Flying Sybil (Putting an Alzheimers patient on a plane)

In the 4th year of my in-laws living with us, Dad was visibly tired and aging quickly. He slept a lot more in his chair with the TV blaring and our likewise deaf cat, Chewy, sleeping on his lap. Chewy and Dad had a strong bond during those years – Dad loved animals and Chewy had found the perfect human – a warm being of low activity level who provided that sought after lap of love. Chewy would come in from being out all night, run down the stairs and pause, look at Dad, and Dad would smile and motion him to c’mon! Dad would do his crossword and Sudoku puzzles right on top of the unconscious cat in his lap.
We were planning a trip to the beach for a much needed vacation, but I was concerned about Dad having to care for Mom on his own. She had walked out the door a couple times while he was sleeping and gotten over a mile away, knocked on someone’s door and asked if they could help her find her husband. Fortunately, we’ve lived here for all our married life and have had the same phone number so we aren’t hard to find, but I got ‘chewed out’ a couple of times for letting this woman ‘wander’. I decided not to handcuff her to her bed all day, and short of putting in an invisible fence in, we did our best to not make her feel like a prisoner.
As we prepared for our beach trip, I decided that Dad needed a vacation from ‘watching’ mom, and I began to hatch a plan to see if we could send her to stay with her son, Blair. My brother in law and his wife, Darlene, have 8 kids and live in Ohio. They had taken mom for a week once or twice before and she had a great time with them. With 2 people calling you mom and 8 people calling you grandma, you never have to wonder who you are, who these people are, or what you’re doing there! At 85 years old, she was physically active, riding bikes with the kids and staying busy every minute! The brothers would usually meet halfway between here and Ohio and exchange Mom, but Blair wasn’t able to do that this time, so I looked into having her fly.
Consider what is involved in putting an Alzheimer patient in the hands of an airline. She can’t answer any questions as to where she’s from or where she’s going. It is like flying a 5 year old child – with gray hair. She knew her name and that’s it.
She had no identification because she had to give up driving after getting lost in Greensboro where they lived prior to moving in with us. (No drivers license) She couldn’t fly without some ID, so I had to get her birth certificate from Minnesota in order to get her some proof of identity from the DMV. It looks like a license, but it’s just a picture ID.
Are you ready? I called the county seat in Minnesota where she was born, and the lady who answered the phone had worked there for so long, that she remembered the family! I told her about Sybil’s current condition and what I was trying to do. She asked me questions about the info that would be on the birth certificate, which I knew all the answers to, and she mailed the birth certificate out that day.
“Can you take a credit card number over the phone?”, I asked?
“No – just mail me a check. I trust you.”
Now that I could get her an ID, I could purchase a ticket.
As you would expect, it was the old scenario of ‘you can’t get there from here’, and she was going to have to fly to Dulles, change planes, and then on to Ohio where Blair would be waiting. (She would recognize his face.)
I called Dulles before purchasing the ticket to see what their policy was concerning Dementia patients. I was told they would not take responsibility for her getting onto her second plane! So I had to rethink this. . . I have a niece who lives within minutes from Dulles, and I called and asked her 1.) If she was available on this date and time and  2.) If she would meet mom and help her. She was agreeable, (and she’s also very smart and beautiful). I told her to call mom ‘Grandma’, use our maiden name and Mom would go anywhere with her!
Now, how to get the niece past the gate without a ticket in order for her to put mom on the right plane.
Well, the next person I talked to at Dulles was playing with a full deck and she had compassion, common sense, and best of all, authority. She said, “Tell your niece to come to the door marked such and such, ask for me, and I’ll give her a pass to get past the gate take care of your mom.”
This was looking good!!!!!
I purchased the ticket and then told Dad of the plan. Mom would be gone for 10 days starting tomorrow. We would leave the next day for the beach and he would have 7 days of absolute irresponsibility on his hands. (Aside from watching our dogs and cats while we were gone – which he loved doing!)
I told him, “You will have the whole house to yourself. Sleep all day and stay up and watch tennis all night. Eat when you want, take a nap and eat some more. Do anything you want, when you want – not a care in the world, but I ask this one thing. . . every evening between 5pm to 7pm somewhere, you call either my mom or my sister and say, “This is Ed – I’m OK”. If you don’t call either of them, they will drive over here, walk in the door and catch you in your underwear!! Got it?”
Now Dad was thrilled at the thought of having a break, but he was equally worried over sending his wife of 60 years on a plane by herself. He just couldn’t understand how this could be done. She’ll be scared. She’ll be confused. You could see the worry on his face as we drove to the airport.
What he didn’t know was that this was covered with prayer – from the original idea, to the birth certificate, to my niece at Dulles – God was paving the way for this all to happen, and the best was yet to come.
I knew mom would be scared and confused. I packed her a carry on satchel and wrote her name in big black letters on both sides. After all, she wouldn’t pick up a bag unless she KNEW it was hers. She can’t remember it’s hers, so it must be visibly labeled. Inside was a change of clothes in case of an ‘accident’ from the stress of being scared, a package of wet ones, a Reader’s Digest with her name in big block letters on the cover, and inside was a centerfold that I pasted in with a map telling her where she was going and why she was on the plane. “You’re going to see Blair!! He’ll be waiting for you at the airport.” She could re-discover this centerfold several times during her trip!
The only thing left was getting her on the plane at our local airport. She wouldn’t want to go through the gate alone, and she wouldn’t understand how to board the airplane. I couldn’t give her her ticket or her ID because she wouldn’t know she had them or would lose them as soon as she sat down. But I knew Who had taken care of all the details thus far and He wouldn’t stop now!
My husband Dane, Dad and our youngest son, Nels, all said goodbye to Mom and found a bench by the window where they could see the plane which she would be taking. With a short explanation, I was allowed to go through the gate with her at our small local airport. As we walked towards the gate, I asked the Lord to show me the right person to take care of mom on this flight. As we approached the site, all the waiting passengers were sitting facing the planes, except one. She sat outside the area with her back to the rest. Mom and I sat a few chairs away in the same row, facing the same direction as her.
Mom began, “What’s that building over there?” pointing across the tarmac.
“Oh, I think that’s a fire station.”
“Where are we?”
“We’re at the airport because you’re flying to see Blair!”
“Say, what’s that building over there?”
“That is a fire station, I believe.” (Funny how we always try to say it differently each time, as if she might say those long lost words. . “Oh, that’s right – I already asked you that.”)
“Do you know what that building across the way is?”
“Yup. That’s a fire station”.
“I have to use the bathroom”.
So we get up and walk a short way to the ladies room. I let her go in alone because I will see her when she comes out, and I sit back down.
I hear the question. “Does you friend have Dementia?”
“Yes,” I smile and look into her kind eyes, “She’s my mother in law and she has Alzheimers.”
I wait a few seconds before I ask, “Are you going to Dulles on this flight?” as I gesture behind us towards the other waiting passengers.
“Why yes, I am.”
“Could I ask you a favor? I need someone to watch my mother in law. She will be scared, she won’t know anything about her ticket, she will lose her ID, and she just needs someone to be her friend. She’s very sweet and thinks she knows everyone when she meets them. Would you consider doing this?”
“I would be glad to! I’m an RN and I work with Dementia patients.”
Mom appeared from out of the ladies room and I went and got her. We walked back and took our seats. I asked the lady for her name – “Sharla”, she replied.
“Mom, this is Sharla and she’s going to make sure you get on the plane and sit with you and take care of you!” And mom greeted her like a long lost friend.
Sharla took Mom’s packet with the ticket and ID. I told her about my niece waiting to meet her in Dulles and to hand the packet to her. Then I kissed Mom goodbye, thanked this sweet woman, Sharla, and got her full name and address to write her a thank you later. I stood back and watched her take mom’s hand a ask the steward to make sure they got seats next to each other.
I walked back to where Dad was sitting and, without making my presence known, watched Sharla come down the boarding ramp holding the hand of my mother in love. I leaned in behind Dad’s ear and said, “Her name is Sharla, she’s a nurse and she works with Dementia patients.”
And Dad burst into tears of relief. . .

Draw the line in the sand

I’m walking around the house putting 2015 calendars up, looking at the Christmas lights for the last time before I take them down . . . ‘Oh, Christmas, I hardly knew ye”! And wondering where the year went and why am I dealing with the same issues (mentally) that I deal with every year at this time?  Why can’t I get up early and walk on the tread mill? Why can’t I finally draw the line in the sand and say, “This is it! I’m finally going to do this!!”???
It’s because my sand has shifted. Things aren’t where they used to be and I’m looking at change in the mirror every day. When did my face sag down and become a chin?Where did all this wrinkled skin come from? Did grandma leave it to me in her will? And why does my hair wish to leave my head for the Southern shores under my nose and on my chin(s)?
You know there’s a reason why grandma’s do not read The Three Little Pigs to their grandchildren and it’s that stupid phrase ‘Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin’, which immediately causes little heads to spin around and stare at their chin. Who needs to be the prime illustration in a children’s fairy tale??
I am certain that my face cream contains hair growth solution. As does my deodorant. These industries are in cahoots with each other. You know what’s in your shaving cream? Yah! Thank you, razor blade companies.
This is all contrived to make me purchase one of those ‘NO-NO’ hair remover machines. They got their name from the screams of women everywhere who spot that first 3 inch long hair that’s been growing under their chin for a year, undiscovered, and remembered that kid bagging their groceries that kept staring at them. NO!!! NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now Fran Drescher (The Nanny) has come out with a more positive model called ‘YES!’ for those of us who don’t want anymore negativity in our lives. Somehow, I’m thinking that neither of them will work, but that’s just me being negative, I know.
I wonder if they remove glitter? I’m all sparkly this time of year from the Christmas cards. I have discovered that glitter makes my nose itch – that’s the only explanation for how it gets on my face, mixed with the hair under my nose – which is so attractive and Christmassy! (That must be a word ’cause the spell check accepted it.)
Well, if I’m going to start off the New year all sparkly, I’ll just try to sparkle all year! Don’t they say that whatever you’re doing New Year’s eve, (or is it New Year’s Day?) you’ll be doing all year long?? Then I shall be a sparkly, hairy mail maam, – which is not the vision I had for the year ahead, but it is what it is. . . NO – NO ! YEEESSSSSS!