‘So far, so good.’

The insurance company nurse comes twice a year to assess my husband. One of her questions is, Can he bathe himself, brush his teeth, toilet himself? She asks Peter, but looks to me for answers.

I know he scoffs silently at the mere mention of the topic.  My answer is always an enthusiastic yes. On that point I am — we are — way luckier than many who live with any form of dementia.

Peter has been taking multiple showers a day for the past year or so. This wasn’t always the case. I used to have to remind him he needed a shower, but now, if he sweats even a tiny bit, he reacts as if he’s been dipped in pond scum. “I’m all sweaty,” he’ll say as he races through the house and up the stairs.

He almost never puts on clean clothes afterwards. I don’t understand, but I don’t question, glad that I don’t have to help him bathe nor wash piles of clothes…yet. For some reason, wearing a shirt that is damp and stinky doesn’t bother him. It’s the sweat itself that is his bugaboo.

The rest of the personal hygiene issues aren’t issues yet. From the articles I’ve read, I know what’s coming.

Peter always says, if asked how he is, “So far, so good.”

“It could be worse,” is what I say if anyone asks me.

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National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest winner, 2016.

A haircut doesn’t hurt.

Lourie has been cutting my hair for years, and Virginia has been washing my hair as long. Now Lourie also cuts Peter’s hair and trims his beard, against his grumbling protests, I might add.  He argues, complains and pouts. He’s worse than a three-year-old getting his first haircut.

Virginia’s magic touch puts him in a good mood, and Lourie, who’s been in the biz for thirty-four years, puts up with his nonsense with her signature bubbly laugh.  She jollies him along and is a perfect audience for his jokes, the old routine I’ve heard a million times.

After I sneak a photo of the event around the corner, I sink into a chair, totally relaxed, knowing he’s in good hands. I doze.

Peter comes out looking like his old self — younger and smiling. Lourie and her flashing scissors did their usual excellent job. Win, win!

A life sentence.

Periodically, our long term insurance company arranges for a nurse to come assess my husband — they want to  make sure he still has dementia, I guess. Today was the day. We were lucky to have Caroline again. Peter clicked with her before and again today.

The questions she asks are almost exactly the same as those his neurologist asks, and we were at her office yesterday. They want to know if he has any physical limitations, dizzy spells, or loss of strength, and if he can do household chores or handle bill-paying.

No, no, no, no, and no.

The hardest questions for most dementia patients are: can you name the day of the week, the month, the year, the season?

No, no, no, and no.

“Now I’ll ask you to remember three words,” Caroline said. Peter groaned and she smiled, but went on. “You’ll get one point for repeating the words correctly right away, and then again after you’ve either counted backwards from one hundred by sevens, or spelled the word “world” backwards. OK?” Peter nodded. “Your words are table, book, tree.”

“Table. Book. Tree,” he said. One point.

“Now, would you rather count backwards by sevens or spell “world” backwards?” she asked.

No hestitation. “D-L-R-O-W.”

“Great!” Caroline said. “Now, the very last part.” She handed him her clipboard and asked him to copy the multi-sided figures shown. After that she asked him to write a simple sentence.

“Sentence about what?” Peter asked.

“Anything at all,” she said. “A short sentence, but it has to make sense.”

Peter quickly copied the three figures, and after thinking a few seconds he wrote a sentence.

She looked at the clipboard. “Oh-h, that’s so sweet,” she said. She showed me his sentence: “I still LOVE my wife.”

Even though he didn’t score as well as he did the last time she was here, my unsentimental, undemonstrative husband got an A+ from me.

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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.”

 

Dementia: ‘Auld acquaintance be forgot, never brought to mind.’

Snapping, sparkling fireworks went off in my head when the WordPress 2014 annual report for this blog arrived. I just started “Dementia isn’t funny” five months ago, so mine isn’t really an annual report, but I’m thrilled to have statistics to be reported upon! Woo hooo.

My December 26 post, Times change… years go by , caused too many tears, so I’ve resolved to start 2015 off with words that underscore laughter — laughter helps Peter and I through our days, some good, some bad.  There are lots of people who endure situations way worse than ours, so giggles should be my focus. Everything is better when dosed with laughs.

Laugh anytime.

Laugh anytime.

The WordPress report begins with this excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds sixty people. This blog [mine!] was viewed about 1,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about twenty-seven trips to carry that many people.

C’mon, 1,600 times? Really?

“Laughter layered with despair,” my first post here, has had the most views and the most comments to date, though the title doesn’t seem to promise laughs, does it?

My daughters, Carolynn and Leslie, Carolynn’s husband Bill, her friend Robin, and my longtime friend CJ rate a big thank you for being my most active commenters. And thanks, too, to other family and friends who have urged me on.

Live. Laugh. Love.

Click here to see the complete WordPress report.

 

 

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.”

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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.

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Give us this day.

The other morning we went to a favorite spot, Our Daily Bread, for coffee and pastries. While I waited for Peter to finish drooling over the cases of beautiful cakes and cookies, I watched a man about my husband’s age wandering alone near the cashier’s line.  He kept his eyes on a woman at a table across from ours, and finally he made his way towards her.

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Photo, Our Daily Bread.

After we finished Peter said, “I could eat another one, couldn’t you?” I ignored him, as I always do, and he laughed, as he always does.

We exited near the table where the man I’d noticed earlier sat quietly. The woman, obviously his wife, stood behind him, arms extended over his shoulders, slicing a croissant into manageable bites. She never stopped chatting with her friend, and he never seemed to notice he was being helped. She was doing for him what she’d probably done for their children when they were toddlers.

I thought, how lucky we are that Peter is still able to help himself, most of the time, so far.