FOR THOSE WHO GIVE A CARE - PART ONEMy Change of Life BabyI made one last clockwise inspection of the room. Hamper, lined with scented trash bags, dresser (no mirror on top) just a family portrait hung high above the dresser because the top of dresser was arrayed with latex gloves, baby wipes, baby powder, Q-tips, cotton balls, baby wash, baby oil, baby lotion, and baby shampoo (“No More Tears!!!” Yeah, right!!!) The top drawer of the dresser contained soft socks, new nightgowns, PJs, and bed pads, while the second drawer held diapers, diapers, and more diapers. The bottom drawer was filled with freshly washed and softened outfits. Next wall: window above the bed with semi-sheer flowery nylon curtains that matched the new bedding. Third wall: table, then a rocking chair by another similarly dressed window. The fourth wall housed a closet for storage of future needs. My inspection was complete as I scanned the door to be sure that any means of locking it had been removed.I was ready to bring home my “change of life baby.” After all, I was fifty-two, and my husband was forty-nine. Our youngest was fourteen, then fifteen, sixteen, twenty, twenty-one, and twenty-nine. I know what you’re thinking, “What is she, crazy?” No, but I sometimes went that way, because Betty was a handful. If only I had known just how profoundly she would change my life, as well as that of my entire family.Bringing Betty HomeThank God the ride home was short, “just around the corner,” actually. After all the directives and paperwork, I couldn’t wait to get home and settle into a new routine. Routine?!!! Any idea of a schedule that I had went right through the window because Betty was calling all the shots. The minute we walked through the door, she was hungry, then restless, and then “had to go.” I too, had to go the minute we walked through the door, but that didn’t happen until forty minutes later, when Betty finally closed her eyes and seemed to be sleeping.“Honey,” I asked, “Will you keep an eye on Betty? I need a nap.” After what seemed like ten minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard my husband ask, “Where’s the….?” It didn’t matter what, I was up. “I’ll get it,” I said. I stumbled out of bed, got the diaper, baby wipes, and clean outfit from the dresser. The kids would be home from school soon, and I wanted Betty to look her best.Then it was back to Betty’s routine: restlessness, which led to walking around the house several times in order to familiarize Betty with her surroundings. Finally, we heard the bus screeching to a stop, and I opened the front door. As they got off the bus, I yelled, “Hey, kids! Meet your new sister. Her name is . . . Grandma!!!” That’s right, Betty was my seventy-seven year old mother-in-law, who, about two years earlier, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and prescribed a medication, which slowed down its progression, but did not stop or reverse it. After nine months in the nursing home, her condition had deteriorated, and we decided to bring her home. The decision to bring her home was easy. The preparation, on the other hand, which involved the same preparations for bringing home a new baby, and then some, was more difficult. What about the decision to place her in the nursing home in the first place? Well, that’s the story I’m about to tell you now. I remember the day we were asked to get involved by her companion, Walt, and we took her to the doctor, where she was asked several questions. Who’s Our President?“What year is it?” the doctor asked as he blocked the calendar. “1975,” Betty responded without hesitation. The doctor just raised his eyebrows, because the rest of us knew it was “the year of our Lord, 2000, AD.” “Who’s our President?” “Our President, I know we got one.” Betty replied nonchalantly. Then with agitation, “I don’t give a damn what his name is. Bill votes, I don’t have the time, but I know we got one.” (Bill, her husband, had passed away many years before this doctor visit). Then she looks at my husband, her son, (who was also named Bill), for verification, and asks, “You know, don’t you? You were dead before he was born, weren’t you?” No more questions from the doctor, just the writing of the prescription and a few directives. Directives!!! More like warnings!!! “You will notice a change in her personality.” No kidding!!! I never heard her curse before. Tell me something else. “She will have trouble finding the right words or phrases to communicate properly.” Well, she just demonstrated that fact. “She will become more agitated, belligerent, and even aggressive. And shortly thereafter, won’t ever remember being so. Her short-term memory will seem non-working. For example, she won’t remember that she had just eaten five minutes ago, while, her long-term memory will seem to switch into overdrive. For example, she will believe you are someone significant from her past, (mother, father, brother, sister, husband, best friend, etc.), and carry on a conversation about an event that you, as that significant other, should have been a part of. You must go along with the ordeal, or she may become even more agitated, belligerent, or aggressive. As with any other type of dementia, she will refuse to wash or change her clothes and will become very arrogant if a bath is even suggested.” The doctor could have been a fortune teller, for she went through all those stages and then some. I wish he would have told us about the wanderings and the phone calls that expressed the need to “go home.” Phone Calls: Part 1 - “I Need a Ride”April, 2001: I finally had a day off and my husband had called out “well.” He felt too good to go to work, so we decided to go fishing. As we were walking out the back door, the phone rang. Well, I just had to answer it. “Hello!” I responded naturally. A familiar voice on the other end said, “Hello, Mom, I need a ride.” Recognizing her voice, I replied, “Where are you, Betty?” Then I heard her ask someone, “Where am I?” Then, an unfamiliar woman’s voice in the background said, “Tell them you are at the drugstore at Lincoln and Dante, and that you have the dog.” Now, for the dog lovers among us, let me describe Misty, or Missy, as Betty called her, as an old, arthritic, faithful, fat, black Labrador, who cherished Betty and refused to leave her side. Like Betty, Misty too, had an uncontrollable bladder. As we pulled into the parking lot in our new Toyota, it began to rain. Needless to say, wet Betty and her wet dog, too, were retrieved and taken home. Betty had moments of clarity and she immediately told us to take her to Walt’s. She fixed us all some lunch and afterwards, began recalling her trip to Blue Anchor, about thirty-five miles away. She told us about cutting across the field and through the garden, but when she got there, no one was home. That’s when she called her old phone number (Thank God we never changed it when we bought her house, which was nearby, after she had moved in with Walt). Let me tell you what. God does work in mysterious ways, and I’m so glad He caught this one in time. Five minutes later, Betty may have ended up at the police station, or who knows where. Phone Calls: Part Two - “She’s Gone!”“Hello, Bill, this is Walt. Your mother’s gone! I can’t find her!”“We’ll be right there!” Bill replied. Arriving at Walt’s, we were informed that he had been busy outside working on the camper (Betty was adamant about going camping because in the past, when her children were younger, the whole family would spend the summer at a campground, so he bought an old camper and was fixing it up). Well, when he came into the house for lunch, Betty and her dog were nowhere to be found. So we drove up and down Main Road in an estimated determination of how far she may have gotten, but there was no Betty in sight. We then turned down a side street and became very uneasy as we noticed all the boarded up abandoned homes on either side. With a view of a wooded area in front of us at the end of the dead end street, there was Betty and her dog. She looked so bewildered and exhausted, as her shoulders were weighted down by two bulging pocketbooks. She could have been mugged, robbed, and left for dead. Again, Thank God we found her in time. Good thing, for no one would have wanted the melted candy bars, toothpaste, silverware, and dog bones that filled her bags.Phone Calls: Parts-Three, Four, Five, Six . . . etc. - “I’m Ready to Come Home”“Hello, Mom?” “No, she’s shopping,” I said, recognizing Betty’s voice.“Where’s Dad?” “He’s still working, Betty, what do you need?” “Why, I need a ride. I’m ready to come home”“Okay, I’ll be there in five minutes.” “You know where I am?” She said with surprise in her voice. “Yes, I’ll be right there.” A tattered Betty met me in the driveway, which was lined with large black plastic bags. “What brings you here?” she asked smiling, as though she recognized me.“Oh, I just thought I’d stop by and visit for a while” While we sat and chatted in the living room, Walt carried all the bags back into the house. After several similar episodes, I decided to take the bags to my house and sort through them. Some were filled with trash and small plastic bags filled with coffee grounds, newspapers, magazines, and old mail. Some were filled with clothes, both clean and dirty. While others contained the familiar items of tooth paste, dog bones, melted candy bars, silverware, and medications. After doing her laundry, I returned with her medications and clean clothes and got the biggest “Thank you, you didn’t have to bother.” From then on, I just made a point to go over, gather up her laundry, and we would have the nicest chat while folding her clean clothes.The Final Phone Call - “I Need Help!!!”“Hello, Bill? This is Walt.”“Yeah, Walt, What do you need?”“Why, I need help. I just can’t keep her from walking off with the dog again. I’m afraid something bad might happen to her.”“We’ll be right there.”Pulling into the driveway, we saw Betty with those bulging pocket books hanging off her shoulders. One hand held a shoestring that was attached to the dog’s collar, while the other hand held a shoe, raised in striking position to Walt’s head. But, right between them was the neighbor trying to stop Betty from hitting Walt.“Thank God, you’re here! I heard them arguing and came right over. I thought about calling the cops in case she hurt Walt. I know he’s in good shape for being eighty-seven, but I worry.”“Thanks for being here,” my husband said as he turned and began to remove the shoestring from the dog and Mom.“You’re not dragging this poor dog anywhere! Can’t you see that she’s more arthritic than you?” To which Betty responded by raising her shoe-fisted hand and aimed at my husband.“Why, you!!!” she said.“What? You want to hit me? Well, go ahead!” Bill retorted with tears in his eyes. Then he turned to me and said, “I got to get out of here for a few.” So he went next door for a beer and to get sandwiches for lunch. While he was gone, Betty and I walked around the driveway and each time we passed between the house and the bar she’d comment,“I know exactly where he went, the no good son of a gun!”Betty, still agitated about not being allowed to walk off, and believing that her son was her deceased husband (once again), continued to ramble about previous issues they had that ended up in the same manner. Walt had gone out to the garden to do some picking, and as we made our way around, we found him sitting under a shady tree shucking peas.“Care to help?” he asked. Betty sat right down, grabbed a handful, and with a smile on her face, began filling her pan, and talked about what a beautiful day it was.“These must be snap peas” I said, winking at Walt, “because they sure snapped her back to reality.” We no sooner finished, when Bill returned with a bag filled with cheese steaks and potato chips.“Why, aren’t you a sweetheart,” Betty chirped, and ate the entire sandwich (except for a small chunk she had saved for the dog). Then she went in to take a nap. That’s when we had the chance to talk to Walt about what step to take next.Decision #1‘’Well, Walt,’’ my husband said, “Let’s try this. We’ll go home, get things ready, and when Mom gets up from her nap, you can bring her over for dinner. Doris still has some of her laundry, so we won’t need any clothes for tonight, and we’ll see how that goes.’’‘’Okay, shall I bring the peas?”“Sure, why not?’’Dinner went well, and afterwards, Walt told Betty he had to go out of town to take care of some business, and that she and her dog would stay with us because he did not want to leave her home alone. That did not go so well. She insisted that she would be just fine and we insisted that she stay. We won. However, fifteen minutes after she settled into bed, Betty, with her coat on, and her belt slipped through the dog’s collar, came out of the room, “ready to go home.”“Where’s Walt? Isn’t he coming to pick me up?”“Not tonight, Mom. He’ll be here tomorrow.”She then went into our bedroom, which used to be hers, but twenty minutes later, the previous scene was replayed. This went on for about three hours then she seemed to be sleeping. My husband slept in his lounge chair by the hall just to be on the safe side and I slept on the couch. After all, she did have a reputation for walking off.Decision #2: The Next DayMy husband and I woke early and had time for one cup of coffee before Betty came out and announced that she and the dog had to go. Bill put Misty in the back yard, Betty went into the bathroom, and I made breakfast. After she ate, Betty did the dishes, as if it were routine, and then insisted on calling Walt. Before we could get to the phone, Walt was knocking on the door. Apparently, he had gotten a good night’s sleep, and concerned about Betty, came right over. Betty gave him a cup of coffee and made him some breakfast and once again, cleaned up right away. Then she said,“Well, I’m ready to go home, how about you?”“Well, now, that’s what we need to talk about. I think it’s best if you stay here. I’ll be over every day, and we can go for rides and out to eat once in a while and . . .” But before he could finish Betty became angry and confused.“What are you talking about? I’m not staying here! You must be off your rocker!” Seeing the helpless look in Walt’s eyes, my husband took his mother by the hand.“Mom, you know you’ve been having trouble remembering things, especially taking your medications. We all want to make sure you won’t get hurt or lost. Walt’s having problems keeping up with you. You have two choices. You can stay here with us, or you can go to the nursing home.”“What nursing home, the one just around the corner where I used to take the ‘Tiny Tim’ Carolers?” “Yes, Mom, if that’s the one you like.” The idea seemed to sit well with her and while Walt and Bill went to make arrangements, she and I had time to talk.The ConfessionSitting on the front steps, Betty confided in me.“I know there is something wrong with me, but I don’t know what, or what to do about it. It’s like I have no control over it.” Betty was a very intelligent woman, so I told her that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “Why I believe that my grandfather had that, but they just called it senility then.” Then she started to cry and through her tears she said,“Promise me that you will look out for Walt. We would have gotten married, but then I would have lost my social security. It would not have been financially beneficial. But I consider him my husband and I want all of you to do the same. He’s taken good care of me and I want to make sure that he’ll be okay.” (It was years after her death, that we found Betty’s little black book that expressed that exact plea).The first few weeks in the nursing home went well. It was amazing that every time we went to visit, she knew exactly who her “Little Billy” was, even if he was over six feet tall. But, as time and her illness progressed, we found the need to bring her home. Bill left his job to care for her twenty-four seven. It took all that and more, but that’s the next story.