The good news:
Ralph got out of the hospital on Friday afternoon seven days after he was admitted, once the infectious disease lab was able to pinpoint the bacteria and determine which antibiotic he needed. By the time he left his white blood count was back to normal and he had a sense of humor back. The nurses loved him.
The bad news:
The bacterium was rare and hard to pinpoint because it came from the mouth of dogs. Since the onset of his MCI, Ralph has had an obsessive need to scratch at the dry skin on his hands, to the point of breaking the skin, so it is likely the infection came from a lick for one of his two best friends.
Other bad news:
Ralph has to receive intravenous antibiotics daily until March 16 and because I know my limitations as a nurse, I am not attempting to give them at home. Instead, I will be driving him to get them at the infusion center at the hospital every morning. Our plans to move to Nola on March 5 are obviously delayed.
Other good news:
- 1. We get to wake up to this view again; since Ralph can’t climb upstairs at this point, I moved the guestroom bed down.
- 2. I have learned to ask for help and have received it from so many people. Friends will come stay with Ralph for two nights so I can go to Nola just long enough to meet the movers and set up furniture as originally scheduled. An other friend will bring the dogs down in his truck—actually what was until today Rick’s truck because I have arranged to sell it to him, one large chore off my list!
Both good and bad news:
- 1. Ralph is happy about the sale and shows no happiness about no longer driving; I am torn between being glad Ralph is not putting up an unpleasant fight and sad that one more part of his identity has been chipped away.
- 2. Ralph has stopped smoking cold turkey because a cat scan showed tiny nodules on his lungs that could either be a result of the infection or pre-cancerous. He will have a follow up CAT scan around the 16th to see if the nodules have shrunk. Meanwhile the doctors told Ralph no smoking and he agreed. Of course he doesn’t exactly remember but he continues to agree every time I remind him. And he is not showing any major symptoms of withdrawal.
- He also has not asked for a beer, which is good, but then again he has very little appetite in general, which is not so good.
Beyond Good or Bad
Ralph’s bout with physical infection has given me a lot to think about as I try to evaluate how much being on the Alzheimer’s spectrum might have affected his physical health and how this physical crisis might affect the progression of his Alzheimer’s.
According to medical people, being on the Alzheimer’s spectrum probably did make him more vulnerable to illness and/or caused his reaction to be more extreme. It certainly made it harder for me to detect something was seriously wrong with Ralph. I am pretty sure the signs of the infection would have been obvious sooner in someone without Alzheimer’s; after all what might seem abnormal in others—sleeping too much, inattentiveness to one’s physical state, lack of appetite, mental withdrawal—seemed almost normal if exaggerated behavior in Ralph. And he never articulated that he was feeling sick. I don’t feel guilty that I didn’t catch on sooner; if anything I feel lucky I caught on when I did.
What concerns me more now is the ambiguity of his condition now. I have talked about adjusting to “the new normal” as Ralph and our relationship change. Now Ralph is very changed. The no smoking, no beer, no driving are in their way shocking changes. I have professed to wish for them, yet now I see them as scary sign posts if permanent. IF–I suspect Ralph’s taste for beer will return and a fight over smoking may loom in the future.
What I don’t know is whether this physical crisis will have a permanent effect on Ralph physically and mentally. That he is incredibly weak at the moment is to be expected while recovering from a major bacterial infection and while taking strong antibiotics. But I don’t trust he will bounce back. He cannot hold onto the memory of having been sick, has already forgotten the hospital, cannot remember he has an IV portal in his arm.
(In fact as I was writing this he got out of bed and wandered in to where I am typing.
What are you doing I asked.
I need to go to the store for cigarettes.
Remember, you’ve stopped.
Because of the CAT scan. They found nodules and said you can’t smoke any more.
Oh, I forgot.
And with that he wandered back to bed).
I don’t know if being weakened physically will cause him to lose ground cognitively.
I do know that our relationship has changed, at least for now. I cannot make even the small demands I did ten days ago. I bring him his pills. I feed the dogs and care for them. I tempt him with snacks every few house because he will skip eating unless I remind him. I stand at the shower to make sure he keeps his arm dry. He has no interest in the world or the people in his life. He wants me nearby as his guide—each time the nurse asked him what year it was, he looked at me to give him the answer—but we have almost no conversation. And while I might leave him to go to the store or run a few errands, I cannot imagine leaving him overnight with a life list to follow. The life list is on hiatus.
I assume some of his strength will return. But this episode has exposed his fragility and vulnerability. Also how far he has drifted from the Ralph he used to be. Whether the decline is in the last week, whether it’s permanent, or whether I just didn’t notice before remains to be seen…