Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Grownup Heartbreaks

It has been three weeks since my aunt has moved back to South Africa...and my cousin is at her wits end. She doesn't know what to do anymore.

You see, my uncle has Alzheimer's - and since my aunt had to go back to South Africa to finish her work's been difficult. He's also diabetic...which just screams with issues in itself. He eats, and then ten minutes later has forgotten that he's eaten and wants to eat again - aka - uber bad for a diabetic.

This means that he needs 24/7 care..and my one cousin has moved to Boston, my aunt is in South Africa...and my cousin-in-law is at school in Guelph. Therefore, it falls on the shoulders of the cousin left here...who is already under an incredible amount of stress and has other issues to be worrying about. He can't be left alone for any time at all - because he'll immediately get into something, anything, EVERYTHING. My mom was watching him the other day and looked away for two minutes..and he had ran into the kitchen and was hiding in the corner stuffing an ENTIRE BANANA into his mouth. Banana's have a LOT of sugar in them..especially when you've already eaten two meals and three snacks that day..and it's only 2pm...not so good for diabetics.

He also doesn't really sleep through the nights anymore - which means that 24/7 care has to be taken quite literally. There is now a gate at the top of the stairs where the bedrooms are to keep him from going downstairs when he wakes up in the middle of the night - so that he doesn't eat everything in sight...and the gate has an alarm on it, so that if he does manage to open it...everyone gets up and tries to get him to calm down and go back to bed. This itself is another huge job..because he's a completely different person at 2, 3, 4am..he screams in Italian, he yells, he tries to break things. He's unconsolable, he's irrationally angry and he's out of control - It's as if he's a completely different person. He is not his daytime self...and his nightime self is terrifying because the situation can get so out of control so fast..and you've just had to force yourself to wake up and are being pumped full of adreneline to be awake and aware enough to deal with the situation. Even at the best of times...his daytime self is still difficult...but add that extra element of aggression and anger - which is just purely part of the disease..and it's..impossible to describe.

I've been there for almost three weeks, staying there, attempting to help in any way I can...and I feel so helpless. I just don't know what to do...especially when it's three am and I'm staring at an angry old italian man who is threatening to kick me out of the house and looks like he might cry because I won't give in and give him a granola bar or a piece of bread until 7am. Funny thing is...I seem to be the only one lately who somehow convinces him to go back to bed without eating everything in the house. I'm not sure it's usually in the wee hours of the morning and I'm half asleep as I'm telling him that we need to head back up to bed and closing cupboard doors and the like. From what I can tell though...he's afraid to yell at me TOO much. And he's only afraid to do that because I'm my fathers daughter, and luckily, my Dad is one of his ABSOLUTE favourite people in the ENTIRE world. Thanks Dad!!

Anyways. It's beyond a full time job, and it's just..too much..for any one person..let alone thinking about the OTHER circumstances of her life right now.

And then today...a phonecall came. From the access centre.

They put him on the crisis list to get him into a long term care facility..because of everything that has happened, and everything that has been going on...something needed to be done. Today they offered him a bed - which means that there are 24 hours to accept or decline, but you basically have to accept or else you get no government help from any agency for the next six months. The admission is at 9:30 on Friday morning...and it just seems so soon. Reality is here, and it seems so surreal..that I don't even know what to think anymore.

Sometimes he is his normal self. He jokes and teases and you think nothing is wrong..until he asks you where he is, if he's married or what day it is. And then my heart just breaks. Again and again and again.

I know it's the best thing for him. I know that it's what needs to happen. They have people who are trained to deal with dementia and all of the classic symptoms that come from it. The anger, the confusion and the regression. They have staff 24 hours a day that can be up in the middle of the night. They know how to distract him, how to diffuse an otherwise volatile situation and they have the things that he needs and will continue to need as this disease continues to progress.

It's hard - but I know that my cousin is at a breaking point, and that she can't handle it much longer. She has been doing this for years now, and there is only so much a person can handle, especially given new things that have arose in her life. I know that she'll be more good to him when she can visit him everyday, a couple of times a day (the facility is really close to their house). Instead of getting frustrated, upset and making herself stressed and exhausted from having carry the world on her shoulders and be the constant 24 hour a day caregiver...but it still breaks my heart.

Growing old sucks.

And for that matter - so does being faced with situations such as these and having to be a grownup.

Today the game of life seems to be filled with epic proportions of suckage...where you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Where nothing seems fair and no matter what way you're faced with another obstacle...

Can someone lend me their time machine so that I can go back to being four again?

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I'm going to critique your blog on 20SB but I just read this post and had to say that you're cousin is a saint. Your narrative is so real and relateable. Your conflicted feelings in response to your uncle's affliction and confusion with his dementia is heartbreaking and courageous. The fact that someone cares about him and is willing to spend all their waking hours speaks volumes about your cousin's character (and yours as well).

    Kudos to you.

    And when it comes time for him to get more specialized care, I'm sure you're both fit to make that decision. Your conscience will be clean because you both did the right thing and cared for a family member in a time of need.