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Harrowing weeks |


Harrowing weeks

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star
Harrowing weeks

It’s almost five in the morning. I am wide-awake, seated at my computer trying to think of what to write about. These are my new hours. I go to bed at eight, watch Netflix until nine when whatever I’m watching makes me sleepy, then I fall asleep. Last night was the first night of the substitute caregiver who snores heavily. I could not sleep immediately. Nevertheless I woke up early, tried to sleep again and failed so I got up to write.

Let me admit it. My life has turned harrowing lately. When did it all begin? Well, I’m old now, turned 79 on my last birthday. My Chinese friends have told me that these nine years are not lucky ones. Don’t celebrate them, they warned. And don’t celebrate your 80th, either. Have a party when you’re 81. If I live to be 81, I thought.

But I digress. We have a star caregiver whose name is Andres, though the caregiver for whom he substituted on days off called himself WIM, for Walang Iwanan Magpakailanman, Pilipino for “We will never leave each other.” It was a nickname coined by his love and him. You can imagine how deep that was. WIM lasted six months. Andres substituted for him when he took his many days off. He made me much happier. Andres was an introvert where WIM was an extrovert. He was more careful where WIM tended to be careless. Now Andres has been with us for a year.

Around three weeks ago Andres got a bad stomach ache. He had it for days without letting me know. Finally the cleaning lady, Jane, told me he had to go see a doctor. He took days off to have himself checked, leaving us — Jane and me — without a caregiver for one night. I didn’t sleep at all, was a nervous wreck.

The next morning Ronald, who is good but snores so loudly, came in. Doctors found nothing wrong with Andres, who is in his 20s, except maybe a slightly fatty liver, though they’re not sure. His stomach ache disappeared and he returned a vegetarian. He’s supposed to see his doctor again but has missed the appointment because of the hospital and the second time the doctor was not there.

But first my husband started to lose his appetite. He began to eat three tablespoons of food and Ensure. This got less and less until one day he had only one tablespoon at lunch, another at dinner, and 2/3 bottle of Ensure. He slept all day. The next morning he refused to eat. I panicked and brought him to the hospital where I called his old doctor, who was the chairman of a geriatric conference and could see him once, then returned to the conference and didn’t see him again for three days. But he had his team attending.

To be honest I didn’t think we would go home alive. They fed him intravenously (IV). We checked into the hospital on Thursday. On Saturday morning my husband looked healthy, healthier and alive. On Sunday morning after the IV food ran out, he didn’t look well again and he didn’t like to eat. He became reliant on Fresubin, another drink similar to Ensure. He didn’t want the nose tube that they install to feed, or the stomach peg. The doctor in charge of his nutrition told me that this refusal to eat was natural to people with late stage dementia.  They forget to eat, drink, they forget to swallow. My husband had a stroke that gave him vascular dementia three years ago. Now he was at that stage. This drove me out of my mind.

We checked out the following Thursday. Now I had problems with our bank. I thought I could pay using my ATM card but apparently there’s a limit to that regardless of what your bank balance is. We called, we waited and waited and waited. One charge worked, the other failed continuously. We were waiting almost two hours. Then suddenly someone said, “If you had a credit card we would have been done hours ago.” Of course I had a credit card! You mean I could have used it? So stupid, ignorant me paid with my credit card and we were out in 15 minutes.

The next morning Andres showed me a picture he had taken of the inside of my husband’s mouth. There was a big infected boil. No wonder my husband couldn’t eat or swallow. It was the boil, not the dementia! No wonder even eating ice cream caused him pain. Now we are healing that. Now we all share deep sighs of relief.

Oh my God, thank you profusely! You caused me so much fear, so much grief! Andres took a few days off to go to Puerto Galera. I hope he has a wonderful time. My husband, all of our children and I and are so grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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