But I Already Have My Lipstick On:  Our story of dealing with Alzheimers

Chapter Twenty

Deacon is an electronic fanatic and approached us in early 2000 with an idea he’d been working on to help us monitor his Granny during the day.  He could install cameras in the main living areas of the house and connect all of them to our computer. The images could then be available on a password protected website which would allow us to check on Belle during the day from work.  We could also set the system up to record during the day and review it later if we needed to, but mainly, the camera would allow us an eye into the house when we were not there.   And it wasn’t very expensive since he could use our current online connection and computer.   Scott and I discussed it and thought Deacon’s idea might have some merit.  We approached Susan and her husband, who obviously, since they lived there, would be impacted by being caught on camera during the evening.  We discussed the pros and cons of placing the cameras and watching the activity that occurred inside the house.   They agreed it was worth a try and decided to try it with one camera in the living room, positioned to see the living room, part of the kitchen and most of dining room.  If we needed to expand our view, we’d consider other locations.  Deacon researched cameras online and found a model that fit our needs.  The camera was purchased and Deacon set everything up.  He also held a training session with all of us so we’d know how to sign on to the website and use the viewing software.  We agreed that if Belle noticed the small camera in the corner of the living room, we would tell her it was a security devise.

It was an interesting experiment and for a time, it worked as we needed it to work.  My emergency runs were less frequent, because we could see Belle even if, for whatever reason, she did not answer the phone.  What we watched on the website through the camera posted in the living room provided insight into and clarification of her abilities, along with allowing us to know she was safe. Sometimes when the phone rang, she would look around the room, seemingly unable to identify what was making the noise.  If she figured it out, her hello would be timid.   If she did not, the phone went unanswered. Sometimes, she answered right away, bright and cheery, and it was obvious by watching her that she knew it was the phone ringing from the very first ring.  Oftentimes, she would sit on the sofa for hours, unmoving.  The first time this happened, I thought the website was locked up and therefore the picture frozen.  After a while I called Scott and he signed in to look, receiving the same picture.  So he called her.  She did not answer the phone, but the ringing phone caused her to move slightly.  It wasn’t the system; she really was just sitting perfectly still.  On his daily lunch calls, Scott provided instructions for retrieving her lunch and could watch her retrieve and eat it.   Sometimes she would say she already eaten and he could verify if she had or had not by rewinding the recording and reviewing the events of the morning.  If she had not, he could direct her by insisting she check the refrigerator.  She almost always would follow Scott’s direction in this type of situation.  He could, without sounding gruff, firmly state a command that she would follow. For the lunch check, most of the time, she had not eaten and he could firmly direct her though eating lunch. If we did not see her for awhile, we could call, and she might come into view.  The angle of the camera allowed a view of the back door, and through the back window, a view of part of the patio, so we could see if she was outside if the phone went unanswered.  We felt the experiment was working.

The system wasn’t perfect however.  One of my emergency runs during this time frame was frightening for Belle and I. I always had a sense of dread when Scott called for a run, wondering if this would be the time that something was wrong and I would find her hurt, missing or dead.  My dread on these emergency runs grew as her condition worsened.  On this occasion Scott signed in to the site and did not see any movement so he viewed the morning’s recording and she was not in view during the morning.  He called several times and received no answer.  After no answered phone or view of her, by noon, he decided to call me.  I went to the house and rang the doorbell.  When I did not get an answer, I used my key to enter.  No lights were on and no one appeared to be home.  I moved through the house calling out, and noted that Belle’s bedroom door was closed.    I called out a few more times and waited for a response.  No answer. I went to her bedroom door and knocked.  No answer.  I turned the door knob and tried to open the door.  The knob turned but the door did not budge.  It took me a moment to realize that the door was blocked from the inside.  I turned the knob and pushed.  Nothing.  I tried pushing on the door a few more times while calling Belle by name. No noise from inside, no movement, no response.  I was finally able to push the door open a crack and look into the bedroom.  Belle was lying on her back, with the covers pulled up to her chin.  She was unresponsive even with all the noise I was making by pushing and banging on the door and calling out her name.  My first thought when I saw her was that she had passed.  I called out through the opening and kept pushing on the door as hard as I could. Although it was obviously blocked with furniture, it gave slightly, so I pulled the door toward me and put my weight behind it, pushing hard against the door and what was behind it.  Finally enough of a crack was created for me to force my way through and I entered the room still calling Belle by name.  As one might determine, this whole process had not been quiet.  As I reached the side of her bed, she opened her eyes, starling me enough that I jumped.  She started to move slightly and of course was confused by being startled from her deep sleep.  I was relieved and angry at the same time.  Belle was fine, somewhat confused to find me standing in her room.  She had just been asleep.  Behind the door, all the smaller furniture from her room, a chest, a rocking chair and a two drawer bedside dresser (with the draws full) were piled together, with the top lip of the back of the chair wedged beneath the door knob, just like in the movies.  I cleared all the furniture from behind the door, in time for Scott to call, asking me if everything was alright.  I told him she was fine and that I would explain the circumstances later.  I stayed with her for a while, helping her in the restroom and assisting with her lunch.

Later that evening Scott tried to question her about the pile of furniture that had been blocking to door.  Was she afraid of someone?  Did she recall why she had blocked herself in?  If course, she could not recall the reason or the event but stated she did not feel afraid.  She was certain it was someone else that had moved the furniture.

Susan confirmed Belle had been awake when Susan had left for work that morning, so all the actions completed to move furniture to block the door had occurred after that time.   We took steps to remove some of the more easily movable items from the room in an attempt to prevent future events of this nature.  We also discussed placing a camera in her room viewable by the website, just like the one in the living room, but decided that might be a step to far for Belle’s personal privacy.