My life has not been my own for the past eight years. I am the well spouse of a sweet, gentle man stricken with Parkinson’s disease. The disability hit David when he was in his mid-fifties just when we thought we were going to enjoy some quality times together. College tuitions were behind us as was one wedding celebration, as well. No one was more shocked than I to learn that his sudden irrational driving and slow movements were symptoms of Parkinson’s. So what are a few tremors? People live a long time with it for everyone I ever saw (maybe not for Mohammad Ali and Michael J. Fox) were elderly. But we weren’t so fortunate. David’s disability was virulent. So while eight years is not a lifetime, it rapidly took him to what we now know is late stage progression.|
The disease is relentless. Sometimes I’m just not sure who is suffering more – the Parkinson’s patient or the spousal caregiver. Little by little it robs you of mobility, clear speech, strength, balance, peaceful sleep, and your livelihood. Steps are an issue, showering is an issue and independence becomes an issue. Retirement comes early – but not necessarily for the well spouse. Social engagements and even dinners out become just too difficult to orchestrate. You lose the relationships of friends whose lives fortunately continued on with all the normal stuff you can no longer take part in. Vacations and sightseeing are not doable. Caregiving and homebound life becomes the new norm.
Life goes on and you cope. Blessings take shape in our children and then our grandchildren and even in the shape of the family pet!
Some eleven years ago, my son and his then to-be wife became the proud owners of two miniature Schnauzers. Oscar, a highly-intelligent, twenty-one pound, protective guy with an unrealistic belief that he was a Great Dane, and Cosmo, his half-brother, a silver and white, kind and obedient little follower. There was never a doubt who the alpha dog was. So when my first grandchild (the grand prince) came along, it was no surprise that Oscar was not going to be baby-friendly. “Would you like to take Oscar?” they asked. Did I have a choice – of course I didn’t and for selfish reasons, I knew that Oscar would love living in our adult world and would probably be a good companion to David while I was at work. I was right! Oscar had not one minute of adjustment to his new environment. He was not confined in our no walls, open-area setup of a house and loved barking at the dedicated “walkers” sticking to their daily rituals in our adult community. He barked at every landscaper, every UPS truck and every bird.
Oscar became a wonderful caregiver-dog, too. He watched every struggled move that David took. Oscar stayed by his side while he rested and stood face out when he thought he needed protection. He also was on guard during meal times for many morsels landed on the floor just for him. It was a love affair; it was best friends for life.
But dogs age, as well. After Oscar began just lying around and taking naps deep in the walk in closet, we knew something was wrong. They discovered a heart murmur and after a visit to a veterinary cardiologist (I kid you not) we learned that he had congestive heart failure. He was on “borrowed time” at this point for valve replacement for dogs was just not an option. I carefully and gently told David. He cried.
Many medications were prescribed (including Viagra which was originally intended as a heart med). He seemed to be re-bounding but it didn’t last long. We discovered that Oscar was also badly diabetic. No surgery for the heart and no oral medication for the diabetes. Insulin shots twice daily were prescribed. Caregiving to both my husband and his devoted pet were just about too much for me to bear. I cried.
But, like always, I picked myself up and did what needed to be done. I’m careful not to shoot insulin into the human and careful not to give PD medication to the canine. And so it goes. It’s sad to watch both of them not be well and not be spry. I am nervous about the “what if” on both their parts. I know it will kind of be a race to the finish and I trust that each in his own way comforts the other. Whoever would guess that an accounting background would eventually lead me to the most difficult but truly righteous role of caregiver?
I wrote this on Monday and on Tuesday morning, I had to put Oscar down.