I spend a fair amount of time wondering how long this disease is going to hold my husband captive. He seems now to have entered that world of vacant-eyed, non-communicating persons that can’t answer questions anymore. “Do you hurt anywhere?” is too complex a question for him. He has the rhythm of speech, and a searching look as he makes sounds. Every once in a while a real word escapes. It always surprises me that it has nothing to do with a relevant topic. Off the wall, almost off the planet…
I do the things for him that I know I should, not knowing if they are the things he wants done. Does he want to be left alone? Does he want to be bothered and stimulated? Is he listening to us as we talk around him during his care? How does he feel about our routine? So many questions.
As I look at him and think about all the different stages of life we have been through together, I feel so sad. He would never have imagined this helpless, brain damaged state for himself. Who would?
It has been a roller coaster progression. Those days when he is more alert, showing that tiny bit of himself that is recognizable – those days are fewer now. This week he produced the smallest hint of a smile when asked. I hugged him one night and he put his hand on my back and patted it. It was so sweetly familiar it made me cry.
All these thoughts and more swirl around our daily activities, our routines. It is probably a blessing that we have things to do, the husband and I. Useful work anchors our souls in the present, instead of wondering about the future.
Here is our present routine, in case you are curious. The days starts for me around 4:00 am. On a good night, he has slept for hours in the same position and needs to be turned and put in dry briefs. He has also been without a feeding for long enough that he acts restless, which I interpret as hunger. A feeding of formula in his tube quiets his stomach and puts him to sleep again like a sedative.
I take the audio monitor and go over to Mom’s condo for coffee and conversation. I come back in time to crush and give the morning meds, again through the feeding tube. Our caregivers arrive around 8:30 and I like to have my own breakfast done by then. For two hours I can either work with them on some of his more complicated cares, or I can leave to do errands, or maybe even spend time outside on warmer days. They leave by 10:30 and Dennis is up in the recliner for the next five or six hours. The change in position does him good, although he sometimes thinks he is still in bed.
During his “up” time, I find videos or tv programs for him to listen to. He seldom opens his eyes to watch things but he is often listening. He sleeps a good deal of the time. He gets another feeding around 11. Workers from Hospice do their weekly checking during this time. His RN comes on Tuesdays, the CNA on Thursday mornings. The chaplain has checked in with us, and a volunteer comes once a week to give me free time for a couple hours. I busy myself with daily laundry, ordering supplies, basic housekeeping, and caring for his physical needs until around 3 in the afternoon, when I help him back to bed. I move him with a Hoyer lift, which makes it pretty easy, but it does require some experience. Thankfully, I have years of that with a former client.
His third feeding of the day, comes at about 4 pm. Feedings are a mixture of 200 milliliters water and 300 ml. formula, given by gravity feed. It gets put in a bag and hung from a pole like an IV. Getting the formula has been a problem and I get messages that it is out of stock all the time. Several times I’ve been down to the last bottle before another shipment comes. That it always does come in time has been one of the ways that I’ve been assured God is aware and caring for us.
Another slew of crushed pills comes at 5 pm. The evening caregiver arrives at 6 to give me another break for dinner. They help get Dennis comfortable for the night before they leave at 8. He gets his last feeding of the day at 9 or 10, depending on how tired I am and how badly I need to sleep. I do go to my bedroom to sleep, but I have the monitor and can hear how he is breathing. I get up and check him at least once, more if he’s having issues.
I record all these happenings, as well as doing blood pressure checks, and giving frequent oral care. I would probably consider it a pretty easy nursing job if it were not 24/7, and if it were not my own dear husband. I have to shut some of the sadness out, or it would be too much.
Changes will come, but for now, this is my caregiver’s world. Many thanks to all who have prayed for us, sent encouragement in one way or another, and been kind in their responses. You are valued and necessary in this journey.