I'm still learning. I wish I knew everything there is to know about dementia and cognitive impairment, but of course I don't. I am grateful that I approach this journey with an open heart and an open mind. I truly believe that it is the only way that I can be of help to Jim as we travel this dementia road together.
Jim has been going to the same dentist for many years. The dental practice was about a 40 minute drive from our home. In addition, Jim was becoming less happy with the practice. I don't know the basis for his dissatisfaction, as he had a hard time clearly articulating his concerns. He drove to his last appointment 6 months ago.
Given the issues with driving and his increasing unhappiness with his dentist, I suggested he switch to my dentist. Much closer, and her practice is great. She specializes in gentle dentistry. The appointment was made. I called ahead of time to make certain that the dentist, hygienist, and office staff knew about Jim's dementia. I thanked them ahead of time for their patience and understanding.
Jim takes very good care of his teeth. We didn't expect much at the appointment, other than some x-rays that were due, routine cleaning, and check up by the dentist. Jim asked me to come into the exam room with him, which I was glad to do.
It was just short of a disaster.
The x-rays were "painful" (his word) as he held the x-ray apparatus in his mouth. The cleaning caused additional pain for him, and he was quite vocal about it. I felt bad for the hygienist. She was on pins and needles from the moment Jim started insulting her. This of course made it worse, as her hands were shaking and she was having difficulty manipulating her instruments because of her nervousness.
Jim called for her to be fired. He complained loudly to everyone who could hear about how she hurt him badly. Once home, he insisted that I call the office and demand our money back. And, he started talking about a lawsuit against the hygienist! Oh my.
I fibbed, and told him that we were reimbursed for the cost of the visit. Regarding the lawsuit, I started talking about the thousands of dollars we would need to pay, for a lawsuit with an uncertain outcome. He let that drop. But he was still so angry about the hygienist. I appeased him by telling him that I was certain she would be fired.
I know that sounds crazy, but what else could I do? My goal became one of helping him to get to a place of calm. We're still not there yet, but it's better.
Here's what I didn't know: dementia alters a persons perception of pain. They experience pain at a higher level than those without dementia. MRI's have verified this with areas of the brain that light up when someone experiences pain. The research showed that someone with dementia is much more sensitive to painful stimuli. You can check out a very interesting article from Science Daily here.
If I had known this, I would have asked for pre-treatment pain medication. He somehow made it through the appointment, albeit very unhappy and pretty angry. His teeth are perfect, and he needs no additional work, thank goodness.
And it's not over yet. Apparently the hygienist slightly nicked an area close to the gum line. I'm guessing it occurred when he was moving around in the chair, combined with her shaking hands. He complained mightily for 2 days. I honestly couldn't see it. I called the office and arranged for the dentist to look at it. She showed me with the magnified mirror the tiny nick that was causing him so much pain. She compared it to a nick you might get from a sharp potato chip. She reassured him, advised tylenol, bland diet and warm salt water rinses for the next few days. Every day, he has me look in his mouth to check on the progress, and this of course triggers another rant about the hygienist.
There was a silver lining in this experience. The dentist and all of her staff were wonderful. I was of course mortified at the cruel things he was saying to the hygienist. But in spite of his melt down, everyone treated him with the utmost kindness and respect. I will always remember and be grateful for that. I have written a thank you note to the staff that will go out in tomorrow's mail.
The other day I had my own doctor's appointment. It was for 3:30 in the afternoon. I did my usual note, stating where I was, when I would be home, and wrote down my cell number for him to call if he needed me. It is now getting dark here pretty early. I actually got home at 4:50 (10 minutes earlier than I wrote on the note). He was pacing and a nervous wreck.
"It's dark out! Something could have happened! I almost called the police!"
To his credit, he did call my cell phone, but I did not hear it! It was in my purse, and there must have been competing noise that prevented me from hearing it.
So, it has been a rough week for Jim. But it has been a week of learning for me, and for that I am grateful. The last couple of years his response to minor discomfort has always seemed overblown to me. I guess I just chalked it up to a psychological exaggeration, perhaps fueled by anxiety. And maybe anxiety is a part of it, but now I know that the pain is real and is experienced at a higher level for Jim, than it would for me.
I did not make it to the support group this week. After the rough week for Jim, I just didn't dare leave him again, especially since it was an evening group. I don't know what I am going to do about that, but I will figure it out.
On the lighter side, I was experiencing a very strong hot flash (yes, still having them after all these years!) and I told Jim I was going to step outside to cool off for a couple of minutes. Next thing I know, he opens the door
"Are you all right??!!"
"Yes, I'll be back inside in another 2 or 3 minutes, once this hot flash passes."
This gets repeated at least 3 more times in the time span of less than 2 minutes. Next thing I know, he has joined me outside with his down jacket on and says "I thought I would keep you company."
Kind of like the young mom who locks herself in the bathroom for 5 minutes, just to have her toddlers banging on the door for her :-)
Well, another challenging week has passed. I'm learning! And I like that. One of the more interesting observations that I had with the dental experience is that while I was embarrassed for the cruel things he said, the other (stronger) emotion I experienced was compassion for Jim in his very real struggle to get through what was a very difficult experience for him. Another step forward in my transition as a caregiver. For that I am grateful.
Once again, thank you dear readers for stopping by. You are all such great listeners, and I am grateful for each one of you.