Update. Touch wood.

I know it’s been a long time since I last wrote. There’s not much change in Mom’s status, which is a good thing.

She’s a Happy Camper.

She wishes me Good Morning with a huge smile.

She laughs because exercise tickles.

She sleeps when she feels like it.

TV is fun or not, it’s still watchable. 

Occasionally she spits out chewed food. 

Occasionally she thinks afternoon tea is breakfast time. At times I’m her sister.

But on the whole, it’s peace and love. Life goes on. Touch wood. 

Hazy Update

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I’ve been meaning to write, just didn’t get organised enough to do so. Some ideas don’t bear closer scrutiny, and fall by the wayside. Anyway, here’s an update of sorts.

The weather has been mostly hazy. Grey and smoky. The sun, when we do see it, is an angry red ball. There may be one clear day every ten days, when the wind shifts. By my estimate, the forest fires should be done by the end of this month, and November will be better.

Mom is calm and happy. Occasionally we catch her doing something she shouldn’t, like trying to take a bath fully clothed. But all in all, we are managing. Conversations can be amusing or fascinating, or astounding. One example:

Me, holding a banana: What’s this?
Mom: Mango!
Me: No, no! Look again, what’s this? B-a-n-a…..
Mom: Mango!
Me: I know you love mangoes, but we’re out of mangoes. Here, have this banana.

Mom catches on to emotions of those around her very well. She is still sensitive though the words don’t come so easily. She knows who she likes, and who she dislikes. She’s consistent that way.

She’s nice. Affable. Totally accepting of what is. When she says, “I don’t remember anymore”, it is a statement of fact. She smiles as she says it. But she is clear, because underlying that and unspoken is, “Don’t even try to remind me. I don’t remember, and it doesn’t matter.”

Hazy Outlook

The weather isn’t so good in Singapore. The wind brings fine ash particles from the plantation fires that are raging over in Sumatra. Days are shrouded dull grey. It rains and rains – cloud seeding is rumored – but that does nothing to the haze as the particles are just too fine. They should make it rain on the fires, not on us!

And Mom is showing more signs of confusion. I think the lack of strong daylight is interfering with her daily rhythm. Her afternoon naps are shortened; and she demands her bath and dinner several hours before they are due. The lack of sleep adds to her confusion, and for the first time we hear the confused speech associated with dementia. She’s looking for something, anxious about the “renovation”, having to go somewhere, speaking a strange dialect.

She doesn’t smile as freely. Her eyes are wary now.

I hope it’s not a lurking infection. If only the haze would clear up soon.

Geriatric Clinic

Come in, Aunty, sit over here. Now how have you been? You’re looking well.

Are there any issues? Any breathlessness? No?

Let me listen to your lungs Aunty and check your neck veins. Lungs are clear.

Now when was her last cardiologist visit? She never had one? Hmmm, alright. Is she passing motion daily? Stool soft, any straining? But nicely formed, like a banana, like this? Good, good.

Does she object to anything? Gets agitated, takes her medicine? Exercise?! She objects to EXERCISE?!

Aunty, you don’t want to exercise?! What do you do all day? Are there so many good shows on TV? I tell you what, every morning, when you get up, go to the window, and take a few deep breaths, stretch out your rib cage, ok? And in the afternoon, go for a walk ok?

You all take her down for a walk, ok? Can you do that?

Aunty, if you sit and watch TV all day, and eat and eat, and don’t exercise, your legs will get thin and over here will be very round. You will get fat and out of shape. So exercise, okay?

Haha Aunty, you laugh. You look very happy. Must go and exercise, okay?

You have any questions for me? No? Okay, see you next time.

Dad and Me

My Dad passed on many years ago. I like to think we were alike in many ways, though he might disagree. This post is going to be about the stuff I think I got from my Dad – traits he either passed on genetically or rubbed off via close proximity!

In a previous poem I wrote about how terrified I was by Dad’s night driving. Actually his driving was good, but my vision was poor. I was fearful because I couldn’t see well. In any case, I learnt a great deal about defensive and considerate driving from Dad.

Dad was an independent thinker and never took anything at face value. He always examined underlying facts and made up his own mind. He never just believed what he was told. On bad days, this bordered on paranoia.

Whilst Dad appreciated beautiful artworks, he did not go about acquiring them. He lived and dressed very simply. He was honest, never took what wasn’t his. And couldn’t tolerate those who connived and schemed and stole.

Finally, he understood too well the human condition, and helped those who helped themselves, and sometimes even those who didn’t. He kept much of this secret during his life, and so I am still learning.

If he were still alive today, what would he think about living with dementia? I think he would hate the idea. I’m pretty sure he would instruct me not to prolong his life when the time came. In that way, he would be very different from Mom.

Mom has never acknowledged having dementia, and is contented to be looked after. She looks forward to every new day.

New Companion

We have an addition to the household. A new person, brought in to help look after Mom. It cannot be helped, Mom needs a lot more assistance nowadays, and I could not keep taking time off work and being awake half the night.

So we did what anyone else in Singapore would do in the circumstances, we applied for a FDW – a foreign domestic worker. At last count, there are over 200,000 FDWs in Singapore (population 5.5 million). FDWs are here to do housework, look after young children, and care for the elderly. It’s a viable, affordable, multi-purpose solution to our burgeoning caregiving problem as more and more people get older and sicker and need assistance.

Unfortunately, I think it is but a temporary solution, and maybe in 5 to 10 years, we will have to think of something else. This is when the countries where the FDWs come from progress economically and they no longer have to come to Singapore to work. But that’s a problem for another day. Meanwhile, I am so thankful.

Mom is at peace and laughs. There’s someone to help her with her showers, and accompanies her day and night. She gets hot food and clean clothes and takes her medications on time. And I take this respite and carry on and catch up on stuff that was put on hold.

Mom is not getting much exercise nor additional mental stimulation. We’re all just happy that she came through her major medical issues and is still alive. She watches TV and walks to the toilet and sits at the dinner table. During weekends, I take her out for a meal and care for her on the FDW’s day off. So that’s our routine now.

A New Conductor

The Geriatrician wrapped up my mother’s first consultation with him by asking me, “So, when would you like the next appointment?”

I thought quickly. He was a very busy Consultant and only took on Mom’s case after some urging by his colleague. That day at the clinic, we had waited over an hour to be seen as he had many patients and was running late. So I said, “I think six months should be alright.”

“Six months?!” he laughed and turned to Mom, “Aunty, I will see you again in six months, and I hope I don’t have to see you sooner than that!”. So he thought I was being a bit too optimistic, but he went along with me, and said we could call for an earlier appointment when needed.

For the past few months, Mom had been seeing 4 different specialists for the various medical ailments she had. Although dementia can be overwhelming on its own, people with dementia can and do have other medical problems. The only reason Mom wasn’t seeing 5 specialists instead of 4 is because the appointment for the 5th was overshadowed by emergent events and nobody remembered to put it back.

Each of the 4 specialists were intent on treating their own organ issues, without seeing Mom as a whole. For example, two specialists wanted Mom on anticoagulants, a third wanted it stopped. At times, I went a bit nuts. Particularly at the junior doctors when they call me to let me know what was happening. You want to what? For what? Can you call the other specialist and make sure he is okay with that?

So that is why we added a Geriatrician to the mix – someone who can see Mom as a whole, review what’s best for her overall and help us decide which medical ailments get priority. We need an orchestra conductor instead of multiple soloists each playing their own tune.