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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Self Destructing Mind

Last weekend, the weekend before Memorial Day, I decided that I needed to go see my grandmother, Baba, again.  She is my mom's mother, and lives in a nursing home in Westport.  She has been there for the past two years and is dealing with dementia that is slowly unraveling her mind.  Her personality still comes forward, but she rarely remembers who people are and most of the times when she talks, it is very hard to follow what she is saying.  That is how it was last Monday when I went with my mom to go visit her.  Her pin straight gray hair is longer than I have ever seen it, past her shoulders, and her face looks simply tired, partly from being in her 90's and living a long life, partly from the meds that they keep her on to mediate her volatile temper.  When we arrived, she was napping in her wheelchair just outside her room which is visible down a long hallway immediately after disembarking from the elevator.  With Baba, you never know exactly how she is going to be when you visit, although according to my mom, these days she doesn't really remember much of anything.  So, we approached her down the long hallway, watching her nap in peace with not a care in the world.  We woke her up when we got to her and as would be a typical response from her when asked if she was napping she said, "No, I just closed my eyes for a minute."  She was periodically coherent in what she was saying, but most of the time when she tried to convey a thought of hers, she jumped around so much that my mom and I couldn't follow.  I'm sure that it made sense in her mind, but to us, it was a jumble of words that she struggled to put together in three different languages, English, Spanish, and her native Russian.  At least she was happy to see us and have us as visitors.  And when I showed her pictures of my children, a huge smile came over her face and you could tell she was excited to see pictures of little children.  We had to explain that they were my children, but that doesn't matter at this point.  The only thing that does is that it brought a smile to her face.  Despite the fact that she didn't know who my mom or I were, she is still a mom and a grandmother to us respectively and we won't forget who she is.

Part of me wonders if the medications she is on has contributed to her trouble in assembling coherent thoughts and communicating them to others.  Even with her unraveling, self destructing mind, I would like to hold on to a glimmer of hope (even though that is probably long gone) that she still has some of her faculty left.  I understand completely why she is on the medications she is on.  Before she left my parent's house where she used to live, she would get periodically violent when she would forget where she was or when she thought that my parents were breaking into their own house.  Even in her earlier time at the nursing home, she would get extremely upset if someone touched her in an effort to help or if she had a roommate she did not agree with.  Her temper would ramp up to the point where they would have to sedate her in order to calm her down.  It wasn't good for her or those around her and unfortunately in order for her to stay there, she had to be put on medication.  Dementia, unlike Alzheimer's, seems to be more of a disease where the connections in the mind come undone and re-assemble themselves in weird and distorted ways.  Its almost like a person with dementia has taken an ungodly amount of hallucinogenic substances and is incapable of seeing reality the way the rest of the world is.  There are still areas of overlap, areas where there is a mutual understanding of the reality at hand and a comprehension of what is being said, but mostly there is no overlap.  It is a weird disease, it dementia even fits into the category of a "disease", and unfortunately there is no cure.  Its like watching someone travel down the rabbit hole, still being able to communicate with them, but not understanding what they are seeing.  Our reality is understood based upon what we all agree on.  We, meaning all conscious humans, agree that a tree is a tree based upon the fact that it is made of wood, surrounded by bark, is tall, has branches at the top, and unless it is winter in the northern areas, has leaves that help it to grow.  Baba, whose mind has traveled down the rabbit hole, might still see a tree, but where we would see only a tree, Baba would see a tree from her childhood, with notches in it from children climbing it, perhaps with a tree house in it, and that tree could even be Russian, in her back yard from her childhood.  A grossly simplified example, perhaps, but not being able to see what Baba sees, that is the best I can surmise.

What I do know is, Baba is still around, she is still my grandmother, and while life is hectic with two children running around the house, I still owe it to her to visit as much as my schedule allows.  After all, I only have two grandmother's left.  Out of those two, one can see me but doesn't know who I am, the other is blind and knows who I am but can not see me.  An interesting situation when you think about it, but I still love them both.  Seeing my grandparents get old as made me resolve to never get old myself.  I am not sure how I will accomplish that yet, but that is my goal.  OK, so that might be a little beyond my control, but what I will do is do everything in my power to stave off dementia and diabetes, the two diseases that my two grandmother's have, and the two diseases that have rendered them incapable of caring for themselves.  How I wish things were different sometimes, but alas, these are their lives and at this point we can do nothing but visit them, love them, and let them know we still care....even if one of them doesn't know it is her grandson and daughter who visited her.  

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