Oct 6, 2016

Hurricane Matthew, Alzheimer's Care, My Mom, Frances, Jeanne and Wilma

Alzheimer's care can become very difficult when you get caught in a Hurricane.

Alzheimer's care and dementia care can be very difficult during a hurricane.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I'm sitting here in Delray Beach waiting for hurricane Matthew to strike. I'm the veteran of 3 major devastating hurricanes - Francis, Jeanne and the worst, Wilma.

I went through 2 of them with my mom, Dotty. My mom lived with Alzheimer's disease.

I can't stop thinking about my mom. Its constant and all day long today. It might sound odd, but I am glad my mom is not with me right now. This is the first time since Dotty went to Heaven that I have had that thought. Most of the time I think, I wish Dotty was here.

Subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room

I arrived in Delray Beach on November 17, 2003. That was the first of 3,112 days of taking care of my mom.

Hurricane Charley

In August, 2004 Hurricane Charley came roaring into Florida. We live on the east coast of Florida, Charley struck on the west coast. Hurricane Charley was a category 4 Hurricane and devastated every thing in its path causing over #15 billion in damages and causing 10 deaths.

I remember thinking clearly at the time, I'm glad that hurricane didn't come here.

Watch out what you wish for.

Hurricane Frances

I woke up one day turned on CNN and learned there was a new hurricane - Hurricane Frances. Frances was forecasted to hit the east coast of Florida. It looked to me like it was heading directly at Delray Beach.

I immediately made one of the best decision of my life. I picked up the phone and bought my mother an airline ticket to New Jersey. I was sending her to my sister Joanne and brother in law Chuck.

The next day I took my mother to the airport in Fort Lauderdale. My mother was completely disoriented. She didn't know where she was, she didn't know why we were there, and she couldn't understand why she had to go to New Jersey. She asked me over and over - where are we, why are we here?

This happened before I made it to Alzheimer's World. So I really wasn't handling the situation well.

I did manage to convince them to let me take mom down to the gate in a wheelchair. When I got down there I found the captain, and explained the situation. I asked if I could talk to a flight attendant. He sent me a flight attendant and I spoke with her. This was a second piece of good luck (the first was the decision to send mom to Joanne).

The flight attendant was very nice and clearly experienced an savvy. It also helped that her grandma lived with Alzheimer's.

When it was time to go, she bent down to Dotty's eye level, smiled, and reassured here. Dotty smiled at her. As she started to wheel Dotty away she looked me right in the eye and said, "don't worry". I never stop being amazed at how 2 or 3 little words can mean so much. How they can have such a positive impact. I stopped worrying.

Well not exactly. As soon as I arrived at the car and started driving I started worrying. This worry continued to grow for the next 3 hours until Joanne called and said she had mom. WHEW!

Joanne of course was completely and totally disconcerted. Dotty couldn't figure out where she was and why she was there. She did know Joanne and Chuck.

There were many mishaps and minor problems during the next few days. Dotty wanted to know where I was and when she could go home. I talked to her on the phone and tried to reassure her. She finally started laughing and acting like herself.

And then it happened.

Hurricane Frances came roaring into Florida. It was like living in a combat zone. The electricity went out around 11:30 AM on Saturday (no football for me), and finally came back on 7 days later around 11:30 AM. Football!

On Sunday I told Joanne she had to hold on to mom because they didn't know when the electricity was going to come back on. The estimate was in 10 days.

Dotty seemed to be settled in okay. Joanne and Chuck were doing a great job. I now know even better than a great job under the circumstances. Joanne know how to talk to Dotty she is the best. And Chuck is a rock. Chuck's mom was the same age as mine and he is a good son. Hmm? Did I ever tell Chuck I believe he is a good son? Chuck, you are a good son.

Meanwhile, even though there was no electricity, no air conditioning, no fans, no cooking and no nothing for 7 days Dotty somehow concluded I was having a great time and she wanted to come home and have great time with me. It was 93 degrees every day, and an 8 PM curfew. There was no moon that time around and it was so dark you couldn't see you hand.

The electricity came back on and Dotty came home. She had been gone for 2 weeks.

It seemed to me that all in all everything had worked out well.

Hurricane Jeanne

All was well for 3 weeks. Then Hurricane Jeanne roared into Florida. Amazingly, it roared into almost the same exact place as Hurricane Frances. It was a monster.

Dotty thought it was fun, in fact, she thought we should have a party. Well if you live in Philadelphia maybe you have hurricane parties. The only time that happens in Florida is when the hurricane fakes every one out and goes somewhere else. Of course, everyone thinks the weather person is an idiot when they predict the hurricane is coming and it doesn't. I can assure you we no longer think like that in Florida, we want the weather person to be an idiot.

Let me digress a bit. During Jeanne and when Dotty wasn't here I became a hurricane experts of sorts. I figured out how to get water and ice without waiting in line (the line is usually more than a mile long). I figured out how to get free boxed lunches without waiting in line.

Here is one of the best one of all. I figured out to get nice hot coffee. You have no idea how people freaked out when they saw me drinking coffee. At one point I was drinking my coffee and went into the grocery store to see if they had milk (they didn't). I was swarmed by almost every one in the store - where did you get coffee?

As it turned out, I had decided on the second day after the hurricane to go get a nice orange at the Boyz Market in Delray Beach. When I got there not only did they have coffee they had nice hot cooked food. The Boyz has a nice big generator. No McDonald's, no Wendy's, no nuthin when nobody has electricity - only the Boyz.

I didn't have Dotty and I didn't have anything to do so I tried to volunteer my service. I figured I'm in good shape and pretty strong, I can help hand out the water and ice. I get there and try to volunteer and they don't need any more help. On the way home, I think - wow - there are a lot of wonderful people down here in Delray Beach. I then think, I'm not one of them. I tell myself, time to do something about that - I filed it away.

I got my chance in 2005.

Hurricane Wilma

All I can say is maul house repus mouse. Wilma did something that was thought to be impossible. It bounced off Cancun, Mexico and came back and into Florida. A category 5 Hurricane it was a direct hit to Delray Beach, Florida. They eye went right over our home (no I'm not Sarah Palin). Wilma turned around so fast that most people didn't even know we were going to have a hurricane in Delray Beach. Nobody put there stuff away and it was flying around all over the place.

During the first half of Wilma a giant branch from an 80 foot pine tree came flying through one of our windows. It didn't just break the window in blew and the frame and stuck in the window. Rain was flying around all over the place.

I then got a great idea. I pulled on the branch until the bushy part (leaves and branches) was filling up the window. The branch was so long I could only pull it so far and still be able to close the door on the bedroom. I then damned of the door with towels. Well that managed to contain the water in the room and our whole home didn't get flooded.

This you might not believe. I also called the insurance company and made a claim on the spot (while the hurricane was in full force). Might not sound like much, but while many of our neighbors didn't get a claims agent for 6 months, ours arrived in 10 days. I also busted a move to get the window fixed. Bought the window the first day Home Depot opened and then hired a young man to put it after work (moonlight). Many of my neighbors got there new window 6 months later. Keep in mind, there were no windows available for a long time - they sold out.

Meanwhile, Dotty was handful during Wilma. She would sit still, she wanted to go in the room and look at the window. She even wanted to go outside and look at the storm. I could go on and on.

The Best Way to Find Solutions to the Problems that Caregivers Face Each Day

After the first half of Wilma went by, and after the eye passed by the hurricane started back up with more fury than you can imagine. It was so loud and so violent you could not hear yourself think.

Thank goodness I made it to Alzheimer's World before this hurricane. If not I would never have been able to deal with Dotty. I had begun to learn how to understand, cope, and communicate with a person living with Alzheimer's disease. It took every ounce of strength I had in my body and mind. I don't mind admitting I prayed for the second half of Wilma to end. We were under siege for 5 hours.

And then miracle happened. Was Dotty a good luck charm?

The sewer line next to our property broke. I found this out when I walked out the door and my nose went nuts. It was like I was living in Bayonne. It stunk.

I followed my nose and then I saw all this gnarly stuff floating down the street. I could go into detail but just use your imagination - what stinks?

Soon enough all this equipment shows up. They are digging up the ground and doing all kinds of stuff. Did you ever see a cement truck? Well they bring up these trucks that look like cement trucks only they are like 5 times the size. They hook it up to sewer line and start trucking all the gnarly stuff away. They work like a half day, problem solved.

Next thing I know its dark, I go outside and my nose goes nuts. The solution didn't work. I'm back in Bayonne. I go out at 2 AM and talk to the workers, they have no idea when its gonna get fixed.

Then the miracle happened.

The electricity comes on in day 2. I'm saved. Everything is beautiful. Well almost. We have electricity because of the damaged sewer pipe, but 90 percent of Delray is out for a week. If you don't live near the Hospital, or near us, no electricity. It was so bad it took 4 days to get the Hospital back on.

Wilma gave me a chance. Remember by now I am an expert.

I get up early every day. I get Dotty up and put her in the car. Away we go. First round, water and ice.

I go get the water and ice and make my deliveries. Josephine, Annie, Louey, Fritzy, Lidia, and mom - these are my peeps. Later I go get the box lunches and make my deliveries.

On the second day I have extras so I ask Josephine do you know anyone that needs water and ice. She has these elderly neighbors both 85 years old, she tells me they don't have anyone. I knock on their door, explain who I am, ask if they need water and ice. I put it in their home and they are so thankful and appreciative I really feel great. I tell them, I'll be back with lunch. I add them to my list of peeps.

On the way home I think to myself, I made it in a small way, I am now a wonderful person. I just got done thinking this and Dotty tells me I am a fool, she says people are taking advantage of me. She thinks I am a sucker for what I am doing.

I say to Dotty, its not just me its both of us, we are good Samaritans. This seemed to please her.

I get to have this same discussion a few more times until the electricity comes back on.

I also learned for the first time one of my most important Alzheimer's caregiver tips - always meet meanness with kindness. It worked with Dotty.

Here Comes Matthew

As I am writing this Matthew is getting closer and closer. I can't top thinking about Dotty. She is on my mind constantly. Like I said, I'm glad she is not here. I'm pretty sure you understand what I mean.

In fact, Dotty is here. Her ashes are here. And while I have never written this before, I talk to her every once in a while. Well, I actually say something nice to her every day.

Sadly, all of my peeps are gone. Who knows, maybe I'll get some new peeps. Or, maybe they'll let me volunteer. If so, I'll put some of Dotty in my pocket, and once again we will be good Samaritans.

I now believe that no one ever really dies. This is my belief. Who knows, maybe I'll write about that sometime.

Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized expert, writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide.

The Alzheimer's Reading Room contains more than 5,000 articles and has been published daily since July, 2009.

You are reading original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room