Party of the First Part

According to the calendar, we are two weeks into spring.  However, winter does not seem to be paying attention.  The cold continues, as does the occasional snow.  Several more inches are forecast for tomorrow.

It is approaching midnight, and since I have to be up fairly early tomorrow to accept the delivery of the repaired window blind, I don’t want to stay up too much longer.  Still, an idea wants to out itself onto the page.

My neighbor Wendy, who kept her husband home as he withered under the relentless attack of dementia, came to stay with Carol so I could go into town for my fasting blood test ahead of my annual checkup tomorrow.

On the way into town I was reminded of the last time Carol accompanied me into the lab for one of these occasions, which occur every four months.  My memory blurs a little as I try to pin down which exact ride into town I am recalling, but I am guessing it was about a year and a half ago, before her disease had manifested itself so forcefully.

We had secured the handicapped placard for the car, and Carol was still fairly mobile.  Otherwise, she would not have been accompanying me to the lab.

However, this time we never did get there.  As we drove, Carol became increasingly uncomfortable in the car.  I did not know then, nor can I say for certain now, what exactly was distressing her.  But distressed she was.  Perhaps it was the motion as the car followed the up and down and winding road, the same road she had been traveling much of her life except for those years when she was not living on this peninsula.

As we neared town, her discomfort was so intense that I decided I could not contemplate taking her into the lab with me.  I turned around and drove us back home.  Once in the garage, I could not manage to get her out of the car.  She was in a state of panic, or maybe, it was anger, but whatever it was, she was not going to co-operate.  Finally, as I had done on other occasions when her behavior had gone beyond what I could handle, I called her brother Ward who always seemed able to soothe and calm her.

Not this time.  He could do no more than I and urged me to call 911.

I did.  An ambulance came and she was taken, not happily, into the vehicle and I followed it into the hospital.  There, predictably, we spent hours while tests were run and the emergency room doctor consulted with both Carol’s primary care physician and the neurologist she was also seeing.  The result of the conferencing was the hypothesis that her behavior resulted from a new medication, I believe it was Namenda, that we had recently started.  Since none of the tests indicated any other likely cause, this was a reasonable guess.

All during this time, she was very upset, and disoriented.  She insisted she wanted her husband and rejected the idea that I was in fact there.  Eventually, she calmed down enough to be released, and I was able to take her home, pretty much without incident although she still was not comfortable sitting in the car.

I took her off that medication, and her behavior returned to its usual patterns.

Looking back with the clarity of hindsight, attributing this entire incident to the medication is perhaps overstated.

As in so many other ways, now clear to me but hiding their true identity at the time, this event was just dementia flexing its muscles.

Perhaps as a warning.

Or maybe a boast.

Saturday afternoon, an unusual writing time for me.  But a couple of ideas are swirling around in my head and I want to snatch them, lay them out on the table, and see where they want to go. I am familiar with this kind of experience, of ideas seeming to rise up from some hidden factory deep in my brain whenever I am heavily involved in a writing project.

It will be lunch time soon, so I will just get started dealing with this idea effusion, planning to pick it up later, perhaps even this afternoon, for what else am I going to do on another day when winter refuses to leave, offering temperatures going down into the teens, accompanied by occasional snow showers.

I don’t know whether I am the party of the first part, or party of the second part in this blog.  Apparently, my readers share my confusion.  Some see this blog as Carol centric, others as Steve centric while still others seek the middle between those extremes.

Comments on my recent post include one instructing me to “reinvent” myself and just move on, while others express empathy for my situation.  Still another wishes Carol were able to read my words, and yet another sees her own experience in some of the details about Carol that I present.

My conclusion is, first, that the comments, as is always the case, tell a great deal about the commenters, and second, that there is truth in all of them.  This blog is about both of us.  Sometimes the focus will swing one way, sometimes the other, but always it is about the bond between the two, that bond in the past, the present, and the future.

Tuesday night, squeezing in a little writing instead of watching a television documentary about how Hannibal crossed the Alps on elephants.  I’ve heard that story, of course, but somehow it never registered in my mind as real.  It was too spectacular, too long ago, seeming to exist in its own time and space, not the one I inhabit. 

I’ve got that show set to be recorded along with the one following it on public television, that one about the famous Leopold and Loeb thrill killers in the 1920s.  I have read about that case, and I recall Clarence Darrow tried to save the two young men from execution.  I can’t remember if he succeeded.

Though the shows will be available at my convenience, I find I record many more shows than I actually wind up watching.  That is why I’ll keep this writing session a little short, so I will be able to watch the thrill killer one when it actually is on.

I’ve been thinking about my relationship to Carol, using the terms party of the first part or party of the second part.  Something is coming into focus, although I do not yet have a name for it.  Instead, I can think of specifics that lead to some kind of understanding, and then perhaps a word to describe it.

The specific detail that jumps to mind is, admittedly, almost silly sounding when I look at it as others might.  Nonetheless, it is a strong presence in my mind.  It goes this way.  Every day I cross the road twice, once in the morning to retrieve the newspaper, and then in the afternoon, to pick up our mail.

Each time I do so, I make sure I have my phone with me.  Now, here comes the seemingly absurd part.  I want to make sure that if I suddenly fall down from a heart attack, I will be able to dial 911.  The possibility of a heart attack is not the absurd part.  About twenty years ago, while we were still in New York, I had two coronary stents inserted to relieve blockages.  I was asymptomatic at that time, but the stress test revealed the problem, and there certainly is abundant history of heart problems in my family, including my mother, two paternal uncles, one maternal aunt, and my father, although his problem arose when he was eighty-six while the others’ lives were shortened by coronary disease.

Still, all that being true, why do I obsess about having my phone?  Well, for one thing, houses north and south of us are some distance away, and there are none east and west where there is orchard on one side and undeveloped land on the other.  Therefore, conceptually, I could lie on the ground unseen for some time.  On the other hand,  if I had landed on the road a car driver might  see me or  or more likely ride over me, in which case, the phone would do me no good.

Writing this out demonstrates how ridiculous these ideas are.  But what is not ridiculous is the stimulus for these thoughts.

My bed and dementia ridden wife would not know what had happened to me nor would she be able to respond to it if somehow she were made aware of my lying outside somewhere.

It is necessary to point out that my concern is not primarily my own safety.

Rather it is I have to keep myself alive.

For Carol.

Wednesday evening after a quiet day at home.  Spent an inordinate amount of time revisiting family history on my mother’s side, prompted by shortcuts on my desktop to census documents, which in turn reminded me that grandson Peter wanted to know my mother’s maiden name for his own family research project.  I sent links to the documents to him, care of his mother Kerri, but then jotted down what I remembered about that side of the family, and when I could not recall a detail, I dug out a folder that contained the information.

All of which was a useful distraction on a day when not much else was going on.

Tomorrow I have an appointment with the dermatologist to check out precancerous cells on my scalp.

Which leads into what I was writing about last session.

Namely, how my thoughts concerning my own mortality are now inextricably bound up in my self-defined role as Carol’s caregiver.

Ordinarily, I don’t dwell on my demise.  And I wouldn’t be doing so now except for the responsibility I feel for Carol.  I confess I am concerned about how she would fare without me.  Somebody would have to take over.

But who?

Our daughter now lives in Minnesota, and has not yet established herself solidly on her career path as a programmer.  She is getting closer to that goal, but it is not at all certain where she will wind up living.  Probably not here because the job she seeks is likely not going to fortuitously turn up where the main industries are farming, tourism, and medical care of an aging population.

Of course, there are Carol’s siblings, but frankly I don’t see any of them stepping forward.  At the moment, they are still involved with their mother, now living in a care facility herself, and otherwise they seem to be settled into their own concerns.

Which do not seem to include their sister in any meaningful way.

So, I think my concerns are just realistic.

Which leads to the exaggerated, somewhat comical concern of making sure I have my phone with me so I can call 911 should I find myself disabled on the road on the way back from the mailbox.

Somehow in my imagination, the disabling incident always occurs on my way back.

Perhaps it is my fiction writer’s flair for the melodramatic.

Struck down steps away from his ailing wife.  Mail strewn across the road.

A letter from his publisher in one hand, the other reaching for his phone.

Which he left in the house.

 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Party of the First Part

  1. Kathleen flores says:

    Obviously carol,s siblings have complete trust in you. But. I hope they will step up to the plate to help you, nobody should have to deal with this alone. It takes a tribe to survive. Take care steve.

  2. Trudy says:

    No words. No words.

  3. Marty says:

    Good post Steve.

  4. Barb Berthelsen says:

    Steve-
    Amy was kind enough to share your blog. I hope you will be able to share it with me. You are kind to share your writer’s takent to open this window into what you and Carol are going through. Hopefully, it helps you as well. We are here to help you anyway we can. I hope you know this.

  5. Sheila Fox says:

    I so much appreciate your openness, directness and realistic eye as you write about your current fears and the path ahead for you and Carol. You are not only the true Caregiver but also an amazing teacher to us as we experience this time with you through your blog. With hopes that Lowell and I can be helpful to you in some way.
    Sheila
    PS — Given the complexities of your situation, this thought may seem silly, but, would having a Life Alert system be useful to you?

  6. Wendy Warren says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. I wish you continued strength and peace in this journey.

  7. Jane Boursaw says:

    I don’t think any of us siblings are at all equipped to take over Carol’s care should something happen to you, Steve. But we are all amazed at your devotion and loving care for our sister. I wish I had more time to help out, but between trying to keep my husband alive and keep all the bills paid, its always a major juggling act.

Comments are closed.