Another day, another Doctor: Pt. Vl

“That other doctor didn’t know what he was talking about”, Miss Cathy said, after Dr G decided to reject the suggestion of adding a statin to her daily medications.

“He was just generalizing, he didn’t know me.”

“Well, yes he did”, I piped in, not so much in support of the vascular surgeon she just saw so much as defending doctors in general.

I sat there feeling as if I was under attack for (“heaven for fend”) not only suggesting but also encouraging her to go the doctors and specialists we’d seen in the past several weeks and months-regardless of the outcome of their findings.

Believe me, I understood her frustration after schlepping to more than six doctors in a two week period with no hard diagnosis but what she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) appreciate was the fact that answers are not always guaranteed when you have questions for a doctor.

Sometimes they just ‘don’t know’ and the best they can advise is to monitor the situation or seek a second (or third) opinion.

“In Dr M’s defense”, I continued, ”He was just making a recommendation. He did say that the final determination would be up to Dr G so I wouldn’t just dismiss him. He was looking out for your best interest.”

“Yeah, well….”, she said dismissively, “I can understand that too but I don’t want to take anymore of that medication.”

“All dem pills!” began her familiar retort, followed by, “I don’t see why I have to take’m.”

And so the broken record continued…..

“I’m gonna die anyway, like everybody.” “Nobody is going to live forever.”

Apparently the good doctor and I were to be subjected to all her greatest hits.

Before my ears started to bleed I said, “Then stop taking all of them, don’t come to the doctor and you’ll be dead that much quicker.”

“Will that make you happy?” I asked, not quite rhetorically but not expecting an answer either.

“No, not all of it” she said thoughtfully, “I’ll take some of it, but not everything.”

“Well, actually, that’s the problem, you see, we’re here so the doctor can make the ‘call’ on the medications, it shouldn’t be up to you to decide what you take and don’t take.”

“What’s the point of having doctors if you’re not going to listen to them?”

My question evaporating into the sterile, antiseptic air in the examination room as Dr G closed his notepad, having already said that he wasn’t going to make any change in mom’s meds (or get in the middle of our “George and Martha” act) then got up to leave while Miss Cathy looked around, not for an answer but for her purse and cane before wobbling off to the phlebotomist.

And so ended the appointment, just “another day, another doctor”.

TyTip: Carry your own version of a “Cathy Clutch” (a tote bag filled with all of your loved one’s doctor’s files, paperwork, a notebook and pen for taking notes and film from any/all exams or tests, plus their identification, medical and insurance cards) to all of your doctor’s appointments, you’ll never know when you’ll need something!

TyTip too: Type up and print out a list of your loved one’s medications (be sure to include the dosage(s), what the medication are used for and what condition they are to treat) as well as medicines they might be allergic too

Your “Medications List” can be attached to medical forms and can also be handed directly to doctors and nurses who may inquire about your loved’ ones medications as well.

Having this document will save you a ton of time! Don’t forget to update your list whenever there is a change (addition or removal) of a medication or change in dosage


Another day, another Doctor: Pt. lll

One of the benefits of having Dr G as Miss Cathy’s Geriatrician is that it’s like ‘one stop shopping’ when we go to see him.

Whenever there is a problem or question (and mom has many) we see Dr G first, and if he doesn’t have the answers he’ll know the appropriate specialist who does.

Case in point, we were back after about a month (it felt like longer) of schlepping around from one new doctor to the next, to discuss their various findings.

The good news was that (other than not remembering what day it is) mom is basically ‘fine’ (a very subjective word these days but considering the alternatives, we’ll go with ‘fine’).

Dr K, her new neurologists, added Namenda to her daily medications, Namenda is a dementia drug that is thought to work well in conjunction with Aricept (which she’s been taking since her diagnosis in 2010) to help sustain memory and issues of confusion.

One of the other specialists she saw was Dr M, a vascular surgeon. I took Miss Cathy to see him regarding the five ‘episodes’ of fainting that’s she’d had over the course of the last three years to get to the root (hopefully) of why they were happening; was it a stroke? Were they seizures? Up till now nobody could say for certain.

He determined that the problem was not the blood flow to her corrated artery (so the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the episodes is still unresolved but luckily there haven’t been any recently).

After his examination the doctor did recommended Lipitor or it’s generic equivalent to help reduce the possibility of a stroke given her age and all she’s been through.

As we sat with Dr G in one of the (very small, very cramped) examination rooms, he went over all the notes from the other doctors, the things put in place and their recommendations moving forward.

There was a little debate (more between Dr G and himself than with either of us) as to whether or not to put mom on the cholesterol-lowering drug.

Dr G said that while Lipitor is a valid recommendation his concern was Miss Cathy’s various other health conditions; diabetes, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure and anxiety. So he wanted to be careful that any new drug introduced into her system wouldn’t have either a negative effect or counteract the effectiveness of a current medication.

It seemed at first that he was considering adding the ‘statin’ to mom’s meds and said as much.

Miss Cathy’s response was, “I don’t want to take that. I’m taking too many pills as it is.”

I sat in a corner of the room on what looked like a banquette built for a child or as an afterthought next to a small sink and supply cabinet. There was barely enough room to contain my ever expanding ass and irritation as I eavesdropped on their tête-à-tête.

Dr G smiled and said, “Of course that’s what you say about every one of these pills that we give you to take, so lets just consider this for a minute.”

‘Points’ for Dr G! It may not sound like much but that was one of the rare time that he didn’t just acquiesce to her protestations…..we might just be getting somewhere today.

The Meds discussed in this Blog Post were:

Aricept: is used to treat confusion (dementia) related to Alzheimer’s disease. It does not cure Alzheimer’s disease, but it may improve memory, awareness, and the ability to function. This medication is an enzyme blocker that works by restoring the balance of natural substances (neurotransmitters) in the brain.

Namenda: is used to treat moderate to severe confusion (dementia) related to Alzheimer’s disease. It does not cure Alzheimer’s disease, but it may improve memory, awareness, and the ability to perform daily functions. This medication works by blocking the action of a certain natural substance in the brain (glutamate) that is believed to be linked to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lipitor: is used along with a proper diet to help lower “bad” cholesterol and fats (such as LDL, triglycerides) and raise “good” cholesterol (HDL) in the blood. It belongs to a group of drugs known as “statins.” It works by reducing the amount of cholesterol made by the liver. Lowering “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides and raising “good” cholesterol decreases the risk of heart disease and helps prevent strokes and heart attacks.

Water off a Duck’s Back: Pt. lll

I was tired of debating the merits of therapy with Miss Cathy week in and week out.

After so much Sturm und Drang I realized it was her life and she could not examine it if she didn’t want to.

Some days she’d tell me that the sessions were no more than gossip, other times that the therapist was very smart and she’d learned a lot but inevitably she’d ask me, “How long do I have to keep going before I can stop?”

How she could even contemplate stopping when she’d only just started baffled and frustrated me, but, her questioning the process was insightful and it told me she wasn’t actively participating (meaning she probably wasn’t dealing with any of her core life issues) in her sessions (not in any meaningful way it seemed).

It was amazing to me how she could even try to quantify seventy-five years of neurosis and think that she should be ‘cured’ in less time than it takes to get a reservation at a four star Michelin rated restaurant in Manhattan….but, hey, I’m just saying (to you anyway).

To Miss Cathy I said, “You can cancel if you want but you’ll still have to pay for the session”.

“It’s up to you, what do you want to do?” I asked, reminding her that her appointment was in less than two hours,

“I’ll got then”, she said grudgingly, “but I’m not going back.”

Instead of listing all the reasons why she should continue with therapy I simply said, “Fine by me, do what you want, you always do.”

So, I took mom to her session and wrote in my journal as I waited for her.

Afterward her therapist brought me into the room to announce that she and Miss Cathy had come to an agreement.

Miss Cathy would commit to going to the Senior Center and become more engaged in her life and if she did this with some regularity then she wouldn’t have to come to therapy as often.

I was skeptical but gave my right to an opinion when I announced earlier that I didn’t care anymore. I was alittle surprised and put off (read: pissed off) that I was asked to agree to “sitting down for at least one meal a week with Miss Cathy”.

How the hell did I get roped into this? Whatever….. I shrugged but agreed.

Time will tell if she holds up her end of the bargain or if she simply reverts back to her old habits and all her promises evaporate like water off a duck’s back.

Water off a duck’s Back: Pt. ll

In addition to battling over exercise (or her lack thereof) I’ve fought with Miss Cathy through the years about a number of issues.

There was her wandering away from the kitchen while she had a skillet on the stove (usually turned up to the highest heat possible), murdering toasters (to date I’ve bought six toasters in three years after she’s managed to break them), her denial about her Alzheimer’s, her penchant for ‘doctoring’ herself (meaning she might decide to increase, decrease the dosage of her meds (or stop all together) based on what she thought was appropriate) and there is her propensity to forget if she’s taken her meds so she would either skip a cycle and not take them or double down and take the same meds twice in one day.

As soon as I realized what she was doing (three years ago she could be trusted to be responsible to take her medication as prescribed) but as time went on and her condition progressed (ever so slightly) and it was obvious that I had to intercede.

I took complete control over her meds after that, standing over her twice a day now like Nurse Ratched in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” making sure she swallows all of the pills and isn’t losing them or squirrelling them away somewhere.

Other things haven’t been as important (or as potentially life threatening) but you learn to choose your battles; whether it’s food, hygiene or seeing physicians.

Lately it seems that after every session she’s had with her therapist (and there have been less than a dozen in the past three months) she’s balked at going back.

Just last week we had come back from a morning doctor’s appointment and I could see that she was already eyeing her bed with a look that said she was ready to dive in for the rest of the day (and it wasn’t even 11:00 am yet).

So I quickly reminded her that she had a one o’clock meeting with her therapist, knowing that if she got under the covers nothing short of the promise of taking her to the casino and spotting her a couple hundred bucks would be able to blast her out of bed.

“I’m not going back there, I’m tired!” she hissed as she walked into her bathroom.


Tired from what is a discussion for another day but this was not that day.

And you know what, I was tired, tired of trying to convince her week in and week out that what she was doing for her emotional heath was just as important as her physical well-being.

I was tired of her schizophrenic reaction about going to therapy; most days she was elated to have gone, waxing poetic about how she’d “learned so much” and “how knowledgeable and nice” the therapist is/was.

Then flash forward to the day before (or day of) a new session and she’s railing about “what a waste of time it all is/was” and asking “how much longer did she have to go”

Jeez….who was she, Sally Field in “Sybil”?

Water off a Duck’s Back: Pt. l

At what point should a caregiver ‘give up caring’?

When should you abandon a course of action that (you know) will benefit your loved one but they simply don’t want to do? When should your hopes and dreams for their wellness take a back seat to their fear and inflexibility?

These questions (and more) seem to swim around in my brain more often these days.

When I moved here to take care of Miss Cathy one of our first battles concerned the amount of exercise she was (not) doing. I’d already waved the white flag of defeat over her doing any sort of strengthening or toning exercise and decided to focus on walking.

I tried cajoling her, offering to walk with her (which believe me was no easy offer to make considering that she wobbles along at a pace that a turtle could easily overtake).

And I told her that I would help her by maintaining some sort of schedule but after one or two short (I’m talking less than an eighth of a mile short) walks, she simply wouldn’t go outside with any regularity, no matter what sort of ‘schedule’ she’d committed to.

Whenever I reminded her or prodded her to ‘take her walk’ she would let out any number of reasons why she ‘couldn’t’ (not that she wouldn’t, it’s just that there was some impediment in her way); it was (either) too cold, too hot, too late, too rainy or she was just too tired (from what I have no idea when her day consisted of moving between sitting on the living room sofa and laying in bed).

She got more mileage out of here excuses than her walking shoes would ever accrue.

I quickly found out that if I pushed her too far she had no trouble exercising her tongue and telling me to ‘back off and where I could get off’.

Miss Cathy could and would curse me out (not often but with enough regularity to warrant my being very aware of how far to push).

And the language…..Wowsa!….. Miss Cathy can swear like a sailor during a perfect storm without a wit of regret or worry that her ‘sweet little old lady’ card would be taken away if the ‘Old people potty mouth police’ could hear the vulgarities coming out of her mouth.

“Like water off a duck’s back”, I’d mumble to myself, a phrase I learned much to late from Jinxx Monsoon, the recent winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She’d use the phrase like a healing chant (and invisible shield) whenever some insult was hurled her way by one of the vicious queens competing against her.

(In)Dependence Day

The snap, crackle and popularity of fireworks going off a night early here in the suburbs on the 3rd (and very little activity on the actual holiday which is strange) put me off my game and cereal when I awoke on Independence Day.

So, it would seem only fitting that I should walk into the living room and find that mom had already worked herself up about the “state of dependence” she (thinks) she’s found herself in (once again).

We’ve come to that place (once again) where Miss Cathy is in a state of denial, or should I say she’s remembering that she’s in denial about having Alzheimer’s since the last time when she must have forgotten that she’d reconciled herself to accepting her condition.

I spent the better part of my morning explaining to her (once again) what her diagnosis means and what the definition of dementia is.

What fun….all this while my head throbbed from all those damn fireworks blasting into my dreams the night before.

(Question: why does all the drama seem to greet me in the a.m.?…Possible answer: maybe it’s because Miss Cathy sleeps (on average) fourteen (or more) hours a day so she’s razor sharp in the post dawn and ready to rumble, as long as it’s before lunch when she’s about to tumble back into bed for the day)

So I stood behind a wingback chair (why I didn’t just sit down I don’t know, maybe I thought by standing the conversation would feel as if it wasn’t going to drag on for hours, or maybe I needed some barrier between me and her denial).

No matter, here’s a sample from her “Greatest Hits of Denial”:

1) She still doesn’t think she has Alzheimer’s:

Her new neurologist mentioned “no one with dementia could have passed the test he performed in his office”
(I tried to explain that she’s just one of those people that gave ‘good test’ but it’s her day to day life that she’s trying to put her tee-shirt on as pants and the doctors aren’t testing her for that, and it’s not like she offers up relevant information like that when they doctors ask her “what brought you in today?” her response is to talk about here knee usually, so its up to me to fill them in on herstory)

2) She can’t accept that because she has Alzheimer’s that she’s a danger to herself and others:

She’s bemoaning the fact that she can’t drive anymore which she immediately equates to her ‘loss of freedom”
(I reminded her, in no uncertain terms, that if she can’t see clearly or have the cognitive skills to put the silverware back in the drawer correctly then how the hell does she think she should ever be in the driver’s seat of a car…ever again)

3) She can’t accept that since she’s a danger to herself that she cannot live alone:

She says she feels like a prisoner
(I told her that it seems to me that she’s in a prison of her own design; that there are plenty of people in the world, her age and older that take the bus, hail a cab, or call a friend to get them anywhere they want to go. Besides, she has me as a personal chauffeur to drive here around. So, if she wants to sit on her ass in her condo that’s her choice and her’s alone)

And on and on it went, listening to her tilt at imaginary obstacles to happiness Miss Cathy reminded me of Don Quixote, but instead of chasing after windmills she’s searching for a prognosis that she’s been misdiagnosed and she can get back to the life she led before.

So, long before night would fall and the rest of America would rise to set off fireworks in celebration of the nation’s birthday I could already see the bombs bursting in air (in my mind’s eye actually) as I settled in for a conversation about (in)dependence.

Happy fucking Fourth of July to me!

Physician, Heal Thyself: Pt.Vla The Great and Powerful Dr of Alz

Did I ‘happen’ to mention that somewhere in the middle of the running from Dr A to Z that Miss Cathy started to regain some of her eyesight?

Yes, well, one day she called me into her bedroom and proudly told me what time it was from looking at the clock across the room from where she lay in bed.

That might not sound like much but considering that just days before she couldn’t recite the correct sequence of numbers on the clock (let alone see them), we took it as nothing short of a miracle (me more so than her because what she didn’t know was that Dr GG had just pulled me aside during our first visit to his office and told me to brace myself for the possibility that her condition could be permanent-or worsen).

Mom took my hand and looked up at me, her face flush with pride, eyes innocent as a young girl when she confessed that she had been quietly praying to God everyday for help and she was convinced that He had done what no doctor was able to do.

“Sounds good to me!” I said.

I’m not particularly religious, I consider myself a spiritual person, but I’m also a pragmatist so I was just thankful to whoever turned the lights back on in her brain.

I was happy to give God the credit, none of the doctor’s had been able to do anything so far.

But our celebration was short-lived when she started to regress then rebound back from confused and unable to see well to almost normal again.

So, it seemed that we’d just had a reprieve before we entered a new “confused today, clear tomorrow” phase of her disease.

I explained all of that and more to the program manager of the Georgetown University Medical Center as I tried to convince her that Miss Cathy had been through enough.

We’d (“I”) already been talking for quite some time but (to her credit and my surprise) she stayed on the phone with me, patiently listening as if she didn’t have anything else to do (which I knew couldn’t possibly be the case but I was grateful none the less).

She told me that as it is they were completely booked and Dr T had a full schedule so it would have to be a ‘special’ case for them to consider making room for a new client.

“I know that everybody thinks their loved one is special but we simply can’t take everyone that wants to get into the Clinic.”

“Hmm”, I thought, “did I think Miss Cathy was special?”, the word ‘special’ lighting up in my brain like one of those huge, neon signs in a Baz Lurhmann film.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Pt.Ve

Miss Cathy sat in the chair in the examination room and (for once) just listened (instead of interjecting herself into the conversation) as Dr GG and I squared off.

To be fair, we were talking about her just not to her, an unenviable position I’m sure but it’s more efficient for me to speak on her behalf (as it would be for any caregiver) than for the doctor to play twenty questions with the patient and have to try to interpret every answer for truthfulness and accuracy.

It wasn’t that the doctor and I were at odds, or having a disagreement really, we’d been in synch pretty much from the minute he walked in the room, it was only when I tried (and I knew better but couldn’t help myself) to get him to talk ‘smack’ about another doctor that I hit the ‘White wall’.

So, it was just a matter of me not having the energy to read between lines any more than mom could read the large capital letters projected on the wall that caused a kerfuffle.

I shouldn’t have tried to pit one doctor against another, but (after being exposed to a doctor that knew what he was doing) I didn’t need Dr GG to corroborate my suspicions.

I knew that it was time to bid adieu to Dr A and his fawning ways.

It was one thing to keep my opinions about Dr A to myself (or try to anyway) when her condition was more or less stable and quite another when she needed more than just someone holding her hand and calling her ‘mom’.

By the time we left his office alittle while later Dr GG had concluded that there was a possibility that mom’s confusion and loss of eyesight might be related to her Alzheimer’s but he couldn’t be sure.

He also suggested that we seek a second opinion from a Dementia Specialist (a ‘specialty’ that I did not know existed until he explained it all to me and it makes sense given the rise in diagnosis each year) and he said that he would consult with a colleague to get me some names of someone we could see.

It’s funny, all this time I thought I was doing the right thing by taking mom to a ‘neurologist’ but now I was wondering if I’d dropped the ball wasting my time on the ‘GP’ of the brain when there was someone out there skilled in her disease specifically….I felt like a yutz.

They say ‘hindsight is 20/20’ which Miss Cathy no longer had so I guess it’s better to look forward than back.

Before I could fall too far down the rabbit hole of ineffectiveness Dr GG (true to his word) emailed me a few days after our visit with the contact information of a prominent doctor that specialized in Dementia who headed a top University clinic not far from us in the Nation’s Capital.

Dr GG wrote that there were only a few Dementia Specialist in the country so I should be aware that the demand to see this doctor was high and that he rarely took on new patients.

Sounded like a challenge and if it was, I was up for it.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Pt.Vd #WhiteWall

I thought what Dr GG had just said to me, that ‘ruled out’ didn’t necessarily mean that there wasn’t a ‘possibility’ was some sort of word play and ‘doctor logic’ that was bullshit.

“Forgive doctor”, I said, weary of word games and tired of being made to feel like I wasn’t keeping up.

“I’m only repeating what I’ve been told and to the lay person, this person anyway, ‘ruled out’ means ‘not a chance’ and since I’ve been ‘put in my place’ and told that I am not a doctor it’s not for me to decipher the subtleties of what another doctor says to me. I can only take what l’m being told at face value.”

By way of a response he pulled out the MRI film again that I’d handed him from my “Cathy Clutch”.

Dr GG studied the film for a moment then motioned us closer to the light-box that he’d turned on and attached the large black Mylar film, revealing a reverse black and white graphic of what could only be Miss Cathy’s brain glowing back at us.

The doctor pointed out an area on the black film and told us that it was the “White Matter” located within the ‘Gray Matter’ (confused…so was I but hang in there with me).

He said that it was so thick that a small stroke could be hard to identify so if was possible that it wouldn’t show up on a scan.

I think I understood what the doctor was saying (in his round about way) and I could tell that he being diplomatic (by trying his best not to compromise a fellow physician) but I wanted to be sure of what I was hearing (after all, we’d heard so much and from so many).

Besides, I’d been building a case to persuade Miss Cathy to switch from Dr A to a different neurologist. This just might be the ammunition I needed to pull the trigger with some facts and not just feelings.

So I asked him if he was saying that Dr A had been wrong to say what he did.

Dr GG pulled the film from the light-box as it turned it off, turned to me and said, “I didn’t say that exactly, but I’m not saying that your question isn’t valid, I’m just saying that I deal in discretion.”

Great! Who was this guy…Gollum? Now I have to read between the lines and play word games!

It was obvious he didn’t want to betray some “white wall” of loyalty doctors must have for one another.

“I’m sorry doctor but I don’t have time for discretion, I just need a solution to this problem.” My brain was about to explode. I just wanted some simple, declarative statements (forget about implicating Dr A) and was hoping we’d finally met a doctor that could provide some straight talk.

I told him that I ‘live’ for subtleties, that discretion was my middle name and any other time I would be right there with him, ready to bat words around high above the heads of whomever was in the room about whatever subject was really the topic but I was too tired to decipher coded language and I was doing my best not to get worked up and pissed off.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Pt.Vc

Miss Cathy was taken for a series of pre-tests alone while I gladly lounged in the reception area that felt more like an upscale hotel lobby.

I rejoined her when she was taken back to another exam room for a more extensive eye exam with (yet) another assistant (assistants, assistants, everywhere but nary a doctor to doc).

We’d been forewarned that our visit would take a few hours. At just about the two hour mark the doctor came in to greet us.

Dr GG was personable and polite, as inviting and elegant as his outer office.

He made Miss Cathy feel at ease, which in itself made the long drive worthwhile.

And more importantly he didn’t seem as perplexed as the other doctors who’d been confronted with her dilemma.

He asked Miss Cathy pointed questions and answered her queries, which were many.

I told him about our meetings with all the various and sundry other doctors, our ‘long days journey to sight’ as it were.

He listened intently as I went through my notes, telling him that ultimately all the doctors seemed confounded and perplexed, each kicking the (eye) ball down the road to the other for diagnosis.

As for the cause of her vision loss and confusion he said, “The good news is that there is a possibility that her condition was related to having Alzheimer’s.” From what I could gather he was saying it seems that sometimes the brain can trick perfectly healthy, undamaged eyes into thinking they can not see.

Then he went on to explain that the bad news was that if this were the case there was no way to reverse the damage that’d been done or prevent further deterioration.

He also theorized that she could have suffered a series of small strokes that had gone undetected.

I mentioned that Dr A, the neurologist said that he ‘ruled out’ the possibility of a stroke, and that he made the statement on two separate occasions.

Dr GG ‘pricked up his ears’ upon hearing this, saying that just because a physician stated that something was ‘ruled out’ didn’t mean that there wasn’t a ‘possibility’ of its occurrence.

“Uh?”, was all I could think to myself.

He had me at “good news” until he switched gears and decided to give me a lesson in semantics.