The second worst day of my life so far.

A policeman stood at the door.”Afternoon, ma’m,” he said. “Does your husband walk a big white dog?” I nodded. “He’s had a fall. An ambulance is on the way.” I grabbed the door to hold myself up and he added quickly, “He’s all right, but they’ll take him to the hospital as a precaution.”

“Come in and lock the door behind you!” I yelled, while I ran to turn the stove off, grab my purse, and dash out the side door. “Your dog is OK, too,” he said as he followed me through the house. “He’s right beside your husband. Another policeman will bring him home.”

Peter had fallen — face-planted — into a shallow ditch less than a block from our house. It had rained all day, the ditch was running. I’d fastened his GPS watch around his wrist before he and Nobby left.  Minutes later, I saw that he’d taken the watch off, defying me as he does, and left it the kitchen. If a passer-by hadn’t seen him and called 911 I would have had no way to find him when he didn’t return. It could have been worse.

But “worse” was yet to come.

A second policeman — the same one, incidentally, who helped find Peter last summer when he got lost — took me to the ambulance. He was already on the gurney when I climbed in behind him. He turned his battered, muddy face toward me and said, “Uh oh, now I’m in trouble.” The EMTs laughed. He kept them entertained all the way to the hospital.

In the ER he kept up his joking to the amusement of the various people attending to him.  When two young female aides left the room, one said, “Oh, he’s so cute!”


His right hand suffered the worst physical damage — a wide, deep gash required stitches to hold his tissue-like skin together. Numerous other bumps and abrasions punctuated his upper body and knees, including a goose egg and black eye that bloomed later. As I gathered up his bloodied, muddied clothes he said, “S’OK, those will come clean.” Nuh unh, I thought. Not enough Oxy-Clean in the world to get that out.

Peter’s hands and face had been cleaned up by the time the ER doc returned to stitch his hand. “Oh, you’re quite handsome under all that dirt,” she said.

He grinned. “I’ll have to do it again then.”

Turns out, those few hours in the ER were the easiest of the next two weeks. He was understandably confused that Sunday evening, but the next day he awoke a different person. In the next few days he aged ten years.

From the start he remembered nothing about his fall, not that he would, and his few previous memories were erased too. He insisted all along that he didn’t hurt anywhere, though he must have, but his gait was stiff, and he shuffled as if he’d suddenly developed Parkinson’s. He struggled mightily to get out of his chair, even with a cane. He refused my help angrily, viciously, so unlike the man I married. He became argumentative and unreasonable in ways that he’s never been. He had no appetite, strange for him, and he slept soundly twelve or more hours a night. “I’ve nothing else to do,” he said. The Olympics’ coverage saved us.

Help dressing or undressing? “NO, I don’t need you.” Yet it took him twenty minutes to pull one sock off, and forty minutes, with my unwanted assistance, to get up the stairs to bed.

A physical therapist will assess him soon, there’ll be additional lab work to rule out other issues — the urine-analysis showed no UTI so the “hope” that spurred is gone. I may hire additional help, or may go to a nursing home solution. In the meantime, our sons-in-law have made the downstairs more accessible. Moving a bed down is a possibility.

Peter went from being a whisker shy of his eightieth birthday 18 days ago, to looking and acting as if he were ninety.

Still, not all news is bad news. Between the time of my previous post and now, he turned a corner. His dogged determination and bloody stubbornness, that usually makes me tear my hair, has instead helped him rally. He’s not back to where he was before, and never will be, but he’s so much better. But then, anything would be an improvement from the blood, rain and mud drenched man the ambulance crew hauled out of that ditch on February 11.

Header photo: In the ambulance, Peter regaled the EMTs with his patter . From the back, he looks unscathed.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-14-53-am

Could be a whole lot worse!

Most of January, I was mired in gloom worthy of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and for no good reason really. We are fortunate to have good long-term care insurance, I have companion help for Peter, and house-cleaning help for me. Best of all, Leslie is close by to bolster me, and Carolynn cheerleads from 596 miles away.

Could be a whole lot worse.

A well-timed phone call jerked me right back to my senses last week. Several times a year, our insurance company nurses call to ask routine questions: “Does Mr. Clarke need help bathing himself? Does he need help brushing his teeth? Has Mr. Clarke had any falls lately? Does he need help toileting? Is he incontinent? Does he have a problem falling asleep or staying asleep?” I always answer no. When they ask him directly how he’s doing, he charms them with a cheery “So far, so good.”

Before she rang off the nurse asked for more detail about his days. Peter is way more forgetful than the last time she checked, I told her, and more confused generally. And no, he can’t really converse except with me or other family members. We try to fill in the blanks and make sense of what we think he wants to say.

But, Peter copes better than most. He doesn’t need nursing care — yet — and he still “lets the dog walk him twice a day.” His sense of humor is intact, and although he often wears me out with his silly jokes and continuous corny patter, he takes care of me in the only way he can. He makes me laugh.

A recent morning for instance.


If not now, when?

I’d been begging him to get rid of the moth-eaten, raggedy wool sweater he wears all the time. I dug into his drawerful of English cardigans —”cardis” he calls them — and found a marine blue double knit one. “Maybe you’d like to wear this for a change,” I said when I handed it to him. I thought sure he’d recognize it as one his mum had sent more than forty-five years ago, but he didn’t. He’s never worn it, but he’s always said he would when he was an old man. If not now, when? I thought.

Darned if he didn’t put it on right away. I wasn’t surprised how perfect it looked with the blue tattersall shirt he was wearing. I spread praise thickly.

He looked in the mirror, tucked his chin in, puffed his chest out, and said in a rumbling Churchillian voice, “Hrmp hrmp, erm, yes, jolly good, yes, I say, yes, mmm….”

When I burst out laughing, he wrapped me in a hug and I asked myself, what in the bloody heck do I have to feel depressed about?

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

Cure for common cold!

On New Year’s Eve, with no bubbly in sight, my husband started hiccuping, or hiccoughing as he would spell it. Uh oh, I thought, he’s getting a cold.

I dosed him with vitamin C in the form of Clementines, cups of sweet, hot tea, and homemade elderberry cough syrup. He grimaced and muttered at all my attempts, so I gave up and went to bed. Later, I was awakened from a sound sleep by a cacaphonus hiccup accompanied by an echoing, hacking cough. “Arrrrgh-h-h-h!” I groaned.

“Sorry,” he whispered. He always attempts to be very quiet so as not to wake me. He twisted and yanked at the covers and  finally settled onto his side. “HUH-HUHH-CK,” he said. “Sorry.”

He was asleep instantly, but the staccato sounds continued. I pulled my pillow over my head. “Try holding your breath.”


“To stop your hiccups,” I said, though from experience I knew it would not.

He didn’t even try. The bursts continued until I suggested that he might sleep better if he went into the other bedroom.

“Why would I sleep better there?”

“Because I won’t poke you all night!”

He clomped down the hall and I drifted to sleep. I knew I hadn’t handled that well, but, I rationalized, no one dies from hiccups.

Later still, Peter got up to use the bathroom, but forgot he was sleeping in the guest room. He returned to our bed, grabbed for the covers but instead got my arm which I’d flung across to his side. Both of us yelped. “What are you doing?” I said.

“Coming back to bed…I thought you were sleeping in the other room…”

“No, you were!” He plodded back down the hall.

Sunday morning, froggy-voiced, weepy-eyed, drippy-nosed, and still hiccuping, he croaked, “Good morning.” His voice was in the basement.

“How do you feel?” I asked. He patted himself all over and grinned. I rolled my eyes. That’s always his answer to my how-do-you-feel question.

His symptoms continue to this moment. He’s in the next room watching television, hacking and sniffling and still hiccuping endlessly. When I asked how his cold was this morning, he shook his head and said indignantly, “Cold? I don’t have a cold. Sneezing a bit, that’s all.” He coughed hard enough to untie his shoes and knock his socks off.


And that, Readers, is how I discovered the cure for the common cold, at least at our house. Dementia, dementia,  that’s the cure. Peter insists he is not sick, does not have a cold or a cough or a hiccough. Since he doesn’t have a cold, there’s nothing for me to catch.

Knocks the achoo right out of the Kleenex™ factory, doesn’t it?

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.


Who’s the granddad?

The doctor asked Peter if he had grandchildren. Peter shook his head slightly, but looked at me. “I don’t, do I?” he said. I raised my left eyebrow and nodded. “Sam and Miah?” he asked, obviously still puzzled.

Doctor T is our family’s doctor. He’s taken care of our grandson since he was born twenty-two years ago, and Leslie, Martin and Samantha even longer. “Who’s your grandchildren’s grandfather,” he asked next with a twinkle in his eyes.

Peter thought a long time. “It’s not me, is it?”

“You’re the only grandfather they’ve ever known,” I told him.

“But they’re your grandchildren,” he said, “they’re not really mine are they?” (Their paternal grandfather died before they were born, and they met my ex-husband just once when they were in their teens.)

“You’ve known them and loved them all their lives, haven’t you?” The doctor smiled.

“Yes, oh yes!” Peter, aka Dad-Dad, answered. When Sam was about two we tried to teach her to say “Granddad” but she could only manage “Dad-Dad.” That’s who he’s been for more than twenty-seven years now.

The questioning took place at our semi-annual prescription/follow-up check. I schedule them back-to-back to save time. When Dr. T asked Peter how he was doing, he said, “I’m fine, no problems. The dog walks me twice a day.” That’s one of his standard conversational phrases.

“How do you think he’s doing?” the doctor asked me.

I sighed, I’m sure. “He’s more forgetful…and he’s having nightmares, kicking a lot. He kicked himself out of bed two weeks ago…” I could tell my husband didn’t believe me even though I’d told him it had happened. “And he carries on coherent conversations in his sleep sometimes…”

“Pffft, that’s not me talking,” he said, “I’m not a talker!”

“Not when you’re awake, but you are when you’re asleep.”

Doctor T laughed at us. “Actually the kicking isn’t really caused by nightmares,” he said, telling us the unpronounceable name for the condition. “I can ‘up’ your Aricept prescription slightly and that should take care of it. We don’t want you hurting yourself or your wife with ‘soccer ball’ kicks!” Peter laughed at that.

During my separate follow-up session, the doctor asked if I was doing OK. I waggled my hand and gave my standard, can’t complain too much answer. “There are caregivers who have much worse to contend with,” I said.

“I wish I could prescribe a pill that would help your situation,” he said. And I knew he understood.

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This happy fellow on an Amsterdam windowsill made me laugh. (2007)


His sneezes, like his questions, are repetitive.

Hiccups every few minutes for several days predict a bad head cold for my husband. Sure enough, a weekend of hiccups were followed on Monday by a cacophonous, multi-sneeze cold. I started force-feeding orange juice, more cups of tea than are usual for him, and a potion a friend recommended.

Every time I approached, spoon in hand, Peter said, “What’s that for?”

“Your cold,” I answered again and again.

“Do I have a cold?” he croaked between sneezes.

“Yes,” I said, over and over. “Mmm-m.”

Tuesday, when I asked if he felt well enough to go on the usual Nobby-the-therapy-dog visit to the adult day care facility, he asked if he’d been sick. Then he sneezed and sneezed and sneezed. I cancelled.

Same again this morning. A nursing home visit was scheduled for Nobby. “How do you feel?” I asked. Peter patted himself all over and said, as he always does, “I feel fine.” He sounded worse than Louis Armstrong on a good day. I cancelled the visit.

imagesimages-2There are so many horrible diseases humans contend with, but often it’s the common cold that makes us the grumpiest. Dementia is a bit like Kleenex – it wipes away the last sniffle, the dripping nose, the streaming eyes. The cold is still contagious, but dementia in all its guises, is not — and that’s a good thing.

My husband isn’t grumpy when he has a cold, he’s sneezy. But when I catch his colds, lookout, I’m grumpy.


Sneezy and Grumpy sketches: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” ©Walt Disney Studios, 1937

Which end up?

Former NBC “Today” anchor Katie Couric had a colonoscopy on live t.v. fifteen years ago, remember? Surely I could write about the subject, if delicately put.

It was my husband’s turn a few weeks ago, not on t.v. of course, though a situation comedy came to mind — Jackie Gleason’s, perhaps.

“Why do I have to have one?” Peter demanded as I handed him four little pills to start the cleansing process.

“Because you had polyps five years ago,” I said.

“Does everyone have colonoscopies?”

“They save lives,” I preached, “and they’re recommended for everyone 0ver fifty.”

He grumbled.

No one likes to prep for a colonoscopy, but a patient with dementia is “lucky.” He won’t remember from one minute to the next why he has to drink quarts of gritty stuff dissolved in an electrolyte-filled sports drink, why he can’t eat for twenty-four hours, nor why he shouldn’t take the dog for a long walk lest he get caught short!

Peter is not a morning person so his early appointment wasn’t to his liking either. We waited just minutes before the nurse called him. “I’ll come too,” I said.

“No, I’ll get you when he’s ready.”

I knew she’d be back quickly. “Mrs. Clarke, come with me, please.” She chuckled as we walked. “When I asked Mr. Clarke why he was here, he didn’t know.”

“He can’t remember,” I said.

“He thought endoscopy?”

I laughed. “Um, no, wrong end. Colonoscopy.”

After she’d taken his BP, asked more questions (which I answered), and started an IV, she left so he could undress and put on a hospital gown. He didn’t understand why he had to take all his clothes off — he’d keep his knickers on, he said. “Nope, those too,” I insisted, as I tied him into a gown obviously designed for someone three times larger than my skinny husband.

Soon, our jolly, effervescent gastroenterologist popped in, offered a few reassuring words, and away they went.

Peter was back within thirty minutes, accompanied by a giggling nurse and chortling anesthesiologist. “Your husband is a riot,” he said. “When Dr. R finished, I asked Peter to open his eyes, but he opened his mouth like he was at the dentist!” Yup, he still had the wrong end!

The doctor came in to deliver good news and bad. “You had four tiny polyps,” he explained, “and they looked ‘fine,’ but we will send them off for biopsy.” Peter’s blank look told me he didn’t understand a word. “But the good news is, it takes about seven years for any new polyps to become cancerous, if they’re going to, so no further colonoscopies will be required.  In other words, age will probably claim him before an attacking polyp. “Sounds terrible, that option,” the doctor whispered to me.

I shook my head. “He’d rather that than another prep.” Peter waggled his eyebrows in agreement.

The doctor showed off the “beautiful pictures” of Peter’s colon as if they were photos of his grandchildren. I raised my left eyebrow to say that only a gastroenterologist would think they were pretty! That prompted him to trot out a joke from his vast repertoire, this one about Yankees. I reminded him, a Southern gentleman, that I’m a Yankee.

He was undeterred. “Yankees are like hemorrhoids. When they come south, they’re a pain in the ass, and the pain doesn’t go away until they head back up north.”


Magic pills? Wonder drugs? Snake oil?

She’s his advocate, his ears, his caregiver. She’s an attractive blonde, late forties perhaps, who takes care of her father in a new tv commercial. They look alike and maybe they’re really related. Perhaps it isn’t a made-for-tv reenactment.

The spot promotes Namenda (memantine hydrochloride) XR, a medication long prescribed for people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. The new extended release (XR) version, with seven additional milligrams of the active ingredients, offers once-a-day convenience. Used in combination with another commonly prescribed drug, Aricept (acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, AChEl), the two may keep symptoms from worsening, at least for a while.

This is one of those commercials that urges you to ask your doctor about this drug for your loved one. An announcer gives the laundry list of side effects: nausea, Screen shot 2015-01-31 at 5.05.22 PM_2vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, dizziness, tiredness, weight loss, swelling in hands or feet, fast heart rate, easy bruising or bleeding, unusual weakness, joint pain, anxiety, aggression, skin rash, redness or swelling around eyes, or urinating more than usual. Makes you wonder why you’d want something that might add to your loved one’s misery. Frankly, I think all those “ask your doctor” commercials should be banned, but that’s a post for another day.

Peter has taken both drugs for more than five years with no side effects. His neurologist asked recently if I thought the meds were helping. “How would I know?” I said. She shrugged.

The commercial oozes warm fuzzies. We see the concerned, loving daughter, her young children, and her sweet-faced father who is included in their activities, but who seems vacant, absent. “All my life he’s taken care of me,” she tells us, adding that it’s her turn to take care of him.

All well and good, and we love her for her dedication. But, jeez, am I alone in wondering why we never see the caregiver’s frustration? Neither medication is a cure. The best science can do is slow the disease for a while.

And what can science do for caregivers? Is there a magic pill for us?

If a camera were mounted in a corner at our house, it would record smiles, yes, and silly laughter, but it would also record heated talk, lip-biting, teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling, and tears behind slammed doors. The camera would see me trying to read, uninterrupted, for fifteen minutes. It would see someone else cooking, cleaning, making appointments, counting out pills, and making endless cups of tea to sooth upsets, his and mine.

Oh yes, I know there is help for some of those tasks, but I can’t—won’t, not yet—delegate most of them. Our wedding vows weren’t the traditional ones, but I did, “…promise to honor and tenderly care for you…through all the changes of our lives.”

A camera would also see the occasional enveloping hug, and Peter asking, as he always does, “What would you do without me?” At my eyebrow-raised, tilted-head glance, he would change his question to, “I mean, what would I do without you?”

And, as we always do, we’d laugh at his little joke. Truth is, I often don’t know what to do without him.

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Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed for first time

I found this  post on Mark Wheeler’s “Seven Spheres” blog. I’m forever reading about all the facets of this huge umbrella under which we live — dementia. I grasp at any straw. The fact is that Peter is nearly 77, set as solidly in his ways as if he were cast in cement, and stubborn to boot. I’d love to try the methods described in this article, but I don’t think he’d go along with it, nor would I have the strength or patience to keep prodding. But by reblogging Wheeler’s post here, I hope at least some of my caregiving followers can glean help from his words and the research behind them.

Times change… years go by…

Thirty-three years ago today, Peter and I married with my daughters, Carolynn and Leslie as our witnesses, and a fellow Ohio University grad, Reverend Timothy Behrendt, as the officiant. Just us, on a snowy upstate New York day. Friends contributed to the raucous party that followed.

Our marriage was a long time in the making — seven years from the magic night we met. A lot of urging by family and friends, extreme measures by me, and a final ultimatum finally convinced Peter. For the past several years, he hasn’t remembered the day at all. When we agreed upon easy-for-an-Englishman-to- remember Boxing Day, we didn’t reckon on dementia moving in.

I wrote the ceremony, and borrowed from several poems, little knowing how prophetic they would be:

You are here, Carolynn and Leslie, to witness and to celebrate the coming together of two separate lives, to join Peter and Judy in marriage, to be with them and rejoice with them in making this important commitment. The essence … is the taking of another person in his or her entirety as lover, companion, and friend. It is therefore a decision which is not to be entered into lightly, but rather undertaken with great consideration and respect for both the other person and oneself.

So today we acknowledge the decision that Peter and Judy have made to share their lives with each other and with you.

Sharing, not at the expense of each other’s individuality, rather sharing by enhancing your own uniqueness through the strength of a common bond. Marriage represents a mutual arrangement in which each is the guardian of the other’s solitude. To affirm the distance between each other is to affirm the dignity of friendship in which each helps the other to grow continually, to be different, and to be alone at times.

Too often love is thought of as the answer to loneliness. Love is put in opposition to loneliness and is thought of as the antidote to the experience of being lonely. “Love, in fact, is a kind of loneliness. Really, to love is always to accept the otherness, the mystery of the other, and to refuse to violate that mystery…

It is a sign of great strength, rather than weakness, to let other people be and not interfere with the choices they wish to make.

Very likely then, the “Highest type of sophistication is love, namely the ability to let that which is different exist and be itself. True, that means an inevitable loneliness —but the loneliness of love is far to be preferred to the togetherness of blandness and characterless-ness.

To experience one’s aloneness is to experience who one is. Real love is the ability to say “no” to everything that seeks to dilute love into a kind of togetherness and to protect us from our solitude, while violating the solitude of another.”


This year, again with son-in-law Bill’s guidance, Peter picked out a perfect anniversary card for me that read, in part, “Times change, life goes on, years go by …”

Well, ain’t that the truth?

All our lives together, forty years total, my husband has never done schmaltzy cards except for Christmas, our anniversary, and occasionally, my birthday. Now he has to be reminded several times over that those dates are coming up.

I, knowing he doesn’t like “sappy” sentimentality foisted on him, always buy a silly, jokey card. This year the cashier and I hiccuped with giggles at my choice: “Sometimes when we’re lying in bed, I look over at you and think, ‘I am so lucky…’ then you start snoring in that snorty way, and I think, ‘Well, that’s annoying, but I’m still lucky.'”

And I am.



Another good thing.

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For years, my husband has had bouts of hiccups that sometimes last for days. And sometimes his hiccups predict when he’s going to have a very bad head cold.

Such was the case a few weeks ago. Violent hiccups started in the evening, and by the next morning he could have starred in a Nyquil commercial — sneezing, coughing, aching — with hiccups thrown in for good measure. This went on day and night for four days. None of the usual “cures” work, not drinking from the opposite side of the glass, holding his breath, a scare, nor a spoonful of sugar.

Occasionally the hiccups stopped and I’d hope they’d ended. But I didn’t want to say anything lest I jinx him. “Doesn’t your chest hurt?” I asked midway through the ordeal.

“No, why?”

“I just think hiccuping so often would make your chest hurt.”Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 10.37.59 AM

“Hiccups? I don’t have hiccups!” he growled.

I shut up because, in that case, not remembering was a good thing. Never mind that in an hour they’d start again.




The following week he didn’t remember the horrible cold nor the hiccups, and if his chest ever ached, he didn’t remember that either.

Sometimes, not remembering is a good thing, right?

Check … imagesor  not check? Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 5.27.36 PM