Communion Of Dreams

November 20, 2009, 9:16 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Emergency, Health

“You guys are really good with him,” said the ER nurse.

* * * * * * *

The knock came at the back door as I was finishing my first cup of coffee. It was a neighbor two doors down.

“Jim, Ray’s fallen, and I need help to get him up,” he said, somewhat breathless from the quick walk over to our house.

Ray’s another neighbor, and an old family friend. He and Martha Sr shared a birthday, though he was five years older. This makes him 97. He’s been on his own for a while now, his wife having passed (he cared for her up until the final months of her life – she had Alzheimer’s) and his family long since scattered. But he was doing fine – spry, mental faculties still very sharp, and he would always consult with me on how my tomatoes were doing, offering his vastly greater experience what I should do for this or that minor problem. My wife and I, and the other neighbors, all kept an eye on him, and his family would call him a couple of times a day to keep track of how he was doing. Which is exactly what he wanted – he was adamant that he could continue to be on his own, in the house where he’d lived for 60 years.

I didn’t wait. I quickly headed out the door and across the yard, pulling out my mobile and calling my wife as I did so.

* * * * * * *

For some months now, I have been #4.

#4 on Ray’s speed-dial, that is. We set it up some time back, and tested it fairly regularly. Because though Ray was doing really well, recently he’d started having some problems with his balance. Reluctantly, he had started using a cane, then a walker. But he kept his phone with him at all times, because if something happened and he lost his balance, he wanted to have the ability to call me if he needed help getting back up or was injured.

And after his needing to call me a couple of times in the last month, I had taken to being more careful to make sure I always had my phone with me, that it was on. Recently I found myself checking it frequently, to make sure I hadn’t accidentally muted it, in case Ray called and I missed it.

This was a familiar feeling, an ingrained response. It was like always making sure I had the monitor with me while I was taking care of Martha Sr.

* * * * * * *

“Martha, I’m going over to Ray’s. He’s fallen in his bedroom, may be hurt.” Our other neighbor, the one who came to get me, has a heart condition. If I needed to move Ray or anything, I needed my wife.

“I’ll be right there.”

I went in the back door, through the house to the bedroom. Ray was there. He’d fallen, had hit his head on the corner of a small table. There was blood, but not a lot, and it was dried. He had been there a while, possibly overnight. He was conscious, and recognized me. “Oh, good, Jim – help me up.”

I quickly checked him over, asked him some questions about whether he hurt anywhere. But his answers were somewhat confused – moreso than usual. Whether from the blow to his head, or as a result of something else, I couldn’t tell.

“Help me up, Jim.”

Sorry, Ray, not this time.

My wife got there, she knelt down and did the same quick assessment I did. She looked at me, and knew what I was thinking. I handed her my phone. “Call an ambulance.”

She left the room and did so. I stayed with Ray, holding his hand. He was insistent that he didn’t need an ambulance, but he was otherwise not making sense about what had happened or how long he had been down.

There comes a point in time in dealing with someone who is in this condition when you have to make the decision as to whether you are willing to ruin your relationship with them in order to make sure they get the proper care. This is what keeps many family members from taking away the car keys of a parent, or getting them into a nursing home. For me, it was an easy choice in this case. I liked and respected Ray, valued his friendship, but he needed professional medical care.

* * * * * * *

Martha rode in the ambulance with Ray. I came home, changed clothes, grabbed something to eat, then went to the hospital. We stayed with him there in the ER through the rest of the day, along with his nephew that lives here in town. They did tests, CAT scans, all the usual things. This and that doctor came in, consulted, did their best to communicate with him. We helped, talking with him loudly until I went back to his house and got his hearing aid, but mostly we were just there to be friendly faces.

Ray stabilized, and his confusion cleared up, but there were reasons why they wanted to keep him there for observation.

This was not news Ray wanted to hear. It took a lot of convincing that it needed to be done before he finally relented. We stayed with him until they got him settled into his own room.

It is never easy to be in an ER for a long time. Late afternoon, while they were doing something with him which required a bit of privacy, Martha and I were standing outside the room, next to the nurses’ station. We were both tired, and no doubt looked it. The nurse there at the desk looked up at us. “You guys are really good with him.”

We nodded. “We’ve got a lot of experience – we cared for my wife’s mother – Alzheimer’s – until she died last year. Ray’s an old friend.”

“You guys are really good with him,” she repeated, “that experience shows.”

* * * * * * *

Jim Downey

Post Script: one of Ray’s daughters got into town last night. She had planned on coming in for Thanksgiving, anyway, and they were going to spend some time looking to find a good assisted care facility for him while she was here. Ray had come to the conclusion that the time had come to take this step. It was just bad timing that this accident happened when it did.

2 Comments so far
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It’s more than the experience with Martha Sr that makes you good with Ray – you’re good people, and have the respect of other people that impels you to treat someone with dignity. Even when you overrode Ray’s objections, I am sure you presented the reasons as calmly and logically as the situation allowed. Believe me, that gets noticed over the short-tempered family members who do not involve the elder person and who yell at them like they are a puppy.

Would I be wrong in guessing that after Ray moves, you’ll still visit him – and he’ll still tell you how to handle problems with the tomatoes? Which I am sure will find their way, a few magnificently ripe samples, to wherever he is.

Because that’s you.

Comment by ML

[…] our old neighbor, Ray, is slipping in health. This is common in the elderly when they have taken a fall, or moved […]

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