If you’ve been following the Caregiver Survival series, then you already know that this entire series is about living longer than your Loved One with Dementia. Sometimes you can take care of business yourself and sometimes you need to call in the professionals.
Car owners know how dangerous it can be to drive mile after mile without inspecting your brakes, struts, bearings, etc. I can do some simple mechanical work on my car, but I don’t know enough to inspect everything. When I was younger, I couldn’t afford to go to a mechanic, for every little thing, so I would: change my own spark-plugs and points, change the oil and filter, replace the starter, brake pads, and bearings.
Now that I’m older I take the car to the dealership and have the oil changed, tires rotated, and everything else inspected, every 5,000 miles. What has happened from the time I was a younger back-yard mechanic, to today where I always run to the garage for anything from an oil change to a bad transmission? Let me tell you a couple stories, of the many small things that became huge problems, because I had an idiot for a mechanic.
Isn’t it something how you can totally miss important signals your car is sending you? You miss them because they come on so slowly that you really don’t notice the changes. For example, everyone knows that a car’s front-end will go out of alignment. This happens from driving on underinflated tires, hitting potholes, speedbumps, dropping off the shoulder of the road, things like that. The thing is, it usually happens in small increments, so it’s easy to miss. If your front end is out of alignment it causes extra wear and tear on the tires, struts, sway bars, etc.
I used to have a 2003 Chevrolet Impala. It was a sweet car, very comfortable. I hadn’t realized that the front end was way out of alignment. I should have known it by the way the steering wheel was way off center when you were going down the road. Harriet and I were on our way to some friend’s house for dinner. We were in a hospital zone, which means the car was going very slowly. Thank God it was. One minute we’re going down the road and the next minute we’re sitting at a dead stop in the middle of the road. As we were driving past the hospital the front, driver’s side, tire tipped over and was laying on it’s side. Thank God we weren’t going 60 or 70 miles an hour. I can’t remember what broke, it was a part of the front-end suspension. Because I neglected to have the car inspected, by someone who knew what they were looking for, I put Harriet and myself in a dangerous situation.
Everyone knows that the way to check for bad bearings is to jack the car up, put your hands at 3 and 6 o’clock and rock the tire to check for movement, then you repeat the test with your hands at 12 and 6. Everyone knows it, but a back-yard mechanic, like me, might forget to do the test. Which is, exactly what happened. I had changed my brakes and rotors, slapped everything back together, and down the road I went. About two weeks later I was out on the highway going about 50 miles an hour when the front, passenger side tire, came off the truck and went in the ditch. Because the bearing took a long time to wear out, I didn’t notice the noise and vibrations coming from the right side of the car. The result was a hugely expensive repair bill. But it could have been so much worse.
In the same way that, very important parts of your car can wear out so slowly that you will not even notice it, your mental, physical and spiritual health can be slowly deteriorating. So slowly that you might not notice it, until a something terrible happens.
Doctors recommend a once a year physical to have some important markers checked. They will check your: Blood pressure, temperature, EKG, height, and weight. It is good to have a baseline for all these things. Many people walk around unaware that they have high blood pressure, which causes all kind of internal troubles. That’s kind of like driving around with your check engine light on.
The check engine light doesn’t seem to indicate anything important at all. Don’t we all know people who drive around for years with that stupid light on? I know a guy who used to keep the check engine light covered up with Duct Tape. What he didn’t know was that his pollution controls needed to be replaced. Sadly, he found out when he had to have the catalytic converter changed, which was hugely expensive. High blood pressure is called the silent killer because of the way it quietly destroys very important parts of your body, like your heart, arteries, kidneys, and eyes. Since we don’t have any trouble lights on our bodies, it’s up to us to keep an eye on our blood pressure. Go to a clinic or drugstore and get it checked. If it’s borderline high, purchase a monitor and keep a log, morning and evening. If it is consistently running high get to your doctor’s office.
A good physical should include a full Blood workup. Many things can be discovered by a simple blood test; things like, diabetes, thyroid trouble, STDs, Hepatitis C, cancer, and anemia. Diabetes is also called the silent killer. Many people go around year after year, with diabetes slowly, quietly, but surely, destroying organs. I knew a woman who used to have a Coke and snickers bar every morning for breakfast. This sugar laden breakfast might not hurt you or me, but this poor lady unknowingly had diabetes. She went to the Ophthalmologist because of blurred vision. It was there that she found out that her eye problems were caused by a very advanced case of diabetes. Within eighteen months she lost most of her eye sight, had toes and then her leg, amputated, went into a nursing home and died.
When my son got his first car he was thrilled. It was a high mileage, compact car, that ran like a top. At that time, he wasn’t good about basic car maintenance. He didn’t seem to understand the importance of regular oil changes, tire rotation, or having the brakes, struts, and exhaust systems inspected. One day he came racing up our street, parked the car, and came into the house to get ready for work. When he went back to his car it wouldn’t start. Come to find out, because he seldom changed, or checked the level of, the oil, the upper cam shaft had seized up. We had to tear the engine apart and put a new camshaft in. Difficult way to learn the importance of regular oil changes. Most of you would have never have allowed this to happen to your car. You take pride in keeping everything well maintained and running smoothly.
Some of you take better care of your automobile than you do your body. You wouldn’t think of ignoring the essentials of good car maintenance. Every 5,000 miles you have the tires rotated, the oil changed, and all fluid levels checked. When is the last time you had the fluid levels checked in your body? We all know that if you have antifreeze in your oil, you’ve got a blown head gasket. Do you know what it means if you have too much fat, sugar, or cholesterol in your blood? If your radiator is blocked, you will have too much pressure in your cooling system and your car will overheat. What will happen if your blood pressure is too high and left untreated year after year?
In case you wonder, I am scheduled for a physical next week, I don’t like it, but I must keep this old jalopy going down the road, which means, I need to maintain it well. One reason for seeing the doctor is that I seldom get a good nights sleep. The Christian Scriptures says that, “God gives his beloved children rest.” I wish he would give me rest. I haven’t slept well in the past six months. So far this week. I took a sleeping pill for the first time on Sunday evening. I slept from 11:30 pm until the next day at 12:30 pm. The rest of Monday I felt like Zombie Boy, I figured that the pill was way too strong for me. Tuesday I slept five and a half hours, and last night I slept five hours. Even without the sleeping pills I usually get one or two good nights of sleep a week.
For the first time in twenty-five years, I am going to see a therapist. I cannot seem to get rid of the anger and grief that has been overwhelming me. I’m either extremely angry, with cursing, swearing, and blasphemy, or I’m crying over nothing at all. I’m on antidepressants, which seem to be doing absolutely nothing. So, I called the Catholic Charities office and said, “I need to see a therapist.” I’ve been putting that call off for weeks. But the time has come. It’s kind of like, suppose you’re driving in your car and you want to hear some classic rock station. You turn the radio on and it’s either Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh. You try to adjust the station, nothing, you try to turn the radio off, no deal. You think, “Well, if I can’t turn it off, or change the channel, I’ll turn it down so low that I can’t hear it. Wrong answer, the radio seems to be possessed, with a mind of its own. Now every time you drive your car, your car is driving you crazy. One day either Howard or Rush says something that makes you so angry you decide, “That’s it!! This car is going into the shop!” That’s the way it is with me, I’ve tried everything I know from, deep breathing, to prayer, to meditation, to positive self-talk, to singing songs of praise. You know things are bad when you’re driving down the road singing 10,000 Reasons and some old lady does something you don’t appreciate, and you go from praise to cursing in 1 second flat. I had a meltdown, on Monday, over nothing, and said, “That’s It!!! Time to go to the expert.” I’m tired of listening to myself give one reason after another why things are the way they are. All those reasons may be true enough, but something has got to change.
Some of you might remember about 80 days ago I started a spiritual growth exercise called Exodus 90. This has been a complete disaster. The program is great, but it requires real focus and commitment. I don’t have the energy for it. My plan is that sometime after Easter, I will go see my pastor.
Because of all these things, I now have appointments to take this old, high mileage, wreck, to the mechanic. I should have gone months ago but, like most men, I avoid the doctor as much as possible. I’ve come to realize just how stupid that idea is. It’s an especially foolish strategy, now that Dementia has moved into our house. FTD has me in its sights and I’m going to do everything I can to frustrate and nullify its evil plan. My plan, one I will do anything to succeed in, is to care for Harriet until the day she dies.
Next time you schedule an oil change, or some other maintenance for your car, STOP, ask yourself, “Self, am I due for some preventative maintenance on my body, mind, or spirit? If I had trouble lights on my forehead would they be flashing all over the place?” Please be proactive on this. Go to your primary care physician, for a physical, once a year. See your dentist twice a year. If you’re having emotional trouble, go see your doctor, and if needed a therapist. Finally, if you feel like God no longer loves you and is no where around, go see your spiritual guide. I was a pastor for over thirty years, and nothing made me feel worse than someone who was drifting away from the faith but never came to speak with me.
Don’t give in my dear brothers and sisters. I know this is the most difficult thing you’ve ever gone through. Stand with me! Together, let’s look dementia in the eye and say, “Go to hell! You may take my LO, but when this is all over, I will still be standing, because I Am Not Alone.”