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Saturday, December 24, 2011

When a Holiday Heart Isn’t a Good Thing

During the holidays, news abounds about those generous people who have holiday hearts and give away donations to complete strangers. Secret Santas pop up all over the place, and we hear heartwarming stories about them giving away $100 bills.

I witnessed a Secret Santa type of moment at Cracker Barrel a few weeks ago. An elderly gentleman tried to pay for his dinner and the waitress said, “You don’t owe anything.”

“What?” he said. “Where’s my bill?”

“It’s already paid,” she said loudly as she leaned closer so he could hear. “The couple sitting at that table,” she pointed to show him, “paid for your meal. They are already gone.”

The elderly man seemed a little puzzled, but he sat and leisurely drank another cup of coffee. I thought he might have taken the extra time to assure himself that he really didn’t owe anything. The couple that paid for his meals had holiday hearts—the good kind.

I would like to alert caregivers to a different type of holiday heart that physicians nationwide are talking about on television. It seems that a combination of overeating, the stress of the holidays, and partying can create havoc with your heart.

People who don’t normally drink tend to overindulge during the holidays. My son refers to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night” in reference to people who don’t know their alcohol consumption limit.

After the chaos of planning and pulling off a holiday party, it may seem like the perfect way to relax and enjoy. For some, the consequences can be frightening and life threatening.

The symptoms of holiday heart syndrome:
  • You feel lightheaded and dizzy.
  • You are short of breath.
  • Your heart beats faster than normal and you have an irregular heartbeat.
If you experience these symptoms, cardiac specialists recommend that you stop drinking alcohol and drink cold water to rehydrate yourself. Coughing also helps to reset the heart’s rhythm.

If these symptoms don’t go away within ten to fifteen minutes, it is time to call 911. You may think this seems overdramatic for a little drinking and overeating, but the holidays are primetime for a heart attack. Five percent more people die from heart-related deaths during the holidays especially on Christmas Day, the day after Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Drinking is not the only problem. Overeating causes its own set of heart threatening risk factors for those who may have underlying heart disease. An increase in fat and sodium can put a strain on the heart that can lead to a heart attack.

Moderation in food and drink will keep your holidays merrier, not to mention healthier. It will also make that New Year’s resolution to lose weight more attainable if you don’t gain that extra five or ten pounds during the holiday season.

Here’s a non-alcoholic toast that your holiday heart is healthy and filled with joy and generosity.

Copyright © L. S. Fisher

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Is the Sky Blue?

My mom and I sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee, and I had just finished relating the strangest of many dreams I had the night before. My granddaughter sat in a chair between us reading a book.

“I wonder why I have such strange dreams,” I said.

“I can tell you, Grandma Linda,” my granddaughter said. She flipped the pages of the Why? book she was reading and proceeded to answer my question. “Scientists think that you dream as your brain tries to make sense of all the things you’ve done and felt during the day.”

“Sounds right to me,” I said. “I do and feel a lot each day and half the time I can’t make sense of it.”

The Why? book has been around my house for years and has passed down from grandchild to grandchild. It answers a lot of the “why” questions that kids ask and adults can’t answer.

The book even answers the question my oldest grandson asked me many years ago. I picked him up from the babysitters and from the backseat he asked, “Grandma Linda, why is the sky blue?” I was stumped for an answer.

That was before I bought the Why? book. It has Bathtime Questions, Supermarket Questions, Nighttime Questions, Kitchen Questions, Farm Animal Questions, and Outdoor Questions, including “Why is the sky blue?”

The book doesn’t have any Health Questions, and doesn’t answer why a person develops Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. I guess you can’t expect a children’s book to answer questions that dedicated researchers cannot answer.

Sure, in some cases, early onset Alzheimer’s can be attributed to a genetic cause. Later onset Alzheimer’s is usually blamed on a risk factor such as age.

I guess the biggest “why” question that plagues me is why did Jim develop dementia at forty-nine? Why was his life cut short by a disease so rare that I had never heard of it until the neurologist read the autopsy report? The answers to these questions stump me more that my grandson’s question about the color of the sky.

Our lives were on track headed in the right direction until dementia derailed the train. We had made it through the hard times and were looking forward to traveling, spending time with family, spoiling our grandkids, and sitting on the front porch drinking coffee.

The house was filled with noise and laughter once again when our family was here for the annual Christmas get-together. I was reminiscing about how rarely this happens now, but we used to have a full house on a regular basis. I never knew when Jim would come home and say he was having a jam session, and oh-by-the-way they’ll all be eating dinner with us. Times were certainly different then.

Life changes. People pass though my life, and I lose touch with beloved family and friends. Years can pass without seeing people I once saw on a daily basis. New friends enter my life to renew hope and soothe my spirit. I am fortunate, indeed, to be a member of a loving and supportive family. 

Through it all, I sometimes wonder why life turns out the way it does, and how certain events fit into the master plan. When I look at my sons and grandchildren, I know that flight to Hawaii exactly forty-two years ago to marry Jim was part of my life's master plan.

The “why” questions of life may have more than one correct answer. The sky may be blue because clear light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow and the blue light waves that bounce back are the ones you see.  Or, the answer might be the one I gave my grandson to the question he asked just as I drove past Hopewell Church. “I’m sure there’s a scientific reason, but I don’t remember what it is. Maybe it is blue because God made it that way.”

Some of the “why” questions of life cannot be found in any book and can only be answered through divine inspiration.

Copyright © December 2011
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tis the Season to be Joyful—or Stressed

Holiday Lights in Branson
We all hold tightly to traditions that lift our spirits. Some holidays are so special they create golden glows in our memories. It may be challenging to remain joyful about the holidays if you are a primary caregiver for a loved one with dementia.

Much of the season may be spent running interference between your loved one and relatives, friends, or neighbors that just don’t get it. You may need to make adjustments to protect your loved one and your sanity. With careful planning, even these difficult times may seem like small miracles on your own street.

After spending ten holiday seasons as a primary caregiver, I had time to learn how to survive the holidays. I would like to share a few tips I learned—mostly from trial and error.

  • Keep it Simple. Less is better in all things holiday. Just because you have a thousand points of light, don’t string them everywhere. Avoid going overboard with decorations, food, and celebrations.
  • Don’t Shop Till You Drop. Slash your gift list to immediate family. Consider the advantages of shopping online or purchasing gift cards. If you enjoy shopping, find someone to stay with your loved one and plan a weekend away. Shop. Relax. Shop. Relax. Repeat the relaxing as often as necessary.
  •  Strive for Peace and Joy. Go back to the basics and the reason for the season. Read inspiring holiday stories. You can enjoy a tin of popcorn and watch a movie on TV. If your loved one can’t make it to the grandchildren’s holiday program, have mom or dad record it and watch it at home.
  • Jingle Bells. Enjoy traditional Christmas music with your loved one. You may love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but your loved one will more likely enjoy “White Christmas” or even “Frosty the Snowman.” Music can trigger happy memories.
  • Keep Traditions You Love. Only you know which traditions you keep because you enjoy them. If you spend hours baking or making candy just because everyone expects you to do it—stop!
  • Allow More Time. When you are a caregiver, it just takes more time to get things done. You will want to avoid getting frazzled and cranky because you ran out of time. Plan ahead and let your loved one with dementia help you. How about letting her slather icing on sugar cookies? Does it really matter if they are perfect? Maybe he would like to stick bows or nametags on packages for the grandkids.
  • Give the Gift of Love. If you are so stressed out trying to make the holidays perfect for everyone, you forget the most important thing. Slow down, take a deep breath, laugh and find happiness in the moment. Remember the greatest gift of all is love.
In the early stages, I would drive Jim around town to look at the holiday lights. In the late stages, Jim would spend hours looking at the little fiber optic tree I put in his room at the nursing home. Feeding him on Christmas day is, believe it or not, a memory I cherish. I remember holding his hand while we watched the little tree whirl round and round and listened to the same Christmas songs we sang in elementary school.  Even the most poignant times have turn into precious memories.
Copyright Dec 2011 L.S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hard to Swallow

Don’t you just hate it when you go to the doctor and he tells your problem is because you are getting old? Well, he most likely will use a euphemism like, “As we get older…” and then fill in the blank with whatever has gone wrong now.

The health issue that took me to the doctor a few weeks ago—just at the end of the year when I had not used one penny of my high deductible insurance—was a problem with swallowing. For quite some time, I had noticed that my food felt like it was caught in my esophagus, but I was doing a great job of convincing myself that it was only a minor problem until a bite of bagel hurt so much going down that it brought tears to my eyes.

I knew this was not going to be an easy or cheap fix. We went down this road with Jim when he developed problems swallowing because of his dementia. It was something we struggled with throughout his disease. In the later stages, Jim was put on mechanically softened foods and then eventually on pureed food. I think by that time, it distressed me more than it did him. I hated that he couldn’t eat the things that he had always loved.

So, I knew a little bit about swallowing problems, not my own, but Jim’s. After contemplating the situation, I just felt like this wasn’t a problem that was going away on its own.

I had barely walked into the doctor’s office when they told me step on the scales. After seeing those numbers, it reminded me that I need a new battery for my scales so I can keep a closer eye on the pounds I’m packing on. After my blood pressure check, the doctor listened to lungs and my latest complaint.

He explained how “when we get older” the esophagus narrows, which makes it hard to swallow food and move it to the stomach where it belongs. It’s a fairly easy fix. After explaining that they just stretched the esophagus, my family doctor ordered an endoscopy.

Between my other commitments and vacation, the doctor that was to perform the scope and I couldn’t easily find a date that worked for both of us. Three weeks passed before the day our schedules meshed. The endoscopy didn’t require any prep, just lay off the food and drink after midnight. I would sleep through the whole procedure or at least be so loopy that I just wouldn’t care.

The procedure took about seven minutes—everything else took about two hours. I could hear them talking while they worked and I heard the word “ulcers,” and something about biopsies, another scope, and then things got a little fuzzy.

Later, I learned that I had ulcers in my esophagus, and a hiatal hernia. I still haven’t had my follow-up appointment with my family doctor, but I’m trying to eat things that go down easy. In the meantime, I’m trying to follow a recommended diet that says you should eat enough food to get nutrition, but not a lot at one time. It has lists of what to eat (oatmeal, applesauce, yogurt, fish, chicken, etc. along with low-fat everything) and what to avoid (cabbage, broccoli, corn, tomatoes and tomato products—and worse yet chocolate and caffeine).

I’m working on changing some of my eating habits, but I can’t bring myself to cancel my morning coffee and pray the doctor doesn’t tell me to quit chocolate. I’ve decided not to panic until I hear the details tomorrow about the doctor recommended diet. Hopefully, it won’t be as strict as the one I found on the Internet and won’t last forever.

Copyright © Dec 2011 L. S. Fisher

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nontraditional Holidays

The best holidays are a marriage of tradition and new tradition. A traditional holiday can cause unnecessary grief and stress when a loved one has dementia. The family get-together that used to the highlight of the year can become the most depressing day of the year.

Our holidays were always split between Jim’s family and mine. Thanksgiving was the time my family gathered at the old home place for turkey, dressing, gravy, pumpkin pie, and all the side dishes and trimmings. After dinner, the kids (big and small) would go outside to mill around and maybe play a game of touch football. One year, Jim videotaped the game. Ever the showoff with his video skills, he brought it inside and played it on my mom and dad’s TV. We were all laughing at the game until my dad yelled, “Oh, my god! That’s my new tree,” when a couple of kids scuffled over the ball taking the spindly sapling to the ground.

The old home place groaned when filled with eight of us “kids” and our families, Mom and Dad, and the invitees that didn’t have a family dinner of their own. We felt sorry for those folks and thought that with the size of our family, it would never happen to us. Even the most distant cousin was a welcome guest at our traditional dinner
.
The first time I went to the dinner alone was when the reality set in that Thanksgiving dinner would never be the same. Jim was in the nursing home, and I knew the more than hour drive and crowd of rowdy family would no longer be a pleasant experience for him. It was a long lonely drive but once I arrived, the family time was worth the change in tradition
.
Eventually, my family decided to rotate homes for the annual get-together and changed the time to September. We were on our own for Thanksgiving for the first time in decades. After my mother-in-law passed, my other home for the holidays was gone. My kids, in the meantime, had both developed their own traditions.

The past few years, I’ve enjoyed a traditional thanksgiving with my friend who was on his own after his mom passed away. The holiday has been different, but with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, some of it seemed the same. It was still Turkey Day—for days on end. More like Turkey Week. How much turkey can two people eat?

Isn’t it time for a new tradition? You bet. This year we are grilling steak. Sometimes, a nontraditional holiday can take on a life of its own and possibly become a new tradition. We can enjoy the meal without the aftermath of enough food to feed an army. Cleanup will be easy and we will have more time to be thankful for all the blessings life has brought our way.

A little non-tradition may be the pumpkin pie spice of life you need to bring joy back into your holidays. Maybe a little less reflection on what used to be and more hopeful thought to new possibilities. I hope you find peace and happiness during the holidays regardless of how you celebrate.
 
Copyright © November 2011 by L.S. Fisher
  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Time Management

I’ve attended a couple of great seminars lately on time management. Both presenters touted organization as a key to save search time and increase leisure time. Well, organization does help, I suppose. It really irks me to have to figure out where I put something so that it will be “easy to find” when I need it.

One of Jim’s favorite sayings was “Right here, but I can’t find it.” Sometimes he referred to not being able to find the correct words to say what he meant, or he could be looking for an object. I helped him look for a lot of items even when he wasn’t able to tell me exactly what he wanted to find.

In my job, I have a spacious office, but I have to handle a vast amount of paper. My two file cabinets are jam-packed and with several different projects going at the same time, I have stacks of paper. Most of the time, if I’m looking for a particular piece of paper, I know which stack to search. I’m starting to think that when I go home at night, my papers play musical stacks. When searching for a particularly slippery piece of paper, I might feel like it’s right here, but I can’t find it.

Another time management tool I learned lately was to organize a To-Do list by priority. If something has to be done that day, you place an “A” next to it. A task that doesn’t have an urgent deadline, but must be done soon, is put on the “B” list. Anything else is put on a different list that you check from time to time when you catch up on your “A” and “B” lists, or if you are just totally freaked, and need something less stressful to do.

I’ve always been a believer in a To-Do list, especially if I can find time to list the things I need to do. Lately, I’ve graduated to a To-Do book for my personal life. I’m not joking about that either. I have a small, but thick, notebook that with the words “To-Do” marked boldly on the outside. Now, if I’d only remember to look at it every day. Should I put that reminder on the To-Do list?

One of the suggestions I came away with from the last seminar is to take a few minutes of quiet time at the end of the day and list the “A” and “B” tasks for the next day. Some days this works well and I leave work confident that I’m in control of my own work destiny. Other times, total chaos rules and, just like yesterday, I’m frantically pushing against a deadline—everything goes wrong, and at the end of the day I’m  trying to finish up just one or two more important “A” items that I didn’t have time to list.

With today a holiday and Monday my day off, my Tuesday “A” list consists of two folders and three pieces of paper in the middle of my desk weighted down with a stapler. Actually, that might be my “A+” list since I have to be prepared for the monthly board meeting by nine o’clock.

With my involvement in three organizations, writing, publishing, and a day job, my goal is to squeeze in some recreational time and, more importantly, family time. While my head is spinning with all that I have to do, I am shocked that my grandson is graduating from high school and filling out scholarship applications. Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday that his Grandpa Jim sang cowboy songs to him while I held him on my lap.

I  realize now that I don’t manage time; time manages me.

Copyright © November 2011 L.S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Vietnam Veterans Tribute

The Sedalia Democrat hosted a Tribute in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. Leading up to the event, Latisha Koetting tracked down family member to tell the stories of the men whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial on the courthouse lawn. I’ve been saving the newspaper stories because the stories of these young men tug at my heart.

During the course of the event, three local veterans told their stories. James “Smitty” Smith told about adopting a daughter while serving in Vietnam. He spoke of his struggles to go though different embassies and how surprised he was that he had to take the baby out of the orphanage. He found a place for them to live until eventually he sent the baby home with another soldier. His daughter Teresa, who works for homeland security, was present and spoke about how she owed her existence to the Vietnam War and how grateful she was to her mom and dad.

Jim Clark told a humorous account of his time in Vietnam although he had serious injuries. He said that he liked to tell tall tales sometimes so he told a friend one time about the day he was injured. He was in a field without cover and he spoke of trying to hide behind a watermelon. His story was that he took out his knife and cut the buttons off his shirt. “Why did you do that,” he said his friend asked. Clark’s answer, “So I could get lower to the ground.”

The final speaker, Gregg Davis, spoke of living through the loss of his legs and other injuries. He told of how his men ripped up their shirts to make tourniquets for him and another wounded Marine. Gregg was vocal about the damage caused by Agent Orange and the government’s lack of response. He spoke of the name-calling and how the Vietnam Veteran’s were treated after they came home.

It was Gregg’s story that made me think of Jim. I’m sure Jim would have agreed with Gregg’s views a hundred percent. I can’t remember who said it, but one of the speakers said a veteran told him, “I died in Vietnam; I just didn’t know it.” I believe that is true for a lot of the Veterans. I know the war was a big transition for Jim, and he was a different person when he came back.

Jim’s picture was included in a tribute video along with more than sixty Vietnam Veterans who have died since the war. Latisha Koetting made an observation that it seems like the Vietnam Veterans are dying at a younger age that previous veterans. This agrees with my own thinking. I’m afraid we aren’t going to see many old Vietnam Veterans. I can’t help but wonder what part Agent Orange had to do with Jim’s physical problems, and I know that PSTD had everything to do with his depression and emotional problems. It only leaves the question as to whether the war had anything to do with the rare form of early-onset dementia that Jim had.

These thoughts and the tribute must have been the reason I had a dream about Jim last night. I dreamed Jim wore a brown sweater that was much too big for him. He pulled the sweater across his chest one side over the other. “I don’t feel like me in here,” he said, with his hands over his heart. I straightened the sweater and buttoned it for him. I put my arms around him and held him close to me. “Now do you feel like yourself?” I asked. He smiled and said, “Yes, I do.”

When I awakened from the dream, I felt like I had been holding Jim while he slipped into the world of dementia. The feeling of loss was as strong as ever, but the unbearable thought was his loss of self.

The tribute was sad, but it was also long overdue. Jim would have appreciated the tribute, but he would have left before “Taps.” The sad tune always made him think of funeral duty during the year after he returned from his tour of duty in Vietnam. The war changed everything for Jim and for our family. I think he died there, but just didn’t know it.

Copyright © Oct 2011 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Life Through the Rearview Mirror

During my lifetime, I’ve gone on many road trips for various reasons. Of course, my favorite trips were those taken during those golden weeks of the year known as vacation. On those trips, life looked great through the windshield.

.I can’t remember many trips that I didn’t travel with someone else. Traveling with others makes life’s little adventures more fun. It also increases the need for flexibility and bargaining. “I’ll go to the amusement park with you today, if we stop at a museum tomorrow.”

When we are on a fun trip, we wake up each morning filled with anticipation. On a long trip, each day brings us closer to our destination—the ocean, the mountains, an exciting city, or maybe the breathtaking beauty of a national park.

If we are lucky, the sky is blue, the sun shines, birds sing and every event, place, and day exceeds our expectations. Other journey don’t measure up to our expectations, and we feel disappointed. Sometimes it’s just something way beyond our control—the weather, illness, car trouble, an emergency at home, or various combinations of disasters. We may even regret wasting our time and vow we will not return to that particular destination.

Some journeys we plan, others just happen. Some we move ahead with confidence and other times, we look back and wonder why we are even on this trip.

Throughout the Alzheimer’s journey, we often find ourselves taking our eyes off the road ahead and looking at life through the rearview mirror. This holds true for both the caregiver and the person with the disease.

The person with the disease becomes more dependent on the familiarity of the road already traveled. As the ability to process new information becomes more difficult, the more important the rearview mirror becomes.

The caregiver may worry about the dangers of the journey ahead and believe that if they look into the rearview mirror they will feel safer. They have managed to navigate the road so far, and the road ahead may have hairpin curves, tedious detours, drop-offs without guardrails, and maybe even a bridge out.

When I travel, I know that the rearview mirror has it place. I like to check the rearview mirror to see how the traffic behind me is flowing. Is that car going to pass me on a curve? Okay, I need to change lanes and although I don’t see anyone now, I know a car was behind me a few minutes ago and they haven’t exited or passed—yeah, there they are in my blind spot. Oops, is that highway patrol officer flashing his lights at me? When you pass another vehicle, it is more certain you have cleared the vehicle when you see it in your rearview mirror rather than in side mirrors that plainly say, “Objects are closer than they appear.”

So what can it hurt to look at where you’ve been more than where you are going? You never want to become so distracted looking at what is behind you that you miss important signs of what may lay ahead.

Not everyone wants to be a trailblazer, and you don’t have to be when you are traveling the Alzheimer’s Journey. Others have been down the road you are traveling and they are willing to share their knowledge and help you chart your journey. Any journey is easier with a map and an itinerary. If you know which route you are going to take and what you will be doing along the way, the trip runs smoother and is much less stressful. 

Copyright © October 2011 by L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Colors of Autumn



On a drive last weekend, I had my first glimpse of autumn colors. No other time of year is as beautiful as autumn with its hues of blazing orange, yellow, red, purple, and rust. Between the colors and the brisk morning air, I was inspired to begin my autumn decorating. Not satisfied with pulling out my Halloween decorations, I was compelled to go ahead and decorate for that seemingly forgotten holiday—Thanksgiving.

The two holidays blend well together with their autumn tones. I learned a long time ago that when you turn jack o’lanterns to the wall, they look just like Thanksgiving pumpkins. I guess my pilgrims can be Halloween costumes, but I don’t think many kids dress as pilgrims. It just seems to me that the two holidays are related—not as closely as brother and sister—more like first cousins.

With the holidays ahead and the temptation to go overboard on decorations, it may be time to consider whether decorations are in the best interests of a person with Alzheimer’s. If your loved one is in the early stages of the disease, she may be more enthusiastic about holiday decorating than she ever was. He may enjoy handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.

As the disease progresses, decorations and all the hubbub of the holidays may become more of an ordeal than a pleasure. One of the best ways to make life more pleasant for a person with dementia is to avoid change. Holiday decorations can change the look of a familiar place—home.

When Jim was in the later stages of the disease he became agitated and distressed when I started putting away pictures and other decorations that normally sat on end tables and on the bookshelf. One year, he followed along behind me removing the pictures from the storage box and putting them back on the shelf.

It taught me a lesson. Just because it was what I wanted to do did not mean that it was the best decision for that particular time. When he was living at home, it was better to simplify the holidays and  rethink traditions that no longer worked with our situation.

And, guess what? I never felt the least bit guilty about it and it never ruined the holidays. Throughout life, traditions have to be adjusted to each particular era. If a tradition makes someone unhappy, it is time to create new ones.

There’s something about autumn harvest that says it is time to benefit from the hard work that came before. It is time to store up for the frigid weather ahead when winter brings the beauty of the snow and glistening ice tinged with the dangers of wind chills and treacherous roads. Aw, time marches on, and we always have the unique beauty, and excitement, of the seasons ahead.

Copyright © October 2011 L. S. Fisher

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Alzheimer’s Journey – Alzheimer’s Resource

On Alzheimer’s Action Day, “Alzheimer’s Journey” was launched as a new section to my www.lsfisher.com website. Journey is written for caregivers, those with dementia, or for others who want basic information about Alzheimer’s. Knowledge is key to coping with Alzheimer’s.

When my husband, Jim, was diagnosed with dementia, we were at the bottom of the Alzheimer’s learning curve. Neither of us had a close relative with Alzheimer’s and really knew nothing about the disease.

I thought Alzheimer’s was forgetfulness that developed in old age, and couldn’t really understand why my forty-nine-year-old husband was being told he had this condition. Still, the rudest awakening for us was to learn that although medications were available, they did not slow the progression of the disease. Yes, medication could help with symptoms, but the inevitable decline could not be avoided.

I began to learn everything I could about Alzheimer’s by exploring every resource I could find. I read every book I could find on Alzheimer’s, watched documentaries, visited countless websites, attended caregiver training (for professionals and family caregivers), forums, conferences, support groups, workshops, educational symposiums, and various other learning environments.

Every scrap of information helped me cope with a disease that wreaked havoc on life as I knew it. Once Jim and I began the Alzheimer’s Journey nothing was the same.

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is like any other crushing blow in life. Once I worked through the stages of grieving for what should-have could-have been, I decided that I just didn’t have the personality to give up and say, “Okay, Grim Reaper, you win.” My time was much better spent with living than with dying. After all, we are captive to the human body we inhabit and perfect health is the exception, not the rule.

My plan of action: (1) Learn as much as I could about Alzheimers, (2) Test for any treatable conditions that might cause dementia symptoms, (3) Treat any other health problems to maintain quality of life, (4) Accept the personal responsibility to ensure that Jim received the best care whether he was at home or in long-term care, and (5) Love him for the person he was at that particular time without mourning the loss of the man he had been or worrying too much about the man he would become.

It helps to take one day at a time, or as one caregiver said, “Sometimes I have to take one minute at a time.” Talking to other caregivers kept me from feeling all alone. I learned from their mistakes, and they learned from mine. By supporting each other, we became stronger spiritually, and made much better caregivers. Sometimes, it’s hard to attend a support group meeting, and the group may not have a meeting scheduled when a crisis occurs. Between group meetings, I found it easier to go online and post my questions, frustrations, and fears to a forum.

Alzheimer’s Journey will have a forum where people who have been touched by Alzheimer’s can communicate with each other. It will be a virtual support group. You will be able to view the forum without joining. If you want to join in the conversation or want input on a problem, create a user name and register.

Alzheimer’s Journey will be an Alzheimer’s resource with articles, news updates, and a forum. Everything will be in an easy to find format and you won’t have annoying advertisements blocking your view of the screen. I also won’t take you in endless loops trying to build “clicks” to increase advertising revenue. This site is for you, not for profit.

Copyright © September 2011 L. S. Fisher

Monday, September 19, 2011

Alzheimer’s Action Day – September 21

September 21 was known as World Alzheimer’s Day for many years. This year, September was designated World Alzheimer’s Month and the 21st took on a new role—Alzheimer’s Action Day.

Alzheimer’s disease is a world problem with 35.6 million affected. It is a national crisis affecting 5.4 million in the U.S. It is an issue in every state—Missouri has 110,000 residents living with Alzheimer’s. Once Alzheimer’s deals us a devastating blow on a personal level, we learn the harsh reality behind the statistics. When Alzheimer’s claims a close friend, a cherished spouse, a beloved parent or grandparent, or sibling, we find ourselves in a battle with a formidable enemy.

In this country, more than 15 million caregivers provide comfort for loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease. Few family caregivers have professional training. Most learn by doing the job with a loving heart, compassion, and forbearance.

A primary caregiver doesn’t sacrifice a few hours here and there. Caregiving is a day in, day out job. The duties go on, and on, and on. Just when the caregiver thinks he or she has a handle on the situation, something will change. Or the solution for a problem yesterday, might work again today, and tomorrow it may make things worse instead of better.

No one ever said life was easy, but most of you don’t expect life to be a constant uphill battle without any rest. Life shouldn’t be a tug of war where you are in danger of being dragged into the mud pit no matter how deep you dig in our heels or how hard you try.

Caregiving can seem to be a thankless job. Sometimes the people you expect to support you, instead let you down. They may wish you good luck—but want to be left out of it.

Probably, one of the most difficult aspects of being a caregiver is to realize that not everyone is cut out to be one. Caregiving is only for the strong at heart, and it sure isn’t for sissies. You can’t shame or “guilt” someone into being a caregiver. Anyone who provides care grudgingly will do a lousy job of it.

It is best to let those who can’t go the caregiver route help in other ways. So maybe your brother can’t help mom with her bath, but what if he will mow the grass instead? Maybe your sister can’t tolerate your dad’s repetitive questions, but if she loves to cook, maybe she can provide dinner a few nights a week. Let people help at the levels they can. Accept any offers of help that come your way! Never, ever turn anyone down and have a list ready for those who really want to help, but don’t know what you need. It won’t take long to separate the sincere offers from vague platitudes.

Why do caregivers hang in there day after day? Is it out of a sense of duty? Sometimes. Is it because caregivers love being martyrs? Not often. The most common reason is love for the person with dementia—and to keep him or her as productive, happy, and physically healthy for as long as possible.

Whether you are a caregiver, or play a supporting role, have you thought about what you will do Wednesday to raise awareness? At the Alzheimer’s Action Summit last spring, we brainstormed some ideas to create awareness, so I’ve had some time to think about it.

At the beginning of September, I changed my Facebook photo to the "End Alz" icon. I will be on a local radio station (KSIS) at 9:30 Wednesday morning to talk about the human and economic cost of Alzheimer’s. In the afternoon I’ll be at Sedalia Book and Toy for a signing of my four Alzheimer’s Books. In honor of “Go Purple Day,” I’ll be giving a discount for anyone wearing purple. All my royalties will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association Mid-Missouri Chapter.

On September 21, I hope you wear purple to show you are in the battle against Alzheimer’s. The bigger the army, the better our chances are of someday living in a world without Alzheimer’s.

Copyright © September 2011
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Voices, Pain, and Hope

 “Hey, Sheila, just touching base,” my call had gone to voice mail, as I pulled out onto the highway early Saturday morning on my way to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “It’s a beautiful day and I don’t think it is going to r-a-i-n.” I spelled the word rather than say it aloud. All week the forecast had been for a beautiful day, and two days ago, it changed to a 40 percent chance of rain.

At the fairgrounds, Bobby and Kim had arrived with tables and chairs. Since this was my thirteenth walk and their first, I showed them where we needed tables. A year’s worth of planning has gone into making this day special for the people who know the pain this disease leaves in its wake.

Banners flew high, balloons were delivered, and my books lay on the table ready to sign. As I signed books, I heard their stories.

“I used to walk for Jimmy,” my husband’s cousin Shirley told me. “Now, I walk for my mom too. She doesn’t know me anymore.” I heard sorrow in her voice and saw pain in her eyes.

“I just lost my husband,” an elderly lady said as I signed her book. “He had Alzheimer’s.” Her family was one of our new teams.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. Our eyes met and we connected—person to person, woman to woman, widow to widow. We shared through silent communication the knowledge of watching a loved one change, and oh, so slowly, fade away.

“You are Lynne’s sister,” I said as I looked up and saw a woman holding a small dog in her arms. Lynne, my friend, had early-onset Alzheimer’s. “I wrote about her on my blog, but it will be in next year’s book.”

The stories lay on my heart. I heard about grandparents, sisters, brothers, uncles, spouses, friends, co-workers… Voices shared special memories and snippets of lives lost to a disease whose only survivors are family members like those standing in front of me.

Oddly, enough, the day was festive. The sorrow pushed aside as we do what we can—support the Alzheimer’s Association and wear our purple to create awareness that Alzheimer’s is a formidable enemy and we are going into battle. The music was upbeat and the teams lined up to begin the walk.

Sheila and I carried the banner through the arbor and as we headed out onto the fairgrounds, her son Phillip took over for her, and Phillip and I led everyone onto the route. We passed signs with Alzheimer’s information: Every 69 seconds a person develops Alzheimer’s. How many minutes does this walk take?

As we looped past the midway area of the fairgrounds, Phillip said, “People are just now coming out.” He was right. This had to be a record-breaking crowd.

A few people passed us up. My nieces Taylor and Alex decided they wanted to run and moved ahead of us. Everyone was greeted with applause and “Chariots of Fire” music at the finish line.

While we were gone, numbers were tallied. Sheila announced that we had more than 350 walkers and raised more than $23,000, surpassing all our goals.

We gathered in a grassy area to release the balloons. Sheila brought began a countdown. Purple balloons sailed toward heaven with names, messages, and prayers written on them. Through my own tear-blurred eyes, I noticed a young couple holding each other tight as they both cried.

Through the pain, I heard whispers of hope. We want this cruel disease to end. This vicious cycle of disease, loss, and certain death needs to be stopped. We are families and friends of 5.4 million Davids fighting a formidable giant.

The walk ended, goodbye hugs shared, the cleanup finished, and we went our separate ways. On the drive home, I felt like pinching myself. Was the day really over and as successful as I thought, or was I just dreaming again?

My elation with the success of the day, so perfect, was replaced with other more sobering thoughts. I couldn’t call my friend Ted to tell him the great news. His numbers are still programmed into my cell phone, but he is gone. The stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be deadly for the primary caregiver.

For a crushing moment, I’m overwhelmed with a vivid image of Jim and painful loss. Then my phone rang and brought me back to the present. Life goes on, and I have much, much more work to do. This battle isn’t over yet!

As I unloaded my car, I heard the distant rumble of thunder. Droplets felt cool on my skin and refreshing to my spirit. It was a perfect time for r-a-i-n to begin a new cycle of life.

Copyright © September 2011
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com
Photo courtesy of Randy Kirby, Sedalia MO

Sedalia Walk Exceeds Goals!

Follow the link below to hear my interview with KMZU radio. I'm sure they only aired a small segment of the interview. You will notice I used the word "awesome" several times, but then it WAS awesome!

Just follow the link and click on my name to hear the interview: http://www.kmzu.com/2011/09/walk-to-end-alzheimers-surpasses-goal/

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Power of Purple! The End of Alzheimer’s Starts With Me—and You!

Aren’t we all getting tired of the years that have passed without finding the elusive cure for Alzheimer’s? It is time to take up the banner and proclaim we want to end Alzheimer’s NOW.

Alzheimer’s has no cure or prevention and according to the CDC nearly 75,000 die each year from the disease. More than five million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s, and worldwide 35 million have the disease. Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that 115 million people worldwide will have Alzheimer’s by 2050.

At one time, I knew nothing about Alzheimer’s and certainly didn’t think it affected anyone but the elderly. When the doctor told my 49-year-old husband he had dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, my first reaction was, “They have medication for that now, don’t they?”

After our ten-year journey, I learned many harsh truths about Alzheimer’s. I know that I don’t want to have the disease, not now, not ever. I want to always recognize the people I love and continue to enjoy the talents and skills I’ve accumulated during my lifetime.

I don’t want anyone in my family to develop Alzheimer’s. I love visiting with my mom and discussing practical and philosophical matters with her—trivial details, or sweeping generalities. If she were to develop dementia, I would miss that important relationship. Not only do I wish that no one close to me has Alzheimer’s, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month and a perfect time to continue your support of the Alzheimer’s mission if, like me, you are a longtime volunteer. It is also an opportune time for newbies to learn about Alzheimer’s and become advocates.

Those of us who know Alzheimer’s from personal experience can show our support of this special month by wearing purple. After looking up information about purple, I believe it is a great choice for the fight against Alzheimer’s.

The color purple symbolizes mystery, and Alzheimer’s is indeed a mysterious disease. Researchers have learned much about the disease, but cannot solve the mystery of how to cure or prevent the disease. Purple represents magic, and we are ready for that magical moment when we live in a world without Alzheimer’s.

Purple is a combination of red (the warmest color) and blue (the coolest color). The color spectrum extremes could be compared to the emotional turmoil Alzheimer’s takes on the family of a person with Alzheimer’s.

It is only the second day of the month and I’ve polished my nails with an X-treme shade of purple. That way I’m sure that I’m wearing purple every day of World Alzheimer’s Month.

For many years, the 21st day of September was known as World Alzheimer’s Day, but since we now have an entire month, this day is known as Alzheimer’s Action Day. I have already changed my Facebook icon to END ALZ and encouraging everyone to do the same if they are ready to take the power of purple to the X-treme.

Why don’t we really make September 21 an action day? When you put on purple that day, take a few minutes to call your senator and representative to let them know Alzheimer’s research is a priority for you. Alzheimer’s research has always been underfunded and in this time of budgetary crisis, the belt may be tightened to the point of drying up Alzheimer’s research funding.

It will take millions of advocates to convince our legislators that Alzheimer’s isn’t going to go away on its own. The cost of Alzheimer’s disease is staggering. It is an expensive disease and a devastating disease for individuals with Alzheimer’s and for their families.

September 21 is Go Purple day! Wear your purple and share your personal story. The End of Alzheimer’s Starts With Me—And You. Individually, and collectively, we can take the POWER of PURPLE to a whole new level.

Copyright September 2011, L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Women of Courage Facing Early Onset Dementia

The sports world was shocked by news that 59-year old Coach Pat Summitt, Tennessee Women’s basketball coach, has an Alzheimer’s type of dementia. The news wasn’t uncovered through investigative reporting—the coach made the announcement herself.

Coach Summitt has met her Alzheimer’s challenge head on and fighting back. She knows this disease is not a game and nothing short of a miracle will allow her to win. Still, she has faced the disease with courage and announced that she will continue to coach as long as she can.

With a staff of veteran coaches and a supportive administration, Coach Summitt may be in the game for a long time. Remaining active and involved is the coach’s way of focusing on what she can do rather than what she can’t.

While the coach made national news, on a more personal level I heard from a friend of mine has always shown remarkable courage and faith. She developed frontotemporal dementia (FTD) while she was in her 30s.

After our initial polite greetings, I asked her how things were going.

“Taking it one day at a time,” she wrote on Facebook.

She went on to tell me that she and her husband had separated. This was sad and surprising news because he had always been so supportive and loving toward her. She goes on to tell me that her teenage son feels responsible for making sure she is all right.

Times are tough for them, and she had tried to find a part-time job to give her something to do and to supplement their income. She had already been fired from two jobs. She couldn’t remember all the steps to putting hamburgers together at the fast food place. She worked as a night clerk at a hotel but couldn’t keep anything straight so she was fired from that job too. She has an interview for a third job on Monday.

My friend had her life turned upside down when she was diagnosed with FTD and now with her husband leaving, her world has flipped again. Unfortunately, rather than making the world right side up for her, it is even more out of kilter.

I think about how her husband must have felt to walk away from her. It would be easy to say what he did was unforgivable and let it go at that. But diseases like Alzheimer’s or FTD do not just affect the person with the disease. Relationships are collateral damage. I do not condone what he did, but I do understand how year after year of caregiving takes its toll. I’ve seen caregivers who sacrificed any semblance of a normal life for a decade or more, and some who sacrificed life itself and died before the person with dementia.

Even the best of us are only human. Loving caregivers do what they can for as long as they can. It takes determination and courage to hang in there day after day until the job is done. No one except a primary caregiver knows how hard that is, and I suspect that those caregivers would be the most adamant that my friend’s husband deserves to be eternally punished for his neglect. After all, he abandoned his wife in her time of need, and abdicated his responsibility to a teenager.

As for my friend, she faces the future with optimism and courage. For now, she will be satisfied with a part-time job. She has her faith and a son who loves her.

I don’t understand why life has dealt Pat Summitt and my friend these terrible blows, but I know they are women of courage, an inspiration, and an example for all of us.

Copyright © August 2011 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Friday, August 19, 2011

Planet of the Apes: Alzheimer’s Cure Gone Wild

Every now and then, I just have to go see a movie. A few weeks ago I saw The Smurfs with my grandchildren and daughter-in-law. I can relate to that show because I used to watch The Smurfs on TV with my kids when they were little. Jim and I even used the “Not far now” description when we were traveling, although sometimes our destination was still far, far away.

I really wanted to see something that wasn’t animated and thought Rise of the Planet of the Apes looked interesting. My memories of the Planet of the Apes original movie were fuzzy, but I remembered the story was intriguing and that the apes were more human than humans.

It didn’t take long to realize Alzheimer’s played a key role in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Will, a researcher, discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s and the apes it was tested on became highly intelligent. Like too many miracle drugs, the fictional ALZ112 had deadly side effects. Apes became highly intelligent and human died from a virus.

The science fiction movie reflects how much our fears today have changed since the 60s when the original Planet of the Apes aired. In the new story, human holocaust is caused by a pandemic rather than a nuclear war. We are all afraid of getting a terrible disease without a cure.

Oh, wait. Isn’t that what Alzheimer’s is today? More than five million Americans are living with a disease that has no cure or effective treatment.

Although the apes were the focus of the movie, Will’s dad was a key part too. His dad was the compelling reason Will sought a cure for Alzheimer’s.

I imagine some people who would never go to see an “Alzheimer’s” movie might have seen their first glimpse of some of the challenges caregiver’s face. Will’s loving exasperation with his dad is  part of daily life for caregivers as they do what they can to care for loved ones.

The one thing that happened in this movie that hasn’t happened yet in real life was the interlude when the drug temporarily “cured” Alzheimer’s. What would it be like to wake up one morning and find your loved one had returned to normal? That would indeed be a day for celebration!

Will we ever see that day? Dedicated scientists have found miracle cures for other diseases. I carry a scar on my arm from a smallpox immunization. My children don’t have the scar because by the time they were old enough, it was no longer necessary. Smallpox was virtually unheard of during their childhood. Polio was another disease I remember being warned about when I was young.

Both of these diseases were challenging, but cures were found. That is what we need for Alzheimer’s—and the sooner the better. Too many people have journeyed down a road with a dead end. The warning signs are there, but with no way to go except forward, the destination is the same for everyone.

I understand Will’s desperation to stop the disease from taking his dad. I’ve felt that desperation, and I’ve seen it in the eyes of other family members when they hear the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s. Finding a cure seems to be moving in slow motion while we fast forward to the scary parts, and all we really want is a happier ending than we’ve been given. With all the medical advances of the past twenty years, or even the past five years, why can’t Alzheimer’s be cured?

It’s like the key to unlock the mystery of Alzheimer’s is buried in a mountain of keys that all look alike. It seems an impossible task to find the correct key and insert it into the lock. But when that perfect key is found, the lock will spring open.

The cure for Alzheimer’s isn’t just possible in a science fiction movie. The right key is there, it’s just waiting to be found.

Copyright © August 2011 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blospot.com/

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Snapshot

I worked at the Missouri State Fair this year taking pictures in the Cooperative building. I’ve had this job before and always enjoyed handing over this personal souvenir of the fair. The pictures are taken in front of a backdrop with the year, a life-sized Buddy Bear, and the words “Fun at the Fair.” I snapped the pictures as soon as the babies stopped crying and the adults quit scowling. Another cooperative employee pulled them up on a computer screen and sent them to the printer.

Part of the fun is seeing the priceless expression on a newbie’s faces when he realizes the picture is free. “You aren’t going to get my phone number or email account number to pressure me to buy something else?” one man asked.

“No, we aren’t even going to ask your name,” I replied. “We just take a picture and give it to you.”

Having their picture taken is on some people’s “must do at the fair” list. They walk through the door and immediately get in line to have their picture taken. One man said, “We have fifteen of these on our refrigerator—one taken each year.” Another man said, “This is our annual family picture.” A woman said with surprise in her voice when she looked at the picture of her daughter, “She’s taller than Buddy Bear now!”

A lot of us have annual events that mark the passage of time. It may be a family reunion, a holiday, or the State Fair. It’s amazing to compare snapshots year-to-year and see how we have changed. It’s always a little bittersweet when you look at your children, or grandchildren, and visually time travel the distance from one year to the next in a veritable blink of an eye.

Pictures used to be harder to take and people my age didn’t grow up in front of digital cameras and cell phones that send pictures to the Internet in a few clicks. We had to buy rolls of film with 12 or 24 pictures on them. We snapped away and then sent the film off to be developed. So we paid for film, paid for photo development, and then threw away about half of the pictures because they didn’t “take.” The good thing about the old-fashioned way is we ended up with print photos. Now, I take hundreds of pictures and store them on my computer, and seldom have print copies of them.

Snapshots are a pictorial history of our lives. They can help us retrieve memories that are filed within the deepest recesses of our brains. Sometimes a picture can remind us of how the sun felt on our skin, or how the breeze smelled. Snapshots are a way of time travel without using any mythical machine.

When Jim went into the nursing home, we surrounded him with photos of family. He had several small photo albums to remind him of better times. Occasionally, he would look at a photo and say the names of the people in the pictures.

I brought pictures of Jim on my advocacy trips to Washington DC. The first picture in my small album was of Jim dressed in his western shirt, Levis, and cowboy hat before dementia changed him. The second picture was of the early stages, what I called his eccentric stage, when he wore a denim jacket decorated with pins and his battered nametag from Branson. In the middle stages, the picture was taken at the park and he wore a Kansas City Chief’s shirt and sweatpants. His eyes have a blank look. Then in the later stages, the picture showed Jim in the nursing home hallway sitting in his merry walker.

Now, most of the snapshots are put away, and I only look at them occasionally with smiles and, sometimes, tears. The pictures are a one-dimensional view of a full and rich lifetime of memories.

Special events roll around annually and in the meantime, we will snap away to fill our computers and photo albums with people we love and places we visit. Life goes on and we continue to take pictures and record today for tomorrow’s history.

Copyright © L. S. Fisher August 2011
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com/

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Look Into My Eyes

I used to play a game with my grandson where I put my forehead against his and said, “Look into my eyes!” For some reason he always thought that was funny. It might have been my goofy tone of voice, or else he could see something in my eyes no one else could.

Recently I found out just how deeply an optometrist can look into my eyes. While I was on vacation, I saw some flashes of light in my left peripheral vision and a few quick Internet searches later discovered that it could mean a detached retina. Knowing that doing something soon was the key, I tried to find someone to look at my eye on a weekend in a tiny town in Maine. Well, that just didn’t happen so I made an appointment as soon as I got home.

After dilating my eyes, the optometrist used a powerful scope to examine them. His verdict was that my retinas were in fine shape, and I didn’t have any eye disease. That was the best kind of news for me to hear. After all, my vision is horrible and I didn’t need anything to make it worse.

Now it seems that eyes may be a way to detect Alzheimer’s. Anyone who has been through the diagnostic process, especially with younger-onset dementia, knows just how painstakingly slow, and expensive, getting a diagnosis can be. It is no wonder that some people skip the testing and just assume they have Alzheimer’s.

Researchers have found a couple of different biomarkers in eyes that would indicate Alzheimer’s disease or the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. A new study from Australia discovered that blood vessels in the eyes of people with Alzheimer’s were a different width than those who did not have the disease.

Several years ago, researchers at Boston University found amyloid (the substance in Alzheimer’s plaques) in the eyes of people with Alzheimer’s. Some of the original researchers have been working several years on a laser scanner for early detection of Down’s and Alzheimer’s.

It takes years for research to be put into common use and the eye test for Alzheimer’s is no exception. So it doesn’t look like easy detection will happen soon.

You may be wondering why researchers would be trying to detect Alzheimer’s early when there isn’t a cure available and all current medication does is delay the symptoms, not the disease. One of the most compelling arguments for early diagnosis is to make sure you have Alzheimer’s and not a treatable condition.

It took us nearly two years to get a diagnosis for Jim. At first, we thought his symptoms might be from depression. When treating the depression didn’t help, he was checked for vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, AIDS, and other conditions that we probably didn’t even know they were ruling out.

After psychological testing, we learned that Jim had dementia—and the most likely cause was Alzheimer’s. This brought about a new series of tests. One scan indicated damage from a stroke, but a more sensitive scan showed general brain atrophy rather than stroke damage. A few specialists later, the Alzheimer’s type of dementia diagnosis seemed most likely.

So how would earlier detection have helped? If Jim had been able to take the Alzheimer’s drugs, they would have been more effective during the early stages of the disease. More important to us, we didn’t ignore a treatable condition with the assumption that he had Alzheimer’s.

I had good insurance, or we could not have afforded to explore all the possible reasons for Jim’s problems. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have insurance to pay for the endless testing to rule out reversible conditions.

If an eye exam could be used as a screening tool, it would be an inexpensive way to monitor your health. Looking into your eyes could mean you would know if your symptoms are from Alzheimer’s, or whether you need to keep searching for a different, and possibly treatable, cause.

Copyright © July 2011 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com/

Friday, July 22, 2011

Never a Dull Moment

Last Friday, I visited Four Season Living Center to deliver a packet to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s team captain. I parked my car in my usual spot. My eyes automatically settled on a certain window; I swallowed hard and blinked back the tears. Jim lived in that room for four years, and we spent a lot of time there. Each day when I visited him, I didn’t know what to expect, but it seemed like there weren’t too many dull moments.

I didn’t recognize the lady behind the reception desk, but while I was talking to her, Danna walked up behind me. She greeted me with a smile and a hug.

“The lobby looks different than it did when the deer came crashing through and jumped into Jim’s room,” I said. For the benefit of the new worker, I briefed her on the deer story.

“It’s strange that you walked in here today,” Danna said. “I just got off the phone with Gwyn’s family. They wanted to know if we had a copy of the newspaper article about the deer. Gwyn passed away last week. Suddenly. She was only 46.”

I was shocked, and it took a minute for it to soak in. Gwyn, gone, when all I could think about was her sense of humor and how she was so full of life.

Danna called Gwyn’s family back and I talked to them. It seems that Gwyn had often told the story about the day the deer came to visit the nursing home. I promised to send them the “deer” story from my journal. Here is an excerpt from the story. 

Oh, Deer!
When I arrived at Four Seasons, I saw broken glass in the lobby and the admissions office.
“Linda, did you hear what happened?” Richard, the administrator asked me.
“Yes, they called me, but I can’t visualize how it happened.”
“The deer broke through that window over there,” he said pointing to a gaping hole in the south wall. “Then he ran across the lobby and into Pat’s office...”
“And I was talking on the phone,” Pat said, “this deer came charging into my office. I was just petrified. I just hung the phone up. I can’t even remember who I was talking to. The deer crashed out my window and ran across the lawn. Then we saw him leap through a resident’s window.”
“Then Lois ran down the hall and into Jim’s room and jumped on the deer,” Richard said.
“What? You jumped on the deer?” I asked, looking at the director of nursing. It was hard to believe that someone would do such a thing. “Where was Fred when all this was going on?” Fred was the nursing home’s adopted greyhound.
“He was right here, but he seemed to be as surprised as we were,” Richard said.
I walked rapidly down the hallway, hit the button to disarm the alarm and pushed the door open to the Alzheimer’s unit. Jim’s room was a shambles, with fragments of glass still in his air conditioning unit. Smears of blood on the floor, and deer hair stuck in the cracks and crevices made Jim’s room look like a crime scene. 
Gwyn and Mary started filling me in on the morning’s events: When the six-point buck made his unexpected entry through the window, most of the residents were in the dining room eating breakfast, except Jim, who was wandering the halls.
Mary was just getting ready to take Jim to his room to feed him when the deer careened into the room, glass and blood flying everywhere.  Lois arrived on the scene, pinning the thrashing deer to the floor with her best wrestling hold. Gwyn grabbed a blanket and told Lois she should get off the deer.  Gwyn threw the blanket over the wounded animal, then decided to sit on the deer to make sure it didn’t get up and run down the hall.
“I was sitting on the deer, hanging onto both antlers, and he started bleeding out of his mouth.  I said awwwwwwww, and let go and started petting him. Someone said ‘what are you doing!’ and I grabbed hold of both antlers again.”
Conservation agents responded to the 911 call and cut the wounded deer’s throat. The agent asked Gwyn if she had a hunting permit.
“No, why?” Gwyn asked him. She was alarmed, wondering why she needed a hunting permit when all she did was sit on the deer.
The agent started writing.  Oh, no!” Gwyn was thinking, “I’m going to get a ticket!” Instead, the conservation agent wrote out a permit allowing Gwyn to keep the deer.
“I’m from Arizona,” Gwyn told me, “where the deer stay in the woods where they belong!  I had never even seen a deer up close. I don’t know what I was thinking, other than I couldn’t let that deer get to my residents!” 

Like I said—never a dull moment. I can still hear Gwyn’s husky voice and her laughter.

Copyright (c) July 2011 L. S. Fisher