I Cannot Let Myself Go Down That Path

Today my story is featured on ABC News Radio and News Online which both go national across Australia. This is my second time being interviewed by Giselle Watakama and she really makes it easy. She also has a magic way of pulling the secret stuff out of me. The stuff I try to cover up from the public, the people I know and often from my loved ones. She even manages to capture the quaver in my voice, because dammit I cannot hide that. Would if I could, truly.

I do not want my son or my lover to see me panting as my body tries to fill my ostomy bag. Panting as if I am birthing a hippopotamus. Because that is what it feels like. Pure agony for at least thirty minutes, often two hours  and exhaustion afterwards. And then there is the small matter of getting a bag to fit on my ostomy now. The mesh has sucked an area a bit like an inverted teacup beside my stoma. Right where the mesh is. And it is next to impossible to get a seal. So out of the myriad modern devices designed to make life easier for the modern ostomy I am left with an older version which does not seal and also the filter does not function well. Requiring me to ask friends if I stink. Because these days all I smell is poo.

Things are not all bad. As everyone knows I do not like to give in. And I am very stubborn and determined. And I like to advocate to help others who are injured and to try to stop others from becoming injured. While in hospital last week I met a really impressive Colo Rectal surgeon, Dr Peter Pockney who also teaches surgery at Newcastle University. And he is a member of my surgeon, Dr Brian Draganic’s team Newcastle Colorectal. I was impressed with his intelligent way of communicating. Dr Draganic also is very down to earth. I am hoping at some stage to talk to them about starting a mesh clinic up here at John Hunter Hospital. Or a Hernia Mesh Clinic as RPA has the Pelvic one. These two surgeons did not place my mesh. Presently I have started a support group on Facebook for Hernia Mesh injured. It is called Australian Hernia Mesh Support Group. We are gaining more members due to the radio interview on ABC today which is wonderful. People who do not usually use Facebook so I have given then my name and mailing address instead.

Some of the timeline of the article was a little bit out. So much for Giselle to sort through. Basically I had the mesh inserted in 2015, three years after my ostomy was formed. The photo above was taken after I got home from the mesh repair. Not knowing then I had a mesh infection, which is NOT considered to be a good thing in mesh circles.

So for most of early 2015 I was in and out of John Hunter with bowel obstructions. I was given emergency surgery in August 2015 for a Parastomal Hernia  and mesh was inserted. I have been much worse since, though not to the point of vomiting faeces but that is because I am so vigilant to not let the obstructions get to that point. But she is right. I do fear choking on faeces, because I did, for many many hours and even The NG  tube could not suck it all away. It was the only time in my life I wanted to run away and die somewhere where nobody could find me. Well I did once after I started looking after my demented parents in 2013 but I had just left my nasty husband and walked into the hell of Alzheimer’s. With a new stoma and a then undiagnosed Hernia.

So basically Giselle let me talk, and tried to make sense of what I said, with no medical training and my tendency to ramble she did a great job! What was even better for us Mesh campaigners and advocates was the info she came up with. We need these skills!  Basically the College of Surgeons are concerned about this Hernia mesh issue. It is so good to know that.

‘Anyway the article is here. I will leave you to read it, to absorb it, and to try to know that my life might sound awful but I do see the bigger picture. In my case I do not have Alzheimer’s. Whew. And I can still laugh at myself. My son is wonderful,  as are my friends. And I have a magical lover/partner who does not notice my bag, thinks I am brave and encourages me to not see myself as disabled. It is only when I try to walk that I feel disabled, and it is only brief. Cause I cannot let myself go down that path.

Finally I would like to thank the lovely Rosie and Marion of John Hunter’s new Acute Surgical Ward. Talk about wonderful nurses. Beyond wonderful. And then there was the delightful Rory, the resident from Belfast. And the canular technician called in who finally got a vein. Am covered in bruises. Little love bites to remind me of my stay.

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Where I Choose To Be

Yesterday was my late mum’s birthday. But that was not why it was such a difficult day. In the morning I rang my dad in the aged care home. He has dementia, stroke damage and stage four Prostate Cancer and he was very worked up and totally out of it with agitation. He told me he had manhandled and literally thrown a lady out of his room and that her friends had come to help her. Dad had swung at a man who used to be a fighter, who said he ducked. And dad told me he was going to get a man, later on. He has never been fond of people he finds stupid and these people are demented, bless them.

My son and I then set out after lunch for my appointment with Dr Russo of The Hunter Pain Clinic in Broadmeadow. It’s a level one pain service where medications and injections and ablations into and of nerves occur, unlike at John Hunter Pain Management. I went six months ago, found great success with my SFN and other neuropathic pain due to past surgeries and mesh. It is a lovely bus trip by the lake to Cardiff and then a train to Broadmeadow. Unfortunately it’s a long walk for me from the station, I know now to get a taxi from there. Silly of me not to, I was overconfident.

At some stage of the day the AINs told dad his blood pressure was up, probably to try to get him to stop fixating on the men he particularly hates. So he started phoning and when he could not get me he left messages. Three before I wised up and stopped taking the voicemails. Each was worse with him crying, wanting to go to hospital and beside himself thinking he was going to die.

Meantime my son and I waited over an hour for Dr Russo, who was brilliant as always. He said I needed to increase the Lyrica in my Neuropathy cocktail by 75mg. After that nerve ablation of the Femorogenital Nerve and the Illinguinal Nerve on the left side is all that is left to do. He also wrote that I could have a sustained release painkiller, Palexia. All I use at the moment is Panadol Osteo.

The trip home was a long one. To avoid the walk to the station we caught two buses, one to Glendale which was forty minutes and then a bus home which was around twenty. I stopped being a nasty snarly bitch to my poor ever suffering son once off my feet and on the bus and dropped into a ten minute retrospection ending in quite the insight. I have had moments of clarity before but never quite like this.

I was wondering if it was worth it. Really. To have Small Fibre Neuropathy pain so badly that I had needed a walking aid to get around. The pain so unspeakable I found it hard to describe it. And to lose that pain totally for four months only to have it start to return? With no real hope of it ever going or being controlled. More so with the unbelievable mesh pain beside my stoma. Would I have done it if I had known? Would I not have been better to not have that wonderful break, only to have to learn to deal with the agony again?

And yet, if I had not tried the cocktail, I would never have got off the walker, might even have been encouraged into a wheelchair by now. I would not have had the courage to meet up with my man of many voices, not in an intimate way. Would not have started any relationship at all. Talking to Dr Russo I realised how much had changed since I saw him in November. For the good. Life is full of joy for me, despite the pain. Or in part because of it I truly appreciate life and the beauty in the world.

So yes I would have tried the drugs, I would have knowingly tried them even if they had told me they would not continue to work much beyond the six months. Because where hope is is where I want to be. Where possibility is is also where I am meant to be. Where determination is is where I choose to be.

But for dad, my quandary is very different, to hear him at 4.59 this morning. Crying. Because he “does not know what is happening.” The catch cry, especially of the Vascularly demented. What is the point in prolonging his misery? His fear? His degradation? Should I have ever let the specialist put him on the Zoladex which is stopping the Testosterone which is fuelling the cancer? It will wear off by the end of this year anyway but it’s month upon month of agonising fear for my dad, a once proud, strong man. Can I in good conscience ask for it to be stopped? And let the disease take its course?

In other countries he might have been able to choose his death. But dad thought he was immortal and never prepared for old age. Now I am trying to look after us both. Making tough decisions for both of us. Mine is just pain, it will not kill me though the increase in Lyrica will likely affect my memory. But only while I take it. Whereas dad is going to die. A long, drawn out protracted death whereby he slowly withers away. Even now he is dehydrated. He could choose to stop eating at any time. It happens. And I will be here witnessing it, but thankful my mum did not have to. That she was taken before that. She always looked after dad, he was her first thought in the morning. Her duty was to care for him. Her duty born of love. Mine is a different love, but mum knew I would look after him. It is who I am. And who I am is very much someone who questions suffering. Suffering, the kind that does not enrich life, only demeans and terrifies our elderly. Our loved ones with dementia.

 

 

Something Needs To Change

On May 9th four years ago we had another Guardianship Tribunal. This one was brought about by an inexperienced supervisor at Calvary Care, and my sister, who both believed my dad when he said I had finished with him.

I had finally moved out a few weeks into the new year after he hit me on the arm with the phone because I was not quick enough to do his bidding. Which was talk to the NSW Trustee and Guardian about his money.

He had been become increasingly aggressive to me on Monday mornings. He expected me to drop everything at 9am and act as his unpaid secretary. As well as his unpaid carer. There would be at least five supposedly urgent phone calls to make for him. Most of the people I rang could not make head nor tale of what he wanted. So he expected me to translate for him.

On this Monday morning I checked into Facebook while I had my morning coffee and found one of my most admired friend advocates had lost her battle with bowel cancer. She was only in her early thirties. A lawyer, a future local politician. A wonderful advocate and friend.

I asked dad for a break so I could grieve for her. Collect my thoughts. Pay my respects. Contact her mother. But he would not have it. He kept coming in, jumping up and down with rage. Then he hit me on the arm, not hard but as if I was a piece of furniture he owned that he could do that to.

I quietly said dad I have just lost a friend. A really good person who was incredibly loved and loving. And was at the start of a remarkable life. I told him that I could not put up with this anymore. I just could not.

I went upstairs and grabbed a few things, I already had some clothing at my son’s place. As I walked through the garage I told dad I would be in touch and would continue to arrange things. He just sat there and looked out to sea.

I found out later he did not visit mum that afternoon in her carehome as planned but went in person to the Trustee who could not really deal with him without an appointment, and an interpreter.

The next day the Calvary Supervisor rang me and was extremely rude and hostile. Said she would not be dealing with me in future and was filing papers for a Public Guardian. I was extremely annoyed with her for accepting a demented violent person’s word for things instead of his previous live in carer. And for her judgemental attitude. She knew nothing of our family background, of the state mum was in before dad’s stroke and indeed of the state of paranoia dad was often in. She simply accepted dad’s word that I had finished with him.

Within some weeks she had resigned and was replaced by an extremely competent supervisor, B. Between us we worked out a very good plan for aides to look after dad each day and for me to visit him during the week. And we arranged that I met him on Mondays in Newcastle when we visited mum together.

Everything ran smoothly and on 9/5/14 we went to Tribunal. My sister requested security guards and for me to be sworn in, because apparently I am such a renowned liar. She screamed over the phone that I had abandoned dad and she wanted me to be banned from anything to do with him. Dad was asked if he he was okay with me being appointed Guardian and he said he had nothing against me. It was not even damning with faint praise!

The Tribunal appointed me Guardian and appointed an accomodation Guardian after B said that dad’s needs could not be met in the house anymore. They were too complex. My sister screamed some more and hung up the phone link. A male Guardian from Gosford phoned in and had a talk with me on the open link. He reassured me it would work well.

As we left B said this shows the Members saw your good character Kate. Its obvious to everyone involved. I thanked her and dad went off with his caregiver, barely looking at me. One of the Tribunal Members came around the tables and said it was so lovely to see me again and to see how well dad was looking. She was the Social Worker Member I had met before.

I left the Travelodge Newcastle and found my way back to Wallsend where I was staying in a tiny box room in my son’s Department of Housing flat in one of the most dangerous blocks of flats in Newcastle. Ice Usage, Violence, Domestic Violence and General Bad Behaviour was an everyday occurrence there.

And yet I felt loved, safer and more at home there than in dad’s million dollar tri level house. I say house as without mum in it it was not a home, had never been a home actually.

I am writing about this today as dad is again asking for a Guardian to be appointed. Even though we had a Tribunal two months ago and nothing was changed. Except I am about $1000 out of pocket for lawyers and specialists fees which the Trustee will not refund me.

I really do not know where to go from here. I feel so overwhelmed when dad is horrid to me. When he is threatening and demanding it brings back my feelings of helplessness as a child and younger adult. I am no victim and do not want to feel like this so something needs to change.

On This Day: A Very Long Time

Four years ago today Angela the Calvary care worker and myself took dad to see a great care hostel near us in Wallsend. It was Jesmond Grove,  a short walk away and  run by Anglicare.

He liked it and did not get upset or anxious but I feared his lack of higher functioning since the stroke would stop him deciding to go in there. It had a personal recommendation from my angel Norma, my parent’s then neighbour.

So it would likely be up to his new guardian. We were having a new Guardianship Tribunal on 9th may. That was two semi formal and stressful legal hearings in less than a month.

Wonder if that is why I was getting nightmares? In both cases two people who had caused me enormous trauma were present and I had not seen either of them for a very long time.

Too Many What If’s

My mum and her dog last time we visited in 2010 before dad’s stroke in 2012. I can see here she was frightened, bewidered. But I did not know she had dementia or was being mistreated because nobody up here told me until it was too late to help her.

One of the reasons I had my Ostomy surgery was so that I  could come and stay and help out. If only I had not delayed the surgery for so long. If only I had left my then husband sooner. If only I had known then what I know now. Too many what ifs.

But when I did know I did something. And the timing was amazing. It is what we do with what we have or find ourselves dealing with that counts.

Sharing The Joy

On This Day five years ago we left Sydney and everyone we knew to stay for a little while with my parents while we worked out where we could afford to live.

Five years later and we are a little further north of where they were in Lake Macquarie City. Mum has passed away and dad is in a brilliant care home very near us. Their house is looking great as the new owners are engaged in living in every room. Very different from the reality of Alzheimers where my parent’s lives had shrunk down to a bedroom and a combined kitchen dining area and sitting room, on one level of their three storey home.

My parents had just been released after spending many many weeks in hospital in April 2012, They had been left at Belmont Emergency Department by my sister who had looked after them for the previous seven months or so and had decided that she could no longer cope. This happened without my knowledge until my uncle let me know. My parent’s State Guardians did not even let me know.

We had no idea of their condition as we had spent so much time trying to get help for my then husband since Xmas Eve when he first told us he had wanted to jump off the Gap. We had also been unable to visit them while my sister was there as she was being vicious about my putting in papers for Guardianship for my mother. The hospital social worker in July 2012 had put papers in for my father after his then life threatening stroke and I was advised to do the same by ACAT and others. I was actually talked through the process in 2012 by the ACAT nurse assigned to my parents.

We were already traumatised by events in Sydney, leaving behind both good and bad memories there and to see mum especially like that was, well there are no words. She recognised me though and started crying bless her. Within a few days I had taken them to their many doctors and met their State appointed Guardians. Also many many lovely carers. Karen and Helen especially were brilliant and now are much treasured friends.

We were all taken to Cessnock by my brother to see his family and look at a house we were offered by the Department of Housing there. C had received a text as we travelled north to Swansea about the house actually. It was not suitable as it had too many steps and was in the Ice Capitol of Cessnock but we had a wonderful day catching up with my nephews and nieces.

It also clarified for us that we could not be that far away from my parents. After that I did not have time to dwell on anything. Looking after two demented people in a three storey house was not easy but somehow we did it.

Good indeed can come out of bad. Sometimes it seems that one cannot go on. Life can change in an instant. Putting my red lipstick on, gritting my teeth and just getting on with things when it seems it is impossible is second nature to me. Now however I can smile and enjoy getting on with things.

Life is so calm and peaceful here by the lake. I have reconnected with so many friends and made new ones, deepened existing friendships and now have a wonderful man in my life that I both am in love with and love. He is my best friend, my writing mentor, my life teacher. And such an unexpected gift of pure joy. Life is constantly evolving and I am so thankful for the lessons I learned care of dementia.

To live in the moment. To cherish those I love and to take time to visit them and show them that love in action. To take time to share the joy with others, who knows what it might mean to them? We did not know what was going on all those years we visited my parents but know that they were loved and treasured by so many people up here. I would like to think that I am part of the community, that I can be of use to others. The way strangers were so good to me five years ago.