Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Respite Care Widow

Flip is in a respite care center for three days. I told him he was going to camp, and that the nice people there would get to know him and try to help us through his disease. He seemed positive about going, which surprised me, but by the time I left an hour and a half later, he had noticed the decrepit old people hovering like crows in their bathrobes and said something in my ear which I'm sure meant "WTF?!" but was unintelligible, like everything he says these days. He had been set up at a table with a 26-piece jigsaw puzzle of the New York City skyline at night. He is by far the youngest person there.

I told the program director that if he seemed miserable and really wanted to come home, I would pick him up early. I know that I badly need a break from constant caregiving with almost no sleep, but leaving him didn't feel nearly as good as I thought it would. It feels like a betrayal just when his own body is abandoning him. It reminds me of having to take beloved but incurably ill animals to the vet to be put down. And yet, the prospect of three nights of uninterrupted sleep and a spotless bathroom is alluring. As he has rapidly lost the capacity to do most things for himself, I have had to take over and do them for him.

I know that if our situations were reversed, Flip would do the same for me. In our wedding ceremony, we vowed to always put our relationship before our individual wills, and I believe we nearly always have. It's painful to realize that for the most part, Flip has left the building. It is time for him to be in a facility where he can get 24-hour care from people more skilled than I who work in shifts so one person doesn't have to do it all. I have almost forgotten how easy it is to bathe, feed and dress only myself.

He is on a locked floor with an elevator which only operates when the code is keyed in by employees because he is a flight risk. I called the reception desk on his floor at 8:00 pm to see how he was doing. A woman named Freweyi called him to the phone. As soon as he heard my voice, he began to spout rapid Martian and got so worked up that she took the phone away from him. Whatever he said, I know it was code for "COME AND GET ME. NOW." I may not understand what he says, but his intent is usually clear. I know he'll survive the experience, but I would get more out of my three free days if it were not at his expense.

Alzheimer's is the gift that keeps on giving.