Monday, September 10, 2007

The Enemy Has A Name

Dementia- The loss of intellectual functions (such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning) of sufficient severity to interfere with a person’s daily functioning. Dementia is not a disease itself but rather a group of symptoms that may accompany certain diseases or conditions. Symptoms may also include changes in personality, mood, and behavior. Dementia is irreversible when caused by disease or injury.

There, I said it. Finally. After days of debating whether or not I’m ready to write about this, I’ve finally put it out there. Papa T. has dementia. He’s in the early stages of the illness. We don’t know what’s causing it, but I can tell you it sucks. The doctor handed us the diagnosis a couple of weeks ago, and it still smarts. Individually, we’ve suspected for a while now that he was suffering from it but didn’t really have the nerve to voice it out loud to each other. Mama J. was the first to have the courage to bring up the subject. With some reluctance I did a little internet research and found the symptoms of dementia, which may or may not be caused by Alzheimer’s but results in the behavior we like to call senility or hardening of arteries. I was startled to discover just how many symptoms of dementia he has. That prompted a discussion with the doctor that confirmed our fears.

For the last few months Papa T. has been pretty forgetful. He doesn’t always seem to be as alert as he should be, and sometimes he gets confused. He also wants to sleep and eat all of the time. We blamed it on medication, thin blood and a number of other things. We danced around this unspoken fear probably because we weren’t ready to accept it. After all, he still can’t see much, and his hearing is poor. Neither one of those issues is likely to get better. That’s more than enough to handle. But to know that he has a terminal illness for which there is no cure is heartbreaking. The real sucker punch is knowing what this disease is going to do to his personality. We’ve already had a glimpse of that, and it’s not pretty.

He’s always been a very kind and gentle man. He still is, except when you try to help him with basic functions like getting into the shower or navigating steps. His temper flares, and he says some downright ugly things to the person helping him. Moments later he doesn’t remember saying those things. Perhaps it’s best that way because he would never intentionally hurt those he loves the most, and he would feel terrible if he knew he was being mean. But it does hurt. He was always very particular about his dress and hygiene. That’s fallen by the wayside. He’s an intelligent man who led an entire school district for years, engaged in lively political discussions and chaired important committees in important circles. Yesterday he lost track of half the day believing it was morning when it was late afternoon. Daily, he can’t remember if he’s taken his medicine.

It makes me very sad, but in a way it’s empowering to know what we’re up against. We’ve been slapped in the face with a diagnosis, and it’s up to us to fight back now that our enemy has a name. While we know we can’t win the war, we can win a few battles, and this enemy has no idea what it’s up against. The Hula’s are a determined, stubborn lot. We fight hard, and we fight mean. We were a little stunned by that first blow, but we’ve picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and have put up our fists for the next round. This could get a little bloody.

1 comment:

Teacher Mom said...

Dear Hulagirl, here's an extra thick skin suit to help you bounce those barbs that Papa T. will unintentionally throw. When I worked for Home Health I had a few dementia patients and you will need it!! Prayers & hugs from me if that counts for anything.