After my father died, we had to arrange care for my mother since her dementia had progressed to the point that she was not able to look after herself. We built a suite at the back of our house, and by the end of the year, we had moved her in with us. There she remained for more than seven years until she died. These years were fairly stressful ones for us, needless to say. However, my father had left sufficient money that we were able to have caregivers in for five mornings a week, so gradually, we learned to cope with the new situation.
The big winner, of course, in this new setup was Max. Suddenly, he had a doting Nana ever present, plus a variety of amiable ladies who came in most days to provide the necessary care. Naturally, they also learned quickly that the route to Max’s heart was to provide extra treats for him. So it came about that Max, for the rest of his life, was never home alone. If his owners were out, he could resort to the caregivers for entertainment.
Needless to say, given Max’s nature, the caregivers had to be given strict instructions on the dos and don’ts of our temperamental pets. Max and Minx were never to be in the same area unattended, Max was restricted to the two top floors, and most particularly, Max was not to be allowed in with Nana while she was eating. In spite of Max’s early propensity for digesting things like dead mice and work socks, he had a sensitive stomach and would deposit large piles of barf on the carpet if given anything but the plainest scraps of human food. Since Nana had a preference for pastas with sauces, her dinners were definitely off limits. Given her dementia, she could not understand why her furry friend was not allowed treats. “Oh, isn’t he sweet,” she would say, while tossing dollops of creamy noodles his way.
Our caregivers were generally on the ball and supervised meticulously. However, one evening when Hugh and I were out for a much needed date night, the lady in charge left the room while my mother was eating and failed to close the door. When she returned, she found that my mother had not only put her plate down on the carpet, but was rolling her hand around in the pasta encouraging Max to finish the leftovers. Since the dog was hardly able to distinguish the difference between the pasta and the fingers in the middle of it, he’d also managed to give my mother a goodly bite on the hand. Our caregiver assured us that it wasn’t serious and that she’d cleaned it up, but one look from us and we could see right away that a couple of stitches were in order. Ninety-plus-year-old skin is pretty fragile and it doesn’t take much to tear it.
So my date night ended with me taking my mother down to emergency and sitting for over an hour in the packed waiting room. People who have no experience of dementia could not realize what torture this was. My mother, sweet as she was, would think nothing of making child-like observations about other people in the room. “My, isn’t she fat!” is a typical example. She would also repeat the same phrase over and over, since she would forget what she had said two minutes after she had spoken. That night, the issue became the absence of her handbag. My mother was rather like the Queen. The handbag was always present. However, given the situation that night, I had made sure her bag was safely left at home. What a mistake that was. Every two minutes, my mother asked me where her handbag was. Every two minutes, I reassured her that it was safe at home. By the time we had sat there for forty minutes, the entire waiting room had become like a Greek chorus. Everyone chanted along with me: “Not to worry, it’s safe at home.” Unlike a Greek chorus, all the waiting patients had big grins on their faces. To add to my humiliation, when we finally saw the doctor and I explained how my mother had been bitten, he roared with laughter and was clearly ready to dine out on the story. Hugh was also grinning ear to ear when we got home and Max, the perpetrator of the piece, was already tucked up asleep. Definitely a date night to put a rosy flush in my cheeks. Too bad it was the result of raised blood pressure.
Still, somehow we survived with our mad household. For a dog with limited people and canine skills, Max had certainly broadened his social circle. Dogs to the side of him, a resident cat, an amiably dotty grandmother, a parade of jolly caregivers, visitors at the luncheons I threw for my mother. Thinking back to how skittish and difficult he was when we acquired him, it just went to show what progress he had made. Finally, Max had really learned how to be a Ho Hum Husky.