Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts of Pawpaw

I've been thinking of Pawpaw a lot lately. It's all the woodworking we've been doing lately, I guess. Pawpaw was a woodworker, in fact, it's his table saw that we have, along with more of his tools. He wasn't just a woodworker, he was a homebuilder who oversaw every part of the job, often building the cabinets and doing all the trim and fine details himself so that every joint was even, every corner square, and every pair of cabinet doors were bookmatched, something that made him one of the more sought after builders in town.

I've been wondering lately what Pawpaw would think of the job we are doing here, how he would handle the uneven ceiling joists, and if he would keep working on the areas that we have decided are "good enough". Hubby recently put a new fence on the table saw, and I wonder if Pawpaw would like it, or if, like me, he would think it was fine the way it was.

In the year before he went into the nursing home, Pawpaw lost interest in our projects; actually, he lost interest in everything. Alzheimer's had robbed him of the ability to even follow the plot of a thirty minute tv show, and Parkinson's robbed him of the ability and energy to get around. So he spent a lot of time sleeping. He slept all night, he took nap after breakfast, waking up in time for lunch, and then another nap in the afternoon. I think the napping was the part that was hardest on Deedee. Well, that and not being able to go anywhere alone.

But in the year he was living in the nursing home, Alzheimer's gave him back his love of building. Ironic, isn't it? The disease that made him forget everything it took to get through a day made him remember everything he used to do everyday. When we visited there, he always had a job going. One time he was building an addition to the nursing home right outside the door at the end of his wing, and one time he was remodeling his "apartment" there, where he was convinced he had more rooms. He once had Deedee push his wheelchair all over the nursing home looking for his hammer and got really agitated when she didn't take him to it, even though she pushed him everywhere he pointed.

In his last months, Pawpaw thought he was working at the ranch where he had worked for the last fifteen years of his career. Pawpaw's first job there was building a pool house, and after that, the ranch owner thought so much of Pawpaw that he dreamed up job after job for him until he ran out of things for Pawpaw to build and just hired him as builder maintenance. Sometimes that meant real building projects and sometimes it meant overseeing a crew who dredged out the fishing pond. Sometimes it just meant trying out the fishing boat. Anything to keep Pawpaw on his payroll. Pawpaw loved the job, the ranch, and the rancher as much as the rancher loved Pawpaw. It was the perfect job to transition into retirement, and it continued as a part time job until Pawpaw was well into his seventies.

When he wasn't building projects at the nursing home, or working at the ranch, Pawpaw was being visited by his sister who had died years ago. As his ability to distinguish between dreams and reality diminished, he stayed more and more in his dream world. It was especially evident when he woke from a nap and he would tell us about seeing his sister, or a cousin, or some wild adventure he was living. I don't know why it was only his sister who visited him, and not his brother who died a couple of years ago. Probably because he had been missing her longer.

The stretches between his being lucid were getting further and further apart, and even when he was really there with us, he talked so quietly that it was hard to understand. Sometimes, especially after his last stroke, he used words or phrases that didn't make any sense to us, and it frustrated him because he knew what he was saying and didn't know why we couldn't understand. It was at those times that it was hardest for me to be with him, because he knew something was wrong and he couldn't do anything about it. He had always been able to fix everything, and this thing he couldn't fix.

From the beginning, he wasn't one of the easy residents at the nursing home. He spent the first few months trying to run away when the opportunity presented itself, the middle months trying the patience of the night shift with his sleeplessness and getting up without help, and the last months being totally dependent on them for everything.

We may never know exactly what happened at the end. We have Pawpaw's roommate's story and the nurse's story, and they don't mesh.

Pawpaw's roommate has no memory or mental problems. He is there because of paralysis, although he is on a lot of medication and dozes on and off through the day. He told Deedee that the aid got Pawpaw out of bed and took him into the bathroom, where she left him while she went into the hall. He heard a crashing noise and when the aid came back, she immediately called for help because Pawpaw had fallen. When Deedee talked to the RN, she agreed that that is what happened. However, after talking to the administrator and aid, the RN changed her story.

After talking to the administrator, the nurse said that Pawpaw got up by himself and went into the bathroom where he fell, and the aid found him there when she went in to do a routine check. After telling the nurse and administrator what the roommate had seen, they talked to him too and determined that he had been dozing and didn't know what really happened, so they backed up the aid's story.

His roommate was sure he knew what he saw, and of course that is swaying our opinion, but we also know that Pawpaw had a history of getting out of bed himself, disconnecting the alarm, and walking about, even though he was a fall risk and very wobbly. Like I said, we'll never know for sure. The fall fractured his hip, and he never recovered from that. It is hard for the elderly to recover from a fractured hip. White blood cells rush to the fracture to repair the damage and fight infection, and leave the rest of the body open to infection from pneumonia and other illnesses.

I don't harbor ill will toward the nursing home for letting him fall, but I do fault them for trying to shift the blame or cover it up to prevent a lawsuit. Pawpaw had fallen before, and he probably would have fallen again because he kept forgetting he couldn't walk on his own. A broken hip and the resulting passing was inevitable, we were just hoping it wouldn't happen for quite a while.

I will say that the entire staff (sans the one aid who we never saw again) went out of their way to accommodate us. They put Pawpaw in a private room, partly for us and partly to save his roommate from having to witness his passing. One of us stayed with Pawpaw around the clock as his breathing became more labored and he lapsed into a coma, and then he was gone.

It has taken several months, but finally the memories of those last days, and even the last year are being replaced by the memories of his easy laugh, the sly grin when we've figured out he played a joke on us, and his joy and contentment with his life. A life well lived.


p.s. The quilt shelf above is the only thing we have made by Pawpaw.


Kate said...

It's such a hard thing to cope with when such a vital person spends their last days that way. I hope you've found a measure of peace after such a hard year.

Julie @ followyourheartwoodworking said...

I'm sure it's been difficult for all of you. Pawpaw would be proud of you for creating, building, and making things!

Grandma K said...

This is so like my dad's story. I was taken back completely. He also built things - houses, tables, and on and on. He had dementia - went to assisted living - tried to escape so many times I lost count. He developed aspiration pneumonia even though they would feed him. He would not swallow the food. Once I found he had a huge wad of meat stashed in his cheek.

I am lucky. Even though I sold one of the last houses he built, I have many other things he did make.

Marti said...

I think the escaping is just part of dementia. The only reason I have the quilt rack is because Deedee didn't have anywhere to put it when they moved here. He didn't build a lot of things for the home; I think Deedee has a small bookshelf, everything else he made was sold when they moved here.