The meaning of no or words that have no meaning

It’s getting harder and harder to understand what Ma’s trying to tell me.  Since being placed on morphine her words have been getting more and more garbled.  I know that she thinks she is talking English but to me it’s a foreign language or as my sister calls it, Elvish.  I kind of like that description.  It conjours up thoughts of another world or an alternate reality.  Because that’s where my Ma seems to mainly exist now; in an alternate reality.

Ma’s weight has dropped dramatically and she doesn’t eat any more than a couple of bites of food if that.  The morphine has played havoc with her appetite making her nauseous. Tonight she got Baked Beans and toast for dinner.  After telling her what it was, she told me she didn’t want it but she wanted Baked Beans. I showed the plate to her and told her it was Baked Beans but she didn’t want it… she wanted Baked Beans.  I was able to feed her a couple of mouth fulls before she again informed me that she didn’t want any more of that, she wanted Baked Beans.  I’ve learnt to keep placing small amounts of food in her mouth telling her what it is so that she’ll (hopefully) eat it.

I got her a cup of coffee and she sipped some through a straw before informing me that she wasn’t allowed coffee any more.  On trying to find out why not and who’d told her she wasn’t allowed to drink it, she told me stories told in words I just couldn’t understand.  English words that had no meaning to me. I’m never sure how to react.  I usually end up either apologising and telling her, “I’m sorry, but I don’ understand” or trying to distract her or pretending I understand what she is trying to tell me.

She interacts with the television like it’s real.  She talks to the moving pictures and sometimes interacts more with them than me.  I suppose it’s something to be grateful for, at least she’s getting some enjoyment. She’ll ask them to do something than ask me to find out what’s going on.  Tonight she wanted me to look for a dog.

Ma likes spitting out anything she doesn’t like.  Texture and smell seems to play a big part in what she’ll eat.  Foods she used to love like scrambled eggs, she will no longer try.  Cake is too crumbly in texture and hard foods are too difficult for her to chew.  She’ll usually make little or no attempt to feed herself and chewing a small morsel of food seems to take an eternity.  I’m running out of ideas on what I can coax her diminishing appetite with. Every mealtime is a challenge.  The kitchen staff bend over backwards trying to get her to eat. I always try to be there for at least one meal a day so I can make sure she’s get a little bit of something, excluding Leo, her snow leopard, in her stomach… more about this later.

Last night was challenging.  Her dinner was delivered, little quiches cut up and hot which looked and smelt delicious.  She didn’t want them.  I then asked her if she wanted raisin toast, she did.  I cooked it and she informed me she didn’t want it… I then offered jelly and she had a couple of mouthfuls before saying, “no”.  I tried yogurt next, then watermelon… halfway through all of this, I discovered she had no bottom teeth and found them in a container in the bathroom. Added to this, she informed me that she wanted to eat Leo.  Leo is her stuffed toy Snow Leopard that I sponsored for her at Christmas.  She picked him up and started gnawing on his tail.  I told her that she wouldn’t have Leo any more if she ate him but she told me that she didn’t care, she was going to eat him and started getting quite angry at me. Luckily she became distracted and Leo lives to fight another day.  She loves him and her stuffed cat she named, Fonzie.  We returned to the watermelon, which is much easier to eat with a set of teeth!  Panna Cotta was spat out.  Corn Relish Dip was acceptable for a couple of biscuits before also being spat out.

I’ve learnt that ‘no’ can actually mean ‘yes’ and patience is required by the bucket load.  I wish I understood what Ma was trying to tell me.  I know she gets angry and frustrated at my lack of comprehension.  Sometimes I can guess what she is trying to tell me but more often than not, I don’t. It’s becoming increasing difficult to share her reality.

Every day I tell her I love her and sometimes she tells me she loves me back.  Other words may have lost their meaning but we can still communicate with love.

 

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Quality of life?

Dear Ma,

What kind of life is it to lie in a bed day after day with only the television for company and the occasional visitor?  Your daily highlights consist of dressing changes; personal care and meal delivery and me.  They wanted to place you in a ‘comfort chair’ so you could be wheeled around and get you some social contact but they deemed it unsafe when you tried to get out of bed because you thought you could stand and walk.

What life is it to have no real awareness of what’s going on around you?  Sometimes I understand what you’re trying to tell me but more and more often I can’t translate.  You sometimes see things on the television you think are real and can no longer read your beloved books.  Leo, the snow leopard, your cat blanket, and blue ‘blankey’ are now your biggest comforts.

What kind of life is it when you are given pain every time you are moved and you yell and scream?  The pressure sores on your bottom have nearly healed but they no longer want you to sit in a chair for fear of a reoccurrence.  They also don’t think you can ‘cope’ in a chair.  Your left leg has suffered from another infection but is slowly improving but still looks nasty.  Your right ulcer is holding its own.

What kind of life is it when every pleasure you once enjoyed is taken away from you?  I sit with you and sometimes you cry and I stroke your face telling you everything is alright. But it’s not.  My heart is breaking and I wish you’d find peace.  Sometimes you tell me you want to go.  You tell me you’re tired and I wish you sleep.

Today I broke down with staff after trying to fight battles that have already been lost.  I’ve become close to these people and I know they try their best for you.  I know that you will no longer be able to go out with me.  I know that you probably won’t feel the sun and breeze on your face any more.  I hate that every thing that once gave you pleasure has been taken away from you.  When they started the morphine it was to give you quality of life.  A life without pain.

I will continue to do my best for you and will hold you close to me until your time comes.

Your loving daughter,

Jennifer

The Saga of Ma’s Ulcer – Vigilence

One of my biggest concerns when I put Ma into the nursing home was the care of her chronic leg ulcer which has been ‘going’ for 5 to 6 years.  On the two previous instances Ma was in respite care her ulcer has gone downhill.  In one case ending up with a hospital stay.  So, when Ma went into care I tried to circumnavigate any problems by being proactive.  I supplied instructions from the Ulcer Clinic, dressings (Acticoat Flex 3 – a silver dressing) and talked about my concerns to the registered nurse (RN) and anybody else who would listen.  They are all very good listeners and ‘agree-ers’ but unfortunately not very good at following through.

The first two weeks passed without too much incidence… I noticed Ma didn’t have the Blue Tubifast applied to her leg (as per protocol) and was informed that it would have to be ordered in.  One month later and no Tubifast appeared.  I kept on querying…

The point I want to make with this post, is the need to document things and be proactive. This nursing home is one of the better ones…

  • On Saturday 16 July, I noticed the bandage had only been applied over the ulcer site and that it was leaking through the bandage.  I reported it in the morning and again in the afternoon.  On Sunday, 24 July, I reported it again. No response.
  • On Saturday 23 July, I noticed the ulcer had leaked through the bandage (bandage still being done just over ulcer site).  I was told I could contact Ma’s doctor and I did.  He attended and looked at the ulcer and prescribed Keflex for possible infection.  After waiting around 40 minutes for the Registered Nurse (RN) to come and dress her leg I chased it up and was informed that it wasn’t time for the dressing trolley and we would have to wait.  I watched the RN bandage her leg (she informed me she had never done it before, so I talked her through it).  Again I expressed my concerns over the ‘care’ of Ma’s leg.
  • On Wednesday 27 July I arrived to find only Acticoat Flex 3 on Ma’s leg with the soiled dressing on the floor, there was no sign of a bandage.  Ma told me it had fallen off on Tuesday night.  I reported it.  The RN dressed her leg as per the protocol, I explained to the RN my concerns and was told they would talk to the doctor as they were concerned about the oedema in her leg.  I sent a photo of the ulcer to the doctor and explained that the RN would call him.  The doctor attended Ma the next day, Thursday 28 July morning with a RN attending.
  • On Friday 29 July afternoon, I asked what the outcome had been and was told somebody would ring me.  Nobody did.
  • It was then I realised I would never be listened to at this level and rang the manager of the nursing home. He listened to my concerns and promised things would change.
  • My sister queried Ma’s leaky leg again on Saturday 30 July and was told the RN would dress it again after her lunch at 2.  I arrived on Sunday 31 July and found the dressing hadn’t been changed (to our knowledge).
  • On Monday I met with the manager and discussed Ma’s treatment. I showed him photos and he agreed that the treatment of her was unacceptable.  He promised he would see to it that  a care plan was drawn up for her leg, with consultation with me, and that all the RNs would have to sign off on it.  If I noticed any deviations from this, they would discipline the person responsible.
  • On Tuesday I arrived to find that Ma’s other leg had a dressing on it with blood still on her leg… The injury had apparently just occurred. The new aide had brought Ma back from breakfast and had been a bit too enthusiastic in her care causing Ma to stumble and cut her leg on the wheelchair.  (Ma is down for a tray in her room for breakfast but they keep trying to force her into the dinning room…)
  • I received a phone call while I was there, reporting the damage to Ma’s leg. The RN came and talked me though ma’s dressing plus her care of Ma’s leg and that she’d reported it to the doctor… this was the same RN who’d previously had no time for me… somebody must have put a burr under her saddle!!
  • Later that day the Nursing Manager called me wanting to meet and discuss Ma’s care. She told me Ma’s treatment was unacceptable.  She also wants to show me a couple of dressings she feels may give Ma some relief.  We meet tomorrow.

After one month of fighting, we have come to this. Why?

What about the other residents that have no advocate?

Lessons learnt:

  • Document, document, document and document some more.  Photos and dates and notes.
  • I had learnt from previous experience that things will probably go wrong.  Be prepared!
  • If you are concerned or worried, express your concerns.  If nobody listens at the lower levels, go higher.

 

 

Moving on with Ma…

A year ago on  26 June 2015, I started writing my blog, sharing my experiences looking after my Ma. This week, on Monday, I moved my Ma into a nursing home after caring for her full-time since September.  Full-time care became necessary after three anaesthetics in five months left her with delirium which I was told was dementia and that she would never be the same.  They were partially right.  After five months of delirium she got better although she was never the same after.  And after getting better the confusion and hallucinations started to progress.  So much so that I couldn’t leave her for more than an hour at a time.  Prior to this I worked full-time and cared for her.

I was told aged care moves fast.  I received a call on Thursday saying there was a room for Ma at her preferred nursing home, aka the house on the hill.  I picked the paperwork up that afternoon.  After nearly smothering under the pile of forms I managed to fill in most things, with the help of one or two of Ma’s medicinal brandy!  I asked Ma questions while Ma gradually got quieter and quieter until finally she asked me when we were leaving.  I stopped to explain that she wasn’t going anywhere until Monday and that I would be with her every step of the way.  I also asked her to give the place 4 weeks and if she didn’t like it, we’d work something out.

We were there at 10 the next day with paperwork filled in meeting with the Financial Officer. (I was discouraged from bringing Ma even after I explained I had no carer for the time it would take to finalise the paperwork.)  As it was, I wanted her to see the room that was being provided and I also had to fill in paperwork about ‘end of life’ care.  To perform CPR or not; to do everything to save her life and move her to a hospital or just go with palliative care.  Ma and I have discussed her end of life preferences before so I knew the answer to the questions but still felt the need to discuss them again with her.  My head was spinning over the financials with no idea of what we were going to do.

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We moved her electric lift chair in on Sunday and were there on Monday moving in.  I was told that usually aged care providers ring the day before for you to be in the next day.  And I thought this was fast!

The view near her room is beautiful with a lovely verandah residents can sit on and enjoy.  Rooms on this side of the facility cost a lot more because of the view!  There is also a lovely little sunroom right next door.

My sisters and I move her in on Monday.  Her brandy is written up by the doctor and she gets her tipple of a night time.  I talk to the registered nurse and staff about her ‘unique’ problems in the hopes that she won’t have the problems of constipation, ulcer infection and skin rashes that have occurred previously with her two periods of respite care.

I don’t sleep well that night waiting on a call to tell me she’s fallen or something else has happened.  My mind won’t shut down!  On Tuesday I start to decorate.  I hang her pictures up and put some other homely touches in place.  I notice her heart patch hasn’t been removed the night before and that the person dispensing the pills doesn’t really know what they’re doing as they are Certificate 4 and not a nurse.  She tells me that she doesn’t have any idea what any of the pills are for… SIGH.  We discover an old friend of hers a couple of doors down who we stop in and see.

Ma sleeps in her chair again as she can’t get into the bed.  The physio isn’t due until Thursday and I’m told that staff aren’t allowed to life patients legs in beds so Ma will probably be sleeping in her chair until Thursday!  I explain that she is used to a handrail beside the bed which she uses to get herself in and out of bed.  I’m told they don’t have them as they can be looked on as a form of restraint… SIGH

I’m finding things out everyday.  Many things I wish I’d been told before.  I will be making a few suggestions in the hopes of improving things.  There is no resident’s information pack that gives family any information.  My life certainly would’ve been made easier if I’d known then what I do now!

 

Ma’s way with words (Part 2)

Ma doesn’t say many of her old sayings any more.  Occasionally she will utter one but more often than not it’s a new turn of phrase.  Some real rip snorters in fact…

I’m a bit of a Queen fan (the rock group).  Whenever there is thunder around I will utter the words from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, “Thunder bolt and lightning”.  A couple of year’s ago Ma started saying, “very very frightening” in response.  I have no idea where she got the words from as she was never a rock and roll aficionado but to this day if I say my line… she will say hers!

These days Ma’s nights and days are very much mixed up.  There are many times when she thinks night is day and vice versa.  Even though it’s pitch black outside she will still insist it’s daytime and there is something ‘wrong’.  After one such occasion she uttered to me, “I don’t like these 24 hour days”.

Some days I can’t win.  While we were out shopping I showed Ma a dress I thought would suit her.  After looking it up and down she told me she couldn’t wear it because it was a grandma dress!  I reminded her she was a grandma… she just looked at me. Undaunted, in the next shop, I showed her another dress to which she told me she couldn’t wear because she was a grandmother… I gave up.  No dress was bought that day.

Recently I purchased a bottle of wine and mentioned the name of the wine to Ma.  Ma must not have heard me correctly (or I didn’t speak clearly) because Ma responded with, “what?” “You’ve prepared human?” “Since when have you become cannibal?”

I made some 20160425_115636waffles recently on Ma’s ancient waffle iron.  The ones that weren’t eaten I put in the freezer for later use.  Ma requested some of the waffles for her dessert which she polished off with ice cream and maple syrup.  After she had finished demolishing them she told me she could still hear them ‘waffling’…

My favourite new saying of Ma’s would have to be this one… The other day I asked Ma if she wanted something to drink to which she replied, “yes”.  When I asked her what she wanted she told me she wanted something, “wet and wild”… I finally worked out she meant brandy.  The new name for brandy in our house is, “wet and wild”.

Every new little saying or quip gives me a giggle.  The mother of my past is slowly diminishing.  This new mother is different but still amusing.

The things that go bump in the night…

“Macbeth does murder sleep—the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care. The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath.  Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

Oh Mr Shakespeare could you have been describing dementia and sundowning syndrome?  Ma’s sleeping or should I say, lack of sleeping is starting to make me into a cranky old crone. I can’t remember what a full night’s sleep is like.  I seem to sleep like a mother with a newborn, lightly, waking with every whimper and moan that Ma utters.  If Ma is having a hard time with her bladder she will be up and down more times than I care to recall.  Other nights it’s because of ‘people in her room’ or fixations or just her interpretation or her surroundings (like my poor housekeeping in not pulling up the bedding or leaving clothing hanging up!).

On a BBN or Bad Bladder Night as I call them, we can be up every 2 to 3 hours.  I feel like I’ve no sooner fallen back into bed before I hear the clunk clunk of Cyril the wheely walker heading down the hall to the toilet.  I stumble out and assist with my back turned dreaming of my nice bed while I wait for her to finish, pull her pants up and show her how to get back to her room.

Now the weather is colder I need to make sure I tuck her back in as she feels cold nearly all the time and can’t pull the bedclothes up by herself.  I have flannelette sheets on her bed and two fleece blankets and a doona but she’s still cold.  Lately she’s asked for me to put her ‘bluey’ on, which is a neck to knee fleece dressing gown which makes her all snuggly warm, or her poncho.

Recently she was fixated on her handbag.  She carried it everywhere she went, even into the toilet.  She would open it and count the money, she’d take the purses out and hide them.  So in the middle of the night she’d get up to count the money or look for the purses which she’d forget she’d hidden.  The money would always be missing, not that she could tell me how much money was in the bag or how much was missing.  Sometimes the money and purses were still in her bag but she just couldn’t see them.  At 3am I’d hear her shouting to ‘the man’ to give her back her money!  I finally couldn’t take it anymore and confiscated her bag telling her I was keeping it safe.  I also told her if she thought there was any money missing, I’d reimburse her.  She hasn’t mentioned the bag since.

Some nights she wants to sit on the side of the bed reading.  I will go back in to find her asleep with her head in her lap or lying backwards across the bed.  There is usually an ulterior motive such as a ‘person’ in her bed so she can’t lie down.  I will never put dark coloured sheets back on her bed again!  The week I had them on her bed she needed me to show her there was nobody there whenever she returned to her room of a night.

She is usually very restless of a night nowadays.  You tuck her in and 5 minutes later she is sitting up.  If she goes to sleep, it’s only for an hour and then she’s awake crying or doing what I call her ‘Moaning Myrtle’ (Harry Potter).  It’s not exactly crying it’s more of a weird kind of whimper.  I’ll ask her what’s wrong and it will be that she’s all alone, or that she wants to go home, or she wants to get dressed (which is weird because she’s been spending all day in her ‘Bluey’ and nightdress as it’s the only way she’ll feel warm). I can never tell when it’s going to be one of ‘those nights’.  She can seem perfectly alright going to bed but within a couple of hours she’s awake and restless.  The other night she called me into her room because there were flames shooting out of the bookcase.  Thank goodness she was wrong!  She settled down once I’d checked it out.

Last night was ‘one of those nights’ and now she has dozed her way through the day.  I feel like waking her up every time she drifts off… but that would be mean… but sometimes I feel like being mean. Ah sleep…….

7.5mg of Hell

I took Ma to her Urologist, or as I call him ‘The Wee Man’, on Monday.  After discussions around Ma’s problems of pain, sleeplessness and urinary incontinence, he decided to prescribe Mirtazapine to help Ma with her pain, sleeplessness and depression.  Mirtazapine is an anti-depressant used to treat major depressive disorder.  Knowing how fragile Ma has become to any medications, I was reluctant to get them for her…. And then I thought, “what if they worked and I got to sleep all night?”  I did some research and asked my Memory People™ family if they had had any experience using this on their loved one.  Experiences were varied with some having great success. As each person reacts differently it’s something that’s hard to predict so with great trepidation I gave her 7.5mg to go to bed.

I tucked her in and she was soon snoring.  She slept for five hours straight.  When I checked on her she was lying across the bed in a horizontal position with her legs on the floor sound asleep.  I’m not sure how she got there.  She was restless from then onwards… up and down every couple of hours.  In the morning she was like a zombie.  She ate some breakfast but I couldn’t communicate with her properly.  She sat there on the side of the bed with her eyes closed rocking slightly.  She spent the day like that.  Not making any sense, not understanding anything I said and drifting in and out of sleep…sitting up as she wouldn’t lie down.  She also seemed to be having increased difficulty getting off the side of the bed.

I rang her doctor for advice and in the end I decided not to give her any more tablets.  I finally got through to her in the evening when I roused her enough to eat some dinner.  She was very confused and sat there at the table after she had finished eating until I asked her what she was doing.  She responded with, “you know I’ve only been in the house a short time and I don’t know where the toilet and shower are”.  I got her washed and into bed and she was out like a light.

She roused enough during the night to find the toilet but couldn’t find her way back.  The ‘people’ were also back in her bed so I had to convince her each time that there was nobody there.  In the morning I could see she was more awake but still very dopey.  Her confusion (more than usual) continued, she also seemed very depressed and unhappy and continued to be very disorientated throughout the Wednesday.  She was also very angry at me.  She told me she wanted to go home to her house, that none of her clothes were here and the bedroom I made her go in was different from the bedroom she was in before.

Thursday was more of the same, still confused, still disorientated, still angry.  The doctor visited and checked her over and gave a script for a mild sleeping pill.  I’m not sure I dare give it to her as yet!  The carer came and I was glad to get out for a few hours to go to work.  As usual, Ma was on her best behaviour for the carer.  I walked through the door and it was ‘game on’ with her talking about her imaginary ‘friends’.  Papers that were on the table had been placed there by ‘the boss’ who had come home… She said she had to tell me in case somebody got hurt.  I’m still trying to work that one out.  The radio was on, but she hadn’t put it on… and she wasn’t going to turn it off in case ‘they’ were listening to it. She wouldn’t go in her bedroom as there were ‘people’ in there.  After spending a few hours at work and pretending that my life was normal her behaviours hit home worse than usual.

On Friday she was as cranky as a bag full of cats.  I was trying to do some work when I heard her start talking (my office is next door to her room).  “I want to go home to my house, although I suppose nobody will be there.”  When I went in to see her she said, “why am I here”?  That stopped me in my tracks.  For the life of me I couldn’t think of how to answer her question.  To stall for time, I asked her what she meant.  She repeated her question.  It was then I went for the big ‘D’ for Distraction, and asked her if she wanted to go out for coffee.  She couldn’t get out the door fast enough.  I took her up the street where she bought new slippers. We then had coffee and cake where she looked at me and said, “I feel better now”.  After a shop through the supermarket we came home and she laughed and joked.  It was like somebody had thrown a switch.

Her confusion remains worse than it was before her disorientation the same. It will be a week tonight since she had the pill.  I don’t know whether her mental state will recover.  Her mood seems to be more stable although her ‘friends’ continue to visit.

I’ll just take it one day at a time…