I am tickled pink to know that this website continues to be viewed around the world daily!  Through viewers’ posts and emails, I have learned what an immense relief it is to other caregivers to know that they’re not alone and what to expect with this complicated disease.

To offer better support and insight to caregivers throughout their ongoing journey, today we are proudly revealing our new website: www.FranklySpeakingAlz.com!

I hope that you will share and pass on this new site to others who are struggling with Alzheimer’s.  A new PROBLEM/SOLUTION format imparts the priceless lessons I have learned as a caregiver.  Plus, the new WEBISODE SERIES format starts at the beginning of my family’s story, revealing in much more detail the roller coaster ride that overran our lives, including footage of all my family members to demonstrate the complex dynamics of a family in turmoil.

Please know that, because there is such useful information here, I will continue to keep this Original Blog LIVE, but I will no longer be posting to it.  You can always find my Original Blog at www.FranklySpeakingAlz.WordPress.com or simply by clicking the bright red ORIGINAL BLOG button on my new site!

Good luck to each of you on your journey and please stay in touch by subscribing to my new Webisode Series at www.FranklySpeakingAlz.com!

Peace and love.

~ Joleen

(FRANK H. FIREK, AIRMAN 1st CLASS, U.S. AIR FORCE)

Independence Day brings reflection and pride.  I think of my dad who proudly served his county (Airman 1st Class, The U.S. Air Force) and believed that it was simply part of his duty to preserve this privilege and comfort called the USA to which so many of us have become accustomed.  He loved freedom, stepping up, helping a good cause, and giving.  He believed that his military experience helped shape him into a good man, a gentleman, someone who appreciated a good challenge and learned to persevere despite all obstacles.

I fondly remember learning to make the bed as a child, fastidiously trying to create perfect “hospital corners”.  My dad wasn’t militant; he simply passed on his knowledge in a fun, creative way that made you want to learn.  Every fold was a connection to him – who he was in that moment, who he had been before I was born, who he hoped everyone would step up to be.  I yearned to be that person in his eyes.  And he was undoubtedly my hero.

I am so full of pride and thankfulness this weekend for my dad and ALL others who have served.  Their selfless and countless acts of kindness.  Their bravery while walking unknown territory.  Their perseverance to overcome what was thrown at them.  And their goal to be standing alive at the end of the battle.

I can’t help this year but compare the military experience to the Alzheimer’s experience.  They seem to me to have a lot of similarities.  Of course, there are those who have Alzheimer’s and bravely walk to the edge.  But I’m thinking more along the line of Those Who Serve Those With Alzheimer’s.  These people are true heroes in today’s society.  They don’t personally have the disease so they don’t have to take this journey – but yet somehow they choose to accompany someone else on their harrowing journey.  I believe THIS is the compassion and love and dedication that was represented in those “hospital corners”.

I have a few friends who’ve recently lost their beloved parents to Alzheimer’s.  Barry is one of them; he lost his mother ten weeks ago after being her primary caregiver.  Barry is wonderful, kind, funny and giving.  But Barry is struggling right now with some intense emotions, inexplicable thoughts and sporadic behavior.  And he’s apologizing for it.

I told Barry in a recent email:

It’s ALL part of the decompression process.  You may find yourself doing crazy things lately, and that’s just you trying to come to terms with what the *BLEEP* you just witnessed and survived… and now you’re taking stock of the rubble of your life, trying to make some sense out of it all, and needing to pick a direction to start moving in to restart your life.  Trust me, I get it.  You’ll be okay, eventually.

As I was typing these words to him, it struck me for the first time how much Caregivers really are like Veterans of War — and how important our role is to help each other re-assimilate when it’s all over.  I mean, we’ve really witnessed some harrowing things.  Through the process we’ve questioned ourselves and God, and we have had to discover what honor and duty truly mean.  And when the battle is over for each of us and there is nothing left to defend, we find ourselves standing alone in the middle of the field, blinking in disbelief, and wiping the proverbial ash off.

But the truth is, we aren’t standing alone.  We are among millions of other Caregivers who get it.  There are millions of people wanting to hug us, tell us Job well done! and welcome us back. Veterans are always the knowledgeable ones who have lived through the experience and can now help lead the way.

As I shared with my friend Barry:

You are in a complex state of grieving.  Anything goes.  Give yourself permission to be feeling whatever you’re feeling.  You need to decompress.  Just try not to displace anger.  Alzheimer’s SUCKS.  The medical system SUCKS.  We didn’t have enough support.  Curse the system!  …And then let’s use our newly-acquired knowledge to help others and change the world for the better…

Make it a point to hug a soldier, salute a flag, and to ask your fellow neighbor what you can do to help them during their battle with Alzheimer’s.  Let’s unite and become stronger as one – because there is strength in numbers and in believing you will survive.  Let’s change the world one “hospital corner” at a time.

(FRANK H. FIREK, AIRMAN 1st CLASS, U.S. AIR FORCE)

I’ve plunged back into the working world as of 3 days ago and find myself moving along at a fairly decent clip, all considered.

Prior to that, I was like a wounded animal limping through the haze.  Those first few weeks after losing Daddy-O were foggy, painful and just plain surreal.  It’s weird when your world instantly loses one of its constant beacons; you lose your way and have to numbly find your way back to reality – albeit a new, revised reality.  And then you have to get used to that new place.

Nine days after the funeral, during this hazy process, my roommate and I escaped to Vegas for a quick getaway.  Quite frankly, looking forward to that trip actually helped me get through the funeral proceedings in the first place.  Then, once in Vegas, I distinctly felt myself disconnect from the regular drama of my life, and I was thankful for the tangible, much welcomed and much deserved break.  I figured I would get back to mourning a few days later once I touched back down in Detroit.

Surprisingly, though, back in Detroit, I discovered that I had healed a lot between Vegas and home.  Maybe it was the onslaught of neon lights and casino noise or the cool drinks and cloudless skies or simply the fact that I was nowhere near home and so no one knew I was mourning.  Whatever it was, I was able to act normal and literally be carefree for the first time in years!  It was an amazing sensation.

When I returned home to Detroit I found myself shocked – and then saddened – when I realized I had actually somehow recovered beyond my expectations in that one short weekend.  I suppose that after 3 years of pre-mourning the loss of my dad, I was somehow, somewhere deep inside, more prepared to move on than I thought.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss him LIKE CRAZY and sometimes still cry when I think about him!  The difference I’m speaking of is that I can talk about him sometimes without crying – which, I believe, is quite an amazing feet.

When I consider that my family and I could have been dealing with my father having this horrible disease for another DECADE – like millions of families do! – it absolutely blows my mind.  I have NO idea how people survive years and decades of this heart-wrenching disease.  I suppose that’s exactly why 40-percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers die before their failing loved ones.  I mean, seriously, WHO can take all that??

What I have now is scattered feelings: I feel blessed to have been Frank’s daughter, I feel sad because I miss him, and I feel lucky to have been released from this madness.

I find myself listening to oldies music at every possible opportunity – in the shower, in the car, while working.  The music feels like my last tangible connection to him.  Like, if I just smile big enough… and sing loud enough… and think happy thoughts enough, maybe Daddy-O will shine down on me, smile, and dance back…

(NOTE: Frankly Speaking: Alzheimer’s subscribers didn’t receive an email alert upon my last blog entry a few days ago for some reason.  If interested in reading that entry, scroll down one entry on my website to read my dad’s amazing eulogy as delivered by my cousin, Karrie [McLean] Martin.)

I am too emotional and strapped for time to edit this video down to be any shorter than it currently is, let alone even add one dissolve to it.

An intervention of fate?… I dropped my camera and my lens cracked this week – but I videotaped the events as they unfolded nonetheless, cracked lens and all!

Hallelujah!!!

My Dad was finally transferred out of Botsford and into his new dwelling at:

Courtyard Manor of Farmington Hills
29750 Farmington Road
Building 1, Room 12
Farmington Hills, MI 48334

(248) 539-0104

He was in the Botsford Hospital Geri-Psych ward for 5 LONG weeks.  It is such a relief to get him out of there!  When he was admitted, he had social skills and interest, you could still usually find a sparkle in his eye, and he had enough energy to want to dance and sing all the time.  Unfortunately, that is not the way he is coming out.

He was supposed to be picked up by ambulance today at 10am and brought to Courtyard Manor.  I was there waiting with my Mom, and around 11am we called the hospital to check on his status.  He had not left yet, so I headed into work.  About 1/2 way to the office my mom called to tell me he was on his way (it figures!).  When I got there, he had already arrived.  (Watch video: AMBULANCE)

When I went inside, he was already in his room.  The on-staff nurse was checking him in when I got into the room.  He was slumped forward and pretty unresponsive.  We tried to engage him in conversations, but mostly, all we could get were some mumbles from him. (Watch video: DAD IN NEW ROOM)

My mom then started to unpack his things, and I stayed with him to massage his shoulders and talk to him.  He has lost soooooo much weight.  I could feel every bone in his shoulders and back.  I told him we needed to start getting some weight back on him and get him back into marathon shape and all he could whisper was “OK”.  He was still pretty unresponsive and sat with his head slumped forward.  I have to be honest, I had a hard time believing that this was really my dad.  I didn’t see any of him in there today and I am very sad.  No one should have to go through this.

My mom told me about a conversation she had with the ambulance drivers before I arrived:

The ambulance drivers told me that everyone at Botsford was hugging him and saying goodbye to him.  The staff told the drivers what a wonderful man Frank is.  They don’t know the half of it.

We got Dad up out of the chair to move when his hospital bed arrived.  My mom took one arm and I took the other, and all he could manage were 1-2″ baby steps.  He was very hunched over, i.e. his spine was almost parallel to the floor.  We asked him to stand up as tall as he could and he only got about 3/4 of the way there, but his head still hung forward.  Once the bed was in, we sat him down again.

My mom sat with him for a while and tried to comfort him.  If you look, you can see in this video that this is very emotional for her as well.  I just hope she continues to have the strength to get through this.  She doesn’t like to ask for help and she usually turns me down when I offer.  So I think we all should probably just insist that she let us take her out and help her get her mind on some other things.  (Watch video: MOM AND DAD)

I left a little before lunch and my Mom stayed with him.  She told me he had a good lunch, used the bathroom, and then went to bed.  It had already been a long, tiring day for him.  On my way back to the office I realized I was hungry so I stopped at Greene’s Hamburgers in Farmington.  Greene’s was a hangout of my Mom & Dad’s when they were in school and dating.  They also had their Surprise 45th Wedding Anniversary Party there just this last August.  Man, it is so hard to believe how much worse my Dad has gotten in just 7 months since that party!!  It takes my breath away just to think of it like that.

My mom said the nurse at the Nursing Home said they may try to reduce some of Dad’s meds to see how he reacts.  I am very interested to see the results of this.  What I would actually like to see is what he would be like if we took him off of all his meds for a week.  I can’t help but wonder how much of his current degradation is drug induced, and not a result of his Alzheimer’s.  But I guess I may never really know the answer to that one.

(Real-time Entry)

My mother has been doing an INCREDIBLE amount of research this past week trying to find homes in the area equipped and willing to take Dad with his newly acquired behavioral problems.  I tell you, finding yourself through the maze of living options within the web of dementia healthcare is overwhelming, scattered and anything but black and white!  Between assisted living communities, nursing homes and private pay homes, some will take patients like Dad, but most won’t.  And it seems to only be through word of mouth that you can locate these places.  It’s a LOT of legwork!  I don’t understand how the healthcare system expects people like us to find the resources they require; it’s an insulting amount of time and effort that’s required from emotionally-distressed family members in order to find an adequate home for their loved one!  Imagine if my mother had a full-time job or kids at home… how would she have been able to take on this insurmountable project?  What about the millions of people like that who are at their breaking point and have no support??  There has to be an easier, more user-friendly way to find what you need!

Unbelievably, today is FIVE WEEKS that my father has been a Ward of the State at Botsford Hospital’s Geri-Psychiatric Ward.  They HOPE they may be able to discharge him sometime this week, but this call is so out of our hands.  He continues to lose weight at an alarming weight, is in bed sleeping during our visits lately, and is on a VERY large list of drugs.  He is still in there – but sometimes you only get small glimpses of him.  I personally think he’s doing amazing well based on the incredible circumstances and drugs that have been forced upon him.  He is definitely still my hero.  And I am starting to miss him terribly.  I have actually had a couple hearty sobs this past weekend in a newfound yearning for the “old him”, along with a realization that our amazing 2-way relationship is really more of a thing of the past…

The GOOD NEWS is that Mom has finally located a place that is willing to take Dad!  Plus, it appears that they are equipped to handle him through any difficult behavioral issues he may have, which means we wouldn’t have to relocate him to another home in the future!  Of course, it’s private pay, which Medicare doesn’t cover, so we’re lucky to be in the fortunate financial position to be able to take advantage of its services.  (I still worry about what others do in this situation when they aren’t covered by long-term care insurance?)  One bed just opened up unexpectedly – and Mom jumped at taking it!  We are paying for his room starting today regardless of when the hospital releases him.  I haven’t personally seen it yet but Mom says it feels more like a home than a hospital.  How lucky we are that my mom persevered!

So, hopefully in the very near future, Dad will be living at Courtyard Manor of Farmington Hills.  I look forward to being able to visit him again whenever I please!  🙂

We found a place… we found a place… we found a place – hallelujah!

Heavy in research mode looking for Dad’s next place of residence; trying to maneuver the confusing maze of choices and state regulations.  Psychologically, I’m feeling stronger…  (watch video)

(Real-time Entry)

The experience at the psychiatric ward has gotten worse before getting better.

Following a positive and energized week for me last week, I then visited Dad over this past weekend and was throttled by what I saw.  The hospital had him so drugged (in their ongoing effort to subdue his violent outbursts and reduce his hallucinations) that all he could do was mumble unintelligently while strapped into a wheelchair bent over at the waist unable to hold himself up and drooling. My God, how could there be such a horrific change in just 5 days??  I began struggling with what they’re doing to him, I became very angry at the medical and legal systems for thinking this was the best way to treat a sick person, and I began that oh familiar spiral downward…

Saturday’s visit was the worst one so far, partially because I was so unprepared for what I was going to find. Sunday Dad was still unable to use most muscles in his body but he was no longer drooling and was able to utter partial phrases, which I tried to understand by putting my ear to his lips.  At one point, he said I should call my cousin Debbie.  I said, Sure, Dad, I’ll call Debbie.  And why don’t I call cousin Karrie as well?  She sent you a big hug today and I could tell her you sent her a hug back! He said, Just… call all the girls… and tell them. I asked, What do you want me to tell all the girl cousins? He said, Uncle Frank… is dying. Tears welled up in my eyes and my Mom’s.  We were grateful his eyes were closed so he couldn’t see us.  I said softly to Dad, Is that what you think is going on here, Dad? That you’re dying?? He said, Pretty much… that’s what I see… going on. And he fell asleep and we silently cried.

I experienced a couple horrible days following those visits with a lot of tears and an unmotivated heavy heart.  I only started perking back up after Mom reported last night, Wednesday, that when she walked in for her visit, she found Dad walking around with the help of a nurse and he had been talking about the love of his life, Fran, and then he said, And there she is! The doctor had just changed Dad’s antipsychotic medication from Zyprexa to Risperdal (I believe with the other 5 meds remaining the same) and the results seemed nearly instantaneous and unbelievable! (NOTE: It is believed that by altering communication among nerves in the brain and by altering communication through neurotransmitters, this class of atypical antipsychotic drugs can alter irritability, resistant depression and the psychotic state.)

I have to admit, I woke up this morning a LOT easier and faster!  It does seem that when Dad’s having a good day, I have a good day; and when he’s not, it’s very bad news for me.  Interestingly, I am undoubtedly the only family member who is this affected by it all.  I’m also the most emotional person in my immediate family, besides my father.  And I do spend a lot of time and energy mulling over everything so that I can report back on it for my movie and website.

Does this sensation of me being so empathetic to his situation simply make me a dedicated and loving daughter and a good storyteller as a result of our close relationship? Or is it a detrimental effect that is harming me and my health and my life? My God, do I unconsciously believe that I need to suffer along with him?? I need to figure this one out so that I can support him without being dragged down by the awful set of circumstances that is undoubtedly going to continue to be in our lives.  As they say, I need to get a grip.

P.S. Today the 2 in-home care workers who stole from us went before a judge at The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit (home of the Wayne County Circuit Court) and pleaded GUILTY to ALL counts!!!  Their trial and sentencing is set for March 19, 2010.  That news, on top of Dad’s turn around, was the perfect platform for my mother to board a plane today for Florida for some much needed rest, relaxation and decompression.  I hope she finds what she needs.

P.P.S. I wrote this blog this morning.  Below is video following my afternoon visit today with Dad.