A few days ago I stumbled upon a theory that the Hadron Collider has flung the universe into a parallel dimension. Which would explain so much.
Those little blackouts in my memory.
Driving, I cannot remember where I’m going. Jotting down a list of three necessities I forget the last two by the time I’ve written the first on the notepad. Asking a friend to meet me at the Banana Hut for a burger, and then waiting at the Surfside Burger Stand until the friend figures it out and joins me. Waking in the night and not knowing where I am, that particular sensation morphing into an old reoccurring dream of someone standing beside my bed.
These are a few of my least favorite things.
So, what is happening to me? Are these the first, terrifying symptoms of dementia. Which would really piss me off because at sixty-eight I couldn’t even call it early-onset dementia anymore, right? Just straight-up, run-of-the-mill dementia that comes with the natural aging process.
Nobody in my family has ever had dementia. Don’t get me wrong, most of us are bat-shit crazy, and complete pains in the ass to deal with for more than an hour at a time. But we’re not prone to losing our memories.
This paradigm shift in my personal reality is the work of, well, life and of life’s eternal sidekick – stress. Or, even if it’s not, I can combat stress. Dementia? Not so much. So roll with me on this one.
When Jack went into skilled nursing, I thought my life would be less demanding. These expectations of mine as he and I travel the path of his illness so often leave me rubbing my forehead and asking myself, “Who’s delusional now, Pam?”
Most of you know we worked for months to get Jack into a skilled nursing facility in our area. This was not possible given the level and complexity of the care he needs, coupled with the fact that the VA is his health insurance provider. Eight months into the search, after a particularly bad fall, I refused to bring him home from the hospital. This put the VA on the hot-seat and he was admitted into the Community Living Center attached to the San Francisco VA hospital.
The CLC is a top-notch facility with an entire hospital of specialists literally right next door. It is also just under three hundred miles south of me, on a long and winding road which is occasionally impassable in the winter. I anticipated driving down to see Jack once a month or so, of being his partner on this final leg of his journey.
He’s been at the facility for eight months now. I’ve been down to see him twice.
I can give you the reason for this In a nutshell, pun absolutely intended. Jack’s delusion is that he is going back to Vietnam to be cared for 24/7 by lovely young women who will grant his every wish. This delusion, is, no doubt, partially fueled by his desire for redemption. He spent a few months of his youth, as Jack himself told the young women we encountered when we visited Vietnam in 2000, “Killing their grandfathers and grandmothers and burning their villages.”
Now, I’ve been married to a combat Marine for thirty years, I’m fully aware that this particular delusion is also fueled by the desire for healing, in the belief that the special talents of these young, nubile young women will restore him to his former potency and return to him the control he desperately craves. See there, how clever I am with prose? I explained the reasoning behind Jack’s entire delusion and never once used a term that rhymes with DJ.
It’s a bit more than that, of course. It’s also about an eighteen year old Marine who, fifty-three years ago, died on the jungle floor and has been pissed ever since at the medic who brought him back.
In the end, the reasons for the delusion, while compelling, are beside the point. It takes two people to help Jack move from wheelchair to bed. He cannot feed or dress himself. His vision is very nearly gone. His speech fluctuates between difficult to understand and incomprehensible. His tremors are becoming increasingly violent. He’s still Jack. Under all those challenges, his courage is as extraordinary as ever. He gets up every day, interacts with the staff and the other veterans, attends activities from bocce ball to volley ball to yoga. He does what he can to participate in life. But he cannot return to Asia.
Currently, he calls me a half-dozen or so times a day. At least one of these calls is to demand that I sell the house, send him enough money for a first class plane ticket,and get him to Asia. I do my best to distract him, but he’s as determined – as stubborn– as ever. If I do not do these things he will divorce me, force the sale of the house, change his power-of-attorney so that I am no longer his executor. He’s met with an attorney who comes to the facility to assist veterans with legal matters and he has already removed me as his first point of contact with the VA.
He has made it clear that he will not see me until I have met his demands and can show him proof of such. My presence and my inability to participate in this particular delusion are a trigger for his anger. I’ve been down to see him only twice since April. Both visits were heavily punctuated with these demands and plenty of anger when I could not comply. Both times I returned home with a weird sort of stress flu, spent a few days in bed with my belly in an uproar. Worse, each time I left Jack refusing to speak with me and more determined than ever to get to Asia. Right now he takes my calls. This was not the case a couple of weeks ago and it may not be the case tomorrow. But I spoke with him this morning and he did not yell, “She’s dead,” when the nurse told him his wife was on the line. He did demand that I sell the house.
So, you’re all caught up. More or less. Subject to change on an hourly basis.
I am grieving for my husband at the same time that I am attempting to continue to do my best for him. I am also trying to keep my own head above water, searching for employment. It turns out that employers are not lining up to hire a sixty-eight year old who’s spend the past decade as a care provider. But more than looking for work, I am remaking my life. Building new friendships, making new plans that do not include Jack. That cannot include him. I struggle daily to convince myself that my happiness does not harm Jack.
So, in an effort to combat a slide into my very own parallel universe, I embarked on a mission of self-care. I downloaded an app and am meditating twenty minutes morning and night. Which, two weeks into the program, might actually be helping. I walked all the way across the kitchen this morning and managed to write down all three items I need to pick up later today at Costco.
So, you know. Progress.