It has been a long month. I guess I’d call this our “new normal” – we’ve turned a corner, for sure. I just don’t know how to describe the new territory.
My DH’s 88, he’ll be 89 in April 2020. His Alzheimer’s diagnosis came in 2013 (a few years after symptoms). And, we’ve coped pretty well with all the usual losses that accumulate over time.
On December 5th, he had a stroke. It was preceded (the week before) by two transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or mini-strokes. Each of those lasted only 5-10 minutes and he quickly recovered. This stroke was bigger and its effects more long-lasting.
I found him near the bed, limp like a pile of laundry on the floor, he mumbled, “I can’t get up!” – and that was true, he couldn’t. The paramedics got him off to the local hospital where we waited 8 hours in the emergency department for a bed on the neurology floor. During the wait, and really, not 4 hours into it, his strength returned and he was doing fairly well on the gross measures of neurologic capacity. Coordination was much slower to return. He spent 4 nights in the hospital, and thankfully, Medicare afforded him a stay in a local transitional care unit (TCU) for rehabilitation therapies, OT, PT & Speech.
He followed the program with amazing compliance and actually ate better than he would for me at home, gaining 7 pounds in December! He came home on Christmas eve afternoon, not back to his “old self” but doing fairly well. There’s some residual damage and, what I know for sure is that with the next stroke, there will be more.
It was (as the neurologist explained) neither a clot nor a bleed – the common forms of stroke. It was a “luminal” stroke – the lumen of the blood vessel narrows, closes off, and the lack of blood-flow does its damage. Then, in time, it may open up, if perhaps to a lesser degree than before the stroke, and blood-flow is restored, as is function – at least some of it. It is not the kind of stroke that medical experts can treat or cure. They increased his daily aspirin from 81 mg to 325 mg – that was the only change they prescribed. What is clear is that this sort of stroke will repeat itself and each time, he will recover less completely; it is all related to age and tends to increase in people (men especially) over 85.
For me, the month was endless – the TCU was only 12 miles from home but, visiting almost daily left me exhausted. It isn’t the kind of tired that comes from hard work but, the kind that you experience from jet-lag, that stressed, pressed to your limit, sense that you may never quite catch up with your life or make up for the time you lost in mid-air.
He’s been home with me for five days. I’ve spent the time stewing over what his needs are now. I figured he’d need a sitter/companion anytime I left the house. Could I go to my yoga class and leave him alone for an hour? Could I work my mini-shifts (3 – 7 pm) doing health coaching which I would miss because it affords me time to practice my craft and focus on the needs of other people, not just us? Could I train him to use the stairs with supervision, not on his own, anytime he wanted to explore another floor? I stewed a lot.
Now it is Sunday and he’s been up and down the stairs twice, pretty much on his own. He’s watching football and fussing with the TV remote like he always does (it persistently confuses him). He’s eating fairly well, walking with some lack of coordination in his right leg, and wondering why I seem so weary.
I am weary. We’re in a new normal. I’m making it up as we go along. My intuition tells me this is the beginning of the end and, while it is perplexing, I’m okay with that. I’d rather lose him to a big stroke (or a series of smaller ones) than to Alzheimer’s disease. We’ll see what the future brings – I don’t have a crystal ball handy – but I’m blessed to know that we’re okay and between us, we’ll make this work, at least until it doesn’t. Stay tuned, my dear friends.