Our Trip to Nashville to See Ellen

Yesterday we paid a visit to see Ellen Seacrest, one of our longtime friends who lives in a memory care facility in Nashville. It is now three and a half years since she had stroke. It affected her mobility and her speech. For a while the speech improved, but it has been much worse since having a couple of seizures a year ago. During our last two visits we could only understand about 25% of what she said. Yesterday it was even less. For the first time, that may have had an impact on Kate’s response to her.

We met in the activities room. Kate noticed some jigsaw puzzles on a shelf and brought one to the table where we were sitting. She never opened it, but she never seemed as engaged in the conversation as she had been in the past. It also seemed like Ellen directed more of her comments to me. That could have made Kate feel less involved. On our next trip, I think I will make more of an effort to excuse myself for a few minutes and let them have some private time. I am sure Kate would take more initiative if I were not in the room.

After we were there about an hour, I brought out my iPad. Ellen was enthusiastic about viewing musical performances as we have done for the past eight months or so. Apart from her career as an ETV producer, Ellen directed her church choir for almost forty years. I selected videos of the Wartburg College Choir in Lincoln, Nebraska, thinking that might be of special interest. I was right. She loved it. What’s more, Kate did as well. They were seated side-by-side with eyes fixed on the iPad. It was hard for Ellen to express her feelings except by the expression on her face, but she did convey that she liked the pageantry of some of the videos. Several of them featured the choir’s entry as they marched down the center aisle to the choir loft. Several of the pieces were accompanied by a small orchestra. I don’t think she has been to church since her stroke, so it was an especially meaningful experience for her. I am glad we got to share it with her.

After we left, we went to dinner. I was reminded of how closely I need to watch Kate when we are out. We were seated near the restrooms, but I always walk her to the door and often open it for her. Then I wait near the door for her to come out. As usual, it took quite a while for her to finish. I noticed others who had entered and come out. I went to the door and pushed it open enough to see Kate was standing at a sink washing her hands. A woman and her daughter were at the sink beside her. I closed the door assuming she would be out shortly. The mother and daughter came out, but Kate didn’t. I went back to the door. This time I knocked and slowly opened it. Kate was walking to the door. I don’t know what happened, but she apparently didn’t remember where the door was. She thanked me and showed no sign that anything had happened. It reminded me of times when I have lost and found her. She was very calm.

When we got to our table, I showed her where she had been sitting. That seems a simple thing, but she never knows where to sit. She often doesn’t understand when I show her. As she started to sit down, she said, “Where is my husband?” I said, “Right here.” She looked at me and realized she hadn’t known I was the one ushering her from the bathroom to her seat.

After dinner, I was leading her to the exit when I got too far ahead. I looked back. She was about fifteen feet behind and looking for me. I walked back and led her out. She looked at me and said, “Where is my husband?” I looked at her, and she realized again that I was the one holding hand to the car.

In both of these instances, I was struck by two things. First, was the fact that she said “my husband.” She is far from completely forgetting that. It is simiar with my name. She still occasionally calls me Richard when she needs something. Most of the time she just says, “Hey.” (That reminds me that the sitter told me that on Friday, Kate asked, “Where is my daddy?”) Second, these were clear instances of a problem with her sight that relates to her Alzheimer’s and not to her cataract. We know that she can now see out of both eyes. When she misses things, it can’t be a problem with vision.

I sense that we are going through another transition when she wakes up. I’ve previously noted that she is often confused, but the past few days she has seemed more confused than usual. She hasn’t remembered my name or relationship. It is not unusual for her not to know that she is at home, but that has been more puzzling to her when I tell her. It’s like she is in a deeper fog than usual.

I am settling into telling her I am her husband if she asks about our relationship, but I am not intending to dispute her if she thinks I am her daddy. I just don’t want to create any unnecessary problems for her. She is still alert enough to recognize that she should know she is in her own house and that I am her husband. Sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly what to say.