Virtually every time we go to visit Lisa we open the door, walk in the house and announce our arrival. Lisa’s response is usually something about not being able to see who we are. When we ask her how she is, her response is usually “I’m hanging in there.” When she tries to get up out of her chair, it looks like she is doing triceps dips as she pushes herself up about four times before she has enough strength to actually stand up. When she walks across the room, we nonchalantly follow close behind ready to put a hand out to catch her when she teeters and starts falling forward or backward (or sideways). She is hunched over and wheezes when she tries to breathe. She has been holding her side in apparent pain for much of the past three weeks. Of course, she is still walking 5 miles a day and cooking dinner every night (so she thinks).
Naturally, being the responsible family that we are, her son took her to the doctor on Friday afternoon. During the 20-minute ride to the office Lisa asked no fewer than six times where they were going. She needed help (in the form of her son’s arm to hold) to walk into the doctor’s office. As her son explained the physical challenges we have all been observing, Lisa (not surprisingly), was flabbergasted by this news of her declining health. When the doctor asked her to walk down the hallway so she could assess her balance and strength, Lisa sprung out of her chair and practically ran down the hallway standing tall and proud. But alas, her newfound health did not last. When they were driving home, Lisa repeatedly asked her son where they had just been. When we were watching the news that night, she first said that she couldn’t see a thing then proceeded to read the bottom line of the news. So, what gives? Is Lisa strong and able or is she weak and feeble?
My partner suggested that she is faking it for the doctor. She is able to find the strength to walk when she believes it is important. Is she merely terrified that the doctor can “commit” her to the “loony bin?” It is true that we told her in the past year that it was doctor’s orders that she have a full-time caregiver in order to take the pressure of being the “bad guy” off our own backs.
But I wonder if she is faking it for us. Is she looking for sympathy and attention? Lisa is a proud woman who has never been able to ask for help, who has actually stared daggers at you if you tried to help her in the past. Is putting on a show of weakness the only way she knows how to ask for and accept this much needed comfort? Lisa’s caregiver says she rubs her back at night and she loves it, but she doesn’t know how to allow herself to accept the soothing touch. Is that because she is a child of the depression? My concern is that Lisa is living in fear. Did we unwittingly create this insecurity where she doesn’t know if she is supposed to be strong or weak? Through our attempts to offer her the most love and support, have we added to the confusion that muddles Lisa’s brain practically every minute of every day?
As I have said every week we don’t know the answer. We probably never will know any answers. Does it really matter whether Lisa is “faking it” for the doctor of for those who love her? The bottom line is she is responding to the love and physical touch that we are all giving her. Like every other nugget of experience we are getting from this disease each week, we need to continue to accept that we are doing the best we can and enjoy the Lisa we see each day – whether she is hunching over or standing tall and proud. Most importantly, I guess we need to treat Lisa each day like she is asking to be treated. If she is standing tall, let her set and clear the table and believe that she cooked a fabulous dinner. On days where she is hunching over, we should hold her hand and let her know we are here with her, loving her. For as long as she will receive our love; and then for at least one more day.