Thursday, November 13, 2008

Something is Still in There

Alzheimer’s = A progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that leads to dementia.

Dementia = Deterioration of intellectual faculties, such as memory, concentration, and judgment, resulting from a disease or a disorder of the brain, and often accompanied by emotional disturbance and personality changes.

To me, no matter how medical journals or doctors may define these terms, I define them more like fear, change, loss of who you are…… Until my grandmother was diagnosed several years ago I didn’t know much about this disease and I’m still continuing to learn as I go. From step one it has been something I would rather avoid than deal with but then again, who would.

In our case, my grandmother began hallucinating people and situations but yet she was still very much aware of reality and the sad reality of the situation. It wasn’t until she grabbed her keys and took off in her car (which she hadn’t driven in quite a long time) that I realized the severity of the situation. After we thankfully found her on one of the most terrifying nights of my life, she told my uncle that she had the kids in the car and she was taking them somewhere. Well, of course there was no one in the car.

Inevitably she was placed in an Assisted Living facility and then on to a Nursing Home in the Alzheimer’s wing which is anyone’s worst nightmare when getting old. At first, going to visit was an absolute terror for me. You have a bunch of old people, and in some cases not so old people, walking around or wheeling themselves around that are afraid, babbling incoherently, staring off in to space, the list goes on and on. I had no idea how to deal with the situation but I knew with time I would adjust as best one can.

So now it’s several years later and I HAVE learned to adjust and adapt. I go to visit my grandmother every Sunday morning so it’s become a routine. I’ve come to the point where I realize that you just have to accept the situation and use humor to deal with it. There is nothing you can do to make these people better or to stop their behavior which at some points is clearly uncomfortable so all you can do is have a good laugh about it and move on.

Case in point, there was this very chatty lady that used to live where my Grandmother is. She was very mobile so she would inevitably wander to where you were and talk to no one in particular, just talk, talk, talk. We really hadn’t had too much direct contact with her until she came over and started chatting about her pussy cat. My pussy cat this, my pussy cat that…. Then she asked if I wanted to see her pussy cat. I didn’t even have time to think up an answer before I realized that it wasn’t so much a pussy cat as….well….you can fill in the blank. Thankfully we were on our way out so I just ran down the stairs and out the door! You just have to laugh at something like that.

My grandmother is in some sort of babbling phase where she just says the same things over and over and over BUT, there are some instances where I know, or at least I like to believe that she know me and realizes that I am family and that I love her. There have been several instances when I was leaving or even just chatting with her, where she would just look at me and tell me she was proud of me. Maybe I am just believing what I want to believe, but I truly think there is some part of her still in there…..somewhere. It melts my heart when she says. “I love you” which thankfully she says to us quite often. Those three words mean the world to me. It’s all I have left.

Last night, and again, you have to laugh about it because everyone is COMPLETELY FINE, another patient pulled my grandmother out of bed because she thought it was her room and her bed. So we headed down to the hospital to make sure she really was ok and to keep her company. As we were waiting in the hallway and I was standing next to her bed having a “conversation”, she said she was glad that we were chatting and then followed that with, “I’m so very proud of you.” Well, I almost starting to cry right there in the hall. Again, only a few words that make sense out of hours of gibberish but I truly believe at that moment she knew who I was and why I was there.

Several months ago in the nursing home there was a new nurse that we had not seen before. She stopped my family on the way out and asked us if we were Edie’s relatives. We explained who we were and she was asking us question about Mimi back in the day. She basically nailed spot on the kind of person that she was. It was amazing. Some how out of all that haze, she still somehow remains who she was, and this nurse was able to see it.

After I got home last night from the hospital, I pulled out the letters that my grandmother had written to me while I was away at school. I had kept several of them safely tucked away but had never really looked at them since the day I had put them in the drawer. Since she has been ill for so long now, I feel like I had forgotten who she used to be until I re-read those letters. She was an amazing, smart, caring, witty, beautiful woman who thankfully also happened to be my grandmother. It brought tears to my eyes reading those letters and they are a piece of her that I will keep with me forever.

Sunday I will head back to the nursing home for our weekly visit where inevitably my grandmother will babble on incoherently for hours. I’ll do what I always do which is to try to have some what of a conversation with her. That basically consists of me making up things to say or answers to questions you have no idea what they are. I will wave to my “friend” that I see every week sitting at the same table, hide Mimi’s food and my purse from Alfreda who likes to eat everything in sight, smile at the poor woman who repeats over and over, “God help us” and just wait for those three words to make everything ok. “I love you.”

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