Good morning, Sister! 

Everyday my mom starts her day by greeting me thus.

She calls me Sister only but once a day. The rest of the day I am nobody. But without a doubt I will be Sister once more when morning comes again. It is like a game we play, every day, same time, same place. 

I tried interupting her by boldly saying “Good morning, Mom!” before she can get a word in, but she only laughs and says back, “Good morning, Sister!” 

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The Queen and her daughter

Mom was watching TV – the 20th anniversary show on Princess Diana’s death. She looked more engrossed than usual, and actually emotionally affected.

What are you watching? I asked.

It’s about the Queen and her daughter, she said, It’s terrible!

Why? I asked.

The Queen doesn’t like her, and she just died.

It was as though it had just happened. She has no memory how affected she was when Diana passed away 20 years ago.

Mom watches a lot of TV, consisting of whatever the people around her choose to watch, or whatever channel the TV happens to be at when it is switched on for her. She gets excited watching the thrills and spills of Ninja Warriors. She watches homegrown dramas, cooking shows, thrillers, game shows, movie re-runs. Sometimes she surprises me by reading the word off Wheel of Fortune.

She’s happy to go with the flow, watching TV, whatever is playing.

Last night there was a show about unusual local professions, and it featured a young woman embalmer. Her job was to embalm dead persons and put make-up on in preparation for their funerals and wakes. She wore a thick gas mask as she went about powdering and colouring her “client”. I guessed she had to wear the mask because the embalming fluid, formaldehyde, is a poison.

My domestic helper couldn’t understand why the face had to be made up, because in her home country, dead people were neither embalmed nor prettied up. I explained that embalming helped preserve bodies in Singapore’s warm weather until time for the cremation, and the cosmetics were to help the person look more natural. Although truth to tell, in my opinion, the result is almost always most unnatural-looking. Maybe I should let it be known I do not want the thick pancake foundation or garish lipstick applied.

As we watched the show, it occurred to me it might be a good opportunity to ask Mom what her preference was, but I didn’t.

 

 

No more subtraction

One day, I decided to be brave and brought Mom out to lunch. It was special because Mom only heads out for medical appointments nowadays. (How did it come to this? Let me think about it and cover this in another post) 

Anyway at lunch I put her to the test – and asked if she could still count. Yes, she could! From one to ten, and then backwards form ten to one, more slowly and with slight errors. She could add single digits, but when I asked her to minus, she couldn’t do this anymore. Ten minus eight is “I don’t know, eight?” Three minus two is… “???” She just couldn’t do it. She knew it sounded easy and was just as puzzled why she couldn’t manage it. 

About 6 years ago, when I first brought Mom for screening because I thought she had early dementia, Mom could minus 7 from 100 all the way down. The tests pronounced her normal, but we knew she was already different.

She can no longer tell her own age nor understand who’s older or younger. But she loves a birthday cake and song, and happily joins in no matter whose it is.

recap review restart 

I haven’t posted for months though the thought often comes to mind. There’s enough to say but I’m not sure where to start again. So here’s a recap, which is also a summary of sorts for myself. 

Mom has dementia and has lived with me several years. She is increasingly homebound as her energy levels are falling and she walks slowly and carefully. She fills her day scanning through newspapers, watching TV and looking out. Sometimes she packs her “stuff”.

I work so I have a helper in my home who keeps Mom company, looks after her and does much of the housework. Singapore has about 300000 such foreign helpers for a population of just under 6 million – these helpers play a huge role in childcare and eldercare. Without her I wouldn’t be able to manage.

Mom is happy and smiles easily, so we’re lucky in that sense. Does she recognize me? Of course! She knows I’m a loved one who looks after her and lives in the house. But words are confused. Daughter-Sister Son-Husband – she knows which are male and which are female. No need to be 100% accurate, they’re all home characters or frequent visitors who love and care for her. She recognizes and remembers people she often sees even though she cannot name them. 

To everyone else (not so close relatives) she says, “I don’t quite remember you.” It often bothers the others so much more than it bothers her. The older folk will be dismayed and distressed. My younger cousins not so, because they can’t imagine it happening to them. I just tell them she can’t remember you because you look so different now! Mom just carries on, smiling, “I don’t remember. So who are you again? No, I don’t have any recollection.” 

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?

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.