No laughing matter.

First hug in 376 days

The stuff of my imaginings was the reunion and happy hug with Peter after the long, Covid-induced isolation more than three months ago. Less than five minutes after this picture was snapped, the glow was quashed.

I’d visited him isolated behind a large plexiglass shield a week or so earlier and I’d noticed then that he was wearing Crocs, no socks and his ankles looked swollen. His feet didn’t hurt, he said, but then he never has complained.

Carolynn, here the week of our reunion, was thrilled that she could visit her Poppy with me that day. She’s a registered nurse and I’d told her I wanted her look at his feet. We both gasped when I pulled his pant legs up. “This is bad, Mom.” There were oozing sores, one of them the size of a quarter, scattered across his badly swollen lower legs. The skin was red, scaly. Plus-4 pitting and weeping edema, which I’d never heard of, is what she observed. This hadn’t happened overnight. Obviously Peter wasn’t being assessed or treated and we wanted to know why not.

“He should be wearing compression stockings for the swelling, he should have an ultrasound to rule out heart issues, at the very least he should be on Lasix to reduce swelling, his meds need to be checked, and besides that,” she huffed, “his room is filthy!” She was in full charge nurse mode. I asked her take the lead when we talked to the duty nurse. I softened my daughter’s remarks a bit, adding that I knew Peter was responsible for some of the mess and clutter in his room but still, he was the resident in care and the “care” seemed to be missing.

Thus began what turned into more than three months of working through a scrim of excuses and blame. True, everyone, staff and residents alike, had been affected by Covid, but it was apparent that nursing basics had not been followed.

Dementia took Peter’s voice. I found mine.

Even though I detest confrontation, I went on the attack. My mantra became, my husband is not getting the care that more than 7500 dollars per month should ensure. 

  • I contacted friends who had dealt with a loved one’s dementia-related issues and got their advice. The most pertinent—speak up.
  • I made phone calls and when that didn’t get the results I’d hoped for, I wrote to those who were in position to make changes. 
  • I asked that compression stockings be ordered and when that wasn’t done, thanks to various lame excuses, I bought poor substitutes at CVS. Soon, the preferred brand were ordered.
  • I was told, incorrectly, that if I wanted my husband to see a cardiologist, I had to make the appointment. I got the required referral.
  • When I questioned some of his meds, particularly those to calm his combativeness, I complained about the zombie affect they caused. I suggested my time-tested calming techniques: a cup of tea and his tv tuned to sports. 

There were other issues, but these were most significant and are being dealt with with varying degrees of efficiency.

Roadblocks and excuses every step of the way.

When I was told Covid has changed everything, I agreedI complimented the good job the staff had done to keep residents safe during the long ordeal. I was sympathetic to their long work hours, short staff and uncertainties both at work and in their personal lives. When I heard, I’m not paid enough to do this, or We don’t have enough staff, I agreed. Easy for me to say, Hire more people, pay them more, offer incentives

Peter’s legs are somewhat better, though still swollen. The most worrisome ulcer is healing slowly. He’s finally able to smile and joke a bit. That tells me he really did feel poorly, but couldn’t express himself. Who knows how long the condition had festered before my daughter and I let staff know that we knew something was grievously wrong?

I wish I could write a happy ending to this post, but in reality dementia is inherently unpredictable. And I wish I could say that there have been no further issues for me to deal with, but that isn’t the case. Frustrating senseless problems continue. They seem endemic. 

The laughs that have helped us traverse this long path have been scarce these recent months. I cling to the tiniest chuckles: Peter was coming along the corridor one day when I walked in. He clutched at his trousers in a telltale way, so I headed him to the bathroom. “I don’t need to go in there,” he growled and pulled two small cans of Coke out of his pockets. I shook my head and laughed.  He gave me a knowing look. “Gotcha!,” his smile seemed to say.

Header photo: Clematis hugs our lamp post. The plant symbolizes mental beauty and ingenuity. It climbs trellises and walls, sometimes in incomprehensible ways. Peter has attempted to climb walls too, and just two days ago I caught him stacking chairs in the gazebo! A means of escape? I wouldn’t put it past him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep calm, carry on and stay six feet apart.

Bad enough that the months since Christmas have been dreary, at least in our area. Bad enough that Peter was sick several times during that period with a combination of problems. Bad enough that laughs were scarce.  Bad enough that in these nearly three months I haven’t been able to write a single post.

All that is just too much oh woe, poor me, poor us when the COVID-19 virus has the entire world in its clutches.

The facility where Peter lives is closed to visitors now and I’ve isolated myself except for my morning walks and occasional visits with friends outside and six feet apart. Thanks to Mark, Peter’s companion, we were able to Face Time once before Mark, too, was barred from going to the facility, as were other companions. Peter has never liked to talk on the phone, so talking to me remotely while looking at my face was almost too much for him. “Where are you?” he asked again and again. I’ve talked to him on the phone once since, thanks to Brandy, one of the nurses. He laughed when I explained I couldn’t visit. I doubt he misses me except, perhaps, for my skill at making tea just the way he likes it.

As last month headed towards its once-every-four years extra day finale I came to believe that maybe we, Peter and I, had “had it good” for too long. His October hospitalization slowed him noticeably and he has remained that way ever since. The second and third episodes in January and early February, a combination of terrible cold and UTI, slowed him further. His behavior was extremely erratic,  his already dementia-confused state, far worse

All bad enough to cause my own brain to stall. My muse and I needed something to laugh about.

“Happy 81st,” I wrote in Peter’s birthday card.

I am not eighty-one!” he said, as I knew he would.

He was right though! He had not turned eighty-one — February 26 was his eighty-second birthday! I laughed at my mistake, but he didn’t. Actually, I’m the one who’ll soon be eighty-one and that’s no laughing  matter to me.

I’d fixed his favorite meal—sausages, mashed potatoes and kale—and it was apparent his appetite, at least, was just fine. He had seconds of everything, plus a big chunk of carrot cake. When he opened his presents from Leslie and Martin, two knit shirts, he tried to give me one. Out of sympathy that I was soon to be eighty-one, I wondered?  I gave him a large jigsaw puzzle of the world. It was for kids really, with large pieces and colorful graphics. When he worked on it he was able to summon up a long ago maths lesson with no problem. Even with the correct puzzle pieces in hand for given spaces, he often had them turned the wrong way ’round. When I told him to turn a piece 45 degrees, or 90, he knew exactly what I meant.

Several months prior to all this, Peter had, for the most part, stopped stripping his room while inventing creative ways to pack up his belongings. No more handkerchiefs jammed in the toothbrush case, no more socks hidden in puzzle boxes, no more pairs of trousers stuffed with all his shirts and underwear. A good thing.

The laundry service had delivered his clean clothes just before I arrived one day not too long ago. I opened his closet to put his things away. It was empty except for one shirt and a tennis ball on a hanger.  Laugh? Yes I did!

 

Header photo: Peter, 82 years and two days, works his birthday puzzle.

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Sometimes the cure is the worst part of being sick.

To say that the past few months were slanted downhill is to compare one lighted candle to the raging fires in Australia. But even to presume that the goings on in my life, our lives, are more awful than lives of others dealing with dementia, or any tragedy, is ridiculous. I cringe when I hear myself whining to family or friends.

I look for laughs as I would look for salve for a burn.

Take the recent several weeks. Peter had a miserable cold for four or five days although he insisted, as he always does, that he felt fine. His rheumy red eyes, dripping nose (also red), and growly voice belied his words. He was way better the first Sunday in this stretch. It was a gorgeous day, more like early October than early January. When I suggested a walk he agreed readily. We strolled along the trails at the facility where he’s lived for nearly two years. He enjoyed being outside. Two days later a rumbling cough developed. A gargling hippo came to mind.

Although he didn’t have a fever, he had feverish symptoms—he wouldn’t eat, he wandered the halls, he stayed awake all night, slept all day, he was incontinent, he babbled, he went into other resident’s rooms and, in one instance, climbed into an occupied bed. Not funny to the occupant, I can imagine.

At the after-hours clinic he fell asleep in the waiting room. It was a long wait but according to Mark, he’d slept all that afternoon. Once in the clinic proper, he had to provide a urine specimen. Way easier said than done, especially when he did not want any help, thank you very much. I convinced him not to scoop water out of the sink or the toilet and I proved to him that the breast pocket zipper on his jacket was not the one he needed to unzip. You get the picture. We were both giggling by the time that was over.

No pneumonia, the PA said, and Peter was his usual English stiff-upper-lipped self for the blood draw. He looked as if he might fall asleep right on the table. Lab tests showed no UTI, often a culprit in such cases, but the off-the-chart glucose levels were troubling as was a raging white blood count.

My contrary husband has a history of refusing pills. The antibiotic prescribed, an enormous capsule, would be hard to swallow for a willing patient, but considerably worse for Peter who chewed rather than swallowed. The taste made him sick, of course. Not without reason the pharmacist’s notes suggested the patient take probiotics and/or yogurt for the course of treatment. Enough said!

Peter is back to his old self now, but with changes in place—a more accessible doctor, additional tests, a selection of liquids to try in attempt to keep him hydrated, among other things. Forcing liquids only makes him rebel, but he did like the no-sugar grapefruit drink and Gatorade I bought. At the end of the day there are only so many cups of tea I can force on my English husband whose mantra has always been “the time for tea is every hour on the hour.”

Header photo: Peter enjoyed the warm October-like day in January.

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

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. 

 

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!”

Mm.

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. 

 

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.

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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?

Header photo: Close-up of Peter’s moth-eaten, raggedy wool sweater.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

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.”

“Why?”

“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.

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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?

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)

Header photo: Daffy-down-dillies in spring.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

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

Header photo: A sneeze magnified.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

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.”

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.