Joe always brought Dottie to her visits. He was a doting husband that led her by the arm and placed her safely in the chair in the corner of the room while he sat close by on the exam table. It was her visit, but she could no longer manage the step up to the table and would likely fall from the height if left to her own devices -so he sat on the table instead.
She had the expression of a porcelain doll. Emotionless, except for the slightest smile. Her eyes staring blankly, unblinking. The Parkinson’s had stolen the quickness of her movement, the rapid fire changes in facial expression we all take for granted that conveys meaning to our words and emotions. She basically just sat wherever you put her, oblivious. I would talk with her, looking deep into those emotionless eyes, searching for that spark.
How are you doing, Dottie?
Her eyes would slowly move to lock on mine. An almost perceptible churning occurring. Wheels grinding. Clicks and whirs as her mind would attempt to come to life.
The slowest and most painful ‘OK,’ ever. What a feat!
Joe mostly spoke. The visit would have taken a lifetime otherwise. He was a careful notetaker, likely harkening back to his years as a beat cop. He pulled out his notebook for my review. Pages and pages of meticulously recorded bowel movements, urinary output, food intake, medication administration, times of waking and sleeping. It was all in there. The minutia of her life, carefully documented. The painful story of the demise of the wife he once knew tracing all the way back to the beginning.
The visit would always end with Joe apologizing for getting emotional. Tears in his eyes. A catch in his voice. He was losing Dottie. And he knew it. As a cop he would show up after the crime. After the death. And pick up the pieces. This was different. He was living in the middle of an active crime scene that had been in progress for the past 10 years. It was hard. He got tired. He was old. He had his own health problems. Sometimes she got combative. She took a swing at him last night and he had to grab her and hold her arms down until she became limp. He thinks he may have grabbed her a little too hard. He thinks he may have left a mark. He even wrote it down in the notebook.
made a bruise
It was hard to imagine Dottie mustering up that kind of energy as she sat almost catatonic in front of me. I pulled the sleeves of her shirt upward. Her left arm had a single bruise like a thumbprint. I pulled the back of her shirt up, no marks. I pulled the legs of her pants up, no marks. Her chest and belly, no marks. I moved her arms around, feeling down the length of the bones. No wincing. She was fine. My gut said there was no abuse. Not yet.
Joe needed help. Before he lost control. Before Dottie got hurt. I put eyes in the home. Nurses. Physical Therapists. Occupational Therapists. Palliative Care. And eventually Hospice. Anyone that could help them. Anyone that could ease their burden. He told all of them about the night he grabbed Dottie a little too hard. Guilty conscience, I guess. He was grateful for their presence. He could leave to do the shopping, mow the lawn, have lunch with an old buddy.
He got a break. She got a break. And no one got hurt.
photo credit Julia Freeman-Woolpert