Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Small Miracle of Resetting the Bongs

It was the find of a lifetime.

A grandfather clock in oak which exactly matched my furniture, fit into a corner of my living room perfectly, and was available for garage sale prices. I hovered around it, afraid someone else would snap it up. My son was working for a company where he had access to a truck, and the clock made a careful journey across the city and into my house. 

I loved it. It looked so classy, and the single bong on the half hour and hourly chimes were comforting. At the time, I was a widow, and it's rather loud ticking and bonging was like having someone else in the house.

Only one problem. It kept terrible time.

A beautiful piece of furniture, it gained about five minutes every hour. I suppose there are people who, for a price, would fix my lovely clock, but it wasn't a price I was willing to pay. You don't get a fantastic garage sale deal and invest more money into it. At least I don't.

So every few days, I engage in an exercise I call "resetting the bongs." Because the chiming of the clock is coordinated with the time, you can't just resent the time on the clock when it is wrong. If you do, you will have it chiming ten o'clock when the face of the clock says two o'clock. There is nothing worse than a clock which is totally tells the wrong time. After all, what are clocks for?

So I begin the tedious exercise of resetting the bongs. I move the face of the clock forward by half hour increments, until the bongs match up with the real time. BONG (half hour.) BONG BONG BONG. BONG. BONG BONG BONG BONG. This exercise continues until I am finally at the right time. For a day or so.

There are times when I think I need my bongs reset.

I am my father's daughter when it comes to time. My father was only late for things when my mother was involved, and it drove him nuts. The routine when getting ready for any event: Dad got himself ready and paced by the door a good half an hour before the earliest possible time to leave. Every five minutes, he sent me to my mother to try and hurry her up. Mom would be sitting at her vanity table in her slip, putting on her "face." Nothing or no one would hurry her up. After the makeup came the dress, the jewelry and the shoes. By the time she was ready, I was a stressed out bundle of nerves, and my Dad--well, we won't go there,

I guess I could have gone either way, but I am Daddy's girl. I arrive at work just after 7:30 most days, when I start at 9:00. I'd rather miss something than walk in late. I have an inner disdain for people who are always late. I keep my feelings to myself, but lateness severely annoys me.

I need my bongs reset.

Of course, punctuality is a virtue. But it's not a god. I recognise in myself a subtle smug attitude. I think it's respectful of everyone's time to be prompt, but it doesn't make me a better person in the core of my being. It doesn't give me the right to judge someone who is late, or allow irritation to cloud my feelings for them.

Much more important is how I use the time God gives me. Each day is a gift, and He wants me to use it wisely. It makes me cringe, but judging someone who is late for a meeting is not how God wants me to use the time He gave me today. Ouch.

Lord, remind me today that I am responsible for me, my attitudes, my self-talk and how I spend the days you give me. "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Ps.90:12 ESV

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Care partner Wednesdays--When the "pill" of choice is knitting needles

It was not a good day.

An incredibly perceptive person, Ida attended a fitness class she usually loved in the morning. The instructor wasn't feeling well, and left immediately after the class was over, but in her mind, it had something to do with her. Maybe there was some kind of conspiracy, or maybe he was mad at her, but it left her anxious and weepy. She almost skipped lunch, but was persuaded into the dining room. During the meal, she was morose, eating but not socialising with her table mates like normal. After lunch, she felt something was wrong with her grandson, and again became weepy and anxious. As we talked, I realised she looked tired, and suggested a short nap might help. She agreed.

Just as she was leaving the lounge to go to her room, one of my fellow Advocates pulled out the bin of knitting. The group of ladies who spent the afternoon clacking needles and tongues were gathering and the volunteer who assisted them had just arrived. Ida hesitated at the door and then left, presumably for her nap. In a few minutes, she returned with a tangled ball of wool and two needles.

She's never been a part of this group, or expressed any interest, although she'd been in and out of the lounge where they met several times. She sat fingering her wool, which was tangled beyond hope (or so I thought.) The volunteer sat beside her and said, "I can help with that." Ida found the end, and together they began to untangle and unwind, chatting as they worked. When I returned from my meeting over an hour later, they were just finishing.

More than wool got untangled that afternoon.

Ida's anxiety, fear and sadness were gone. There are no guarantees it won't return later in the evening, but for those few hours, it left her. The only side effect was a friendship birthed between the two ladies and a tidy ball of wool.

We are constantly looking for non-medical interventions as we pursue culture change. Here is what I have learned.

1) Something might work today and not tomorrow.

2) What works well for one person will fail utterly for another.

3) Some ideas are totally predictable, and some surprise the heck out of you.

4) They often take a lot of time and effort.

5) They take "out of the box," creative thinking to devise.

6) Sometimes they don't work. Sometimes, nothing works.

7) The only "side effects" are positive.

7) They are incredibly rewarding for everyone involved.

Anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications have their uses in a small group of people--mostly those with pre-existing mental health conditions. If used, they should be in the lowest effective dose, and monitored closely.

Before this type of medication is considered, it's important to look at what else relieves the symptoms. Is it music? Some time in the fresh air? Visits from family?

Or perhaps it's time to pull out the knitting needles...

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Care partner Wednesday-- Life after Diagnosis

You're sitting in the doctor's office beside your mother. Your heart is pounding. There were months of suspicions and worry, weeks of tests, days of reassuring yourself and having conversations in your mind. Finally, it comes to this.The doctor turns to your mother and says,

"You have Alzheimer's"

Time stops. You were almost certain this is what you were going to hear, but until the words came out of his mouth, your world was populated by "maybes" and "probablys." Nothing was for sure.

Now, it is.

Often, the entire focus is on the person with the diagnosis, but what are you feeling? All of these may not apply, but I can guarantee some of it does.

1) Fear. You've probably heard horror stories about what lies ahead and you are terrified about the consequences. The future stretches ahead in darkness, and you don't have a flashlight.

2) Apprehension. You look at your life as it is now, and wonder how you can add "care partner" to your resume. Will you be able to support her? Can you go the course?

3) Ignorance. You may know very little about the disease, or have some misinformation.

4) Isolation. None of your friends are dealing with this in their parents. You have no one to talk with.

There are probably other emotions swirling around your brain and heart as you leave the office. Before you have had time to process the information, you need to comfort and support your mother. You must step into the role before you fully understand what it entails.

Here is my advise. Get help. You need someone to talk to who is knowledgeable about the disease, because there is plenty of misinformation out there. A great resource is the Alzheimer's Society, with their groups and workshops and many-faceted supports. Learn as much as you can, remembering that everyone manifests the disease in different ways. No ones experience is just like yours, but you can learn from others.

You are going to be experiencing many emotions--not all of them pleasant. When the dust has settled, find someone to talk to and sometimes vent to. A friend, a pastor or priest, a small group leader or a counsellor. Take care of you, so you can take care of the person you love.

Those words will change your life. Things will never be the same again.
But they won't end your life, or even the life of the person with the diagnosis. Alzheimer's is terminal, yes. But between diagnosis and the last breath, there is a lot of living.

Find it.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Carepartner Wednesdays--Death to Bibs!

Several years ago, I visited another facility for a course I was taking. I was there over the lunch hour, and we were toured through the "dementia unit," as the course was related to this topic. They were proud of their modern, newly built area. It was lovely, and they had all the latest in terms of dementia care. Then I saw the dining room.

The tables were bare, except for paper place mats and residents wore large, plastic bibs. At Christie Gardens, all tables, even in our dementia unit, had linen table clothes and napkins. Our bibs were fabric, and although not beautiful, they looked better than the stark plastic ones. I asked about tablecloths, and was told such a thing would create too much laundry.

I went home feeling smug. We did much better than that. Our dining rooms looked elegant.
Bibs were a necessary evil, but...

Sometimes I wonder how how often, when caring for our elders, we accept things because everyone's doing it, has always done it and says it has to be done that way? Probably every communal care situation across the country has bibs for residents who can sometimes spill food when they eat. I can hear the voices--"We're not changing them after every meal!" "Think of the laundry!" (They said that about tablecloths, too.)

I understand the issues, but they look so ugly, it hurts me. They are insulting. (I slop on my clothes, and no one makes me wear a bib.) Infantile. (Babies wear bibs.) UGLY!

Bibs have bugged me for years, but I couldn't come up with a solution. Once I sewed one for a lady that looked like a blouse and vest. She loved it, and it was classy, but not practical. I wasn't prepared to mass produce, Also, it was distinctly feminine--what about the men?

Then, culture change began at Christie Gardens, and we started to look at things in new ways. Accepted practices could be questioned--and what was best for the resident took precedence over accepted practice. We looked at new and creative ways of serving our elders. Everyone had a voice.

I am thrilled to tell you as a result of an initiative I have jokingly dubbed "Project Death to Bibs," we will have no more bibs at Christie Gardens as of Monday. Our residents will be asked if they would like to protect their clothing, and if that is the case, they can use the linen napkin folded beside their plate. It can be placed in the lap or tucked under the chin, and for those who might need a little extra protection, small clips will be available to hold it in place. It will have the air of fine dining.

This is a small step in our culture change journey. It's an outward sign of the growing, pulsating life among us as we learn and discuss and capture the vision. It's also a huge step in our culture change journey, as we share the excitement and courage to be different, for the sake of our elders. 

To change our world.