Our second day on the road, which was really only about 2 or three hours, was our worst.
One Monday evening oversight on my part contributed to Tuesday’s difficulty. With Jacquelynn asleep so quickly, I failed to administer her evening meds. The only real medication among these is her risperidone, the “antipsychotic” which has served to curb the events discussed in my earlier post, The Other Side of Dementia. While I’m eager to get her to the point where this prescription is no longer necessary, it has become quite clear under stress when she’s missed a dose, which is entirely my fault.
The trip from Clinton to Asheville twists and tangles its way along I-40 in a path carved from the Great Smoky Mountains. Along much of this route, the mountain walls tower high on both sides, and the concrete barriers seemingly loom inches to your left when in the passing lane. Under-rested and unmedicated (which I had not yet realized, to my shame), Jacquelynn was dreadfully underprepared for this drive. She shook and wept almost from the moment we entered the pass. I stopped at the sole rest area to get her out of the car and hopefully find a bit of relief.
This was not particularly successful. She remained inconsolable about the prospect of continuing the trip, and at one time approached a woman who was walking toward the restroom and asked, almost frantically, “What are we doing?” I could feel an incident brewing, but thankfully the woman was extremely friendly, and I was able to intercede and kind of redirect and declaw Jacquelynn’s confusing inquiry into a brief and not unpleasant conversation.
I’m tearing up typing this, for the record. I knew then how very close she was getting to another of what I’ve come to call her “disconnects”. The only ingredient present in all the other such events missing now was the element of sleep: every other time, she’s been freshly awakened, and the fact that she’s incapable of sleeping at all in the car may have been our saving grace on that day. Conversely, if she had been able to nap, she’d likely have been much less overwhelmed by the drive.
I’ve never in my life wished more and harder that we had a dog. Nothing grounds and calms Jacquelynn more quickly than a dog’s head in her lap.
Back in the car, I worked at keeping my tone even and loving. This is where my weaknesses as a caregiver are most glaring. I know where her frustrations come from, and I know she lashes out in fear, not truly aware that she’s doing so at all. But I still, occasionally, react. Aware or not, her words/actions still hurt for a moment, and sometimes I react before conscious thought kicks in.
But this day, I kept calm and tried to keep the energy in the car on a positive level. The balance of the trip was just as unpleasant for her as the first half, but she is still the strongest person I’ve ever known, and we got through it.
We were checked into our room in Asheville before 1 p.m. After a brief nap and with me finally remembering her meds, Jacquelynn and I had lunch at about 3 and, after hitting the local (and gloriously cavernous) Whole Foods for supplies, were in our room for good by 6.
If you read The Other Side Of Dementia, you at least partly understand how terrified I was at the rest stop. If the thought of her disconnecting here at home and me having to chase her down and call 911 again is mortifying, then imagine all the scenarios which flashed through my mind when I envisioned it happening at a crowded rest area six hours from home and with the nearest ambulance likely an hour or more away. Would she run from me looking for help and find someone who wouldn’t believe me and would heed her pleas to take her far away from me? Would she find a reserve of strength and run onto the interstate? Would, could, might? Shit. I have enough nightmares already.
It only took seconds for all this and much, much more to tear through my brain and galvanize me to action, to derail whatever she was planning to say to the poor lady on the way to the john. I am ashamed to admit that I occasionally take advantage of Jacquelynn’s essentially nonexistent short-term recall to redirect her from potentially embarrassing (for her; I have a VERY thick skin) or worse situations. I did so again at the rest area and we were able to have a nice conversation with a couple (the husband came up after a minute or so) on their way home from vacation.
I wouldn’t let the shakes take me until after Jacquelynn fell asleep in the hotel. But take me they did, for just a couple of minutes.
I will not let her down like that again.