Never Goodbye

Navigating the Journey through Dementia

As Dad’s condition worsened, one day I got a call from the Rose Manor nurse who was very concerned because his coloring looked yellow. The nurse said she was sending him to the hospital. His gall bladder had become extremely infected, and he would receive laproscopic surgery to remove it. The surgeon said Dad had a 50% chance of surviving the operation, but would certainly die without the operation. I flew to Alabama and stayed for close to a month. The gall bladder removal was successful, and Dad spent nine days in ICU recovering, followed by nine days in the regular hospital, and 20 days in Rehab at Collinsville Nursing Home. He was able to return to Rose Manor and seemed to be getting around very well with his walker.

Then several months later I got a call from Rose Manor that Dad had fallen. My son Brad took him to the hospital, and x-rays revealed he had broken his other hip. I flew to Alabama, arriving in time for the surgery. Dad spent three days in the hospital, and then went to Collinsville Nursing Home again to rehabilitate for the 20 day period. The orthopedic surgeon said Dad wasn’t allowed to bear weight on his right leg for 6 weeks or he could break his hip again, ripping loose the pins that had been inserted. Remembering not to bear weight on his leg became an impossible challenge. Dad was continually trying to stand up and walk around. Finally, the only solution was to restrain him in his wheel chair so he wouldn’t attempt to stand on the leg and hurt himself.

His leg healed, but he never became stable on his feet, which left him saddled in a wheelchair. Still rather spunky though, he tried to wheel himself out the door enough times that Collinsville had to put him in the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Unit.

I hoped Dad would be able to return to Rose Manor. However, before Rose Manor could admit him, he had to undergo a standard evaluation required by the State of Alabama. The evaluation included memory testing, and we had a good laugh during his testing.

To test his memory he had to answer questions about a story. The story was: “Three men went to the store to buy a bottle of milk for breakfast”. The gal asked him “How many men went to the store?” He replied “Two?” She told him the story again, and he answered “Three.” She asked him “What did they buy?” He smiled broadly and replied, “WWWWWhiskey!!” He repeated his “Whiskey” answer a few more times, and each time it was as funny as the first. The gal ended up skipping the story and going on to the other test questions. But after awhile, Dad got upset about the questioning, and the gal ended off, never completing the test.

When I took him to his room in Rose Manor, all he wanted to do was leave. He continually tried to stand without his walker. In fact, he said if he fell, he would be okay. He did not need the walker. Brad and I both concluded that if he would not use the walker, he would just fall and break other bones. I found out that when he broke his hip, he fell on the carpet in the living room area at Rose Manor. He wasn’t using his walker because he forgot to use it. Even though the carpet was padded, his bones were apparently too brittle to sustain a fall. Rose Manor could not restrain him to the wheelchair. He didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t see how they could manage him anymore.

After I returned him to the Collinsville Nursing Home, he looked relieved. His anxiety had disappeared, and ironically, he seemed at peace. The inevitable option of nursing home care, resisted for so long by both of us, had finally become a reality.

As Dad looked around the Alzheimer’s Unit, he saw himself as top dog. After all, he wasn’t belligerently yelling at other residents, nor crying out in monotonous repetition like some residents. He made more sense than most when he talked. Yes, the size of the fish really is relative, and in this area of the Collinsville Nursing Home, he was the big fish in the little pond–and he felt comfortable with that.