Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Thursday, April 05, 2007


My dad recently suffered bouts of intermittent dementia when he was hospitalized with a broken hip.

I understand dementia can hit elderly patients in hospitals with some regularity because so many drugs are floating through their bodies to begin with, then adding more, including pain pills, can push some over the top.

Most of the time his behavior is normal, but occasionally he slips in and out of a brief confusion - attributed to his age (87).

Like me ( ;-), he looks considerably younger than his age, and he's pretty physically fit so that makes him very strong (for his age).

One morning, within moments, he went from simply being a little groggy to becoming outright violent with the staff, actually striking his primary nurse and ripping out his IV's. Because of his outburst, he hurt himself enough to have to undergo another vital, though less major, operation.

This is especially painful for my mom - she doesn't fully understand that he has no idea what he is saying or doing when he flares up with one of his episodes and says all sorts of horrible things to her and everyone within the range of his voice.

For some reason dad listens to me, so mom called me to settle him down. I call the hospital.

He says he'll speak with me but he won't touch the phone because he insists, "It's loaded." With explosives.

So I talk to him via the nurse who holds the phone and transmits my messages to him. I can hear him just fine. I tell him no one is trying to harm him, that I would protect him if anyone tried.

He starts to relax and finally starts breathing normally so I hang up.

A few minutes later I call him again and this time he answers the phone. Frustrated, sad, angry, lost - but no longer believing the phone will detonate.

He pleads that "they" are trying to kill him. They're plotting against him. They're planning to hurt him.

After he vents for awhile, he concludes, his voice tapering, "I can't fight any more. They're going to do it. I can't fight any more."

I interrupt, "Don't."

Dad: Don't?

CP: Don't fight. Rest. That's what gets you well. Rest.

Dad: Rest?

CP: Rest.

Dad: I can't fight any more. They're going to -

CP: I won't let them get you. I'll protect you. I've got a special system in place to protect you.

Dad: Yes. I know you can. You have before.

(I have no idea what he means by this.)

CP: Yep. And I will again. Stop fighting. Rest.

Dad: OK, I'll rest. Stop fight..ing..

CP: I love you dad.

Dad: Rest.

I call back 10 minutes later.

His nurse answers. He's asleep, his wrists in restraints because there's no telling if he'll snap again.

If he remains settled, they can remove them but they can't "sedate" him to keep him settled; it's against the law to use any more restraint than necessary to protect the patient from harming himself or others.

Unfortunately, some recovery left him lost in confusion and helplessness - wondering how on earth he could do these things, afraid he might do it again.

My brother flew out to be with them a few days; he and I told my mother that her job now is to take care of herself; to let her friends take care of her the way she normally takes care of him because he has several people - all professionals - looking after him.

I stayed with them last weekend.

Dad's currently in a recovery and rehabilitation clinic. His dementia episodes still occur with some regularity. A nurse recently found him going through another patient's belongings, taking a wallet and other effects he believed were his. One thing about him - in his right mind, he is fastidiously honest.

It's painful to watch; it's also a concern to wonder whether it might be inherited.

The staff at the recvoery facility believes there is hope that with a lot of thought-provoking exercises, paying close attention to his behavior and having him flex his mental muscles, he may well have a shot at a real recovery and experience genuine clarity again.

For everyone enduring this sort of mental illness with family, friends or loved ones - my heart goes out to you. It leaves us all at a loss to do little more than cope until more is known about treating brain deteriorating conditions like dementia and alzheimer's disease.

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