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A Caregiver’s Gift
By Darcy Heller Sternberg 

(Page 1 of 3)

My husband Marty has to take a combination of eight different drugs seven times a day; this is in addition to routine vitamins. Each morning, I set them up in a pillbox so that there is no confusion about the schedule. He manages quite well unless his Parkinson’s, which he’s had for over 30 years, prevents him from opening the individual sections.

It’s a drug’s perverse nature that by alleviating one symptom (tremors), others are created (flailing arms, buckling knees, freezing in his tracks). Because his neurologist regularly adjusts doses, times and occasionally experiments with a new drug, I as a caregiver must be especially vigilant in perceiving changes of behavior.

About five years ago, we were alone at home when I heard Marty ranting to one of his buddies about the Yankees; yet, when I peeked into the kitchen, he was not on the phone. Even though he had experienced hallucinations in the past, I alerted his doctor who then eliminated one of the drugs. Since then, he’s had no further “visions” until this past summer.

He began playing with imaginary dental floss, speaking to “little people,” then shushing me as though I were interrupting a high level conference. Once again, his doctor tweaked his medicine, then asked if I wanted to admit Marty to the hospital. Marty had just finished the “impress the doc” show, a phenomenon in which the symptoms of his condition magically disappear, so we said no and left.

At 6 a.m., he bolted in and out of the bathroom, then crashed into the armoire; he later said he had seen a strange woman standing by the sink. Had I made the wrong decision by not admitting him? Marty was taken to New York Presbyterian where the physician on call, a toxicologist, stopped one of his meds; a drug that had previously controlled his movements for years was now short-circuiting his system.

After 24 hours, his hallucinations stopped. A team of doctors altered his medication and even though no bones were broken by his fall, they insisted he move into a subacute rehabilitation facility for at least 10 days.

When something like this happens, a caregiver functions on autopilot: rising with the sun, lugging various sundries (tons of diet coke, chips and cookies) and making sure the staff tends to their loved one. I often felt like Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment when she was on the brink of losing it at the nurse’s station. Why is his medication late? Why doesn’t someone answer his call button? It was no secret that the staff longed to discharge me rather than my courteous and tolerant husband.

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