And so, life was good for Bob & Jo Ann. They both worked in the grocery store and in 1955, they had their first baby. My sister was born in the spring. It was in this point of their journey together that life changed...changed drastically. After child birth, Jo Ann experienced the first of many severe depressive episodes...not simply postpartum depression...I'm talking serious, unable to communicate depression. She could not take care of the baby. She was unable to get up and get dressed in the morning. She could not bathe or feed herself. She simply sat...and stared out of the window.
Back in 1955, there were none of the advanced medications we have today available. There was one simple treatment for those who were "crazy"...Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)...you may know it as shock treatments. It was crude back then...electrodes were (and still are) place on the patient's head and seizures are electrically induced patients for therapeutic effect. Today, patients are given a mild sedative. But, back in 1955, no sedatives were given.
Jo Ann was sent to Radford University for shock treatment shortly after childbirth. She was there for at least a month...she dropped down to 80 lbs. Bob was left to fend for himself with a new born. His family took the baby while he was with Jo Ann. These were dark dark days.
Jo Ann was brought back home and after many many months, she began to heal and regain a certain part of her life. This was the first of many episodes like this. Over the course of her life she was hospitalized in psych wards numerous times. The next episode occurred right after I was born in 1964. And then again in 1976...and...the list goes on. The telltale signs were very clear...eventually. It would begin with her being unable to focus, having difficulty getting things done. And, then, it would evolve to her not being able to bathe, dress, feed herself, let alone take care of the house and our family. Many times I as a child did all of those of things for my mom. I remember in the 6th grade suddenly realizing that I was the mom. I would bathe/dress/feed her and then do the laundry, mow the grass and have dinner ready for my dad when he got home from work. Life was hard.
Bob stood by her every step of the way...never once waivering. In the mid-'90s she was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and was put on massive amounts of medications. The problem is that, well, she was actually MISDIAGNOSED and NEVER had Parkinson's. In very simple terms, the Parkinson's medication on top of all the heavy-duty psychiatric meds simply fried her brain. Bless her heart.
I guess she was declining far more rapid than I realized. My dad was good at shielding that sort of thing from my sister and I. He devoted his entire life to caring for her, but the last 15 years he truly became her sole caregiver. I think in all honesty, he was in denial of how far she had declined.
At 1:00 AM on July 14, 2009, my dad called me...I sleep as though I am dead so, even though the phone was right next to my bed, I did not hear it ring. He called me again at 3:00 AM...yep, I didn't hear it. he called again at 4:00 AM...5:00 AM and then finally at 7:00 AM. I was getting dressed for work at that point. When he called the last time, he got me and explained that he had taken my mother to the emergency room the evening before. That she had been mentally terribly confused for the past week...just like she had been many times before. That he had discovered that she had gotten into her medicines and taken a large handful of pills. We know it was not an effort to commit suicide. For all she knew, she was out picking flowers in the flower garden...she had no awareness of what she was doing.
All of the meds had caused her heart to become unstable so she had been put in Cardiac Intensive Care. This was the beginning of the end. From there she was moved to a long term care facility where she is today.
At this point in her life, she has advanced dementia. Years of heavy duty meds have wrecked her body. She mostly cannot walk. The dementia brings severe hallucinations and extreme paranoia. Bob visits her every day. I live four hours away and travel in every-other-weekend.
This blog is dedicated to telling Bob & Jo Ann's story and documenting our last days together as a family.