Saturday, March 31, 2018

Chopped Onion Rumination

A few days ago, I was chopping an onion. While working on the mundane task, I began to ponder various subjects.

During times of contemplation, I tend to be a deep thinker and it takes me to a different place. The first thing I thought about was how careless we can be in our conversations with our loved ones. I saw two family feuds play out online for everyone to see. Hurtful words, accusations, misunderstandings, and throwing zingers out there for everyone to see.

Why would someone do that? The onions made my eyes sting as I thought about how sad it was that words could cause such a rift.

Knowing there was nothing I could do about that, I turned a mental page and opened a new chapter of thought. I thought about death and illness. Why did dementia find Jim? Try as I might during my rumination, I found no answers. It’s not as if there was something off with his thinking. Jim was a logical, deep thinker and talented in so many ways.

Without answers, I continued to chop the onion into bits and traveled to a different time and place. My hate-affair with illness goes back to childhood. I never could understand why people had to be sick or feel pain. It was a puzzle with too many pieces for a child to put together. Even now as an adult, I still don’t comprehend why a human body can have so much go wrong with it.

On the other hand, when you think about the complexity of human anatomy, how can so many body parts work in harmony? Every individual is different. Some are happy and healthy, while others are plagued with misfortune.

My memories from a half-century ago were as choppy and incomplete as the pieces of onion on the cutting board in front of me. When I looked at old photos of myself, I felt like it was a different life. I’ve changed and my whole way of life has changed.

Now, we take photos of everything, but when I was a kid, photos were rare. My favorite two photos were taken when I was about five years old. I wore a cute dress and posed on the hood of our car.

Somehow, those pictures wound up in Jim’s billfold, and he carried them around from the time we were dating until a few years after his memory problems began. For some reason, those photos disappeared from his wallet, and I have no idea what happened to them. I imagine they will turn up some day, but for now, it’s just another mystery to think about when I chop onions.

The way people weave in and out of our lives is another mystery to contemplate. It seems that people who are so important at one stage of our lives vanish into the mist of time. Some leave, others appear. No one ever replaces the loved ones who left us behind when they moved on, or passed away. Yet, at the same time, new friendships are formed and births allow our hearts to love again.

I chopped the onion into tiny little pieces and thought about how it would never be a whole onion again. It would be silly to think that it could be. The onion was forever changed, but it was still an onion.

Chopping an onion gave me time to ruminate about the mysteries that have perplexed me throughout my lifetime. As I finished my task, I wiped away the tears the onion brought to my eyes, pushed away the troubling thoughts, and snapped back into the present.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, March 18, 2018

No Use Crying Over Spilt Coffee

I don’t even like to talk before I have my first cup of coffee in the mornings. I like it hot with creamer in it and usually drink a half cup at a time. My husband, on the other hand, only drinks black coffee from his 16-ounce Mr. Coffee mug.

A few days ago, we started breakfast before I’d had time to finish my first cup of coffee, so I wasn’t functioning at my best. I had to be in town, and figured with luck, I could squeeze in time to eat.

We routinely divvy up the job of preparing breakfast, and my part is to pour the juice, milk, and coffee. I was pouring juice when Harold said, “My cup doesn’t have much coffee in it.” He handed it to me, and I grabbed the pot and poured it full. As I headed back with the mug, it slipped out of my hand crashing to the floor. Coffee splattered onto the refrigerator, my shirt, and puddled all over the kitchen linoleum. Sixteen ounces of black coffee turned into a river snaking in all directions.

Instead of crying over the spilt coffee, I said a few choice words, wiped off the refrigerator, grabbed a mop, and went to work cleaning up the mess.

This wasn’t my first time to clean up spilt coffee. Jim usually made the morning coffee, even after dementia made every small task harder. One morning several years ago, I walked into the kitchen to pour my first cup. A full pot of coffee was all over the counter and had spilled onto the kitchen carpet. Jim had forgotten the step of setting the carafe on the warmer to catch the brewed coffee.

I don’t think I cried that time, but I probably felt like it. It was unbearably sad that Jim, the person who always made the perfect pot of coffee, forgot how to do something he had done his entire adult life.

Jim’s morning routine was to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and play his guitar. He quit smoking a few months before I noticed he was having memory problems. That was certainly a blessing, not just that he’d finally quit smoking, but that we didn’t have to deal with the danger of him lighting a cigarette and forgetting to use the ashtray.

Jim struggled to play the guitar as his dementia progressed. After he went in the nursing home, it wasn’t long before he quit drinking coffee.

It is only human to cry over our circumstances when we know we can’t change them. Standing there mourning over the past isn’t going to help or change anything. We have to grab our mops and do what we can to put things right and move on.

I do not condone or even understand people who deliberately hurt others. Certain people demean others to give themselves the appearance of superiority. They may give more credence to our mistakes than they deserve thinking it diminishes theirs. Avoid these people when possible; otherwise, don’t let them disparage your self-esteem.

Dwelling on the wrongs we’ve done won’t improve our situation. No one expects perfection. We err. We make stupid mistakes. We drop the metaphorical mug and make a mess. If we learn from our mistakes and make atonement, we can walk in the sunshine and avoid the shadows.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, March 15, 2018

2018 Memory Day: Call to Action!

Last week advocates from across the state of Missouri visited the state capitol. Jessica and I traveled from Sedalia to meet with Senator Sandy Crawford, Representatives Dean Dohrman, and Nathan Beard. We would also lend support as needed with our fellow advocates.

It was a brisk day and the security line was long. We worked our way through the line in time to be recognized on the House of Representatives floor.

Our first appointment was with our senator, Sandy Crawford. We waited in the hallway for our fellow advocates, Crista, Jennifer, and Mindy to join us. After the introductions, Jessica explained the importance of the Alzheimer’s grants for respite. She explained that 110,000 Missourians have Alzheimer’s and that their 314,000 unpaid caregivers need an occasional break from the daunting task of taking care of a loved one at home. The $450,000 grant is in the budget for the Department of Health and Senior Services.

A survey of caregivers show that 99% state that respite helped them to care for their loved one at home longer. Sixty percent of nursing home residents in Missouri is paid for by Medicaid. Respite helps 500 families, and if those families could keep their loved ones home two months longer, it could save the state of Missouri $2 million in Medicaid nursing home payments.

Two months is a conservative estimate. I know that having home health care for Jim made it possible to keep him at home about six months longer. I received a small reimbursement through respite funds that helped me pay for his care. This was the only financial help we received, because Jim was too young for the programs in place to help seniors.

I explained the Structured Family Caregiver Act. This Act is designed to provide a new level of support for Medicaid qualified care recipients. The caregiver must provide the personal care needs and live full-time with the person who needs the services. An in-home agency administers the program. They provide professional support with care planning, training, monthly visits, and remote consultations.

This pilot program will be limited to 300 care recipients. It would provide a cost effective alternative to nursing home care. How exciting this will be if it passes! Family caregivers often have no experience providing twenty-four/seven care for another person. They often don’t know what to expect or how to handle difficult behavior.

The Structured Family Caregiver Act needs support! We opened the door and now we want our fellow Missourians to keep it from slamming shut. The bill sponsor, Kurt Bahr, is about to term limit out. If this bill doesn’t pass this session, it may never be proposed again. If this pilot program proves successful, it could well be a new model for keeping loved ones at home much longer.

I had a lot of family support with Jim, and I was much younger than many family caregivers. I often wondered how older caregivers could manage, especially without family support.

Caregiving is hard and often life threatening. The stress of being solely responsible for a person with dementia leads to health problems for the caregiver.

If you live in Missouri, please write, email, or call your state representative and senator today. It just takes a few moments. Ask them to fund the Alzheimer’s grants for respite and to move forward with the Structured Family Caregiver Act and then vote to pass it. If you live in another state check with your Alzheimer’s Association public policy staff to see how you can become an advocate.

Alzheimer’s is an equal opportunity disease. It affects Republicans and Democrats. Alzheimer’s knows no racial or economic limits. Anyone can get Alzheimer’s and people like you and me wind up being caregivers or being cared for by our spouses, daughters, sons, or even grandchildren.

Until we find a cure, we must provide extraordinary support for family caregivers and quality of life care for those who have Alzheimer’s.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Autocorrect and Senior Moments

Lately, I’ve been having issues with autocorrect, especially on my phone. The first problem with the phone is the small keyboard makes it easy to type a word incorrectly, and when autocorrect fixes that, I’m happy. But too often autocorrect will take a word that makes perfect sense and replace it with one that changes the entire meaning of what I intended to say.

Autocorrect problems aren’t limited to my phone; it can create havoc on my PC. A few days ago, I was going to a luncheon in Warsaw and I wanted to know just exactly how long it would take me to get there. That’s usually a simple task—just plug in my home address and in the destination plug in Warsaw, MO. Except that autocorrect in its infinite wisdom kept changing it to Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland. As if I could drive to Warszawa, Poland—AND get there in time for lunch! Then, since the program was so helpful, it wanted me to install something before I could actually get those driving directions.

I wasted precious travel time trying to change the destination to Warsaw, Missouri, USA only to have it changed to Warszawa time-after-time. After autocorrect won the battle, I kissed my husband goodbye and said, “I’m leaving right now. I’ll use OnStar to find the restaurant.”

“Set it before you leave,” he said. Well, I’ve been down that road, so to speak, many times before. I didn’t want the OnStar voice to direct me across town using weird streets, so I waited until I was on the open road. The OnStar advisor plugged in helpful directions, and I never had to leave the state, much less the country.

It’s not only electronic devices that autocorrect, my brain does it too. Preoccupation results in senior moments where I go to one of my usual destinations rather than where I’m actually headed.

Considering how complicated our brains are, with 100 billion nerve cells connected by 100 trillion synapses, it doesn’t take too much imagination to believe my brain might do its own type of autocorrect, jumping the rails, so to speak. I shouldn’t complain, though, because I believe my senior moments are simply a slight slowing down and not the catastrophic confusion of Alzheimer’s.

Here’s how the Alzheimer’s Association explains the difference between normal aging and Alzheimer’s: Poor judgment and decision making can be a sign of Alzheimer’s, but occasionally making a bad decision is a sign of normal aging. If you cannot manage a budget, it could be Alzheimer’s, but missing one payment is a typical sign of aging. Having difficulty conversing with others could be a sign of Alzheimer’s, but sometimes forgetting a word is normal aging.
I believe autocorrect should be renamed “auto-incorrect” especially when it refers to my thinking. As far as electronics, it’s a battle of me against machine to see which one of us is the most stubborn. It irritates me to have to click on a checkmark to let autocorrect know that yes, I did mean to type “address” not “espresso” as in “I need your address,” not “I need your espresso.”

Moment of truth—sometimes I blame autocorrect when I slip a cog and actually type something I didn’t intend to. You know, like one of those Freudian slips. Sometimes I might actually need espresso just to stay alert. It seems to me that when I’m alert, I don’t auto-incorrect nearly as often.

Copyright © March 2018 by L.S. Fisher