My Family & Other Animals

Elizabeth Byrne nee Glew - My recollections 4

As recollections go, sometimes something you see will remind you of what has been, other times its just an incident that occurs that brings it all back.

The year I celebrated my 21st birthday, was the year that changed the course of our lives. As I recall I was at work and I received a frantic phone call from my brother.  He and mum were coming home and there was a car accident. The police and ambulance were called and Mum was cut out of the driver's seat. My brother, it appeared was left to his own devices and has walked home as the accident site was only a few minutes from our house.

Mum was taken by ambulance to hospital (I don't recall which one). They checked her out and released her after a few hours. She had no visible injuries, but was not able to walk or get around by herself for months. I recall Dad taking her to the neighbor's house behind us and giving her hot baths with Epson salts. Dad had renovated our bathroom years before and removed the deep bath, now we only had a shower stall. Greg at 16yr was big enough to also carry her and it wasn't unusual for him to carry her to the toilet or just into the lounge room to watch t.v. She spent a lot of time sleeping and recovering. I remember that in October we went to Tanya's 21st birthday and we hired a wheel chair for her to get around in. It was 1984. We believe the accident caused trauma to her brain, which subsequently was the cause of the Alzheimer's.

It was gradual, but looking back we can now see the small changes. Suddenly routes that we had been driving along for years, she couldn't recall.  Telling us about her day, and then five minutes later telling you again, and again. Suddenly being beyond reason when telling you about a how this person snubbed her or that person was rude. It was unlike her, the mood swings were amazing. Dad took her to see the doctor. Tests and more tests. Menopause they said. Take these they said - everything will be better now. It was getting worse. She would insist on going to the doctors by herself for checkups. She was very good at deceiving the family doctor into thinking everything was fine.

I remember saying to Dad we need to take her for another opinion. We got the name for another doctor - one that dealt in female issues. The doctor referred Dad and Mum to another specialist.

I was at work and took the call from Dad. The doctor says your Mum has Alzheimer's. The death knoll has sounded. We hid it from her for a couple of months, but Mum was beside herself. She told me she was stupid, she was so angry with herself for not remembering little things.  Dad finally told her the truth. She was beside herself with grief, anger and I think relief.

Once she knew what was wrong, though she was sad she said she was glad to know that she wasn't going mad.

Mum was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1991. It took 7 years to get that diagnose. Dad sold his business and the house and they took off on a trip around Australia & New Zealand. It was tough on Dad, because of the disease Mum was convinced Dad was going to desert her.  In the end he cut the trip short and came home. She was a lot happier at home.

About 1995 Dad had a angina attack and was hospitalized.  Dad was extremely fit and very healthy. The stress of single-handedly caring for Mum 24hours a day, 7 days a week had worn him out. We did a lot of talking and convinced Dad that he needed to look at putting Mum into a nursing home. I said to him "We have lost Mum, we don't want to lose you too."

We looked for quite some time and eventually found one or two that appealed.  We put Mums name down and then waited.  The Kimberley Nursing Home rang.  You have to accept and move in very quickly. Because of the large demand, you can't take your time deciding.

Sarah was two when Mum moved in - 1996. It was a three story structure. Appeared to be clean and the staff were friendly. The decider was that it didn't smell of urine or feces. It was a locked facility, for which we required a code to get in.  The first christmas we all went there to spend with Mum. What a disaster. She still had moments where she was lucid and understood what you were telling her. She wanted to know why we were all there. I said "Mum its Christmas, we wanted to spend it with you."  "But where are we?" "At the Nursing Home - you remember don't you?" There was silence and then Mum started wailing and crying. We didn't stay and finish our food. Mum was too upset. We didn't spend another Christmas with her either. It was too difficult.

At first Mum was active and walked, walked and walked. She moved from floor to floor. She just kept moving. At first it was a slow run, then it became a shuffle, until she eventually became bed and chair bound.

Sarah would come with me to see Nana. She enjoyed feeding her, dancing for her and singing her songs. Sometimes she would read her stories. I like to think that Mum enjoyed their time together. 

I remember walking into the nursing home one visit, and I could hear one of the staff moving the residents to the dining room. He was singing the following song.

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching one by one,
The little one stops to suck his thumb
And they all go marching down to the ground
To get out of the rain, BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching two by two,
The little one stops to tie his shoe
And they all go marching down to the ground
To get out of the rain, BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

I moved up the ramp and could see him ahead of me with a group of residents. He was pushing one in a wheelchair, and he had the hand of another with a few others following him. It was an amusing sight, but heartening to see someone getting such enjoyment out of their work.

On 16th December 2005, after a few years of making mad dashes and getting late night calls, we got THE call. She passed away so quickly in the end. It was a shock, but a huge relief. I thought that I had grieved for her already, but discovered that it all started again. I miss you so much Mum. I wish you had been here longer. I had so many things to ask you, so many things to share with you. xoxox

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