Early dementia or…

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Early in the flight I heard the stewardess checking on the dietary requirements of the passenger in front of me. “Hello, Mr K, I’m confirming that you requested a vegetarian meal?” “No no,” he said, “I didn’t make any request.”

“Are you Mr. K? It says on your ticket you need a vegetarian meal?”

“No no, I didn’t make any request.”

“Okay, can I bring you a vegetarian meal? Will you have that?”

“No, no. I don’t want vegetarian.”

“Are you not vegetarian, can you eat meat?”

“Yes, anything is okay”

“Would you like me to cancel your vegetarian meal and get you a normal meal then?”

“Yes, ok”.

Half an hour later the lunch cart came round and a different stewardess asked, “Pork or chicken?”

“I can’t take that”, he says, “I’m vegetarian!”

And the stewardess says, “Did you request for a vegetarian meal? There’s no sticker on your seat for a special meal. Ok, let me check with my colleague.”

As she goes off to check (thus delaying MY lunch), I was incredulous at the behaviour of the chap. Was he forgetful or plain bad at communicating or a sociopath out to create trouble?

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So Lucky!

Mom had to visit the Emergency department one night, as she wasn’t doing so well and needed something stronger than oral antibiotics. Fortunately, the hospital was working well, and we were being seen by a doctor within half an hour of arrival.

He was a young doctor, and even if he wasn’t, he spoke as though he was very young and haven’t seen much of the world. After we told him what the problem was, he turned to the electronic record and was apprised of Mom’s multiple issues.

“Wow!” he breathed, “Aunty* has been through a lot! Do you know how lucky she is to be alive? The condition she had, you know, many people die of it. She’s quite lucky!”

I couldn’t stand it. “Well,” I said, “we take good care of her. And you’re lucky we’re not suing the hospital for missing the condition in the first instance.”

Young man, it may be your first time seeing us, but we’ve been to the hospital countless times, and if we didn’t know better, Mom would be a lot worse off.

Having said that, I’m very pleased with the treatment at this hospital for Mom all these years. Whenever she’s admitted, I get daily updates from the ward doctor, a medication check-up call from the Pharmacist on duty, and a post-discharge follow-up call from the nurse. Most times, things go right. Yet, I believe more than ever that the patient and family must take overall charge and not leave it to the “professionals” alone. Patients are living longer and with more complex and complicated conditions. We just have to help ourselves.

 

*Aunty is a generic way for addressing older women by respectful younger folk in our region.

What is a Snack?

Mom lost a lot of weight earlier this year, when she was hospitalised for an infection. Of course once she got home, we made reparations. She had 3 square meals with morning and afternoon tea! We overdid ourselves, though, and she has become a bit too round. Especially since nowadays she mostly sits around not doing much.

In the last year or so, a lot has changed. Although she can still find her way around the house and brush her own teeth, she is getting increasingly more forgetful and confused. She brushes her teeth three four times in a row, because she forgets that she has just done so. Afternoons become mornings, and nights are times to toss and turn and change the bedsheets. A son becomes the husband, and a grand-daughter becomes a strange girl who stares at her. She’s also searching, searching; for what nobody knows.

One blessing is that she considers the live-in helper her own special friend. They get along so well, and the helper can always make Mom laugh and giggle. But sometimes nobody can help Mom settle down and sleep when it is time to sleep. If it gets worse, I will have to consider sleep aids.

When talking to Mom, one never knows what she will say next. One moment she is wise, and the next she struggles to understand our words. She can still read, she automatically reads signs and labels. But I think she can no longer fully grasp the meanings of words.

Mom, would you like a snack?

What is A Snack?

Well, something like a biscuit or some food. Are you hungry? Would you like to eat something?

Oh, I don’t mind if there is.

I feel she is going adrift. Losing her anchor, losing sense of time. What is this place? What shall I do? Who is there? Where is my friend? Is it time to eat? Is it time to shower? I want to lie down. Why wouldn’t they let me go to the room and lie down? Why must I wait? I need to find my thing. 

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.”

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.

Words that Move

The Power of Words. Of course, words are powerful – we are blog readers and writers, and we believe in the power of words. Sometimes, just a few words said in brief conversation convey a wealth of meaning and have a lasting impact. Let me relate some examples that happened to me, and please tell me what you think.

Recently, I was updating a specialist about how another specialist slipped up in my mother’s care. He reminded me what was important was that Mom was okay, and added with a sly smile, “Your mother doesn’t need any specialists, she has you.” Wow! Powerful words indeed! It was so unexpected that It made me laugh, yet gave me such a boost. At the same time, it was a reminder that as my mother’s daughter, it was also my responsibility to watch out for her. I will definitely remember this.

Several years back, an old retiree asked me if I cooked, and I bemoaned the fact that I had a very limited repertoire and cooked only a few times a month, if at all. “Excellent!” he said, and encouraged me to keep at it. “A mother’s cooking is special, and your children will return to it and appreciate the home cooked flavors.” Over the years, I’ve found that he is right. I still have only a few dishes, but these are now reliably good and relished when produced! The old gentleman’s few words and quiet confidence was compelling enough to create a real difference to my home.

For my last example, let me start with the wrong thing people say when I tell them I am now divorced…
1. “Oh, no! What happened, what happened?!”
2. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

Arrggghhhh!!! Wrong things to say to me. If you’re a close enough friend, I’d have let you know. Otherwise, buzz off and no condolences needed – it wasn’t a good thing I buried.

I finally heard the right thing, and it was said with some regret “Oh, I didn’t know. I didn’t know that…. When did this happen?” Ah, thank you for not saying you’re sorry it happened.

Friends

There are friends I don’t see for months, even years. Yet when we meet, we just pick up where we left off. Sometimes we understand each other so well, we can immediately detect what is wrong in the other’s life. And we can share our thoughts without hesitation or fearing permanent damage to our relationship.

I was updating one such friend during a catch-up visit. Was very pleased with myself about how I was maturing and getting on despite life’s difficulties. Said I wasn’t depressed, it was all good. Her response shook me up, “You’re over-thinking life. You should just live it. Don’t think so much! Get in the moment! Feel things! Just…. be!”

Just so amazing. Even if it took me several months to grasp exactly what she meant.

So there are a few people I see about once a year or so, and I know that they know that I remember them. Often it is distance that keeps us apart, sometimes it is circumstantial. But I know that despite the time apart, when we see each other, it is as though no time has passed.

Sometimes I wonder what the secret to these friendships is. Exactly what is it that makes them last? For most of them, it probably is the intimacy forged during tumultuous school years. Forced proximity made up for initial lack of chemistry in many cases.

As an adult, making long-lasting friendships is so much harder, I find. Instant rapport and chemistry count for much more. Not enough time is spent building up relationships. When there are difficulties, it is easier to simply move on.

Thinking over as I write this post, there are probably just a few essential ingredients to long-lasting friendships:

  • enough time to learn about each other
  • compatible communication styles
  • a desire to remain friends

The question is, how much time should one invest if you only have parts of the list? Say there’s not been much time, but there is compatibility and just maybe there’s half a wish to be friends… Oops! Hang on, let’s not over-think this! Just… be.