She stood over the large grate in the bathroom, reveling in the warm air blowing on her legs.
I was transported back more than 45 years ago. My parents were frugal. Or maybe it was the 70’s energy crisis and they were patriotic. Whatever the case, the heat rarely was on in our lofty, barnlike house. When we heard the rumble, indicating heat would soon blow through the ducts, my sister and I ran to the one vent we were aware of. Thinking back, there had to have been other vents. It was a huge house. But the only vent easily accessible was the one in the hallway. It was large, maybe a foot or two squared. And when we heard the heat come on, we ran to the vent and curled up next to it, laying on the floor, balled up as tightly as possible so the heat would blow over as much of our bodies as possible.
Mom lives with me now. Over the holidays, she developed COVID and wasn’t able to quarantine on her own in the facility where she lived. She simply didn’t understand why she couldn’t leave her unit. Or be alone all day. Or why her caretaker (also in quarantine) couldn’t come to visit. Or how to turn the tv on. So, in a somewhat spur of the moment decision on day two of her quarantine, I moved her to my house, thinking we would quarantine together for 14 days or until neither of us no longer had symptoms. Even before she moved in, I assumed I had been exposed and decided to self-quarantine in order not to inadvertently spread the virus.
About four days into quarantine, I realized she needed round-the-clock care. I’d hear her shout from the bathroom, “What do I do now?” I’d walk in and she’d be standing in front of the sink, knowing she needed to wash her hands, but not knowing how to turn the faucet on (my sink is exactly like hers in her apartment). I’d turn the water on and she’d just look at me. “What do I do now?” I’d gently pull her hands under the water, squirt some soap in her hands and rub them together.
“Lori, come here!” I’d enter her bedroom, where she was choosing clothes to wear in the morning. She needed help choosing pants, a top, and a sweater. And underclothes. Sometimes she would put on a turtleneck and walk out of her bedroom. I’d jokingly ask if she were cold, and turn her back around to choose a few more layers to wear.
“What can I do to help?” she’d ask as she wandered into the kitchen as I made dinner. Once I asked her to cut the vegetables for the salad. “This is just not working!” she exclaimed with a huff. She was using the wrong edge of the knife to try to cut carrots. I asked her to set the table instead.
Once I came to this realization, I had a choice to make. Moving to the wing that provided round-the-clock care at the facility where she currently lives would mean no visitors (now due to COVID, however, possibly in the future). No walks. No balcony gardening. As I was weighing the options, she started telling me stories about how she could never go back there, thinking that was where Dad died. My heart broke. I listened, nodded, and hugged her. I reached out to her memory doctor to discuss options.
My house has one bathroom, with a 100-year-old clawfoot tub that is difficult to get in and out of. It sits on a hill, with multiple steps to the front door. It’s perfectly cozy for one person. It’s challenging, but not impossible, for three adults to navigate (me working from home, Mom, and her caregiver).
I called a realtor friend, warned her I was looking for a unicorn house, and asked if she would like to work together. Thankfully, she agreed, and a couple of weeks later I put an offer on a house. It’s a couple of streets over from where I now live. It’s not my dream house (my dream house is where I live now), but it has enough of what we need. I can make it a house that I love. That we love. Mom viewed it and said she loved it. She liked the space, she liked the light. We came home from the viewing and I found her in her bedroom putting clothes into a totebag. I explained that it would take a month to close and she was not happy. She didn’t understand why it wasn’t our house right now.
Not the January I planned for, but it’s the January I got, and here’s hoping February is even better.
PSA – COVID is real. For everyone out there who thinks it’s not, or jokes about it, I beg you to socially distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, or better yet, stay at home. One of the most difficult parts of quarantine/treatment is the stress of knowing that the disease can turn on a dime. One day you may be slightly coughing, the next you could be in the ICU. We’re both out of the quarantine period, and I’ll often wake during the night, hearing Mom coughing from the other bedroom. For people with Alzheimer’s, any illness exacerbates a decline in cognitive ability, and that cognitive ability often does not return even once the illness is over. Mom was most likely infected by someone who was asymptomatic. The facility she lived at had strict guidelines about temperature checks, screening, limited visitation, etc. Even if you’re feeling fine, please limit physical interactions, socially distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask (or two).