Vortex

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You may remember the incident at the pool with the young, female physical therapist who reported Jack to her supervisor for making inappropriate sexual remarks. Despite my calm reasoning, loud explaining, and inevitable begging, Jack did indeed make the situation worse.

He is no longer allowed at the pool – the only pool within three hundred miles where he could receive the physical therapy he needs in order to remain strong and mobile enough to remain in our home, rather than having to go into a skilled nursing facility.

Pretty tough consequences for the self-destructive old warrior.

Before you conclude he was treated unfairly, you should know that he was given every chance to continue with therapy and just be more careful about his language. Instead he confronted the young woman he calls his accuser. I do not know exactly what was said, but immediately after this conversation, the supervisor banned him from returning to the pool.

Jack’s still ranting.

“I’ll take it all the way to the supreme court. She’s the ugliest therapist there. Damn girl damaged my reputation as a dirty old man.”

And, no, he cannot see that these very comments indict him.

He called the VA so that this incident is now in his permanent record. It goes without saying that, while both were polite, neither his VA doctor nor his social worker were particularly sympathetic with his cause.

Apparently, he learned nothing from this experience.

But, here’s what I learned.

Over the past few months I have often felt caught in a vortex of Jack’s physical needs, his emotional struggles, and the small, but constant dramas he creates in an attempt to exert control over his life. Unable to sort things out, think clearly, regain my balance, I have been unable to extradite myself from this whirling mass of need.

Somehow this whole drama with the physical therapist allowed me to find a way out of the reactive riptide I have been caught in. I do not know if my new-found resting place – a metaphorical soft, sandy shore – will last. I suspect I will be swept up in the current again from time to time. But, I have discovered a trick. Swimming parallel to a rip current instead of fighting against the flow allows a swimmer to escape the pull of the sea. In much the same way distancing myself emotionally from Jack allows me to make it to shore and plant my feet firmly in the warm sand.

It seems counter intuitive, but withdrawing empathy from my husband, deliberately shutting off my feelings for him, actually makes me better, very much better as it turns out, at caring for him. From the safety of emotional numbness I can secure a rope and see clearly enough to toss the line within his reach. If he refuses to grasp the line, if he chooses to cuss the situation and flounder instead, well, as painful as it is to watch him drown, there’s not much I can do about that.

That all sounds reasonable, right?  But I’m not that damn logical, nor am I that emotionally stable. Part of me still defines love as drowning right along with him. It’s difficult to shed the lesson of Romeo and Juliet, or more appropriately in my redneck world, Running Bear and Little White Dove. It feels decidedly odd not to sacrifice myself in the name of love. Jack has been the center of my world for almost thirty years. To now stand back and dispassionately watch him struggle is peculiar. It feels wrong. Very wrong.

But, it’s been a while since I was the equivalent of an idealistic thirteen-year-old Juliet or even an impressionistic Little White Dove. My job right now is to care for Jack. I cannot do that job any longer if I maintain a strong emotional bond with him. At this point, love and empathy tie me to a drowning man. My job is to stay on shore, guide him to sanctuary for as long as I am able, provide shelter when he will accept it. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I hope I can do it.

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Underwater Dreams

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In the dream I’m floating in the ocean. Warm, salty water occasionally breaks over my face, does little more than cool my head from the hot sun. The sea is confused, waves coming from all directions, the way the Mexican Caribbean behaves just before a storm blows in all the way from the coast of African. I’m alert, aware that the shoreline is too far away for me to reach by swimming. At the far back of my  mind lurks the possibility of a shark arriving to nibble my toes or, you know, bite me in half.

I am not frightened, just aware that I need to pay attention to my surroundings, the way I did for years when I surfaced after a dive and the boat was nowhere to be seen. I have logged well over a thousand dives, on many of which I did indeed end up separated from the other divers and surfacing alone. I am experienced at waiting patiently in a potentially dangerous situation that will almost certainly turn out to be perfectly fine. The ocean won’t kill me, sharks are fascinating and scary as hell, but they rarely kill a diver. What kills is panic.

As is common in dreams, my mood changes in a split second. Clouds cover the sun, the water is instantly colder, the waves bigger, more threatening.

And I am not alone.

Two children float just out of reach, one no more than a toddler, the other perhaps kindergarten age. They splash and scream in full panic. Kicking and floundering on the surface can bring predators, and the instant this thought enters my head, a large gray fin breaks the surface. I am between the shark and the children. Surely this predator can hear my heart pounding like it will leap from my chest. I stop fluttering my feet, still my arms, do my best to float motionless.

bull shark

The children continue to splash and scream and fight to stay afloat. If I do nothing those babies, who are suddenly MY babies, my precious babies, will be torn apart by this living cruise missile aimed directly at us. If I distract the shark, I will be torn to bits and then almost certainly this apex predator will feast on the tender flesh of my babies for dessert.

I awake with a stifled scream, hot breath and doggie kisses wet my face.

It takes no introspection whatsoever to decipher that the children floating in that ocean are Jack and that the name of that apex predator aimed directly at their exposed bodies bears the name of Jack’s illness — Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

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Time Does Not heal All Wounds

soldier

Jack is in Vietnam anniversary dates. He landed near China beach on July 4th of ’65. His best buddy, Lemual, was hit on August 31st. The medivac chopper was shot down as it tried to take off. Jack believed Lem had been killed. From that moment until Jack himself stepped on a landmine on December 14th, Jack, until very recently, had no memory of what happened. Since his PSP has mucked with his central brain, Jack is recovering patches of memories from that lost period in his life.

This is not a blessing.

This week been especially difficult. I do not know if we are dealing with post-traumatic stress exacerbated by these anniversary dates, or if this is more deterioration of Jack’s cognitive function. I strongly suspect there is no way to separate the two.

On Wednesday the supervisor at the pool where Jack goes for physical therapy called me. I should tell you that at this point my number is on every form. Jack blocks people apparently on accident. He turns off his ringer and forgets to turn it back on for days at a time. He got himself in a little trouble with some gold-diggers who mistakenly thought he still had access to cash. So, while the supervisor may have preferred to talk directly to Jack, the number he had on the form was mine and it was me he called.

We had a house full of company when my phone rang. I stepped into my room when I realized the nature of the call. Any conversation that begins with, “We all enjoy Jack. We want him to continue coming to the pool for his therapy,” is headed for a but that’s going to need privacy.

Jack’s young female physical therapist reported him to her boss for making inappropriate sexual comments. I did not dispute this claim. This was not my first time to field this type of call. Jack and I have had endless and quite pointless conversations about what constitutes inappropriate behavior around women. He cannot be dissuaded from his belief that all women love to be reminded that they’re sexually attractive. I have tried to use humor to educate him. Told him, if the first thing you ask yourself when you meet a woman is ‘Is she doable?’, well, buddy, you might be a misogynist. I have explained over and over that professional women – in-home workers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, social workers, waitresses, anyone getting paid to care for you or provide you  with a service – not only do not want your approval of their sexuality, it is against the law to offer it.

He remains unconvinced.

So, yes, I believed the accusation the young woman brought against him.

This was not, however, a big deal. Not, as I said, my first rodeo with Jack’s inappropriate behavior. I took Jack aside, told him quietly about the phone call and that he would need to be more careful from now. We went on with our get-together.

The next morning I stumbled from bed to find Jack up and sitting in his lift chair. He muted the TV. This is never a good sign. He was angry that he had no rights. Why hadn’t I backed him up when the supervisor called? Once a Vietnam vet messes up once, then forever afterward he’s guilty, was that it?

In my defense, I hadn’t even had my first cup of caffeine yet.

“I don’t know what you’re being a Vietnam Vet has to do with this.” I admit I flashed onto the scene on the cliff in The Big Lebowski. I may have chuckled a little. A bad move on my part I know, but seriously? Vietnam? “And you have not been sexually inappropriate one time. We’ve been together thirty years, you’ve hit on every one of my friends, my sister, every female employee we’ve ever had. . .”

“I tell them to let me know if I’m being inappropriate! It’s up to them to tell me to stop.”

This comment may have triggered a few issues of my own. “No. No, it is not up to the woman to control your behavior.”

“I have PTSD and PSP. A symptom of both of these diseases is inappropriate behavior and talk. Why did the supervisor call you and not me? And why didn’t you back me up? You just threw me under the bus.”

“You know what? On second thought, I’m going to need two or three cups of tea before having this conversation.”

I sipped my Earl Gray.

Jack has been doing so well lately with this old problem. He’s been at daycare over a year and not one complaint from a worker. I actually thought he was getting the idea that he had to behave around health care workers or his quality of life was going to deteriorate quickly. Every single place that offers care has a zero tolerance for sexual inappropriateness. I understand that Jack does not understand, truly he does not, that his comments are offensive, but I really thought he was getting with the program.

It may, or may not, be relevant to know that my mom was in town for a one day visit and I had been looking forward to getting out and enjoying a quiet visit with her while Jack was with the respite worker. I wondered if some of this was Jack’s attempt to draw my attention back to him and away from my mom.

By the time I was caffeine-fortified, the worker, Alonso, was at the house. Jack had an appointment for therapy at the pool and the worker usually helps him into his bathing suit and gathers his towel and a change of clothes. However, when Jack came down the hall he was wearing long pants, a button shirt and his black cap that says, Dysfunctional Vietnam Vet, Leave Me Alone.

“I thought you were going to the pool?”

“Don’t you worry about it. If you can’t back me up, I’ll deal with this myself. Alonso can take me to talk to the supervisor. I’ll sue the bastards. Own the whole goddamn pool before I’m done. Take it all the way to the supreme court.”

The worker’s eyes widened. This was a bit outside his job description.

“Jack.” I touched his arm, tried to make eye contact. “Honey? Right now, this is no big deal. A minor blip that is over and done. If you cause yourself to be banned from the pool, the only person who’s going to suffer is you. Maybe you could talk to some of your guys about this before you talk to the supervisor?”

“You don’t need to worry about it. Alonso’s got my back.”

And they were out the door, though not before I told Alonso to just take him to the pool and stay out of it. I had no control over him at that point, though I did actually think about tying him to his chair. Certainly this was far above Alonso’s pay grade.

I met my mom and sons and grandson for breakfast and did my best to enjoy the visit I’d been looking forward to for weeks. No point in wasting a good moment on something over which I had no control. As the waitress took our order, a text came in from Alonso saying that Jack was in with the supervisor and having a meltdown, but that the supervisor was handling things well. As I chatted with my mom about her latest watercolor project, a text beeped telling me that Jack had fallen in front of the municipal auditorium, but that he was okay.

The auditorium is a good five miles from the pool.

Turns out Jack told Alonso to take him to his buddy’s house, got lost and ended up ten blocks from the friend’s house. He fell as he was getting out of the car. They did, eventually, find the right house. However, the visit with his friend did nothing to calm him down. They left there and went to see an attorney so Jack could file a discrimination charge against the pool. Seriously? Because, what? The pool discriminated against dirty old men?

By that afternoon, my mom had left and Jack was still as angry as I’ve ever seen him. Still ranting about respect and discrimination against Vietnam vets. He needed other combat vets. I’ve seen him like this before. Other combat vets are the only people who can help him. No matter how much I love and care for him, that is a role I cannot fill. I loaded him up and took him to the local VetCenter. They put him in a quiet room, and sent other veterans in to talk with him until a counselor could see him.

He was calmer when I picked him up, but still determined to see that attorney, still angry that I did not believe that he was not inappropriate with the therapist. We have agreed that, from now on, when someone calls about his behavior the first thing I will ask them is, have you talked to Jack about this? However, and I cannot fix this for him. At this point, I am his caregiver. His speech can be difficult to understand, especially over the phone. He tends to not be the most logical thinker on the face of the planet. I understand that reporting him to me rather than confronting him directly about his behavior is infantilizing. I get that. But we are deep in the water here with social workers and professional health care folks. There are laws and rules in place to protect both the client and the worker. People are going to follow established protocol.

He is still insisting on speaking with an attorney.  I will not help him in this endeavor in any way. To do so would, in my mind, encourage faulty and dangerous thinking. I empathize with his need for control over some small aspects of his life and I will do everything I can to help him with  that, but I have very little sympathy for his belief that he can say whatever he wants to women and it’s up to them to tell him when he’s out of line. I do understand that when Jack was growing up men actually could say pretty much anything they wanted to a service worker. All through high school I worked as a waitress. Believe me, I understand.

There are thousands upon thousands of these old misogynists in the healthcare system. Men who now find themselves dependent on the very women they have preyed upon for years. These men either learn new rules or they end up without the care they need, or drugged into submission. I do not want that for Jack. And, yet, I cannot control his behavior.

So, we are at an impasse. To be honest, while the week has been exhausting, I have too much on my plate to worry too much about it. I am deeply hurt by Jack’s accusation that I do not back him up. But I will get over it. His hour-by-hour care will overshadow my anger. To paraphrase: “Fuck it, Dude. Let’s get on with life.”

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Skilled Nursing

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Years ago we lived in the high desert of Arizona. Jack planted a garden of okra and tomatoes in raised beds inside what had once been a small corral. His hard work proved a boon for the local bunny population. He tacked chicken wire to the lower fence in an attempt to keep the cottontails out. The bunnies dug under.

He then bought an air gun.

“The rascals are eating my ‘maters’. I’ll shoot the sons-a-bitches.”

He positioned himself for a clear shot of his precious tomatoes and waited for his adversaries to expose their twitching noses. The bunnies simply waited him out. Some weeks later, when all Jack’s squash and okra had filled the tummies of the bunnies, Jack looked out the window to see a rabbit munching on his last straggly tomato plant. He grabbed his air gun, eased open the kitchen window, took careful aim, and pressed the trigger.

The bunny jumped straight in the air and came down dead as the proverbial door nail.

“Oh, no. I think I killed him.”

Turned out this was the first living thing Jack had intentionally killed since returning from Vietnam. Well, that may not be true strictly speaking, but in Jack’s mind at least any previous living thing that died at his hands deserved his fate.

My reaction to Jack’s remorse over the death of Peter Rabbit’s cousin was less than supportive.

“You went to six stores to find a gun powerful enough to kill a rabbit. You bought ammo, loaded the weapon, laid in wait for your prey, and then deliberately shot the thing. No, you don’t now get to claim you’re sorry for its death. Go and dispose of the body.”

Jack dug a hole deep enough to keep the coyotes away, buried the bunny while it was still warm, and stacked penance rocks on the tiny grave. He never tried to grow anything in Arizona again.

This week I have come to realize I may have been overly harsh with Jack that day.

Several months ago, the VA social worker suggested I familiarize myself with the local skilled nursing facility that Jack would be placed in when I can no longer provide him the care he needs.

“Do it now,” she advised, “before you’re stressed out over having to make the decision.”

I figured visiting the place would either ease my mind that Jack would be well cared for when the time came, or it would inspire me to make sure, no matter what it took, that he would never go into the facility. As it turns out, the only thing I could find wrong with the facility or the care was that it’s twenty miles away.

Shortly after my original visit, Jack stopped using his walker and went to a wheelchair for part of the day. Now, a mere two months later, he is using the chair fulltime and can no longer push it with his arms because of injuries sustained to his shoulders from several bad falls, and he can no longer propel himself by pushing with his feet because his hip is giving him constant pain. He cannot use a power wheelchair because his sight and his tremors are too bad.

This is beginning to sound like the old saw, “For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, the horse was lost, for want of a horse the . . .” well, you know how the story ends.

Because Jack’s brand of PSP has also affected his urinary system, he makes frequent trips to the bathroom. Since he cannot push the wheelchair, someone must help him get to the toilet, and help him quickly. At home that someone is me. During the day this is not too bad. But I am not capable of getting up with him five or six times a night and still being able to care for him during the day.

He has fallen trying to get himself in and out of bed and to the bathroom without help.

And then there is the issue of how long it’s going to take to get us the attendant-controlled power wheelchair the VA has ordered. I am thrilled the occupational therapist ordered it. Not only will it save my back, which now requires twice the maximum recommended dose of Aleve each day – to be honest on most days I supplement with Tylenol – but a power chair will let me take Jack for walks in the woods, to the store, to festivals and outings of all kinds that since he went to the wheelchair fulltime, are off limits for us.

The glitch is that this chair is still three, probably closer to four months from being in our house. Will my back last that long?

Just as importantly, because Jack knows how tired I get, how much pushing his 320 pounds in the wheelchair hurts my back, he doesn’t always call me when he needs help. He gets up, takes those two or three steps himself, or uses his walker to get from his bed to the toilet. He falls. Not every time, but once a week or so, he falls. In the past, his falls required the EMTs to get him on his feet, but he was rarely hurt badly. Now, with his shoulders and hip injured from previous tumbles, the damage from these falls is escalating.

After her last visit, his doctor mentioned she thought it might be time for him to go into skilled nursing where he will have a whole lot more people to meet his needs.

Jack and I went to the VA approved facility, I pushed his chair around, we talked to patients and workers, spoke with the head nurse. We got all our questions answered. Tried to picture ourselves in this new situation. Jack in a double room in the odd combination of hospital and home that is skilled nursing, participating in the many activities, going on outings to the fair and out for pizza, even fishing once a year or so. Me twenty miles away driving back and forth each day to see him.

My head knows it’s time to pull the trigger. I’ve seen the facility. Jack is agreeable, if reluctant, to making the move. I understand that his safety is the most important concern. That one more damn fall could do him in. I see first-hand the damage that has already been done by previous falls. We have the assurance of the nursing staff that they will come as soon as possible each and every time Jack needs help going to the toilet. That they will do everything for him that I do and do it better as there are a dozen of them.

And yet, I cannot make the decision.

Friends point out that Jack going into skilled nursing too soon is preferable to waiting too long, to putting it off until that last bad fall before making the move. I KNOW this.

But I cannot squeeze the trigger.

The counterpoint to all these goddamn facts is that he is my husband and I want him with me. I do not want him to live in a nursing home with strangers. I do not want our life together to end. I’m not ready.

I’m not ready.

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Responsibility

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Those in the paths of mighty hurricanes will often refuse to evacuate unless they can keep their beloved family pets with them. They will stay in their flooded homes, cradle their animals to their breasts, and keep moving the cans of Purina higher as the waters rise around them. Dog food which, by the way, is made from big-eyed cows and highly intelligent pigs and soft and cuddly lambs.

The difference between, say, an oversized pit bull with an adorable polka dot bow tie and the cow or pig or lamb that we, or our representatives, slaughter for dog food, is that most of us do not have a relationship with what we call farm animals.

Relationship is everything. Assuming responsibility for the nurturing of another sentient being floods us with hormones and chemicals which we interpret as love. Over time a history of shared moments further binds us with our loved one. At some point frustration over the chewed table leg, anger at a slow-to-housebreak puppy, irritation at a dog that runs away every time he’s off lead – this leads us to a choice. We either give the dog away, or we make a commitment based, not on warm fuzzy feelings, but on an adult’s understanding of responsibility.

Yes, in this long-winded analogy, Jack is the dog that destroys things I love, refuses to be housebroken, and runs amok at every opportunity. And, the intellectual maze I’m attempting to find my way through here has, at its exit, the answer to the question, “Why am I sacrificing my life in order to care for Jack?”

The simple answer is that he is my husband. I actually did take a solemn vow to love him and care for him for better or worse, in sickness and in health. At sixty-six my word means something to me.

But the cheese at the end of this maze is much more complex than that vow. If you’ll forgive me another convoluted metaphor, the reason I’m trying so hard to hold on to his care is not sliced, plastic wrapped, homogeneous American cheese, it’s more of a well-aged, and extremely complex French brie.  Why is it important for me to follow my nose to the source of my decision to keep Jack home with me?  Because, we may be coming to the end of this particular arrangement. We may have reached the point where my keeping him home and insisting on caring for him is providing Jack with less care than he needs. I may actually be doing him harm.

To leave behind the image of the maze-running rat with the twitching nose and return to my doggie-in-the-hurricane analogy, I may be at that point where rescue workers attempt to pry my drooling companion from my arms in order to take him to a safe shelter and me to sanctuary. I admit to identifying with those folks in Texas sitting on their roof tops clutching a shivering dog and waving away the rescue boats.

At some point, the responsible action will be to override every protective instinct I have, ignore the flood of nurturing hormones and chemicals, and do what’s best for Jack.

That is, after all, what I vowed to do all those years ago.

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In The Twinkling of an Eye

bridge over the river kwai

Fifteen or so years ago, Jack and I took a train from Bangkok to the bridge over the river Kwai. Yes, THAT bridge. Visiting a POW camp and graveyard takes a heavy emotional toll, and with Jack’s combat PTSD, and me monitoring Jack for his reaction at every step, the experience left us both a bit numb. Repressing emotions does that to a person. Toward the end of the day, we stood with our backs to a large glass case of random human bones and read placards that told the story of the camp and of the bridge.

These informational posts were obviously written by a person who spoke English as a second language. After a day of visiting mockups of POW camps complete with pictures of starving prisoners, after strolling breathless in the heat and humidity in a well-tended graveyard surrounded by deep green jungle, we stood with our backs to this giant pile of human bones and read the placards. One told the story of how, when the allies threatened to bomb the bridge, the Japanese soldiers marched their prisoners out onto its length. Their hope was that the allies would not kill their own men and the bridge would be saved.

The bombs fell from the bellies of the planes, the placard stated, and in the twinkling of an eye, the bridge and all the POWs were blown to bits.

The juxtaposition of the quaint and charming, nearly whimsical cliche in the twinkling of an eye with the horror which the phrase described sent Jack and I into first giggles and then hysterical laughter. We crept away from the bone pile and walked back to our hotel to recover from our day.

Jack fell again this morning. That’s twice now in four days. The first time we had to call the EMTs to get him up. Today he managed to get his legs under him and pushed himself up onto his bed, but he hit his nose, there was some bleeding, and now it looks like he may end up with two black eyes which he will, no doubt, tell everyone I gave him. But, when I heard this second fall, as I rushed down the hall and into his bedroom, the phrase that leapt into my mind was in the twinkling of an eye. Running to Jack I had the same eerie feeling as I did that day in Thailand with a haphazard stack of bleached bones looming at my back.

Life can change so quickly.

All it takes is one fall, one bad decision, one accident.

And my world will never be the same.

This knowledge is both a constant weight of dread on my soul and an impetus to seize every moment, to luxuriate in each second, to take nothing for granted.

This is the only way I know to counterbalance the fear.

And yet, it is difficult when most days I am overwhelmed with Jack’s care, beaten down by the knowledge that I am resentful, and frustrated, and oh so easily irritated with his needs. Most days I just want a moment of quiet, a dedicated time to myself to accomplish nothing more than an empty mind, a clean slate. Each fall slams me with guilt at the realization of how quickly I can lose him, at the knowledge of my impatient and frustration with his care. At the same time, the moment requires that I step back emotionally, take stock of how badly he’s hurt and what he needs from me.

I am left exhausted, and with the sure knowledge that he will fall again and again and again. Until he dies. And then I will be left with the pain not just of his loss, but with the understanding that I was impatient, even unloving to him, that my own survival required an emotional distancing that robbed me of the closeness I craved.

How quickly life can change.

In the twinkling of an eye.

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Purple People Eaters

Purple people eater

My world view is predicated primarily on logic, experience, and expedience. Yet, I know the power of emotions. I believe love can heal, can open our souls to everything good in life, and I believe that is a kind of magic. I believe hate can devour us from within. However, essentially, I am a “show me the double-blind study” kind of woman, with one or two illogical caveats. For instance, several times I’ve awakened from dreams and known one of my boys was in trouble when, indeed, that son was in crisis. I am California enough that I routinely say that a person has good, or bad, energy. So, yes, I have inconsistencies in my world view, but for the most part, I am a skeptic.

Jack, on the other hand, has always been drawn to the mystical. If you don’t believe me, read Boogie with Chesty. I wrote that story pretty much the exact way Jack told it to me.

Jack believes in ESP. On a fairly regular basis, from the corner of his eye, he spots a black figure he identifies as death. U.F.O.s and angels and demons are a part of his world. The man rarely meets a conspiracy theory he does not embrace. When we lived in Mexico he drove five hundred kilometers to see a witch doctor who he hoped would heal his pain. The old guy laid hands on Jack and told him he could not cure him, that he needed to forgive himself for past wrongs and move forward with his life. Jack was awestruck. I figured that was good advice for pretty much everyone on earth.

My point here is that one person’s Woo Woo Nutso Crazy is another’s Accepted Reality. There are indeed, more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in any of our philosophies. However (and you knew this however was coming, right?), there are limits to how far most of us will stretch the bounds of possibility before our ties to reality are severed.

One of the symptoms of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy can be a loss of the ability to discern imagination from reality, in some cases the patient experiences full-blown hallucinations. This is especially troublesome in Jack’s case because his reality has always been unique, a bit more open than my reality. You might remember that this is the man who was thrilled to be spearfishing when a shark had been sighted in the water, a man who thought hooking two giant mastiffs to leashes and moving with them to the country of Panama was a damn fine and reasonable idea, a man who, apparently, honestly believed that as long as he was truthful about it I’d be fine and dandy with him chasing younger women.

So, you understand my hesitation when the neurologist asks me if Jack is losing touch with reality.

Whose reality?

Lately, though, Jack has begun to make decidedly odd comments. Lately, I am concerned that he may be dangling a little too much of himself off that cliff of sanity. Lately, I fear he may, indeed, be traveling not just in a world of his own creation, but one in which the tethers to reality have been loosed.

It started with a carousel. This was a few months ago. We were watching Jeopardy, me shouting out, mostly wrong, answers, when, in a clear voice Jack shouted, “I hope a tornado picks up one of those eucalyptus trees and smashes it into the thing!”

“What?” I jumped. Even the dog was startled by Jack’s vehemence.

“I hate that damn carousel?”

“What carousel?” Had Trebeck revealed a clue about wooden horses, or clowns, or merry-go-rounds?

It took me several minutes to figure it out. His train of thought had been triggered by an advertisement for a car dealer in town which does, indeed, have a carousel on its lot. And, in fact, across the highway from this dealer and on the bayside there is a row of old eucalyptus trees.

Once I caught on to what he was saying, I asked, “Why don’t you like that carousel?”

The dog got up and gave Jack kisses on his ear, wagged his giant fan tail. Jack was not appeased.

“I hate carousels!”

“No, you don’t.” Maybe I could reason him out of his agitation. “Remember when we were in Panama and we took that family we sort of adopted to the big mall. You paid for the kids to ride on those beautiful wooden horses with the flaring nostrils? Remember? The youngest boy insisted on riding the pig with wings?”

“I did that because I wanted those kids to die.”

I laughed somewhat hysterically. “That’s not true. You adored those little kids. Bought them all kinds of school supplies and toys. You enjoyed watching them riding that carousel.”

“Did not.”

So, I let it go. But it bothered me.

A few days later, my son told me, “Hey, Mom, look, you have a turtle dove at your bird feeder.”

“Never seen one of them here.” I watched the bird strut and peck at the bird seed that had fallen to the ground. “You know, I think that’s actually a mourning dove.”

And, Josh and I were off on a five minute tangent as to whether it was morning dove or mourning dove, which, of course ended in a Google search.

A few days later, I was standing in the yard talking to my oldest son, Mica, when Jack came to the kitchen window and yelled, “Be careful! You’re going to step on the turtle.”

My son and I looked at each other.

“Turtle?” Mica looked around.

“Right there, by your mom’s feet.”

This too, took a while for me to decipher though I bet you’ve already figured it out. Earlier when Josh and I had been trying to identify the dove, all Jack heard was the word turtle and he conjured up a lovely little shelled creature.

Mica and I walked around the yard picking up this and that as Jack directed us, trying to convince him there was no turtle. I explained about the dove. He insisted, still insists, that he saw a turtle. Given his failing eyesight, and his bad hearing, it is completely understandable that Jack got confused about what was in the yard. What is disturbing, however, is that he refuses to accept the explanation I just gave you, and insists that a turtle does indeed live in our yard and that he sees it from time-to-time.

A week or so ago, he was having a good morning, woke up without pain, thought he had died. When I told him I was glad he was feeling so good, he informed me that his respite worker, Alonso, had cured him.

“What?”

“He put some kind of herb in my bed. It was all tied together and looked like a two-headed goat.”

“What?”

“And he sprinkled some other magic potion on my pillowcase.”

“Where is it? Show me?”

“It disappeared.”

“What?” You see that, as a writer, I am quite articulate in my questioning.

“When the sun came up.”

“So, the herb thingie isn’t there now?”

He looked disgusted. “No. Of course not. It’s magic.”

When Alonso came to work, I asked him, in front of Jack, if he had put any herbs or magic spells on Jack or on his bed.

“Ahhh, no. The only magic I do is prayer.”

“Well,” Jack said, “Of course he said that. If he tells me what he asked for, the wish won’t come true.”

“What? Like a birthday wish?”

Jack shook his head. “Don’t be ridiculous. Birthday wishes come true only if you hold your mouth right when you blow out the candles.”

I’m pretty sure he was kidding about that last part.

But, I can’t be sure.

Then, a couple of days ago, Jack was in a lot of pain. “I wish the aliens would stop doing their experiments on me.”

“What?”

Well, you see where this is going. Next he’s going to be telling me purple people eaters are harvesting his organs.

Posted in aging, caregiver, grief, health, marijuana, Parkinson Disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, pts, Uncategorized | 4 Comments