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The Vortex



The lives of families dealing with dementia are spinning in an emotional whirlpool. Ours is no exception. Hubby is serenading me as I sit writing in my nightgown, hair unkempt in what feels like the wee hours of the morning. Sinatra’s albums are at full volume and Hubby is singing the words as if they are his very own. I am expected to react with enthusiasm at the romance of it all. Unfortunately, my head is elsewhere.

Yesterday afternoon I heard a terrible thud. My mature reaction was a blood-curdling scream which brought our aide out of the kitchen as we both leapt toward the bathroom. Hubby has fallen for the fifth time in two weeks in the very same room. He has hit his head, once again, on the tiles. This is the third time that the head has experienced trauma. No visible blood this time but a nasty purple area is forming where the bleeding is below the skin. I am only 5’2″ and Violet, his aide, is short too. Together we must lift Hubby from his contorted position in a moderately small bathroom. He now has so many bruises and contusions that whatever we do to move him, is painful for him. Every fall brings new hematomas, and discomfort for many days to come. You may be thinking that it is because we have not bothered to take precautions. We have installed two bars for him to grab when unstable and removed the rugs on the bathroom floor. We have replaced his comfy warm sleep socks with the old-fashioned ones that we wore as children, the ones that have rubber dots on the sole, so that he will not slip. There is no room for a metal walker in the room and a cane would be an encumbrance rather than a help. When we escort him to the bathroom, he is annoyed. He needs his privacy. We are in a Catch-22.

A lack of stability is one of the attending problems with dementia and with aging as well. We have been warned by Hubby’s doctors time and time again – that the greatest danger to the older generation, is that of falling. Broken bones may need surgery. Falls onto the head may cause catastrophic internal bleeding and strokes. Surgery needs anesthesia, which has its own serious risks. Every time Hubby takes a fall, the memory of these warnings finds its way to the pit of my stomach.

After helping Hubby become vertical, we took him to the dining table to sit calmly. In case there might be a concussion, we fear allowing him lay to down on his bed, as his inclination would be to close his eyes and sleep. That could be dangerous after such a fall. Some tea with honey should help calm us all. A shot of Bourbon discreetly hidden in a Coke would however, be my first choice as I do not have a stock of Cannabis, which I understand to be the miracle cure for what ails anyone.

Experiences like this, time after time, take their physical toll on both of us. Hubby later laid down after the initial shock, for a “short” rest at 4 p.m. He eventually slept until 8:30 in the evening. He needed this to recuperate. While I was sitting next to him on a sofa, I felt my eyes closing. I too went into a deep slumber for over two hours. My body was in shock too. Hubby’s five falls in a two-week period has been such an accumulated strain, that suddenly I feel the need for a short sleep almost every evening. The problem last night was that it was not short. I felt great when I awoke. I felt terrific until 3:30 a.m. when I finally collapsed into a deep sleep that should have begun a few hours earlier. If today had not been Violet’s day off, I could have slept until 10 a.m. and would have been able to face the new day with a smile. No such luck…

Three hours after falling asleep, I was having an interesting dream in which Hubby had tricked me into sleeping on the opposite side of our double bed.

Suddenly I heard Hubby’s voice at the bedroom door. It was 6:30 a.m.. “Are you awake?” he asked. “No.” I responded, squinting at the luminous green numbers on our electric clock and not believing that I had only been asleep for three hours. “I am tired of walking around by myself. Where is everyone?” he asked. I knew, once again, that there was no point in trying to push against the proverbial tide. He was delighted when I lifted myself from the bed to join him, but seeing how exhausted I was, he told me to go back to sleep. Fat chance! With no clue how to function on so little sleep, I reached out to Frankie. A few clicks on Hubby’s cellphone (which he covets even though he never makes a call), and then “Open-Spotify” so the magic will begin. Spotify and Sinatra miraculously deliver Frank’s biggest hits at maximum volume. Hubby was singing and happy. He had forgotten his fall yesterday completely. I, however was a zombie.

A pot of coffee for the two of us, six gingersnaps and a buttered pita with jam ingested by Hubby, and I am now feeling marginally less destroyed.

Hubby is serenading me as I try to write these words. (In case you are wondering, it is excruciating to try to write and think in complete sentences when he is singing in the same room.) He stops for a moment, to ask me:

“When will Barbara be here?”

“Do you mean Violet?”

“No, Barbara!.”

“I am Barbara”

“No…the other Barbara!”

Not much point in insisting this time. I cannot muster the energy to correct him.

The paradox in all of this, is how oblivious Hubby is to these repeated crises, while each of them adds grey hairs to my tresses, and extra aches to my back muscles. How can a man in such pain every time he moves, even think to woo me with Sinatra after such shocks to his system? And how bizarre is it that he actually believes that there are two of me?

These are the private moments that those taking care of your loved one with dementia – probably will not share with you. This is the vortex which sucks caregivers into its depths. We don’t share these experiences, not because we are handling everything so well on our own. We don’t share because we think that we would be bothering you.

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Barbara Diamond is a journalist living in Jerusalem, Israel. She has been a political activist on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people for over fifty years, having participated in political and humanitarian missions to Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, China, and Europe to meet with world leaders on matters of concern. She has written over 100 articles for the Jerusalem Post and on her blog at The Times of Israel, hosted an English radio talk show in Jerusalem and continues mentoring others to pass on the torch of responsibility. You can reach her at [email protected] and visit her site at