Elephants in the Basement
If you spend any amount of time with a person with Dementia you may start to doubt your own sanity. Or at least question everything you think you know about reality.
My mother had quite a cast of characters in the ever-evolving play happening in her head
The delusions started, in my opinion, shortly after having her horrible teeth pulled for dentures. She had to be completely sedated so she wouldn’t move during the procedure. About a week later she started seeing teeth in her food. It would usually be the oatmeal or chicken soup that would set it off. She’d see the teeth in the food and refuse to eat it. And I would have to make her something else. We didn’t think much of it at the time as we figured it was just her remembering the dental surgery. But as time went on it got worse.
I’ve noticed that the delusions that occur in many women with dementia have a theme. Children running up and down the stairs or getting into the bed with them is quite common. I would try to convince her she was just hearing squirrels on the roof. She would look at me with disdain and say, “so you’re saying I don’t know the difference between a child and a squirrel.” She had me there. Just because I didn’t see them didn’t necessarily mean they weren’t there. So I told them to settle down and stop running around so much.
There was the family that lived in her bathroom. She felt they should be paying rent. I agreed.
One other visitor made frequent visits. His name was Woody or the Green Man. He would hang out in the shadows of the trees and keep an eye on things. Woody was quite tall, green complected and covered with leaves. He never spoke, just watched the house. Not too creepy. She liked him though. Maybe there’s Squatches keeping an eye on the house. We are in the mountains, it could happen. Then I found some lore about the Green Man, a nature spirit. I showed her the picture and she’s like, “Yup, that’s him.” Now I’m really freaked out. “Woody came by last night. He didn’t stay long.” she’d say. “That’s nice. Tell him I said hello.” “Okay, let’s play Words with Friends.” And we’d move on.
You realize this isn’t the only DIMENSION, right?
String Theory in Physics suggests that there are multiple universes all around us. Who’s to say that these dimensions can’t be glimpsed by those who are open to it.
Recently my father’s nurse told me how when her grandmother was nearing the end of a long bout of cancer and heavily drugged she’d request a day off just so she could be lucid for a while. She was a nurse as well and understood what was happening. They would talk about various things, seen and unseen.
One day her grandmother looks her dead in the eye and says, “You realize this isn’t the only dimension, right? There’s the 4th and 5th one after we leave here.” Dad’s nurse looks at her and says “What? What do you mean?” “I just didn’t want you to worry about me,” she replied. Then she suddenly looked around, startled, like she’d realized what she had just said. “Oh shoot, forget what I just said. You weren’t supposed to know that.” No amount of prodding would get her to clarify further. Just makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
I remember one day sitting on the porch. Mom looks at me and says, “The elephants were out again last night.” Without missing a beat I reply, “Really, how many?” “Only 2, the little one stayed in the basement.’’ “Whose basement?” “The neighbors, they keep them inside during the day so they stay out of trouble.” “Interesting” “Yep, that’s why their garden is so nice, all the elephant poop.” “Well, that’s convenient. Wanna play Trivia Crack?” “Sounds good.” Apparently, the neighbors always waited until I had left to let the elephants out. Very thoughtful.
Sometimes you’re not crazy
One day she looks at me and says, “The baby was crying outside my window last night.” “Really?” “Yeah, for about 10 minutes. I yelled at Dad to bring it in, but he didn’t hear me.” “Well, that’s troubling.” “It finally wandered away towards Wayne’s house. It stands outside my window every night. It’s very annoying. Someone should feed it or something.”
Later that day I run into Wayne. He says that our other neighbor’s wife, who had stroke-related dementia (and burned her last house down, so they’re renting next door now) had gotten out of the house while her husband was at work. (He works the night shift. She’s usually asleep by then and doesn’t normally notice.) She woke up and couldn’t find him and became frightened. Then she went outside to look for him and became disoriented. She had been to my parents’ house before so tried to wake them apparently.
Wayne found her wandering around the cul de sac, crying, and brought her back home. It would happen several times a week. She would go to my parents’ house first then Waynes if Dad didn’t wake up. Her husband finally decided to get her a night caretaker after she fell down an 80-foot ravine. A few weeks later Mom told me the baby doesn’t cry outside her window anymore.
Initially, in spite of the doctor’s warning that I couldn’t change her reality, I still felt I had to try. This woman is intelligent, has more degrees than shoes and knows the difference between what’s real and imaginary, dammit. I would get so frustrated with her. “Why can’t you see what I’m seeing? It’s right in front of you.” She’d be like, “why aren’t you seeing what I’m seeing?” It was easier to agree with her sometimes which made me feel a little guilty. It felt like allowing her to maintain her fantasy world was keeping her from being able to join the actual one. But who’s to say hers wasn’t better. Then one day I saw it too.
Sometimes you see it too
One day, we went down off the mountain at my old trailer we call the Annex. She named it. We thought it was weird, now we can’t think of it as anything else. She liked to come down to Townsend as it’s relatively flat and she liked to putter around the yard without the fear of rolling away.
She looked at me and said, “Why is that man dancing with that boy? It’s so inappropriate.” I looked in the direction she was pointing and saw a 3-foot tall man dancing with a 2-foot tall boy. After a moment’s freak out, I blinked a few times and realized I was looking at a bird bath in the neighbor’s yard. It was supported by seahorses. The shadows of the seahorses created the shapes of the dancers.
That’s when I finally understood. Many of her delusions were real objects. She just couldn’t get to the next step of seeing past the initial illusion. It was like living inside one of those Magic Eye paintings. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
“There’s a golden man under that tree.” Yes, there was. I could see him. Then it became sunlight on sycamore leaves.
“Why is there a Chinese Man sitting on Wayne’s fence?” For the life of me, I couldn’t unsee the man. I just couldn’t figure out what I was actually seeing. I finally had to go over to Wayne’s house to see that it was a pail of flowers next to a step ladder.
Just Because You’re Crazy Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Real
We live in the Great Smoky Mountains, near Cades Cove, a favorite tourist destination. We often have our lunch in this little, out of the way cemetery near the Visitor Center. It’s quiet and peaceful and most of the tourists just drive by.
“We have to move the car. There’s Indians in the trees”. I checked to make sure it wasn’t bears. They love Subway tuna sandwiches. “Don’t worry about the Indians. They’re just keeping an eye out.” “Probably watching those deer heading for the car, they want in.” , she replied. “Mmm-hmm, just eat your sandwich.” “No, seriously, the deer want in the car.” “There’s plenty of room in the back seat with me. Don’t worry about it. The Indians are taking care of …”
That’s when the doe stuck her head in my window and grabbed my sandwich. Apparently, Mom had been watching them sneak up on the car in the side view mirror. Just because you’re crazy doesn’t mean things aren’t out there.
To be completely honest, once I realized that I could see what she was seeing, it made the delusions easier to deal with. Sometimes I would just run with it, sometimes I could redirect her to see what was really there. It helped with her anxiety.
Just Roll with it
The doctors will tell you not to argue over what they see and hear. You will not change their mind. Ever. Everything they see and feel is 100% real to them. Just as everything you see and feel is real to you. And let’s be honest, which one of us really understands what reality truly is. We all live in a Matrix of our own choosing. Just watch the news for 15 minutes then ask yourself how so many people can be so wrong and out of touch. The problem is, they’re thinking the same thing about you. Each of us perceives the world through our own experiences and no two people are alike.
Sometimes it is easy to explain away what dementia patients are hearing and seeing. Sometimes you just have to run with it. Who’s to say at the end of our lives, when our brains are most open to all possibilities, we can’t sometimes get a glimpse beyond our own reality.
I gotta go. Woody is stopping by later.