Bloodsport [Updated]

November 3, 2010 at 11:43 pm (By Amba)

This entertaining Jean Claude van Damme martial-arts howler was one of our favorite B or C movies.  J always reliably enjoyed it, even remembered that he’d seen it before — I actually can’t count how many times we’ve seen it.  If I had to work and it happened to be on, I knew I was in luck because I wouldn’t have to worry about him being entertained.  I would surreptitiously enjoy it myself in brief space-out breaks from editing.  The score is bouncy and the bad guy, played by Bolo Yeung, is deliciously evil, obviously having a wonderful time.

Tonight I’m watching it alone.  J is here, but not here.  He’s slept all day, and has taken in nothing but a glass and a half of thickened lemonade that I fed him one strawful at a time.  Ever since he had that really good day, he’s been weakening and withdrawing again, interacting a little bit, but mostly either sleeping or hallucinating.  He feels a little warm, and I’m afraid he might be starting to get aspiration pneumonia.  My friends and I were so anxious to get fluids and nourishment into the brief windows of opportunity when he was actively swallowing that some of it inevitably went “down the wrong pipe.”  He, too, at the moments when he caught hold and felt how thirsty and hungry he was, drank and ate too fast, and we encouraged that because it encouraged us.

We the healthy lack the patience to slow down our pace to the crawl it would take to keep him with us.  We want to rush ahead at life’s clip and if he can’t come along, at some point he’s going to get left behind.  It’s ambiguous — ruthless and full of regret and sorrow and frustration.

He and I are largely alone now in this strange space of suspended animation.  Even the people from hospice have backed off, because there’s not much they can do.  He’s hovering again (the German word is better:  schweben), going, as yet, neither way.  And I’m trying to neither push nor pull but inevitably ending up both pushing and pulling, sequentially and simultaneously.

I alternate between a kind of rushed, what’s-the-use recklessness and a penitential, painstaking patience.  Now I’m thickening all his drinks, pipetting them slowly into him with a straw held in my own mouth, and this morning I suddenly remembered with horror that I’d read somewhere that what causes pneumonia isn’t aspirated fluid or food, but accompanying bacteria from the mouth.  I’ve always taken terrible care, like no care, of his teeth (luckily he doesn’t have that many of his own), and I realized that I should have been swabbing his mouth with antibacterial mouthwash, and that not having done so may already be tantamount to negligent homicide.  Nor did anyone from hospice mention this to me.

The fact is that someone who has lost both the ability and the urge to drink and eat can’t go on living unless you stick them full of tubes, which I won’t do because it would be torture:  mentally he is already some mixture of miserable and elsewhere.  We’re all in this awful space where we know he can’t recover to a life worth living (his underlying dementia is progressive, essentially a one-way street with small, cruel reprieves, and it has been deepened a fathom by this illness), and we’re sort of waiting for the decisive turn for the worse and trying to prevent or postpone it at the same time.

He didn’t care or maybe even notice that Bloodsport was on, which made having it on seem helpless and hollow.  It’s in this way that our life has become a hollow shell of what it was even before, which, in turn, was a hollow shell of . . . and so on.  Like those Russian dolls.

UPDATE: Today he started to quite decisively refuse to drink.  He’s not saying anything else clearly, but that “NO!” was loud and clear.  I don’t think it’s a mental decision, but a physical decision.  So far, he seems comfortable and I feel at peace with it, despite being unable to imagine the world beyond that edge.


  1. Rod said,

    My mother lost all interest in food before she died. We argued with her for awhile. Then I spoke with her one day and I realized she was aware starving herself would kill her. She had just stopped caring. She was not in pain; just worn out. It must be strangely liberating to no longer care whether you live or die.

    So I told her I’m not going to argue anymore. I’ll just love you.

  2. Randy said,

    What you and Rod report sound a little too familiar to me at this particular moment. Take care, and rest assured that no imagined negligence on your part is remotely homicidal. You are doing the best you can do under difficult circumstances. There will always be things you can find to beat yourself up for not knowing or doing. Those things don’t really matter. I want to say, “Trust me on this. Been there. Done that,” but I can well imagine that won’t change how you feel at this moment, just as it didn’t for me in earlier times.

  3. amba12 said,

    The company of both of you is comforting beyond words.

  4. Maxwell James said,

    Well, I’ll stick to the practical: consider adding a salted lassi, thin yogurt with a bit of salt, to his diet if he’ll take it. Both the salt and probiotics may help a little to inhibit bacterial growth.

  5. amba12 said,

    Great, Maxwell! I will try that today.

  6. Maxwell James said,

    If you can get unsweetened kefir (usually available from natural food stores), that might be even better, since it’s much thinner than yogurt. Especially given everything you’ve said about food going down the wrong way. Just my guess.

  7. amba12 said,

    Actually thin things need to be thickened. There’s a sort of optimal viscosity — thicker and it just sits in his mouth, thinner and it runs down his windpipe.

  8. wj said,

    Rod, Randy, me — I think a bunch of us are reaching the point where our parents are going thru the same sorts of thing that J is. To my mind, it is out of comparison harder when it is a spouse rather than a parent, but the process is much the same. And when they reach the point where they find keeping going to be just more effort than they care to make, there is nothing anyone else can do.

    To expand on what Maxwell said, if you can get unpasteurized kefir, that will help get the right kind of bacteria back in his digestive track. (The pasteurized stuff is like pasteurized milk — it may be good, but only if you have the right bugs to help you digest it.)

  9. Melinda said,

    Take care, and rest assured that no imagined negligence on your part is remotely homicidal.

    Yeah, what he said.

  10. Rod said,

    I am sure, as wj said, that the process by which we lose a spouse is, at least for adults harder than losing a parent. When the loss comes in increments – a sort of fading away, you grieve through the whole process. In the end, there is comfort in having afforded a loved one dignity, and there is dignity in having comforted someone you love. Amba, you have been doing both for a long time.

  11. amba12 said,

    Nancy Reagan wasn’t kidding when she called it a “long goodbye.”

    I have all but forgotten what it was like to have an equal (or more) partner and protector (some wag once asked me, mass-wise if not more, “Where’s your better two-thirds?”), someone who would, say, make me coffee while I slept late, or clean the kitty litter. Yet I still see in him his essential character. (That may not be the case in Alzheimer’s, which this isn’t.)

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