I was a caregiver for a man who had been a son, basketball player, graduate, marine, husband, provider, father and friend. He did all these things to the very best of his abilities.
One day, he came out of a grocery store and couldn't find his car. It upset him a lot, so when he went to his doctor's office, he asked for a handicap card. Since he had a type of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis (fusing of an inflamed backbones) causing a ridged spine, the doctor gave it to him. One evening on our way home he missed the turn to take us home. Several days later, he became irate because he couldn't find his keys. Another afternoon he was going to cut grass and he put the gas in the oil compartment. These events were the introduction to many more happenings.
It was time to go back to the doctor. The doctor listened patiently and then ordered a preliminary test by a nurse.
Nurse: "What's your name?"
Dick: "Dick Gardner"
Nurse: "Who is this lady with you?"
Dick: "My wife"
Nurse: "I'll give you eight words to rememberů"
Nurse: "Who is president?"
Dick looked at me for help, he wasn't sure
Nurse: "What day is it?"
Dick: "Wednesday, right?"
Nurse: "Tell me the eight words I gave you."
Dick remembered three.
Nurse: "Count back from one hundred by sevens."
Dick stumbled, could not complete it.
The doctor recommended a neurologist. "Let's find out what's happening." Dick then told him the reason he asked for the handicap card. He wanted to have the car close to the store so he could find it easier. He kept losing it in the parking lot. From that day on everyday life changed, and it would never be the same again.
He kept trying to carry on with much frustration. Months passed and then he couldn't remember how to start the lawn mower. He got it out, looked at it and then put it away. He came in the house and said "I'm not worth anything, I can't do anything," and he sat down with his head in his hands and cried. He could still drive all right but I had to give him directions to get us to our destination. Then I asked him if he wanted me to drive. He just handed me the keys with no argument, which was a great surprise.
This began days of challenges, each day bringing something different. I watched this strapping, athletic, diligent worker disappear in front of me. He descended into childhood, both at the table and dressing himself. We kept pictures of our family and friends throughout the house so when we were talking about them we could point to who we were talking about. He had been an exceptional athlete so scrapbooks were compiled that we could read and relive the things he had accomplished.
One moment stands out: He walked across the room, picked up a picture and looked at it intently. He said "This is my Mom." I said it was. His mother had been dead twelve years, but he did not recognize his niece who was also in the picture. This was the last positive identification he recalled. After that, he would smile, shake hands and hug, but no names or relationships were stated. He lived at home with family and friends calling on him. He greatly enjoyed his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
We then reached a level where he became belligerent, angry and unpredictable. Our children began encouraging me to have him live somewhere where he could have constant help and safe overseeing 24/7. It broke my heart to realize they were right; I couldn't maintain the pace required to keep taking care of him.
We found a good "home" for him and visited daily. Everything kept progressing until he forgot how to chew and swallow and angrily refused liquids. He left us Oct. 9, 2009, at age 80. At that time I came to realize 80 is not old and fifty-four years of marriage was too brief.
My goals now are appreciating each day as a gift. Trying to reach out to others and reminding them not to waste any day.
My one lasting moment was a day I was arriving at his new "home." Walking down the hall, I saw him sitting at a table, assisted by an aide working on a craft project. She looked up and saw me. She nudged his arm and said: "Who is that coming down the hall?"
He looked up, looked at her and said "That's mine!"
Story submitted for the Ohio Department of Aging's Family Caregiving Story Project.
For caregiver assistance, please call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678.
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