Thursday, December 13, 2007

In the Land of Magic Mushrooms

Author's note: If you read this a couple hours ago and found it a little weird, I drifted off as I was writing this late last night. When I awoke, stiff-necked and drooling, I clicked the bright orange button instead of the sleepy blue one to save my work, and that's why you got to read the unfinished product.

As mothers-in-law go, I got very lucky. My mother-in-law (well, both in-laws) welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like one of the family. We have always gotten along well, and my in-laws were wonderful allies in some rather difficult times.

As those closest to me know, my 84-year-old mother-in-law (on this public forum we'll name her DEB for "Depression-Era Baby") suffered a stroke about two months ago. It was a fairly serious bleed in her brain caused by her emphatically-denied high blood pressure.

I guess I should give you a little background. DEB has always been a feisty, independent woman. She's very funny and she sings all the time. She never let circumstances drag her down. Many folks in their 80s spend a good chunk of time discussing aches and pains, pills, and their latest colonoscopy experience. Not DEB. "Old people" got on her nerves. If her neighbor talked her into going on a casino bus trip, she sat with her neighbor's mildly-mentally-challenged son rather than the "old people."

Once I drove her to the grocery store, and, to my horror, she called some annoying woman driver an "old bat." Never mind that I'd been grousing about the lady taking her chunk of the parking lot aisle out of the middle. The Old Bat thought I called her the name, and I shamelessly admit that I didn't hesitate to throw DEB under the bus and refer Old Bat to her. Old Bat said something lame about how DEB should look in the mirror, but really, when someone older than you calls you an old bat, that's a pretty heavy blow.

Only until very recent years did DEB start looking like she might be a little over 60. She colored her hair, sure, but she never wore makeup and her skin looked pretty good. She didn't walk old or act old or think old. She didn't even talk old, if that makes sense. You didn't realize she was 80-something until she mentioned something like, "Back in '39 when I was 16..."

Prior to cataract surgery, she had some bloodwork done that revealed "slightly elevated" blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol. Her immediate response was, "Doctors just want to give you pills." Another favorite: "Oh, my blood pressure always goes up when I go to the doctor." How do you fight that? Her view is that doctors want to find something wrong with you so they can take your money.

Well, the bleed was directly related to high blood pressure. After roughly eight weeks in hospital, acute rehab, and sub-acute rehab at a nursing home, she finally came home Wednesday. From being bedridden to wheelchair to walker, she's now walking rather steadily on her own. Her greatest risk is something the doctor defined as "left-sided neglect," which means that she doesn't acknowledge objects on her left side. This means she'll likely bump into or trip over things in the left side of her field of vision.

Anyway, it's time to get to the reason behind the title of this post. We could see over the past couple years that DEB's been slipping a little in her memory. It's bound to happen, right? Well, this stroke seems to have short circuited something in the file drawers, and now we never know what DEB is going to come up with.

For reasons to be contained in another post, my in-laws visited yesterday. DEB kept referring to the prior day's visit with long-deceased people in Delaware. Some strange woman was in my house yesterday, and DEB didn't know who she was or why she was there. She also let my dog sleep on her bed last night. I didn't know Knucklehead could be in two places at once. And another thing. Apparently, my husband not only had a prior marriage, but he has two grown daughters with children of their own.

What makes this even more fascinating is that for the most part she's still in 2007. She knows me and my kids and the layout of my house, and she knows which Bush occupies the Oval Office. She had the days mixed up, but she knows Christmas is around the corner despite the fact that I haven't had time to decorate a single thing in here except for the icky taproom-like lights sagging off the front porch. She asked me several times when and where we were going to mass.

Now I know why people get into neurology. DEB's synapses are firing all over the place. Maybe they're trying to get the books back onto the shelves without Dewey's help, or maybe the dementia/Alzheimers has taken hold and this will be the last of the lady I've come to adore over the last 17 years.

I have to credit my husband, The Oracle, with the title of this post when he used it to label DEB's mental wanderings.

Really, though, what do you do with it? Do you humor her and go along for the ride, or do you struggle to keep her anchored to the here and now? The argumentative side of me wants to keep her anchored, because I have this nasty tendency of making sure the information is accurate. Is it a crushing blow to learn that someone's been dead for twenty-odd years, or will that reminder bring something to the surface and make her say, "oh, yeah, I forgot"?

I'd like your opinions on that.


AmusedMomma said...

My dad had a heart attack at O'Hare three years ago and in the process he fell and hit his head. He was 72 then. After coming out of a coma, it took months for him to "put all the books back on the shelves." The doctors explained to us that head trauma, no matter what it's from, is especially difficult on the elderly.

Their advice to us was to humor them unless it was something that we could tell was unsettling to him. Then we should gently correct him, but not confront. Combativeness can be a part of the recovery process but a big ol' fight aint' doing anybody any good. They won't fight if there's nothing to fight with, kwim?

Enjoy her creative conversations and watch that she does steadly improve. If not, I'd be talking to the doctors. But remember, her recovery isn't going to be like a younger person's might be.


Just Me said...

Thank you, Paula.

I know we're really not going to know anything for at least a year. A major injury to a younger healthy person can take up to a year to heal, so we know DEB's will take longer.

My FIL wants her screened to see if Alzheimers is a possibility since she was slipping a few cogs here and there before the stroke.

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

Ok, too confused by your blog title to say anything right now except... PEANUT BUTTER AND BACON SANDWICHES.... REALLY?