Saturday, January 14, 2012

Getting to Nowhere

So, Jen, How is Pat adjusting?

That is an excellent question.

Sometimes, when I think of what she has lost this past year-- her companion of 50 years, her home, a LOT of the possessions and furnishings she had treasured for years, her proximity to her siblings, her friends-- my heart breaks for her. I feel such sadness that I don't know how she can bear it. And then I remember psychology textbooks I have read about projection, and I wonder who I am actually sad for.

But what Pat has gained has been, in my opinion, valuable. I know that for her it doesn't compensate her for her losses; it certainly doesn't help with her [perceived] physical pain. And what Pat has gained is more of Pat. She can be kind now. She calls all of the other ladies over at St. Andrews, "Honey," and "Sweetie." They call her when she isn't out in the hallway, sitting in the lobby, or when they are going downstairs to make a pot of coffee, which they drink with powdered creamer.

She tells me almost all the time how depressed she is. She is seeing a psychiatrist-- at her physician's and her behest. But she has a community here. When I call her and she is with her friends, she gets off the phone with me faster than a teenage girl gets off the phone with her mother when she is at the mall pizzeria with her posse.

And why has she made these gains I mentioned? Because her considerate and intelligent physician is slowly weaning her off all of her narcotics. Boy, she may not remember whether I am leaving town for Hartford on Tuesday or Wednesday, but she remembers the word "loritab." Hydrocodone. House's favorite, and also Pat's. Perhaps that speaks to her good taste...?

Last summer, when she returned from Utah, she ran out of her loritab shortly after she got back, a full ten days before she could get her prescription refilled. Those were not good days. She would call me about every 15 minutes begging me to get her some loritab, asking me when she could get some. There was nothing I could do. The doctor and I discussed it, and how it affected her behavior, and he took her off it shortly thereafter. He put her on a longer acting painkiller, not a narcotic, that she takes 900mg of over the course of the day. That is the maximum dose. She doesn't think it does anything. Both the doctor and I have explained to her multiple times that the loritab didn't help with the pain-- it helped with her loritab addiction. It was a fix. And she insists that she was better when she was on it-- and of course, she has no recollection of those ten days.

I think I am portraying her and the situation more negatively than I intend, though. I am trying to set a stage by showing some of the things we've encountered this year-- but I have noticed a tremendous difference in her every time the doctor decreases her fentanyl dose. She becomes nicer, gentler, more thoughtful and considerate. She can conduct conversations with my friends that they enjoy (and not just at her expense). She scribbles down notes about the news so she can talk to people about it later. She remembers her grandchildren's names and things they are interested in. Unfortunately for Pat, she is not really on that list.

She also becomes more independent. She has gotten to the point where she can separate from her weekly medications (I set out seven days' worth every Saturday and call for refills when she needs them-- usually two or three a week) her medications for that day and the next morning, so there are days when I'm really busy and she tells me, "You don't need to come by today."

But I am distracted. I am so distracted, by work, by life, by the appointments I need to keep track of and drive her to, the children I need to feed-- and nourish. My dear friends. So, sometimes I am not very good at attending to her emotional needs. She hasn't been out of the house for a few days now, and today she wanted a new crochet hook. She wanted to run into Walmart to get it. However, Dash took the van and the kids had taken the car to their D&D game. So, Chris drove me to Farm & Home to get a snow shovel (Dash borrowed the other one, but we are going to need two anyway), these awesome spikes the kids and I put on the bottoms of our shoes (being absolute chickens on the ice), and to Walmart to grab a crochet hook.

Pat called me while I was at Walmart. "Be sure to get the ones with the flat tops-- you use the round ones."

"Mom, I'm standing here looking at all the crochet hooks, and they are all identical."

"I think it's a brand name. Let me go see if I can find it."

There was only one kind of crochet hook at Walmart. I almost sent her a picture of the display with my phone, but there is no way she would have known what it was or how to access it on her own. And I've seen the old ladies sitting in the lobby, trying to figure out how my mother's new Timex works. I'm not entirely confident they can figure out texting or picture messaging for that matter.


I grab crochet hooks. She calls me while I am at the checkout line, and I tell her I have to go. We get to her apartment, and I asked Chris to come in because I had to set out her pills for the week. She greets us at the door with, "I don't suppose it has ever occurred to you that I might want to get out of here once in awhile?"

And it sort of went downhill from there. She has also gotten out every single medication from the cabinet (including two she doesn't take anymore, but I kept on hand because they were just different doses, so could be used if she ran out). They were all out on the counter. She had a year-old list of her medications that she was consulting.

I said, "Mom, what are you doing?"

"Well, I put them out in alphabetical order."

"This list is outdated! And you don't put them out in alphabetical order. Did you read the labels to see what time of day and how many you're supposed to take?"

"We always put them out in alphabetical order in Utah."

. . .

She wants more independence-- but what she fails to comprehend is that as long as she keeps waiting for me to hand responsibilities over to her, she *can't* be independent. And it frightens me when she thinks she is capable of something-- like putting out her own medications-- when she isn't.

Winter is hard on both of us. I know I'm bluer when the skies are always overcast. I need the sun. I need to remember to use the lamp I bought to combat this. But the gloominess outside makes it harder to remember what I need to do inside to combat it.

I think of Pat and I limping along, going for our long country drives, both of us newly single and trying to make our way in a town neither of us has ties to-- a place neither of us can entirely understand ending up. We drive out on empty, twisty roads, taking in the barren landscape that is so stark that it fills me with the same pain and longing that I described above. We drive, talking sometimes, sometimes in silence. I take music with us. Sometimes I play ABBA, which she likes, and sing. Sometimes I play Josh Groban, because nobody else would tolerate me playing it in their presence. But no matter how long and far we drive, we always end up back at St. Andrew's. That disturbs me literally and metaphorically.

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