|Grass is growing in Piazza Navona|
It’s been a little more than three weeks since my last post, and now half the world has joined in the COVID19 quarantine protocol: stay home; wear a mask and gloves; wash your hands; don’t touch your face; disinfect everything. As the coronavirus hit countries in waves, so too did the harsh reality of the major disruption, despair, and sorrow it brings. Fortunately for us, Rome and its environs have been spared the devastating death toll in northern Italy, and as of today there are 2,340 positive patients; in the region of Lazio there have been 212 deaths due to coronavirus and its complications.
Meanwhile, my mother has been making slow and steady progress in her recovery. It’s most easily measured in things like what she is able to do once a week with a physical therapist. Last week, it was managing to stand up from the wheelchair and hold onto the bed frame for as much as two minutes at a time, for a total of six times. This week, she held
onto her rollator and walked several steps, first in her bedroom, then in the kitchen, also for a total of six times. This required a team of helpers that physically and emotionally supported her trajectory across the floor. She has also been using a mechanical pedaling bike out on the terrace for half an hour a day, helped by the patient nurses who guide her weaker left foot and encourage her to keep going.
Improvement is also noticeable in her transition from sippy cup to glass, and in the number of hours she can tolerate being out of bed either in the wheelchair or electric recliner. She’s easily managing 4-5 hours, some days even more than 6, with an hour outside in the afternoon sun on good days.
|Helping Maureen in PT|
|Daily pedaling outside|
We are fortunate that we continue to have excellent nursing care in afternoons and nights, although two of our regular nurses have been reassigned to COVID19 patients in hospitals. It breaks my heart to know they are putting themselves at risk of grave illness, but I also tell myself that those patients deserve and need the very best care to recover, and good nurses are their first line of defense in fighting the virus.
Like others managing the quarantine, I pass the time
cooking, and even baking, and have discovered my gluten free banana chocolate chip oat muffins are quite popular with the nurses (muffins are just catching on in Italy). I got two Ottolenghi cookbooks from my sister, and with friends in California and one in New Zealand we share photos and recipe experiments in a WhatsApp group. I try to give Maureen tasty, easy to eat food, and balance her diet with fresh market vegetables, beef and chicken in small portions, and rice or potatoes. I make a fruit puree with apples, pears, ginger, honey and spices that she loves as a snack. Eating requires a lot of focus for her, as she carefully chews slowly to be sure everything in her mouth is safe to swallow, and sometimes if her eyes close and she gets sleepy she needs to be reminded to stay awake and alert. I leave much of the task of feeding her to my helpers as I’m usually still in the kitchen working on meal preparation. So far she has had minimal digestive issues and all her tests point to no more problems with diverticulitis or bleeding. I still make sure she has a daily probiotic VSL3 mixed in her morning brew with aloe and fresh orange juice.
For me one of the most remarkable things is that all of her medication with the exception of her asthma inhalers has changed. In addition to stopping the Alzheimer medications of donepezil and memantine, she is not taking previous blood pressure medications or montelukast for asthma. She takes a daily diuretic, Lasix, a beta blocker for her heart, an anticoagulant, and a blood pressure medicine. Her kidney function has improved, her blood pressure is stable, and her heart and lungs are working fine. There has been some notable decline in terms of Alzheimer’s symptoms, but some improvements as well, so it’s hard to say what will be the lasting effect of both her health trauma and suspending the two medications. To help her sleep, and to calm the agitation she experiences in the middle of the night, we use a low dose of Lexotan (we tried Xanax, but it didn’t work) in combination with natural sleep aids valerian and melatonin.
|Mimi helps me with my ankle magnet therapy, |
now dubbed Mimimagnetoterapia
Like others looking for creative ways to pass the time at home, we listen to a lot of different music throughout the day: Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach recording; Frank Sinatra from the late 40s-early 50s with the swinging Harry James Orchestra; Ella Fitzgerald’s live concert in Rome recording; Morabeza, a new recording by Italian singer Tosca (and we have tickets to hear her live in Rome in mid-May); in the evening to wind down, Stan Getz, Bill Evans, or Oscar Peterson. We also tried a collage activity exploring concepts of isolated, tangential, and overlapping led online by our artist and teacher friend Barbara Ellmann, offered through Lincoln Center’s education program, and hung our collages
on the wall across from Maureen’s bed. We avoid the news now, and prefer concerts or classic films, limiting TV watching to less than an hour or two a day. There’s always daily chores and now we’re starting some spring cleaning and closet reorganization projects too.
|My collage had a Roman theme|
I know I am blessed to be spared the common hardships of the quarantine in that I don’t have to work from home and schedule online meetings or classes, I don’t have to homeschool any children, I am not ill, and I can get whatever food and medicine we need with relatively little effort and low risk of infection. Even my gyrotonics teacher is offering free classes through Skype, so I’m getting my weekly exercise. But I am blessed in another way, that fellow caretakers will probably recognize. I am used to this feeling of staying close to home, attending to domestic chores, slowly feeling the passing of time, because my mother is my number one priority. It’s been three years. I can handle whatever quarantine time is still to come. Every day with Maureen is precious.