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14 August 2003

I had lunch with my mother yesterday. She's been having so many houseguests, and I haven't been able to drive, so it's been awhile since we saw each other.

During the course of the afternoon, she mentioned that my cousin Denise was going to be picking her up this morning and driving up here to Sacramento so that she could visit with her sister, my aunt Barb, who has been living in an Alzheimers facility for the past several months. She asked if I'd like to go along. I jumped at the chance.

It was a good "family day." My mother and Denise picked me up, we drove to the home of my cousin Peach (yes, it's a nickname). We all went out to lunch and then ordered a piece of ice cream topped chocolate cake to go (so we would have a treat to bring for her) and we were off to see Barb.

I haven't seen her since she was admitted to the facility and wasn't really sure what to expect.

Her slide into Alzheimers has been heartbreaking to watch. The pain of seeing that keen mind slowly slip away was accentuated by the care that my uncle was giving to her, literally killing her with kindness. He kept her heavily medicated, seemed to be directing her medical care by telling the doctors what she needed, and having the doctors write another prescription.

What made it even worse than the fact that he was pumping her full of pills several times a day, was that he himself had macular degeneration and was sorting her pills by feel, rather than by sight and we were certain he would end up killing her with an overdose or a bad mix of medications.

The care of an Alzheimer patient can be quite taxing and my uncle was dedicated to her and determined that he would be her sole caretaker. The concerns of people in the family who wondered if she was over-medicated fell on deaf ears. She had seizures, he would point out, and for that she needed to stay in bed so she wouldn't fall and hurt herself, and as the seizures worsened, she needed more medication.

Eventually she hardly recognized anyone. She slept all day. We were watching her slip away.

My uncle finally agreed to put her in a facility, but again he was adamant about her medication schedule. Then he developed a severe heart problem, requiring immediate surgery. He did not survive the surgery. He was buried at the start of this year.

Since his demise, she has been placed in a new facility and has a new neurologist. Over the months, she has been weaned off of all medications, except a mild sedative to help her sleep at night. Reports that have come in about her condition have been steadily more positive.

She knows her children by name (previously she thought that her oldest daughter was my mother). She is able to follow a conversation. She hasn't had a seizure in months. She is able to work crossword puzzles again. There is no question about her Alzheimers diagnosis, but it's not nearly as advanced as it appeared to be before my uncle's death.

Bless him, he did the best he could, but he was a proud man and terrified of losing her and he did the best he could. He did too much.

Apparently you never really know what to expect on any visit. She has good days and bad days. Today was a very good day. I don't think she remembered Denise or me by name, and she asked the same questions over and over again ("how old are you?" "do you have any brothers or sisters?" etc.) but her conversation was articulate and funny. She and my mother teased each other and reminisced about events that happened when they were growing up. She remembered all of her 9 siblings' names and stories about them.

We spent about 3 hours there. At the end of the time she was obviously tiring and you could tell she wasn't quite as sharp as she had been at the end of the visit, but the whole afternoon was just wonderful. I'm sure she has no recollection of our having been there by this time, but the rest of us do--and we are all smiling tonight at having had a glimpse of the warm, funny woman we have all loved for so long.

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Every man's memory is his private literature.

~Aldous Huxley

Today's Photo

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The end of the line:  Barb 80, my mother, 84

For more photos, please visit My Fotolog and My FoodLog

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