Friday 23 June 2023

Why Things Have Been Crazy Here

(Warning: Very long post today. I thought about breaking it into two parts but just wanted to get it out of my head today while I have time.)

Last post I mentioned how crazy things have been here lately. Here's the main reason why.

A few weeks ago, my mother (who is 93, lives alone, and has moderate dementia) decided on a new activity: going for walks to the grocery store. The grocery store is almost a kilometre from her house, and there has been construction along the main street of the route she would take to get there. The town is replacing sewer lines, which requires the use of heavy equipment. Various streets have been barricaded and there are detours around them. The detour routes change every few days as construction  proceeds, and you need to be able to follow the detour signs and read the barricade signs.

Luckily, Mom has very kind and alert neighbours, and they have been able to intercept her before she gets too far. One time, one of them followed her for a bit to see how she was doing before making their presence known. Mom had gone past the barricades and was walking where the sidewalk was closed. Fortunately, the machinery wasn't actively operating at the time.

Every time the neighbours notice Mom walking further than the end of her block, they call me and I drop whatever I am doing and go take her for a drive or something else to keep her occupied. I'm concerned that her judgement has deteriorated to a point where she is no longer safe living alone. Even on days when I have planned to take her on an outing, she will go for a walk before I get there or after I have taken her back to her house. So it seems impossible to keep her safe because I can't be with her during all daylight hours.

In case I haven't sufficiently described my mother's general behavior here before, I will summarize now: she is contrary and always needs to be right. This is not caused by the dementia; it's a pre-existing trait (although dementia has made it worse). Her idea of conversation has always been to take issue with things other people say and argue against them. Although I am able to stick up for myself and will do so when needed, I don't understand arguing as a way of conversing with people. I like conversation to be conducted in a pleasant way, finding humour whenever possible and learning from each other when we don't agree. The one time I confronted my mother about her behavior, she defended it by saying it was just "debating" and that she enjoyed it. I know other people who converse the same way, so she is not alone in her view, but you get the idea: we are not alike and do not enjoy the same kind of interaction.

Since her cognitive decline began in earnest two years ago, Mom has refused to accept help except mine or my brother's. She NEEDS help with a number of things. For those two years, she has been unable to manage her medications. We tried a pill box, then pre-packaged pills from the pharmacy. Nothing helped, so I started taking her pills to her each day. She became unable to make or remember appointments, and didn't know what to do when she received bills in the mail. So I started helping her manage her appointments and bills. Her driving ability was becoming a concern - in general because of her memory loss and in particular because she got lost driving home from my house to hers (just a couple of streets away). Fortunately, her car needed repairs and the garage told her it wasn't worth fixing, so that took driving off the table. But her lack of a car meant I had to start taking her for groceries each week. She wouldn't take a taxi because of Covid. Now, two years later, she needs help at the grocery store as well, so hiring a taxi is still not an option.

I understood all along that getting out only once a week was hard for her, so I tried to include her in some of my other errands and take her for outings, but it never seemed to be enough. She was a little more content in the winter and on rainy days, but nice days brought out her restlessness. Last summer she worked it off in her yard, cleaning up weeds and old leaves. This year, she has done much less of that, because she worries about falling on the lawn.

Thus the decision to start walking to the grocery store. She wants the exercise and feels safe walking on the sidewalk. She thinks the store is just at the bottom of her street. She also thinks the mall, a ten minute drive away, is just a few streets away, and talks about walking to a neighbouring town where she grew up, saying it's not that far, when in reality it's a twenty-minute drive.

This has led to some exasperating, unpleasant, and loud conversations between us. She feels she is completely capable, both physically and mentally, of making the walk (the very nature of dementia means the patient doesn't have the ability to understand that there is anything wrong with their brain), and doesn't like being housebound without a car.

I understand her boredom - she is no longer interested in or able to do nearly all the things she used to do to pass the time. She doesn't read, she doesn't do crosswords or Sudoku, she doesn't watch TV, she doesn't make meals or bake, she doesn't do housework or laundry or yardwork. Basically, she eats, washes dishes, and walks to the compost bin several times a day. 

I've asked her to accept outside help to give me a break, hoping to appeal to her helpful side (which does exist, although less so as the disease progresses), but she simply says she doesn't need help and if I don't want to visit every day, then don't visit every day. If I bring up the need for daily pill visits and buying groceries, she simply tells me to stay home and that she will manage her own pills and can walk to the grocery store. 

One day she wanted to know why I thought she couldn't do those things. After telling her that it was hard to explain without hurting her feelings, and that I didn't want to do that, she said she wanted me to be honest about it. So I tried. I told her she had a brain disease that affected her memory, like a man we both know (and who she has repeatedly told me has something wrong with his brain). Predictably, she denied she has the same problem.

She is considered competent to make her own decisions until a doctor declares her otherwise. She is seeing a geriatric doctor twice a year, but he apparently doesn't make declarations of competency unless it's a crisis. Competency is to be determined by the family doctor. Mom hasn't had a family doctor for two years now, like the 150,000 other Nova Scotians who have lost doctors or live in under-served areas.

When Mom started her recent walkabouts, I asked the geriatric clinic for a re-assessment because I felt surely they would understand the danger she poses to herself. They said there was no change since the last assessment and unless she directly puts herself in the line of traffic there is no crisis. My brother was here for moral support and to try to impress on the clinician that I am burnt out and to ask what we can do if the geriatric doctor won't declare any of his patients incompetent and Mom doesn't have a family doctor to do it. 

Her answer? My brother needs to "step up" more. 

He lives three hours away (one way). He still works and has other obligations. He has always been available for me to talk to and to vent to (two completely different things), and tries to support me however he can, not just for mom's issues but for my own too. He does repairs for Mom when he visits, and has given me practical help including cleanup after the hurricane last fall. I don't know what more they expect him to do. (I wasn't present at the conversation between him and the clinician or I would have asked.)

I feel a strong urge to tell her - or, more precisely, tell the geriatric doctor - that it's the doctor that needs to "step up" and do his job.

The clinician's only other suggestion was to apply to the courts for guardianship. This is a lengthy and expensive process, and we still need a doctor to sign a letter of competence. Another dead end. 

The ironic thing is that I believe Mom would enjoy having a care worker come to her home or even living in a care home. She loves to talk (and debate) and telling her life stories is one of the few activities she still has enthusiasm for. But she still thinks she is totally capable of taking care of her home, making meals, and doing personal care. She also thinks care homes are places where people are lying in bed and lose the use of their legs. She doesn't follow (and I think sometimes doesn't want to follow) the logic that some people are in bed without the use of their legs simply because they have gotten too feeble or ill to walk and that's precisely why they're there. She won't believe us that care homes provide different levels of care now than they used to. While she is probably not safe in the first level of care (assisted living), she would still have a fair amount of independence in the next level of care, one step down from full care.

So . . . for now and the foreseeable future, I am chained to providing at least basic care for her. I wouldn't mind so much if our time together was agreeable. But it is mostly not. I know this is partly the nature of dementia, but it is also very much her personality, is consistent with her lifelong behavior, and is very wearing to deal with. The time since my husband died has been hard enough without this. I don't mean to sound full of self-pity, but some days I am at my wits' end. I've had to refuse work at my job because I can't be sure of meeting deadlines, I've had to cancel my own medical appointments, and I never seem to have any energy for my own life. 

That's pretty much the story here, the reason why stressing over the fawn in my yard was almost too much to bear. Stress from different sources builds and builds, and it can take something seemingly unrelated to bring it to a point of being overwhelming. 

If you made it this far, thank you for reading. 

Here's a cat who embodies everything I feel these days. I wish I looked half as cute being miserable.

Please take care of yourselves and have a good weekend.

Wednesday 21 June 2023

The Wild Things - Part 3

Nine days ago, my brother was mowing my lawn for me (long story but basically the grass was very long because things have been crazy here and he was giving me a hand) and then he came in the house to say we had a problem.

The problem was a very tiny fawn hiding in the long grass beside the foundation of my house.

For nine days now, I have watched that fawn from my bedroom two stories above, and worried about it and tried to see if it was breathing and if it was dehydrated and if it was trembling or if it was just doing what little fawns do and keeping nice and still. I've read that fawns who may appear abandoned are not usually abandoned, the mother is just putting them in a safe place and will come back to nurse them several times over a 24-hour period. Sometimes they will leave them for 12-16 hours at a time, because of activity or unusual noise in the area. The mother does that to keep her baby safe, because prey can smell her but they can't smell the fawn because it doesn't have scent glands yet.

But I was still worried.

(Have you ever thought, that Donkey worries a lot? You'd be right if you did.)

I worried because I didn't see the mother around for more than 12 hours. I worried because I could hear the baby calling for its mother from time to time, with no result. Then I worried because I saw a mother and a bigger fawn come into our back yard; both fawns nursed but when the bigger one was done, the mother walked away and didn't let the little one nurse any longer. It was crying and trying to run after her but she ignored it. I imagined the hunger pangs of the tiny fawn and lectured the mother about being an uncaring parent (I did that part from inside the house so she wouldn't actually hear me).

Then I realized that she probably wasn't the mother of the smaller fawn. Their sizes were just too different to have been born at the same time, even assuming the little one was a runt. So I worried that its mother had been killed or had indeed abandoned it. I worried because we were having a lot of heat in the daytime, and a lot of cold at night, and a lot of rain mixed in there too, and every night the little fawn would be curled in a tight circle in its little nest in the tall grass. (I checked every night with a flashlight, briefly, from my bedroom window.)

Seriously, on top of all the other crazy going on here, the stress was really getting to me.

Yesterday, the bigger fawn and its mother were back, and the mom left the big fawn parked beside the smaller one for many hours. Both fawns were in their hiding spots when I went to bed last night. This morning the little fawn was gone and the bigger one was still here. Tonight they are both gone.

I have questions.

Was there ever a second mother? Did the one adult female which was here adopt a fawn that was not her own? Where did the fawns go this evening? Is the tiny one going to be okay? Will I ever know?

Sometimes I truly hate Nature. That usually happens when I am forced to confront the harshness of life for wild animals. They are at the mercy of the weather and predators. An unusually cold night can mean the end of a newborn. Yet we rarely see those things happen, so we go about our lives blissfully unaware.


In other wildlife news, I hadn't seen the local raccoon in a while but then one night there were not one but two raccoons in my yard. One was big and one was little. The little one was cornered up a tree (can you corner someone "up a tree" or only in a corner?) It was squealing in a way that made me think this was not a mating ritual but a genuine fight, likely a fight over territory. In any case, I threw some things in their general direction to make them stop whatever they were doing, and it worked. (Don't worry, I have terrible aim; I was just trying to make enough noise to persuade them move on.) I haven't seen ANY raccoons since, but if I have to be outside at night I try to keep my wits about me, just in case.


Remember I said I had two mice living in the abandoned BBQ on my back deck? One day when my son was visiting, I asked him to help me have a look inside. And by help, I mean I didn't want to be alone when I looked because I was afraid they might have frozen stiff over the winter and then broiled in the hot days we have occasionally had this spring. Imagine our surprise (not) to see the adults AND several babies in there too. At some point we will move their nest into the brush pile at the back of the yard. But I can't stop thinking about those raccoons. A mouse would make a lovely lunch for them. I'm thinking of putting the whole BBQ in the back of the yard (to protect the mice) but the neighbours already take exception to the piles of branches that have been there since the hurricane-like event back in September, so I'm not sure an old BBQ would be popular.

Sometimes I truly hate Nature. Oh, have I already said that??


Fawn pictures!

I took the first few pictures from ground level but then I smartened up and stayed away. Isn't the height of that grass scary? I told my neighbours about the fawn so they would understand.

Taken from two floors up.

The same picture as above, just enlarged.

And enlarged again.

On one of its rare forays around the yard, calling for its mother.

Big and little. They look somewhat similar in size from above, but can you see the difference in their leg length? The large one is nearly twice as big as the little one.


I still haven't had time to try to download the picture of the raccoon. I took it with an old phone, whereas the photos above were taken with my digital camera, which can reliably download but it's getting old and needs charged almost every time I use it.

I hope you're doing well and aren't worrying too much about All The Things like I tend to. If you are, take a few steady breaths and try to clear away all those thoughts for even five minutes. It will help.



Saturday 3 June 2023

Fire and Rain

 Hello, people.

If you follow world news, you may already know about the wildfires in Canada.

Alberta has been burning for weeks now. Current status can be found here.

There are also fires in five other provinces and one territory.

One of those provinces is mine. Last week, Nova Scotia became the location of two major fires, one of which is the largest in its history. That fire is located near Shelburne, at the southern tip of the province, and has resulted in the displacement of over 1,000 people. The other is near the heavily populated capital, Halifax, in the centre of the province, where over 16,000 people have had to leave their homes.

Over 200 structures have burned, including more than 150 family homes. Many of the evacuees had to leave immediately because the fire was so close. They had no time to take anything with them.

How stressful that would be. And for those whose homes burned to ash, how stressful that would be also. Even those who were put on alert that they could be evacuated on short notice must be stressed. My son lives on the edge of the evacuation zone, and was one of that group.

Fortunately, no lives have been lost.

And tonight - finally, finally, finally - the rain has started. It's hardly more than a sprinkle so far, but the forecast predicts rain or showers and cool temperatures for the next week.

I've never been so grateful to see a week of rain in the forecast.

And I am beyond grateful for the efforts of the firefighters and other emergency personnel who have worked so hard to save lives, homes, and livelihoods, in some cases doing so while their own homes burned down. Nova Scotian firefighters have been, or soon will be, joined by others from across Canada, from the U.S., Costa Rica, Australia, and New Zealand. I'm so thankful for international help. 

My heart is with those who have lost everything except their lives, those who have had to leave their homes not knowing if they will lose everything or not, and those in areas adjacent to the evacuation zone who have spent the last week in a state of heightened adrenaline in case they had to leave suddenly. I am also so sad for the wildlife which has undoubtedly been killed, maimed, and displaced. 

Even after the current fires are under control, there will be a lot of work to be done to extinguish them. Last fall's hurricane Fiona, which I wrote about here, left so much deadwood from downed trees all across our heavily forested province. It has had eight months to dry out, and, in an unusually dry spring, it has become perfect tinder for fires. 

I know we are far from the only place to suffer wildfires. They are becoming more and more common around the world due to climate change. It's simply extra-sobering when they hit close to home.

And now, for your listening enjoyment, the song you may have thought I was referencing in the title.

Because we need to keep on moving forward, and one way to do so is finding the beauty in life (thank you, my dear friend, Elephant's Child, for that wisdom).

And music is one of the beautiful things in life. Even when it's kind of sad music.