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My Dad Hallucinates – and Even the Happy Ones are Painful

My father has Parkinson’s and his hallucinations scare me.

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Hindi Female

Anna: Is the lagna over? (lagna is the muhurat or auspicious time when a wedding is solomised)

Me: What lagna, Anna?

Anna, looking at me as if I am the dumbest person he knows: <xyz>‘s madivay (wedding) lagna!

Me: Anna, it’s 2015. <xyz> got married years ago.

Anna: So when do we go to the pandal for madivay oota (wedding feast)?

I’ve had this kind of conversation multiple times over the last two weeks. It’s always a wedding. And always that of a first cousin’s. Anna wants to know if the wedding is over, if people have gone to partake of the wedding feast, when can he meet the bride and groom to give them his blessings. All the while pointing to various areas of the flat and talking with or referring to people who are not there. But Anna sees them, and wants to know why I have not given them coffee, or a piece of fruit, or something to eat.

My father has Parkinson’s and his hallucinations scare me.
Anna’s happy hallucinations are just as exhausting. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
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The Frightening Periods of Here and Now

I have unsuccessfully tried to to snap him out of his hallucination, many times. I have played along with “Anna, they’ve already had coffee. You drink your coffee”. I have asked questions, “What does the bride / groom do? How many people are at the wedding?” I have tried to bring in a sense of time by asking, “When did <XYZ> get married? Anna, what year do you think it is?” I have also told him that there is no pandal, no wedding feast, no guests, no anything. But he is in a world of his own.

Then there are short periods of time when he is in the here-and-now. He will tell me that he is disappointed that he won’t get idli dosai for breakfast (realising that he is not at a wedding, and that he isn’t going to have the scrumptious multi-course breakfast that is commonly served after dawn weddings in South India). Or he will ask when his majordomo is coming back from vacation – I haven’t told him that Tairas is not coming back, and that I now need to find and train a new person.

So, all-in-all, the last two weeks have been exhausting. The bar on the definition of exhaustion seems to be setting itself higher and higher as the days and weeks and months go by.

My father has Parkinson’s and his hallucinations scare me.
The bar on the definition of exhaustion seems to be setting itself higher and higher. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
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Of Happy Hallucinations and Their Effect on Me

Anna’s infection has abated a bit. The racking cough and the death rattle breathing are still there though they are less frequent. He has stopped sleeping propped up in bed as if he is sitting on a reclining chair. The big treatment plan is steam inhalation four times a day, accompanied by various complaints by Anna from “Ayyo! Amma!” to “I am dying (of steam inhalation)“. It seems to be the only way to get the phlegm out of his upper respiratory tract. Possibly caused by food and drink going into the lungs and the airways to the lungs instead of the stomach – a common issue with Parkinson’s patients.

For the past week, I have also been standing in for Anna’s majordomo, washing clothes and dishes, ironing pajamas and bed sheets, cleaning bathrooms and courtyards, pumping water to the tanks and having drains cleaned.

And through it all, though Anna has been withdrawn and depressed when he is not hallucinating, I am comforted that his hallucinations are about happy occasions, surrounded by family and friends.

But I want them to stop.

It takes a lot of mental acuity to keep up with his hallucinations, even if they are happy hallucinations.

I just want them to stop, even though I know that they may be replaced with depression and disorientation.

And, I can’t understand why... I just want them to stop!

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(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

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