Busy Days with “Unintended Consequences”

It’s been more than forty years since I was involved in academic sociology, but I occasionally think about sociological concepts that apply to current situations. Sociology focuses on human activity as part of a social system. The most basic one is family, but it also includes systems like the workplace, the various voluntary organizations, and extends to larger systems like a community, town or city, country, and beyond. When there are changes in one part of a system, there are often implications for other parts as well. Sociology has no monopoly on this view. It’s just that sociology specializes in this perspective. Common sense alone frequently reminds that we are all interconnected.

We need no better example than the current global impact of the spread of Covid-19. Like it or not, this has dramatic consequences for all of us. I suspect that many of us have discovered corresponding changes we hadn’t thought about. Sociologists refer to these as “unintended consequences.”

My own thought about the impact of our not eating out (as well as that of others who have reached out to us) focused on the reduction in our social contact. That has happened, but there are other things I didn’t think about (unintended consequences). By themselves they are not seriously disruptive. One by one, however, they represent increasing responsibility and effort on my part. So far, the changes are manageable, but everything requires more thought than it did before Covid-19.

The specifics may be different, but you are no doubt having similar experiences. I don’t mean to suggest that our situation is any more difficult than yours. My intent is just to describe what is happening with us and how we are handling things.

As you would expect, my biggest concern has been for Kate. She hasn’t been able to grasp what is going on. I don’t think she perceives any of the changes that have taken place. She doesn’t remember that we have been eating out for about eight years. Thus, she treats getting takeout and my preparing meals as though this is the way life has always been.

This might lead you to think that the changes do not affect her;  however, I believe there has been one important unintended consequence for her. Because we are home significantly more than before, she rests more. I address some of that by personally spending more time going through family photo books and touring the house with her. Still, she really gets tired and likes to rest. Most of her confusion occurs during or right after sleeping or resting. As I have mentioned before,  this is more likely in the morning after a full night’s sleep. The upshot is that she has experienced more confusion and delusions this week.

Wednesday was particularly problematic. We got off to a good start when Kate woke up for the day at 7:45. I was about to put my eggs in the skillet. She said she wanted something to eat. First, I took her to the bathroom. When we finished, I decided not to get her dressed because I thought she might want to go back to bed. Then I told her we could have breakfast together and gave her a blueberry muffin I had gotten at Panera the day before. I fried my eggs, and we ate breakfast together for the second time in the past few weeks. It took her a while to eat her muffin, but she did and then wanted another. I had purchased three and put two in the freezer. I took one out, heated it in the microwave, and gave it to her.

After breakfast, we looked at one of her photo books together. Very shortly, she wanted to rest. An hour later, we looked at one of her other books until it was time for lunch. I called one of our regular restaurants that is offering takeout service. I placed the order, and Kate and I picked it up.

As we were eating, she said, “Where is my mother?” Sometimes when she asks about her parents, I tell her they are gone. Other times, I don’t. This time I said her mother was in Fort Worth. She was confused about other things. I don’t recall exactly what they were, but they involved her background and family. She was disturbed about not knowing and wanted to learn. She also didn’t know me.

I told her I would be able to help her and took her into our dining room and living room and showed her things that had been in her parents’ home. We have done this several times in the past couple of weeks. This time she was more animated by what she was learning. Right away, she was no longer disturbed.

Most of the day, she felt that she was somewhere other than her home. As we walked through the two rooms, she kept identifying items that she wanted to take home with her. In several cases, she wanted to pick them up right then. I suggested we finish the tour and then come back and get them. She agreed except for a decorative plate on the living room wall. I carried it for her as we went into the family room where we looked at several other things. She was ready to rest, and I put the plate back in the living room. The tour had distracted her. She was fine although she still believed she was someplace other than her home. I can handle that. I get disturbed when her confusion bothers her. In the end, our home tour made both of us happy.

She was more confused and disturbed after her nap. This time, I suggested we go outside and look at the flowers. Before we walked out of the house, she talked about how much she liked the house and asked me “who lives here.” I told her we did. She was surprised. She must have asked the same question five or six times between then and our getting back in the house fifteen minutes later. She enjoyed the brief (10-15 minutes) time outside and the spring blossoms. She was fine when we went back inside.

It was time for me to prepare dinner, and she rested again. She was confused and worried when I got her up for dinner. I don’t recall the specifics, but she was worried about people she thought were in the house with us. This continued through dinner. Afterward, we went back to the bedroom where I helped her get ready for bed. I found an Andre Rieu concert in Italy. She responded quickly to the music and it and several other videos for the next two hours. She was fine again.

My take on this is that she is comfortable so long as she is engaged in things that she can enjoy. Previously, eating out provided the kind of stimulation that did that. More importantly to me, it provided enjoyment for both of us without my having to create something. Without that, it takes a lot more time to entertain her.

That was our most challenging day of the week. I was relieved when she got in bed and responded happily to the music.

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