Gratefulness – Woman expressing gratitude with hands.

Gratitude: When living with dementia leads to a powerful perspective check

There really ARE angels among us.  I just saw them.

3:48 a.m., Progress West Hospital, O’Fallon, Missouri. 

Nurses who practice empathy right along with medicine.

Nurses who understand my mama’s delusion and panic and night terrors as a combination of advancing dementia and a deluge of physical setbacks that have culminated in this moment.

A perfect storm of dehydration, a terribly advanced UTI, elevated blood sugar levels, a possible blood infection and cellulitis in her left leg that has it swollen and red.  She winces in pain at just the slightest touch. But she is well on her way to recovery even in the first 24 hours here.

We are grateful beyond words for the progress since she was admitted the day before from her assisted living facility.  On lockdown since March, here she lies. Finally out of her room, but unaware of where she is.

“Who’s house is this?”, she asks on repeat.

“It’s a hospital”, I explain.  Again.

In the emergency room, she thought she came from “Layven Ave”.  That’s where she and my dad built our family. It’s where they raised my younger brother and I.  It’s where she was supposed to live out her golden years with the love of her life. Our dad died almost 6 years ago, just short of his 70th birthday.  It was just a few months between diagnosis and death. Our mama’s dementia had been more and more evident since she lost her Larry.

The isolation of coronavirus quarantine now, it seemed, had stolen even more of the mama we knew.

Still, as the steady stream of fluids and antibiotics declared war on the infection, the clarity of even her compromised mind came incrementally through.  The trademark warm personality of our mama won over nurses who had been working around the clock. Dedicated. Committed. They brought her back to baseline.

Back to our new normal, that even in the throes of dementia, is a gift.  I realize it now more than ever. To have her present. Present . . . with our permission, to just be.

Just.

Be.

The blessing of being with her . . . through the evening sun downer confusion to watching her sleep.  I am privy now, with a front row seat, to the conversations she must have nightly with characters in her head.

Tonight it was mumblings of details of a garage sale she was having tomorrow.  Instead of a garage sale, our mama ended up graduating from the hospital to rehab.  “Mama!” I said. “You did great! Rallying and being strong through all the pokes and pains!  YOU DID IT!”

“Nope.  No me. God did it.  He’s strong when I am weak,” says our mama who has been around her rosary thousands of times on our behalf.

So we stand vigilant.  Ready to reassess what it was in her assisted living that led to this perfect storm of debilitating, domino effect health problems.  Pledging to advocate for her as she has for us so many times over the years.

That’s when my mama breaks into my deep thoughts, grabs her right breast that’s roaming free under that hospital gown we are about to leave behind, and says, “Look at this!  WHERE did my boobs go?!?!?! I nursed 2 kids on these things! And now look at ‘em! Nowhere to be found.”

Our mama was back.

For now, in this moment . . .

Gratitude.
Gratitude.
Gratitude.


For this day.
For this mama.
For this journey.

One day at a time.  

Like our dad, her love, Larry would say, “Together We Can.  Together We Will.”

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