A Misunderstanding and A 50/50 Trip. Part one

Plans were being made for our fall trip to Vermont, while the fall colors were still around.  I went online and found out that the peak, of the fall colors, was from the third to the tenth of October. One problem was that Harriet had doctor’s appointments on the second and the eighth. On the second she had two appointments: One with Dr. Li, and another with the pain clinic. On the eighth she was going to have the original cast taken off and a new, tighter one, put on. We decided to leave on the third and move the appointment from the eighth to Thursday the tenth.

I was thinking, and praying, about waiting until after our 50th Anniversary Party to go to Vermont, which is on November second. The problem with that idea is that all the colorful leaves would be gone by then. Well, what about Christmas in Vermont? Remember the movie White Christmas?  Vermont is beautiful when the snow comes at Christmas. By now you may wonder what the deal is about Vermont? Harriet has been in every State in the Union except Vermont and we have been Married 50 years, which means once she is in Vermont, she will have been in all 50 states in 50 years. That is why I call this our 50/50 trip. However, the more I thought and prayed about it, the more I had the impression that I shouldn’t wait. So, the decision was made to leave on October third.

In the meantime, we had doctor’s appointments to go to, things to take care of with Dad’s estate, and a tree house to finish for the grandkids. On Tuesday, October 1, I went over to work on the treehouse. Harriet asked me to drop her off at my dad’s, she wanted to clean his bedroom and box up the clothes. This didn’t sound right because, after the funeral, Sharon went home to Virginia, Debbie went back to Denver, but only after we all agreed not to remove anything from the house until their return at the end of October.” Are you sure it’s okay with everyone?” I asked. “I spoke with Debbie and Sharon and told them about my plan to take one room at a time, starting with Dad’s, and everyone’s on board with it. They know I’m going to do it before they return.” she said. “I was just on the phone with Carol and she is thrilled.” “Well, okay then. I’ll drop you off on my way over to work on the treehouse.”

About an hour later we were at Dad’s. I brought all the clothes from the upstairs bedroom down to the bedroom he slept in the time before his death. Harriet’s plan was to clean out the drawers, bagging things in three ways: a bag for thing to throw away or put in the rag pile, a bag for things to give to charity, and a bag to give to family members. Further, since he had different sizes of blue jeans, she was going to separate them by size and see who could use them. I told her to be careful not to fall, and I would return in three to four hours. I’m always concerned when I leave her alone, since a fall could be fatal. When she is having a bad day, she doesn’t know how to use her cell phone, and can’t remember the emergency number, which in the U.S. is 911. I’ve talked about getting her one of those emergency medallions you wear around your neck. If you fall, they immediately call to see if everything is alright, if there is no response, they contact the E.M.T.s. Harriet, thinks that idea is absurd, and says that if I get one, she will not wear it.

When I got back to Dad’s house, all the clothes were either in boxes, bags, or in neat piles. “My arm is killing me,” Harriet said, “I think I’ve done too much work and have made my broken arm sore.” “I was concerned about that,” I said. “This stack of clothes is for Kirk,” Harriet said. “Let’s take the rest of these over to Joshua’s. They can go through them and see if anything fits, and then we’ll bring the rest back in case anyone else wants something.” “I can’t see how any of these clothes will fit them, since Dad was five-seven and Josh and Dyami are closer to six-three.” I said. “Josh needs a new suit, and I think we can make it fit. Trust me on this, Okay?” “Sure. It won’t hurt to run this stuff over there and let them look at it.” I answered.

I loaded everything in the car, keeping the things for Kirk separate. The drive to Joshua’s took about ten minutes. On the way over Harriet said, “I spoke with Debbie, about what I was doing, and she sounded really strange.” “How so?” I asked.  “I could tell that she was upset, her voice was so cold. The thing is, I spoke with everyone about this and they all agreed that it was a good idea. Sometimes I’m not sure I can trust your sisters.” When we arrived at Joshua’s he came out and told us that one of the kids had the stomach flu, so we quickly unloaded the car and took our leave.

I dropped Harriet off at home and was on my way to the grocery store when Sharon called.  “Dave, why is Harriet taking things out of the house, when we all agreed not to take anything until we were all back together at the end of October?” Sharon asked. “Harriet told me that she spoke to everyone about cleaning out Dad’s clothes before you returned and that you all thought it was a great idea.” I answered. “I spoke with Debbie, and neither one of us remember that conversation.” Sharon said. “Really? Are you sure? Harriet seems so convinced.” I said. “We’re grateful that she wants to help, but we would have never agreed to that idea.” Sharon answered. “Crap! Okay, I’ll put everything back in Dad’s room and we can sort it out when we get together again.” “Thanks Dave.” Sharon said, “We need to stick to our original idea so that there aren’t any problems later.” “I know. Sometimes Harriet gets ideas about what happened and is absolutely sure She remembers it the way it was.” I said, “I kind of thought I should have double checked with everyone before letting her proceed. Sometimes I forget about the dementia and think I can still trust her memory. From now on I will check with people before things get out of hand.”  “Thanks Bro, I feel relieved that this was all just a misunderstanding. Love You! Bye, Bye.” And Sharon was gone.

I returned home from the grocery store and told Harriet about my conversation with Sharon. “Of course, she wouldn’t remember,” Harriet said, “Sharon was drunk when we talked about that.” “Harriet, I think this thing is just a misunderstanding because Debbie doesn’t remember the conversation either.” I said. “They don’t even care how hard I worked today, or that my broken arm is so sore.” Harriet said. “Well, I’m done! That’s it! I knew I couldn’t trust your sisters. Don’t ask me to go back over there and help out anymore.” “Do you remember just how the conversation went with Debbie and Sharon?” I asked. “Yeah, clear as a bell. We were discussing how to proceed with the clean-up, and I said, ‘I think we should take one room at a time, starting with Dad’s, and when that room is finished move on to the next one.” She answered. “I told them that I would be happy to clean Dad’s stuff up. They all acted like it was a great idea, but now everyone is angry with me.” “So, you didn’t exactly say you would do this before they returned?” I asked.  “They knew what I meant. At least Debbie and Carol did, Sharon was drunk. Even Lindsay said, ‘Don’t mind her she’s just drunk. I knew I couldn’t trust your sisters!” I suddenly remembered the teaching from Tepa Snow, “Don’t argue, redirect, because, logic doesn’t work when someone has dementia. “Listen, I’m going to take all of the clothes back to Dad’s and when I get back, we can start packing for Vermont.” I said. “That’s fine. Do what you have to do. But I am finished. I’m done. Don’t even think about asking me to work over there again.” Harriet said. “I know. I’m sorry this has happened to you.” I said. I gave her a quick kiss and was out the door.

It didn’t take long to take the clothes from Joshua’s back to Dad’s. I hung everything either in the closet or on the rack on the closet door. The boxes and bags I put on the bed and headed home.

On Wednesday, October 2, I thought we had two doctor appointments. We went to the Michigan Pain Clinic, who informed me that I was mistaken, there was no appointment for that day. In fact, before we could have another appointment, Harriet would have to meet with the Psychiatrist, Dr. Halpern, for a five-hour appointment on October 18. I’m not sure how the appointment, that was not an appointment, got on my calendar. Harriet was very confused by the whole thing.

The next appointment, with Dr. Li, was a follow-up concerning the Urinary Tract Infection. Dr. Li seemed to be in a big hurry, we all stood up, and he rushed out of the examination room so quickly that he almost knocked Harriet down. Harriet struggles with a bit of paranoia, something she never did before the FTD. “Did you notice the way that Dr. Li bolted out of the room?” Harriet asked. “I can tell he doesn’t like me. We really need a new Primary Care Doctor. I never want to see this one again.” “I know, and we have an appointment with Dr. Mendoza in Clinton in a few weeks.” I said. “He is with the St. Joseph Mercy Health System. You’re going to love him.” “I hope so,” She said, “Because if I ever come to this office again, it will be too soon.”

We spent the evening packing our suitcases. Cindy stopped by and took Daisy home with her. When we went to bed, that evening, I had hopes of an early departure for Vermont.

The next day found Harriet exhausted and unable to get out of bed until shortly before noon. I asked her if she wanted to wait until the next day. She answered, “I think we should get out of here no matter what time everything is ready.”  

Harriet likes to pack for any contingency, hot weather, cold weather, rain, sun, snow, swimming, hiking, etc., but I have never seen her suitcase so full. She has one of those huge, double sided, suitcases that zips up the middle. It was so full I could barely zip it closed. This was for a six-day trip. I’m not sure how she would have packed for a month-long international trip. For me, this is another sign of how poor she’s become at decision making. Along with that, we had a suit-case size plastic box filled with shoes, her bathroom bag, and five or six cloth grocery bags filled with miscellaneous things, my suitcase, briefcase, and the bag with my C-Pap Machine in it. I Thought we were all packed when she decided we needed to take some food with us. (Just in case the restaurants or Bed and Breakfasts ran out.) We loaded the cooler with drinks, cheese, shrimp, ham, mustard, boiled eggs, Almond milk, and anything else that caught our attention. Now, if you’re going to take ham and cheese, you also need a grocery bag filled with bread, potato chips, chocolate, cookies, and assorted snacks. Everything was in the car when she suddenly remembered, “JACKETS!!” So, we quickly ran back into the house, and got leather jackets, blue jean jackets, and hooded sweatshirts. I wouldn’t mention this except it is not how she used to pack for trips. We’ve taken five-week cross country trips, with three kids and a dog, and we didn’t have this much luggage. You Might ask, “Why didn’t you just lay down the law and tell her not to take so much stuff?” I think the dementia makes it difficult for her to pack at all and the excess gives her comfort that she will have everything she needs. Besides, we have room for everything and taking all that stuff doesn’t hurt anything except my back.

It was around seven thirty before we were on our way. Google Map said it was a twelve-hour drive and the fastest route was through Canada. It directed me to take I 94 to the Bluewater Bridge and to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, a mere two hour and fifteen-minute drive. I figured once we were in Canada, we would get a motel room. Which would have us settled by 10-10:30 PM.

We were on I 94 headed towards Detroit Metro Airport when Harriet said, “I hate to be so close to Zach and Gina without stopping for a visit.” “Don’t you think it’s a little late to be stopping?” I asked. “I’ll just call Zack and see what’s up with them.” She said. She was fumbling around with her phone and finally said, “There’s something wrong with my phone.” She has a lot of trouble using her phone; it seems to confuse her.  Most days, she cannot answer calls, dial out, pick up voicemail, or deal with Facebook. This is why I give my phone number to all her doctors. I handed my phone to her after hitting Zach on speed dial. After speaking with him for a few minutes she handed the phone back to me and said, “Zach’s just getting off work and wants to meet us somewhere for dinner. Here, talk to him and get the name and address of the place.”

After speaking with Zach, and making a few schedule adjustments in my head, we headed for Rosie O’Grady’s on 9 Mile Rd. Since Harriet has come down with FTD, I’ve learned to become much more flexible in what we do, and when we do it. Logic is not a strong suit for her right now, and unless there is a very good reason, I try to go along with what she wants to do. Zach and Gina arrived shortly after we got there. We ordered pizza, beer, and wine, (When I’m driving, I’ll order one beer and then switch over to ginger ale.) and it was some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. We enjoyed catching up on what was going on in their life. All too soon we were back on the road, heading for Canada.

We got into Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, a little after midnight and drove right to the Holiday Inn Express. We might not have traveled many miles, but getting out of Michigan and into Canada, gave us the feeling that we were really on vacation. The free breakfast was from 6:30 – 9:00 am, and I wasn’t sure that we would make it up in time to eat. As we turned the lights out, I reflected on what a good day it had been, and how much I was looking forward to the rest of the trip.

To be continued…

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