What a week!

June 20, 2010

It all started last Sunday. We had some visitors staying and I wrongly assumed that my constantly recurring headache was as a result of the extra workload. I’m well-accustomed to popping pain relievers in order to function normally and I make no apology for it. As anyone who suffers from a chronic condition will know, it’s the only way to get things done. The secret however, is knowing when to shout for help.

When I dragged myself out of bed last Monday morning I knew I was in trouble. I’d barely slept a wink overnight as my headache was no longer responding to pain killers. As luck would have it, I’d a hospital appointment already booked with the surgeon for the following morning so expert help was at hand.

By the time the surgeon got to examine my head on Tuesday morning, I was in so much pain I could barely talk. A few hours later, I was lying inside an MRI scanner having a brain scan to rule out a possible brain abscess. Thankfully, nothing of this nature was diagnosed although a nasty infection was visible at the site of my recent surgery.

The same evening, my daughter arrived home from her work placement in a hospital, looking like death. She was suffering a flu-like reaction to travel vaccinations received the day before. Despite running a very high temperature overnight and still looking very pale the next morning, she insisted on going back to work. By lunchtime, she was in A&E of the hospital having developed a severe nose bleed while on the wards. Her nose had to be cauterised to stem the flow of blood and she limped home to bed for the second evening in a row.

The next day, I woke with horrible nausea and the return of colitis as a result of the antibiotics prescribed to treat my head. I had no choice but to lie very low that day.

On Friday morning, my husband was admitted to hospital for a cataract operation. Having collected him from the hospital at lunchtime and brought him home to recover, I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon but no such luck. One of our cats appeared with his tail bent double and I knew immediately that an urgent trip to the vet was in store. Last year, this same cat became very unwell having developed an abscess in his tail (most likely from a bite from another cat) and the tell-tale sign was a drooping tail. So, Friday afternoon was spent getting the cat sorted with an antibiotic.

As if the week hadn’t been testing enough, Saturday morning started with an early morning trip to bring the eye patient back to the hospital for a routine check. Having delivered the patient safely home again, I then attended a funeral before spending the afternoon at the nursing home where both of my parents are in rapid decline at the moment.

Today, apart from frequent trips to the loo, I’ve done nothing but loll around in the garden enjoying the sunshine. The pain in my head has eased but I’m not out of the woods yet. If I go quiet again next week, please don’t worry. Wimbledon fortnight starts tomorrow. Bring it on!


A Lost World

May 23, 2009

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a degenerative condition. It is fatal. The disease can last anywhere from 3-20 years but averages 7-8 years. The first sign is memory loss followed by personality changes. As AD progresses, the afflicted individual becomes disoriented about time and place and tends to exercise poor judgement. People with Alzheimer’s have an increasing  dependence on others and require round-the-clock care. The personality changes, cognitive lapses and eventual demise of a person with AD are extremely difficult on both patient’s and their loved ones. All is not lost however.

My parents both suffer from this progressive form of dementia and are in long-term residential care. Their world has shrunk to tiny proportions and they are oblivious to what goes on outside their own world. Happiness comes down to physical comfort and company. Family visits are a huge source of comfort to them both.

While sitting with my Mum in the Alzheimer unit yesterday, the lady in the bed next to her was very agitated. Doreen* is normally cared for at home but had come into the unit for a short period of respite care to give her family a much-needed break. Despite being very well looked after, there was terror written all over her face. Doreen’s world had fallen apart, she was ‘lost’ and required constant reassurance from the unit staff.  All afternoon she shouted “hello, hello” to anyone who passed and it was hard not to be moved by her anguish. When my Mum fell asleep, I finally got a chance to give Doreen the company she craved. The look of relief in her face will stay with me for a long time. She grasped my hand and tried desperately to find the words to express herself but the words would not come. I chatted to her calmly and told her that I understood why she was upset. Gradually she relaxed and then the tears came.  We hugged and I reassured her that I would come back soon for another chat.  That’s when I got rewarded with a most beautiful smile. Doreen was back on track and even though I knew it wouldn’t last, it made my day.

* Not her real name


Technology Therapy

February 15, 2009

Did you realise that patients in Ireland are set to get technical? The Nintendo Wii, the home video game console, is now being used as part of a new innovative programme to help patients recover from strokes. Patients are having fun while enjoying a form of therapy that helps them to build balance, coordination and endurance.

ninento-wiiTherapists at the Stroke Rehabilitation Unit in Baggot Street Community Hospital have begun using the Nintendo Wii game console with their patients to compliment regular therapy. Potential benefits for this group of patients include increased hand function, balance, reaction times and processing skills. It’s proving very popular amongst the patients because it’s interactive and there’s a competitive element involved.

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Many nursing homes in the US are already using Wii technology as a form of therapy and recreation. A lot of older people have limited mobility and the Wii provides entertainment as well as physical rehabilitation. It also helps pensioners remember activities that they used to enjoy a lot when they were functioning in their community.

This begs the question as to why Irish nursing homes are failing to make proper use of technology? It’s makes utter sense to encourage older people to use technology as a form of therapy. Let’s face it, anything’s got to be better than staring into space all day long!


Days with my Father

February 12, 2009

My father has no short-term memory. He’s otherwise in pretty good shape for an 89 year old but his memory, has failed him. Dad moved into full-time residential care some years ago as he requires constant reassurance and supervision. The  nursing home routine suits him well but even after all this time, he still hasn’t a clue where he is. Each evening he tells the nurses that he’s lost and asks if he can have a bed for the night.  He meticulously records in his diary that he’s “in hospital for night”. His only other regular diary entry, is a note to “ring Steph” but sadly, at this stage he’s even forgotten how to do that.

talking-phoneEverything is news to Dad. He cannot remember that my mother is in the same nursing home although he visits her almost every day. His eyes always light up when I tell him she’s just down the corridor.  Dad may not be able to remember much but he still bares all the same characteristics and his powers of observation are as sharp as ever.  He’s been a dapper dresser all his life and still insists on putting on a jacket and tie to visit my Mum. His bedside is littered with scraps of paper where he’s written down jumbled thoughts from his mind. One of the hallmarks of dementia is a deep suspicion of others and so my Dad tends to hide his possessions. A quick check of his belongings usually reveals a  banana hidden in a shoe and his bedside clock can be found in his wash kit along with several yoghurts and hundreds of biros. Quite a magpie, is my Dad!

The one thing that hasn’t changed with my father is his ability to enjoy company. He loves joking with the nurses and especially the female ones. He is always deeply appreciative of family visits and loves to hear news of the ‘outside world’. While words often fail him, it hasn’t stopped him enjoying hugs and close physical contact. We gad about the place together with arms linked and hands entwined as we laugh and chat. While it’s sad to watch my father deteriorate, I shall always be grateful that we’ve had this precious time together.

If you haven’t already come across ‘Days with my Father‘, I highly recommend it to you.  It’s a poignant photographic journal created by Phillip Toledano as an record of his own father. The resemblance to my father, is uncanny.


Senior Moments

January 25, 2009

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An elderly male resident at the nursing home said to a female resident in a wheelchair, “Betcha can’t guess how old I am.”

She replied, “I can if you take off all of your clothes.”

So he did as she asked and she instructed him to turn around slowly.

Then she said, “You’re 95.”

“That’s amazing!!” he exclaimed.  “How could you tell?”

“You told me at breakfast.”


Where There’s Hope

January 20, 2009

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Daffodils are one of the icons of Spring. Sitting at my mother’s bedside in the nursing home where she lay motionless, I gently whispered in her ear yesterday that Spring is on it’s way. I told her about the first daffodils of the year beginning to peep their heads above the freezing ground. On hearing this news, my mother opened her eyes and rewarded me with a huge smile.

This conversation brought me back to a time when I was in a little hospital room in the UK, recovering from major surgery. My husband had returned to Ireland to sort out a business problem leaving me to fend for myself for a couple of days. Being in hospital was bad enough but being far away from home meant that I had no visitors. My beacon of hope during that time, was a huge bunch of daffodils in the corner of my room. They had been given to me by a doctor from a nearby hospital whom I’d never met but who I knew to be an old school friend of my husband. When he heard news of my operation, he picked the daffodils for me from his garden to brighten up my stay in hospital. I’ll never forget this kind gesture. Those flowers represented a world with which I was familiar, unlike the lonely surroundings in which I found myself at that time.

My mother has always loved garden flowers and although now severely disabled, she welcomes any opportunity to be taken outside in her wheelchair. We made a pact yesterday to mount an expedition outdoors as soon as the first flowers of Spring appear.

Where there’s life, there’s hope and where’s there’s hope, there’s life.


What Do You Say?

January 12, 2009

A conversation I overheard last week, has stayed with me ever since. It took place between a carer and an elderly resident at the nursing home. Tess is a widow who was living independently at home until a series of falls brought about a deterioration in her health. She was put into long term care at the nursing home as her grown-up family all live abroad. Tess is a much loved lady as evidenced by the constant stream of friends and ex-neighbours who visit her at the home. She is rapidly fading physically but still has all her other faculties.

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Carer: Eat up, Tess, before your lunch goes cold

Tess: I’m not feeling very well today

Carer: You’re not feeling well because you’re not eating enough food

Tess: I’m not hungry

Carer: If you don’t eat your food Tess, you’ll fade away

Tess: I know… that’s what I want.

What do you say to someone like dear old Tess?