I am often asked how Kate is doing. Typically, these are situations in which I have little time to elaborate. For that reason, I’ve developed short answers that do the job. For years, I said, “She’s doing remarkably well.” During the past two years, I’ve been prone to say “She’s declining, but we still enjoy life and each other.” More recently, I’ve said, “Life is more challenging now, but we still enjoy life and each other.”
Her bout with COVID, especially her hospitalization, brought about the most abrupt changes she has experienced during the ten years since her diagnosis. Now when people ask me about her, I say, “She’s making progress but very slowly.” Here’s a fuller story.
Before we got the virus, Kate had entered the last stage of Alzheimer’s. That involved lots of delusions and hallucinations. In addition, I was concerned about her long-term mobility. It was becoming more difficult for her to get up from a seated or a prone position. For years, she had been frightened by sudden noises. I had to warn her when I was going to get ice from the ice maker. Even when I did that, she was often shocked. Along with that, she became uneasy going up and down steps. Her physician and I agreed that she would probably skip a walker and gravitate to a wheelchair because she was unlikely to be able to maneuver a walker. A week or two before she tested positive for COVID, I had to enlist the help of the owner of the Mexican restaurant where we had just finished our meal because she was afraid to step off the curb to get in the car.
A large percentage of the time, she did not know that she was in her own house. Thus, the experience of being taken from her bed to an ambulance and then to the hospital for eight days must have scared her to death. I have compared it to a person’s being kidnapped. Even though the hospital was a place for her to get help, she wasn’t in a position to grasp that. I am sure she was frightened off and on during her entire stay.
She quickly recovered from the physical effects of the virus, but she remained traumatized when she arrived home. We were able to get her up for less than an hour her first day home; however, she was too scared to get out of bed for the next seven weeks.
Today marks the sixteenth week since returning from the hospital. She has made slow, but very gradual, progress. Her physical recovery from the virus hasn’t been a problem. She never had any fever or breathing problems. She recovered quickly while in the hospital from the symptom that took her to there – weakness.
After coming home, we had Home Health for two months. Physical therapy was the primary object of their care. They discontinued service because she wasn’t responding as quickly as they had hoped. Once again, the problem wasn’t anything physical. It was, and still is emotional. She is simply frightened almost every time we try to move her in any way. That involves changing her, lifting her out of bed, putting her into her wheelchair, and putting her back in bed. During these moments, she can be quite combative. She often yells and screams at us. Sometimes she tells us to “Shut up” and “Get out of here.” On some occasions, she presses her nails into my arms and those of her caregivers.
There is one good thing. Her anger usually ceases as quickly as it comes. It is not unusual for her to apologize or thank us after each event. Frequently, however, she is very passive, non-talkative. That normally lasts a few minutes but can last as long as an hour or more.
During the first few weeks after her hospital stay, we did our best to minimize the problem because we felt we were continuing the hospital experience and didn’t want to aggravate her emotional problem. After seven weeks, we decided she needed to get out of bed if she was going to make the kind of recovery we hoped for. We noticed there were occasional times later in the afternoon when she wanted to get up and took advantage of it. At first, the caregiver (with a little help from me) lifted her from the bed to her wheel chair. We found that difficult and gravitated to using a Hoyer lift. Now, that’s the only way we get her up from her bed or a chair which we do four or five times a week. One of the things I like about this is that she and I get to eat dinner together at the table.
The lift works well, but Kate often protests at several points in the process. Each step involves maneuvering her in some way. Fortunately, once she is suspended in the air, she generally relaxes. This process is definitely less offensive to her than changing her, and we depend heavily on it.
My role in everything is to make Kate feel more comfortable. When we change her or get her ready for the lift, I get in bed and tell her what we are going to do. I also tell her that she can help by remaining calm while the caregiver does what she needs to do. When it’s time to turn Kate on her side, I ask Kate to give me a hug, and I put my arms around her. I count to three and pull Kate toward me while the caregiver pushes in the same direction. Kate usually screams or yells, but, once on her side, she is quiet. She holds me tightly and general strokes my back, and I do the same to her. Once in a while, I say, “We never imagined we would be doing this when we first married.” Despite the intended humor, this is a touching moment for me. Throughout the process the caregiver and I tell her she is doing well and thank her for helping us.
Over time, Kate has protested much less than before, but she continues to resist at least minimally most of the time. Last week she went several days with little combativeness. Then over the weekend, she gave us problems. What I hope for is that she will gradually sense that we are not going to harm her, but I am prepared to accept that she may never walk on her own again.
The best thing I can say is that she is happy most of the time, and our relationship never been stronger (except at those moments when we move her). Our evenings after the caregivers leave continue to be the best part of our day. This may not last forever, but I will always be grateful for moments like these and so many others we have shared for almost fifty-eight years.