The gentle one
Some kinds of death are long and drawn out. Not necessarily painful, just a slow breaking down that takes years to arrive at its end. In a way it sounds like simple aging, but give it a name like “Alzheimer’s” and it becomes something different altogether. It is not about growing old gracefully, since those afflicted will often be living in the past forgetting about the present. Or if the present is confronted, it last but a moment in time. So those taking care of them will become different people. For William I am at times “Frank” or “Jim” and just once in awhile I am “Markey”, that is when he is present to the moment, at least I think so.
Leo was a gentle man before he came down with Alzheimer’s and as it developed this gentleness did not go away. Each case is unique. For instances William is not what one would call a gentle soul, he is more about fireworks, high winds, laughing and also unrepressed expressions of anger. He was like that before he became ill and he is like that now, in other words his personality has not faded. Leo because he was always quiet, gentle and not one for emotional outburst, continued to be that way after he became ill. This gave the impression that he was fading ever so slowly. Of course he got this disease earlier than most; it most likely started in his mid to late 50’s, for in 1999 when he was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; he was almost 60 years old.
He did have a good sense of humor, which stayed with him for most of those ten years he had with his illness. I remember once taking Damien and Leo out to lunch. I would take them for hamburgers and hotdogs and then over to ‘Dairy Queen’ for ice cream. One day I put on the news while driving and one of the commentators said something funny and Leo laughed at it. He could not talk, seemed to be somewhere else most of the time, yet he still had a sense of humor and was listening to the radio, so there was a lot more going on than I thought; a good lesson for me.
He ate well, sleep well most of the time and was very easy to take care of. As his condition worsened it would take two people to get him ready for bed. He was a large man and while he would never hit out at any one, he would sometimes start and his arms would fly, so best to have two people. He would get frightened when he was put in bed, also when we turned him. So one would talk to him gently to keep him a little calmer, for he did not know what was going on. Once we finished however, he slept most of the time for the whole night.
A few weeks ago he had to be placed in the hospital. He was having severe pain and we needed to know what was causing it. I took him into the ER the week before and nothing came up after he received an MRI. There was a spot on his pancreas, which the doctor down played, so he was sent home. Dr. Manning however after seeing the results was worried that it could be gall stones, which can be very painful and life threatening. So he was sent to the hospital. He was in for almost two weeks and his pain was not from gall stones. Good news, but he developed pneumonia, so he had to get intravenous antibiotics to help with that. During the day we sent in some community members so set with him. He needed someone to help with his meals, though he ate very little. Also if he was having pain the nurse needed to be notified. At night he slept straight through so he was left alone then.
While in the hospital his left leg started to bend up towards his chest and would not relax. When anyone tried to stretch it Leo let everyone know that it was very painful so it was left alone. I feared this was going to happen. For the last couple of years, Leo, when in bed would tend to bend his left leg and it was hard to straighten it out. Now it seemed to be permanent since he was bedridden. In any case, he came home cured from his pneumonia but now in a half fetal position.
He did not get better. We had to keep him in bed and he did not want to eat much. Rose the nurse gave him some IV fluids but as he worsened we had to stop. He was starting to become congested. So we continued to give him fluids through a syringe and he would sometimes eat jell-o. Then that stopped. His body was still strong even if his mind was gone, so it took a while for him to finally succumb. His death like his life was a gentle one; there was no struggle, just a peaceful cessation of breath. Ten years he suffered from Alzheimer’s and his gentle loving nature made it easy to take care of him. He was loved and will be missed by many.
Salena was a true friend who over the past years has been faithful in seeing Leo. He would always smile when she came into the room and would also eat for her. She made him laugh, no small gift. She is a very kind woman and I, Rose and Bernie will always be thankful for what she did for Leo.