ stories. Peter eyes twinkled and he looked more lively. A right jolly old elf. He’d had a shower, his hair was clean if badly in need of cutting, his nails had been trimmed, he wore clean clothes and his new slippers and socks. Joy to my world!

Cheers to whoever prodded my husband to bathe and endure a manicure. He’s a real bear when he doesn’t want to do something.

Unlike the previous few weeks’ calls, Peter was just more present. He was able to converse a bit and he laughed at my pathetic attempts to sing “Jingle Bells.” He even appreciated my sparkly green Christmas ball earrings and was surprised I had two of them. “I do have two ears you know,” I said.

When he asked what I’d been doing, I said I’d baked my annual whiskey cakes. “Remember them? You and your dad loved them,” I said. “Both of you complained I didn’t use enough whiskey.” He shook his head. “No? Oh well, I won’t bring you any then,” I said.

I switched topics and named some old pals from his days at “Generous” Electric. “Do you remember Gary…Dick…Jerry…Vince, Joe or Bill…?” I asked. He nodded. “Of course I remember them!”

“Hmpfh, you remember your old buddies but you don’t remember my whiskey cake! That’s it, I’ll eat it all myself,” I teased.

Quick as a wink, he came back. “I remember now. Never enough whiskey in it though.” His sly smile said he knew I would never eat it all and that he would get his share.

If I were to talk to him today a different scene might be in play. But I like to think that a combination of the clever Santa, a spruce-up and, yes, perhaps the change of meds, all played a part in Peter’s better yesterday. I know, it made my day!

Photos: For all his wild gray hair and beard, Peter looks like a child on Christmas day.

A man and his dog.

After several years together dog owners and their dogs begin to look alike, so they say. They begin to act alike too, in my opinion. Take Peter, 81, and Nobby, his golden doodle, nearly 12.  Both are mischievous and have the inherent ability to make people laugh at their antics. Both would fetch sticks for hours if their years hadn’t slowed them.

The final week of October was a week I’d like to forget and one Peter forgot as it was happening.

Monday, Nobby had surgery to remove a suspicious lump from his left front leg. While he was anesthetized, the vet cleaned his teeth, too. When I picked him up, he was wobbly, confused and so ashamed of the blue cone around his head. It interfered with his food and water consumption, his ability to walk through doors easily and, worst of all, he couldn’t find the right spot outside, um, to mark his spot.

Tuesday, just as I was leaving for my own teeth-cleaning appointment, the phone rang. Peter had had a bad turn at lunch. He was disoriented, more confused than usual, incontinent and his temperature was 101.2°.  Would I come? Of course I would. Hindsight tells me a trip to the dentist’s office would have been a piece of cake and Peter likely would have chosen a root canal over what followed.

His temperature had spiked by the time I got to his room. His face was so red it was almost incandescent. “Can someone take his temp please?” I called out. Whoa, it was 104°! I put cold washcloths on his forehead while waiting for the doctor to return my call. I requested Tylenol from a nurse. Nunh uh, without doctor’s orders not even Tylenol can be given to a resident.

As is always the case, Peter said he wasn’t sick. He tried to bluff his way past my concern. He was as dazed and unsteady as Nobby was on Monday. I urged him to drink water, then steered him toward the bathroom. Like Nobby the night before, Peter didn’t know why he was in there, but at least he didn’t have to go out into a dark, drizzly night.

We went to the emergency room where he was seen quickly enough, though it was a five-hour ordeal. He was hooked-up, jabbed, poked and questioned. He tugged at his IV, tangled the blood pressure tubing and tried his best to get the pulse oximeter off his finger. He bellowed and cursed during one particularly sensitive probing. Later he erupted like a child when a nurse gave him Tylenol tabs and a cup of water. “Tastes awful,” he yelled, even as I cautioned against chewing. This was not the behavior of the mild mannered man I married. This was dementia talking.

Like Peter, Nobby refuses to swallow pills, even wrapped in Pill Pockets. He spits them out with such force they fly across the room.

With a presumed diagnosis of prostatitis, Peter was finally admitted and in a room by 9:15. A steady procession of nurses, students and doctors paraded in and out. He couldn’t answer any of their questions, still insisted he wasn’t sick, still babbled as if drunk. When one asked his full name, he slurred his words. “Whydoyawannaknow?” he asked. Did he know the date or where he was? I cringed. Hadn’t she read his chart? Didn’t she see that he has dementia and lives in a memory care unit? Finally, gritting my teeth, I said that he hadn’t been able to answer those questions for years.

Meanwhile, Nobby had been home alone for hours. Leslie went to him after work. When I got home, the dog, way peppier than the day before, wanted to play. I went to bed.

Wednesday, the doctor definitely ruled out a UTI, flu, pneumonia and several other possibilities, but had ordered blood and urine cultures. Peter was to stay another night. Leslie and Martin brought dinner to me and afterwards, she went to the hospital. He was his goofy self, she texted. He walked her to the elevator so many times, she finally shut the door to his room and told him firmly to stay there.

Peter the ghost.

Always a trickster.

Thursday, Peter was back to his old tricks. He hid in doorways and yelled boo at passing nurses. He joked and teased and wouldn’t give anyone a straight answer. He’d pulled his IV out and was so energetic that they turned off the “fall alarm” on his bed. When yet another nurse arrived, Peter said he wouldn’t answer any more questions. Still she tried. “What hobbies have you enjoyed, Mr. Clarke?” she asked.

He had an devilish look on his face when he pointed to me and said, “Her.” She blushed, I laughed and Peter turned as red as he’d been two days earlier.

By the time I got home, Nobby had discovered he could lick his sutures through the cone, and later still he figured out how to bend the cone for unobstructed access to those pesky stitches.

Friday, Nobby’s doctor called with good news. “The lump was benign!” she said. “I’ve never heard of it, I can’t pronounce it, but it’s something particular to poodles.”  Good news indeed. That evening, Peter was seen eating popcorn while glued to “The Queen” with Helen Mirren. Such was the week that was.

Header photo: Nobby looks good in blue.

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Random reasons to smile.

According to one of my daughters, my most recent post made her laugh and cry. Here, for Carolynn, are four reasons to smile.

One recent Sunday I didn’t feel well, thought I was catching a cold, so I didn’t visit Peter as usual. I felt guilty all day. Monday I was slightly better, but decided to stay away. Finally, Tuesday, I went to see him. We were having tea when one of the nurses stopped to tell me she’d brought her four-year-old granddaughter to work Sunday and Peter had entertained her all day. “He loves little children,” I said. “Bring her back again for a playdate.”

Pfftt, no need for Sunday’s guilt, he was fine without me.

Another day he teased a nurse who was working at the computer in the corridor. “Want my help?” he asked, acting as if he might touch something he shouldn’t.

She laughed. “You stay away from this. You help in other ways.”

“He loves to clean up the kitchen, wipe the tables,” I said, a hint that he wanted more to do.

“Yes he does, and he helps with residents too. Pushes their chairs, cheers them up when they’re down…he’s great.”

That’s my husband. He’s lucky to be a bit better off than many.

Earlier this week, I turned his music on. The throaty sound of Louie “Satchmo” Armstrong filled the room.  Peter began to sing along—badly—the way did when he blasted his thirties jazz in the basement right below my office. His carrying on always made me tear my hair and laugh at the same time.

And so it did again.

Just yesterday morning, Nobby and I were ready for our walk when I realized I hadn’t taken the garbage can to the curb and the truck was already next door. I got to the curb seconds before he rumbled to a stop. I waited there to roll the empty back to the house. When he finished dumping the garbage into the truck, he deftly used the lift arm to push the empty can right to where where I stood about ten feet away.

That random act of kindness has nothing to do with caregiving, dementia, my husband, guilt, doubts or tears. But it did make me smile.

Header photo: Peter and I at a garden party several years ago.

 

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Seize the day!

It was more than a year after I placed my husband in memory care before I found a new normal. I’d skimmed across the days, weeks, months in a daze, I now know. Friends said I was doing well, but I knew I was barely hanging on.

But at last, mama’s got her mojo back. Carpe diem.

Almost from the start, I had concerns about certain aspects of Peter’s new life. Nearly 18 months later I realized that the route to change was for me to Do Something.

I made an appointment to talk with one person but ended up in the office of another, a nice young man who had the authority to affect change. When I sat down with him—I’ll call him Mr. L—I had two pages of notes ranging from serious matters like Peter’s refusal to take his meds or take supervised showers regularly to other, superficial items. He lay my top priorities to rest quickly. Weeks prior word had reached Mr. L’s desk that twice I’d found pills lying on my husband’s table. Steps were taken. Peter no longer gets away with his tricks to hide meds, although I’m sure he still tries.

My complaint that two showers a week aren’t enough for anyone, anywhere, anytime, much less my often “fragrant” spouse, was addressed. It’s still a battle for whoever has to convince him, but it’s happening. Who knows, maybe Peter will come to accept his new normal.

When I visited recently, an aide told me Peter had refused to shower that morning, as he had on Friday. “I’ll talk to him,” I said, thanking her for telling me. While we had our tea I told him how upset I was about his refusing showers. He looked like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but he continued to insist he didn’t need to shower “all the time.”

I persisted. He held firm. Finally I suggested we play dominos and the best-of-seven winner would make the shower decision. Peter lost. He went to the shower room willingly. Afterwards, he came back to his room arms raised, hands clasped above his head. He looked good, he felt good and he he’d made me happy. “Domino effect” has taken on new meaning. I might have to show the aides how to play the game!

Peter always liked to garden.

Next on my list was the garden that surrounds the wing where Peter and as many as 15 others live. “The front of the facility is very nice, well maintained, welcoming,” I said to Mr L, “but that garden is pitiful. The raised bed is full of weeds and mint. The area is not inviting at all.” He agreed. I also suggested painting the ceiling of the gazebo blue. That struck a chord and Mr. L added that the porch ceilings needed paint too. Yes-s.

Then I mentioned my two occasional gardeners—they help me at home—and asked if it would be OK to contact them to see if they would be interested in a garden overhaul. Yes and yes. Before long they’ll start work on their plan that includes brilliant perennials with compelling scents—lavender, lilac, viburnum—and although fall hasn’t even started, I can’t wait until spring.

The tall black garden fence is meant to contain residents who try to escape, Peter among them! I proposed murals on some fence sections to make them less prison-like. Murals are on the radar with two potential artists lined up.

Peter ponders his next domino move.

When I asked about a table and chairs for the gazebo, snap, they appeared a few days later. I hope other residents and their families enjoy sitting there as much as we do.

How about enlisting student volunteers from local schools and the university to visit with residents or plan entertainment? I asked. Maybe youngsters could write notes to them? Would young children from day care facilities come to cheer the residents? I wondered. Worth trying, Mr. L thought, and before long he’d made some calls and ideas are flowing. Peter loves little children and I imagine other residents would enjoy little children and their antics, too.

My list grows, even as I sit here tweaking this post. At least now I’ve Done Something about things that can be remedied with the right sources and not too much money. I’ll probably make some enemies in this process, but it wouldn’t be the first time. I’m not called Mother Tough without reason!

Header photo: Peter asks if he can help when the garden rehab starts. “You can sweep up every day,” I offered.  He nodded. “I’m good at that,” he said.

 

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Shower power.

How I pity the aides who try to get my husband to shower. His jovial personality disappears when he really Doesn’t. Want. To. Do. Something! And he really doesn’t want to be prodded towards the shower by a female aide, or for that matter, by a male aide. I’m reasonably sure he isn’t the only male resident who balks. It’s got to be embarrassing, humiliating, to be led off to the bath room as if they were little boys.

A year ago, early in Peter’s stay in the memory care unit—the best facility around I might add—I complained, rather loudly, that my husband needed a shower. “He stinks!” I announced. Another day I asked if I could try to get him to shower. The answer was yes and I was successful. He stayed a long time and all I had to do was be there. I didn’t help him wash, didn’t help him dress, but I did tell him how “fresh” he was afterwards. He grinned as if to say it was his idea in the first place.

Unfortunately, showers are only scheduled twice a week, for the men at least. Not often enough for anyone, and especially not enough for my pungent husband at any time and certainly not in the heat of summer. Oh I understand there could be staffing issues and I readily acknowledge my husband is stubborn. But good hygiene is absolutely necessary, in my book, clean clothes too.

Peter’s dug-in heels are contrary to the man who sometimes showered three times a day when he was working in the yard. He’d mow the grass, shower, put on clean clothes, go back out, do another task, come back inside…repeat…repeat….

I had quite a laugh last week when I heard that he had two showers on Tuesday—one in the morning overseen by one aide, the second in the afternoon with help from a different aide who didn’t realize he’d already washed and put on clean clothes. Two showers, two changes of clothes, one day! Woo hoo! Apparently, he didn’t object either time and, because he didn’t remember the first one, he didn’t fuss the second time. Blessing disguised.

Friday, the other shower day for the men, an aide convinced him to shower again. When I picked him up at five to go out to eat with Leslie, Martin and me, not only was he clean, but he was wearing clean trousers and the blue golf shirt Leslie gave him for Father’s Day.  Win. Win. Win.

 

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

 

He who laughs last…

A number of conversational prompts loop through Peter’s brain — he’s concerned about how tall the trees are, he wonders at the numbers of cars in parking lots, he’s overly curious about what lies at the bottom of a hill behind the facility, and he constantly asks “How was work today?”

“I’ve been retired for 30 years, Peter.”

“Thirty years?” He’s astonished.

“I retired a couple months before Samantha was born, you know.”

“How old is she?”

“Uh-h, thirty!” He shakes his head. “And I’m eighty,” I say.

“EIGHTY?” He collapses with laughter. He sputters, his face is red and tears leak out the sides of his eyes as he collapses against the back of his chair. “EIGHTY?” He slaps his knee as he cackles.

I’m a bit miffed. “Don’t laugh so hard, bud,” I say, “you’re eighty-one!”

His eyes pop and he gasps. “No one told me! How did that happen? Eighty-one?” He thinks for a few seconds, then, quick as ever, says, “We look pretty good, don’t we?” And we both laugh uncontrollably, me at how quick, how sharp his retort, and him at his own joke about our unbelievable, hysterically funny ages.

Header photo: 1930’s era Packard is older than we are. And it’s punctuated with bullet holes.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Bright spots in down days.

There have been upsets in the past few weeks that nearly brought me to my knees. I won’t dwell on the details here, now, because there were bright spots that made the period tolerable.

Weeding, usually a chore, gave Peter and me reason to smile. I looked out his window last week and noticed the flower beds had been invaded by tall, prickly weeds that were about to flower and overrun the space. “Let’s go out and tackle them,” I said. He was on his way before I finished my sentence. We worked for an hour and pulled a huge pile for someone else to pick up!

The next day I mentioned to Peter’s longtime helper Mark that Peter wanted to dig up the beds and plant something nice. That very afternoon, by the time I arrived, they’d shopped for flowers and planted them in a large red pot Mark brought from home. A mini-sunflower, blue balloon flowers, and fushia Million Bells now brighten Peter’s view.

Happy in a flower pot.

Another time one of the aides made me laugh when she said that my husband has “favorites” he pushes along the hall in their wheelchairs. The thought that my husband was pushing the “old dears” (a kindly English expression) absolutely astounded me!

Happy on wheels.

Another evening, as he walked me towards the exit, he stage-whispered, “Watch out for ‘im.” He nodded toward another resident who used a walker to toddle along. “‘E’s up to no good.” The other fellow watched Peter out of the corner of his eye, and when Peter drew abreast, they pointed their index fingers at each other and said, “Pow! Pow!”

Happy are six-year-olds playing cowboys.

Another of Peter’s carers was outside watering plants yesterday. “Look who’s out there,” Peter said. His smile was incandescent.

“I see,” I said, “do you want to go help her?”

“I’m going,” he said, and headed to the door. “Oops!” he said and stopped long enough to kiss me. “Bye, luv, see you next time.” He was gone.

Sometimes even “gone” can be happy.

Header photo: A neighbor’s sunny peonies make me smile.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

Briefly.

My husband was a cyclist in his day, not a pro, but darned good even into his late sixties, before Alzheimer’s commandeered his brain. Now 81, he hasn’t ridden in years, so when I got a text message from his Tuesday helper that he’d ridden half a mile at level two in the fitness center, I whooped.

YAY!

Later that same evening there was a second text to tell me that the day had been a good day: “He told me he knew he lived there now and the place was okay. He had a clear moment while we had tea outside the cafe.”

With tea came clarity.

I’d waited one year and four days to hear those words. Some caregivers never hear them, so I count myself lucky.

Peter has seemed more settled in recent weeks, and although I know he doesn’t remember that day or that brief bit of conversation, the thought is tucked in there somewhere amidst those damnable amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.

His good day made mine.

Header: My May flowers flourish thanks to April showers.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.