My Dad’s a Goldfish – pushing a wheelchair isn’t easy.

When I was doing my Threave Castle circuit today, which I wrote about on MarySmith’sPlace, here I met a woman pushing a wheelchair. The path is supposedly accessible to wheelchair users but the expression on her face clearly said ‘accessible it isn’t. I felt for her, remembering how I struggled on it three or four years ago – and nothing has been done to maintain it, let alone improve it, since.

I took the Goldfish down to Threave Castle to see the Ospreys, which were nesting there. He was always a keen bird watcher and was still able to identify and name them. It never failed to surprise me what things were kept in his memory bank, and what slipped away. His interest in birds started when he was a young boy, when he did as many young lads did in those days, he collected eggs, only ever taking one egg from a nest. Perhaps those  memories laid down in childhood are the strongest.

The path goes across farmland and there is often stock in the fields so there are quite a few gates at junctions with fields. I scarcely notice them when walking on my own but it was a different matter when having to negotiate them while pushing a wheelchair occupied by a fairly heavy man.

Eventually, we worked out a reasonably effective method. I pushed the chair as close to the gate as I could, leaned over, opened the gate and pushed it away from us. The Goldfish helped by prodding it further open with his walking stick then, as he removed his stick, I rushed through before the gate closed.

From time to time the Goldfish offered to get out and walk to give me a rest! I assured him it was no bother – though it was hard work, much harder than I’d ever anticipated. Short stretches of path were cemented but mostly it was rough path with unexpected dips and hollows.

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As we round a bend and the castle came into view, it was worth the effort as the Goldfish was delighted, saying he’s never been so close to it before. I vaguely wondered if I could get him into the wee boat which ferries people across but dismissed the idea. We moved on to the Osprey viewing platform where every year volunteers set up a telescope trained on the nest across the river. We are very proud to have ospreys nesting here and Wee-sis and I are regular visitors in the evening, as are lots of local people so it is quite a social outing.

At first the Goldfish couldn’t see anything but after the telescope had been adjusted I heard him exclaim and knew he’d seen the bird on the nest. The Goldfish looked round at me, beaming with pleasure.

We returned to the car park – it was much harder work going back as there is more uphill work but we managed. I mentally thanked my Pilates teacher for my strong core and decided it was a great workout for my arm muscles.

A large banner advertising the ospreys was hanging outside the visitor centre. The Goldfish read it out aloud then turned to me and said: “Ospreys, my, they would be something to see.”

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My Dad’s a Goldfish – New Year, Old Post

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Happy New Year!

Lots of blogger friends use this time of year to look back at the stats for the previous months on their blog – which were the most popular, which worked, which didn’t do so well. I thought about it but I because I so hate numbers I dismissed the idea pretty quickly.  I decided instead to have a look through old posts from early in this blog’s life and share one which I particularly enjoyed writing – because it was such a happy day – and which didn’t get many views as so few people followed the Goldfish back then.

A friend invited the Goldfish to visit his farm so he could get up close and personal with cows. Did I mention, before retirement the Goldfish was an AI man – artificial insemination? Of cattle – that is. I smile writing that because living here in what was the heart of dairy farm country saying AI is enough, everyone understands you mean cattle insemination but once, when the Goldfish was in hospital, the doctor asked the DH what the Goldfish’s job had been. DH said he had worked in artificial insemination. The doctor, looking a bit startled, asked: “In humans?”

Anyway, when the Goldfish was the AI man he went to my friend J’s father’s farm. J always remembered how nice the Goldfish was to him in those far off days and he invited him to visit – only someone connected with farming would understand what it would mean to the Goldfish to be amongst cattle again.

A scene from the farm.

It was a dreich day but dry. J had fastened a sort of carriage thing – made from an oil drum – to the back of his quad bike. It had a seat – quite small as it’s mainly used by his granddaughter. We managed to install the Goldfish in this and I sat on top of the quad bike – feeling grateful for my years of riding sidesaddle on the pillion of motorbikes in Pakistan – and off we went. My years of being the AI man’s daughter mean I like cows and have no fear of being amongst them and the Goldfish was delighted.

J kept up a running commentary about everything we saw and whenever I looked back at the Goldfish, who couldn’t actually hear a word being said, he looked happy, alert and interested. In one field we stopped amidst the cows and J asked the Goldfish what breed he thought they were. The Goldfish studied them for a moment and said: “They look like Ayrshires.”

J nodded. “They do, don’t they? In fact they are Montbeliard cows, originally from France,” he said. A discussion about the breed and milk yields followed and it was so good to see the Goldfish totally engaged in the conversation.

Montbeliard cow

There was a bit of a problem when J stopped the quad bike back at the house and we tried to get the Goldfish out of his carriage. He was stuck fast and it took our combined efforts to prise him upright and then he started quivering from top to toe, all his muscles in spasm. I was terrified he would topple over and didn’t see how we were ever going to get him out and safely on the ground. Finally he was able to stand upright and somehow J managed to get him down and he tottered into the house, none the worse for his shakes.

J’s wife had put on a lovely afternoon tea and the Goldfish tucked in with gusto, scoffing pancakes and scones with jam and cake and several cups of tea.

Driving home I asked what the step-monster (of course I didn’t call her that. I gave her real name) would think when we told her he’d spent the afternoon driving over fields on a quad bike.

“Oh,” he said, “have you been on a quad bike?”

“You have, too,” I said.

“I don’t remember.”

Even so, it was a really good outing. With these kinds of trips out and interaction with other people talking about things with which the Goldfish has a connection, it’s the lasting feel-good factor which is more important than the fact he forgets the event almost immediately.

My Dad’s a Goldfish -The X factor

cropped-goldfish-87-1254566814ncva1.jpgI enjoy a good drama series (as long as it isn’t too gory as I’m a bit of a wuss in the gore department) and I’m hooked on Holby City but other than that and the news I don’t bother  much with television. When I was caring for the Goldfish, though, I watched an awful lot of television.

The Goldfish was a keen golfer before a combination of dementia and decreasing mobility made him stop – though he never admitted he didn’t play any longer. It was just that the weather was too cold, or too wet or some other contrived excuse for not being on the golf course. However, he enjoyed watching it on television. I’m not a golfer. The DH plays golf – a lot – and he and the Goldfish played together occasionally and then had a post mortem of the entire 18 holes when they came home. Yawn!

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The Goldfish loved golf – after he retired he played almost every day.

I have to say it for non-golfers, following golf on the telly is akin to watching paint dry. Mostly, what the Goldfish watched was on satellite and I’m sure we saw the same tournaments over and over again. I learned more about golf than I ever wanted to know but if the Goldfish was happy, I was happy. A rather lovely documentary about the late Seve Ballesteros was shown several times and each time, the Goldfish would tell me about when he followed him at some match or other. He didn’t realise Seve had died and after the first couple of time, I stopped telling him.

At least the Goldfish was always aware that he was watching golf on television. Once, when he still had some mobility, we were watching football (soccer). He got up and shuffled off. “Are you going to the loo?” I asked.

“No, I’m looking for the football. We’re playing.” Maybe even for an ardent golfer, football is more exciting?

As the Goldfish moved into the later stages of dementia, he understood less and less of what was on television. He’d never been a fan of soaps and he gave watching anything with a storyline as he could no longer process it, nor could he follow documentaries; even golf didn’t hold his attention for long. He did enjoy music and seemed to take real pleasure in watching the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, beating time on the arm of his chair as the marching bands strutted their stuff.

Astonishingly, he was totally entranced by the X Factor – at least I think it was the X Factor. The talent show where the contestants who have come through the first rounds are packed off to boot camp and then whittled down again. We hadn’t watched any of the first rounds so I didn’t have much of a clue about what was happening, never mind the Goldfish – or so I thought.

He was totally caught up in the drama of the eliminations and the progress to the next round. He seemed to enjoy hearing the music. He laughed out loud when successful band members were jumping up and down in excitement, as delighted for them as they were themselves. He sounded so gleeful it made me well up. He was teary-eyed on behalf of those who were sent home.

I’ve always said we were lucky the Goldfish retained his sense of humour right to the end. That evening, I realised how much more of him – his emotional responses, his empathy for others, and the core essence of him – remained intact.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – snake oil, anyone?

cropped-goldfish-87-1254566814ncva1.jpgToday I read in the paper about some research which indicates eating grapes might help stave off Alzheimer’s and improve memory. A handful of grapes twice a day, it seems, will boost attention and working memory performance by increasing the metabolic activity in those Alzheimer-related parts of the brain.grapes-2032838_640

If the Goldfish had still been around I’d have rushed to the supermarket to stock up and the poor man would have been eating grapes until they came out his ears – even though, in my head I would know that however many grapes I made him eat, it would make no difference. The research was carried out on people with early memory loss.

When the Goldfish was in the early stages, when he could still fudge his loss of memory – calling people ‘Sunshine’ to cover up the fact he’d forgotten their names – we bumbled along not really thinking about the future. Of course, I learned what I could about the condition but when I read the stuff about the final stages I think switched to denial mode – the things described – loss of mobility and of speech, no recognition of family or friends, incontinence, needing help with eating and drinking – couldn’t possibly be what we were facing in the future.

Later, of course, I was ready to try almost anything – not looking for a cure but for something which would slow down the relentless progress of dementia.

cocnutoilFor a while Wee-sis and I were almost convinced Organic Raw Virgin Coconut Oil was going to do the trick. In her work with adults with learning difficulties one of her colleagues used it for some of the service users who were developing dementia. An internet search brought up hundreds of articles about the efficacy of coconut oil, none, unfortunately with any scientific backing. One I remember was by a woman whose husband’s speech returned after she started using coconut oil. The woman in our local health food shop said she had started using it every day – she’ll let me know in ten years if it works.

We dolloped it in the Goldfish’s breakfast porridge, spread it on his toast, topped with honey, mixed it in yoghurt, and I used it in cooking. We were sure we detected a new brightness about the Goldfish who seemed more alert even if his words didn’t come back. We increased the dose. We gave him dreadful diarrhoea.

We did find it was a really good moisturiser so he had it massaged into his hands, feet and legs every night and went to bed smelling of coconut. Possibly, had we started to use it earlier it may have had more effect. Possibly, the grapes might have done something to slow down the pace of memory loss if we’d fed him them in the early days. Or, they might also have given him diarrhoea. We’ll never know.

Looking at the newspaper article, I see only ten people, average age 72, were tested, only half of whom were given the grapes – and not even fresh grapes but something called ‘whole grape powder’. Ho-hum, there’s something about all this that makes me think about those snake oil salesmen in olden days.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – the fidget box

cropped-goldfish-87-1254566814ncva1.jpgAs the Goldfish seems to sink further into himself conversation becomes increasingly limited, as, of course, does his ability to engage in the games of snakes and ladders or dominoes which he previously enjoyed.

We find looking at old photos is no longer a useful thing to do. He shows little interest, perhaps because he no longer recognises the people in the photos. I make up scrapbooks containing pictures of animals and birds, which he enjoys looking at sometimes. Companies produce all kinds of resources including reminiscence cards and DVDs of times gone past but they are expensive and the Goldfish seems to have moved beyond such activities.

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A few bits and pieces from the fidget box

 

Almost by accident, I hit on what we came to call the fidget box. Into a shoe-box sized box I put a random selection of miscellaneous objects. They included a small trophy with the legend, ‘World’s Best Grandad’, fastened inside a clear plastic box; a Christmas cake decoration with Santa in his sleigh being pulled by a reindeer; a small block of wood, one side of which had been charred; a tiny brass spirit level; a small mandala; three small juggling balls; a plastic wallet containing  a dozen old black and white postcards of working horses; a golfing tiepin; a glass paperweight with a picture of a peregrine falcon and a bull’s nose ring.

This latter object puzzled us for a while as we could not figure out what it was. The Goldfish shrugged whenever we asked him. Then, one day in one those moments of lucidity he said: “It’s a nose ring for a bull.”

“It’s quite fancy,” I said, indicating the inlaid metal work.

“It’s for when the bull’s in the show ring.”

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World’s best grandad trophy – a bit the worse for being fidgetted with!

The Goldfish had great fun opening the little trophy box, undoing the cord which held the trophy in place and removing the trophy. Then he’d put it back in the box. The fastening disappeared, as did one of the handles but he didn’t seem to mind, or even notice.

One of his favourite pastimes was picking at the leather backing of the paperweight. He finally, after much time and hard work, succeeded in removing it. He could also spend hours with a coaster, attempting to split the picture on the front from the backing.

 

The fidget box did not work its magic every time we

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The fidget box

proffered it to him. Sometimes the Goldfish ignored it. If he did not want to rummage through its contents nothing would persuade him to do so. At other times he would pick up the box and remove the lid himself and be totally content for hours.

Many of the resources and activities for sale are excellent but are more geared to be used when people still have the cognitive ability to recognise artefacts, people and events from the past. I’d recommend a do-it-yourself fidget box.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – whose memory?

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Whose memory?

You watch as I slather honey
on toast already oozing butter.
Eyes gleam with anticipation,
widen in delight at first bite.
You would have spread
both less thick, enjoy my generosity.

‘I used to keep bees,’ you say.
I nod, recall my Islay childhood
of honey combs dripping sticky amber
liquid gold, taste of honeysuckle,
heather. Your beeswax discs
slippery smooth won prizes.

You’re confused. How do I know these things?
And I understand this morning
I am not your daughter. I am
some random woman who gives you
toast and honey and tries
to claim your memories as hers.
Mary Smith

 

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Hospital

The Isle of Arran, Scotland

The Isle of Arran, Scotland

This time last year DH and I took a holiday to the island of Arran where we did lots of walking and I did hardly any cooking. We were beginning to unwind and feel the benefit of our break when Wee-sis rang to say the Goldfish had been rushed to hospital. They thought it might have been a TIA and were talking about doing a scan to see if there was any bleeding in the brain.

Wee-sis had been coming to give the Goldfish his breakfast and met the step-monster, hyperventilating at the garden gate. She had left the Goldfish unconscious on the floor. Wee-sis said she was afraid the step-monster was going to have a heart attack as she was in such a panic she could hardly breathe (step-monster, not Wee-sis). She called an ambulance, put the Goldfish into the recovery position and, to give her something useful to do, sent the step-monster to fetch a blanket.

The ambulance arrived within minutes. By then, the Goldfish had regained consciousness but couldn’t move his right arm and had lost the ability to speak which is why the paramedics suspected a stroke. Once in the ambulance, though, he seemed to be able to talk again although much of it didn’t make sense. Wee-sis says not to cut short our holiday but although we decided to stay on, it was no longer relaxing. Daily phone calls with progress reports were both looked forward to and dreaded. The signal where we are staying was terrible, other than in the supermarket car park, so calls were frequently abruptly cut off, with the ensuing quandary of who was calling whom back?

At least, DH and I kept reassuring ourselves the Goldfish was in Ward 18, the ward for people with dementia and last time he was admitted there we were impressed by the standard of care. The nursing staff had been cheerful and good-humoured, even when the Goldfish dumped another patient’s slippers in the bin. He’d apparently tried them on, realised they weren’t his and disposed of them. He’d appropriated his neighbour’s shaver and walking stick.

I took in his ‘This Is Me’ file which contains masses of personal information from the work he did before retirement to hobbies and interests, likes and dislikes. The nice thing was the nurses kept it with his notes and actually read it so were able to talk to him about his work and so on.

Hospital visiting hours can seem never-ending, especially when there is no real conversation with the patient. I took in dominoes and a magic painting set – remember them? All you need is water and a paintbrush and the colour appears as if by magic. The ones I bought were pictures of sportsmen and are specially made for people with dementia. Once the picture is complete it is left to dry and the colours fade so it can be used over and again. Time passed quickly with the Goldfish absorbed and happy, other visitors looking on enviously! The nurse in charge of the ward said if she’d been staying on the ward she’d have bought some for patients to us. I should have taken note of that ‘if I’d been staying’ remark.

Back from holiday and our first port of call is the hospital and Ward 18. We walked in to find the Goldfish sitting on a chair beside his bed in his pyjamas, no dressing gown and the bedside table was awash with spilt water which had also formed a puddle on the floor. He had rested his feet – no slippers – on the leg of the table to keep them out of the water. There was food including chips on the far from clean floor and an unidentifiable orange blob of something under his neighbouring patient’s chair.

The Goldfish was looking okay though anxious to come home. I spent time with him, telling him about our holiday, looking at the postcards I’d sent him, though one was totally saturated by the spilt water while the DH went off to speak to staff.

At the top of Goat Fell, Island of Arran - worth the effort for the views.

At the top of Goat Fell, Island of Arran – worth the effort for the views.

He came back disgruntled – it’s the weekend, no doctor has been to see the Goldfish yesterday or today, they don’t know why they didn’t do the scan Wee-sis said they were going to do, nor could they tell him very much at all about what the diagnosis was. We would have to wait until the next day to speak to someone who might know something. Depressing.