“Lyn, it’s the nursing home. We’re calling to talk about Bill’s rapid decline.”
Bill is adored at Prairie Sunset. He has become part of their family. Because of his young age (he just turned 58 this month), the staff have gone beyond and above to keep Bill involved and active. Up until this week, he would report to the Activity Director and Social Service Director’s office every morning after breakfast. He goes on doctor’s office trips for other clients, goes on shopping trips and runs errands with staff. They invite him to their home. They love him. “I wonder every day I come in if he’ll be able to find the office today. Will I still have my buddy?” his social worker and sweet friend told me one day.
So this was the day the staff were all dreading. He can no longer remember how to help in Bingo. He needs assistance in bathing. He can no longer shave himself with a blade. He has to have his food cut up. When staff took him out to ride bikes (yes, they even do this for him), he rode right into the path of a bus. The staff were able to stop the bus in time, but it was the beginning of the end for a semi-independent activity that he loves. He shuffles. Even his verbal skills, his strength throughout the disease up to this point, are noticeably failing. And sadly, I see the changes in his face.
I’ve seen the decline coming for some time. Since I see him once or twice a week, the decline was easily detected, both cognitively and physically. But to hear those words, rapid decline, brought me to my knees. How do I feel: sad, numb, guilty? Whirls of emotions go through my body. A knot forms in my throat. My emotions are all tied up in a knot. How did we get into this quandary? A part of me feels relief. Isn’t this the moment I’ve been waiting for? For Bill to no longer go in and out of being present; for him to feel contentment; to be happy? Will we increase his medications? Will this prolong his suffering; his sadness and frustration in knowing what he was, a successful and popular professor, and what he has become: lost in the fog of his own mind?
And then the doctor spoke those infamous words: “There’s nothing more that we can do.”
We walk to the van. I look down to the ground, not sure what to say. Bill reaches to me. My eyes meet his. “I need a car. I’ll even let you drive it.” I can only laugh, knowing that all that has been discussed has either gone over his head or he has already forgotten. “That’s an interesting idea, honey. We’ll bring it up to the doctor next time.” And our life moves on.
Lyn McLaurine is the author of the blog: Something’s wrong with my husband. She is based in Arlington, Kansas. Lyn and Bill were living in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, where he was a professor of criminal justice/corrections.