Family Caregivers, Gram Helen's Story

What a Difference a Day Makes

Caring for someone with dementia is like riding a very scary roller coaster.  This weekend we were heading very quickly down with Gram.  While staying at Mom’s house, she became very ill.  Mom called me to let me know that they were headed to the hospital.  I was at work, and told her I’d be there as soon as I was done.

The trip to the Newberg hospital was familiar territory.  It was only 6 months ago that Gram broke her shoulder and spent a week there.  When I walked in the room, I saw Mom and Gram and Uncle Gary.  Gram was definitely sick…but well enough to greet me.  Mom and I immediately went into planning mode…easier to do this time than last.  I drove her home to be with Daddy for a few hours, then I returned to the hospital to keep watch.  Mom returned to spend the night.  Sunday I went to spend the day with Gram so Mom could go home to care for Daddy.  We even trusted the hospital staff to watch over Gram without us on Sunday night.

Monday morning Mom went to be with Gram early in the morning.  I went to work.  Then I got the call.  Mom was very upset.  Gram was saying cruel things to her, Daddy was very ill, and she needed me.  Thank God for my wonderful Gentog staff.  Everyone pulled together to get the job done and sent me on my way to take care of my family.  I fully expected Gram’s mood to brighten with a new person visiting.  After Mom left we were OK for a little while.  And then the storm hit.  Gram was angry…very angry.  She threw things.  She bit her hospital bracelet off, and pried her IV out of her arm.  She told me that she would never forgive me…although she couldn’t articulate what she was mad about.  She wanted to call her long-deceased husband.  She needed to get home to care for her young children who were waiting for dinner.  She needed to get to Forest Grove to see her husband who had been injured in an accident.  She did NOT want to be trapped in the back room of the store…and that is what I was doing.  It was horrible.  I’ve never seen her so angry and I’ve never felt so helpless.  As she walked the halls in her hospital gown, asking everyone she saw to help her call her husband, I prayed that the staff would understand.  My cousin came to help me calm her, the nurse gave her some meds, and we hoped for the best.  We had a good conversation for 30 minutes, and then she began to search the room for her shoes.  She needed to go home RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  When she gave up that quest, she made and remade her bed.  She would not calm down.  She would not rest.  After several hours, we gave up.  We tucked her into bed, hoped the staff could keep her there, and we went home.  By the time I reached my house, I had a fever of 101.  I was wiped out.

This morning I awaked, and realized that I felt OK.  My fever was gone.  I called my parents’ house and Daddy said he was feeling much better. Prayers were being answered.   I got to the hospital to find Mom in the hall, after talking to the social worker.  She could not bring Gram back home to where Daddy had been ill so recently, and she didn’t want to burden me if Gram was not going to be her normal self.  I assured her that I was feeling fine, and that we had to get Gram back to familar surroundings.  We got the discharge papers, and loaded Gram into the car. On the drive home, we listened to my iPod’s country mix…familiar songs that always make her smile.  She smiled, she tapped her fingers and she told me how much she was enjoying the songs.

When we got home Gram settled into her rocking chair by the fireplace.  We watched our recordings of the Ellen show.  She chuckled and rocked and was happy.  When Jim got home she visited with him.  She told stories of her days at Gentog.  (She’s never done that to us before).  She reminded me to call about her hair appointment.  She asked about my kids.  She was definitely in the moment and remembering recent activities.  She was herself again.  Whew.

I fear the day that dementia takes her away forever.  I glimpsed that yesterday, and it was horrible.  I pray that we never actually see that day.  And I promise to treasure every good day going forward.

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