Thursday, July 20, 2006

"I Think I'm Going Crazy"

My Mom has Alzheimer's disease.

We found out two weeks ago. I was at work and I got a call from my wife. She said, "Call your Mom. She's acting funny, and it kinda scared me." So I called Mom (hey, look, I used the work phone to make a personal call. Fire me, asshats!) and asked her what was up. She said, "I was going to the store and I backed out of the gararge and then I couldn't figure out how to close the garage door. I think I'm going crazy." I asked her if she lost the remote. She acted like she'd never heard of a remote control. She was concerned that if she got out to close the garage door, then she'd be locked in the garage and the car would be running on the other side of the door. Without stopping to unravel the knot of irrationality contained in THAT statement, I told her to leave the car where it was, go in the house, and I'd be right over. When I got there she was flustered and upset. I calmed her down and put the car away (and took her car keys). I asked if she'd been taking her medicine, and again she looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. "I'm not on any medicine," she snapped, somewhat affronted by the suggestion. I went to the cabinet and looked at her meds. It looked like she'd been ignoring them for days, if not weeks.

We scheduled a doctor's appointment for the next morning, and he took one look at her and put her in the hospital. She stayed three or four days, and came out feeling better, with her blood pressure under control and her blood sugar regulated. A CAT scan showed moderate brain atrophy consistent with senile dementia.

The doctor asked her questions. "Who's the President?" She didn't know. "What year is it?" No clue. Now, my mom reads ten newsmagazines a week, is glued to CNN, and last year could probably have told you the name of the assistant undersecretary of the Department of the Interior. She follows politics like I follow the NFL; that is to say, closely.

I felt ice water drip down my spine when I watched my mother struggle to come up with the name of the president she loathes above all other politicians and then fail. She knew something was wrong. But she didn't know why, or how, or what to do. She looked frail, and scared, and vulnerable. It was wrenching. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug her and make everything better. I wanted to run screaming from the room.

A trip back to the doctor this week confirmed the diagnosis. After the appointment, I took her out to lunch. The hospital is in a part of town near where she grew up, and my friend Adam recently bought a restuarant nearby that is famous for its fresh vegetables and home-made pies. On the trip there, Mom wold look out the window and say things like, "My first boyfriend lived down that street. He rode a motorcycle and my daddy thought he was dangerous. He died in the war."

"That's the church where your uncle got married. The first time. He doesn't talk about her. It was a pretty wedding, even though it rained. They had the reception at the Elk's Lodge. Can you imagine?"

"The trolley ran through here. You could ride it to downtown for a nickel."

"Don't turn left here. If you go up one block, you can turn on a one-way street that takes us right where we're headed."

Perfectly normal, even knowledgeable. Then she'd ask, "Did we already go to the doctor?"

At lunch, Mom demonstrated that her appetite is as yet untouched. She cleaned her plate (fried snapper, squash casserole, green beans)and hungrily eyed my roast beef until I gave her some. We ate well (though we skipped the pie: Adam, I'm coming back for a piece of lemon ice-box when I don't have a diabetic with me).

Then we went shopping for those items that are perpetually on the list: cat food, kibble, and litter. At the big-box warehouse store where we go to buy cat food by the metric ton, we lined up to wait in line to check out and Mom suddenly becomes agitated. "I lost my car keys! Where are the car keys?" I showed her that I had the keys, reassured her that the car was OK, that I was driving today, and that everything was all right. Then, as I loaded our cart (home delivery of cat food and litter would make someone a lot of money, I think), Mom paid. Twice.

Or, she tried to. The nice woman at the checkout, a zaftig, smiling, round-cheeked young lady with beautiful mocha skin that a supermodel would kill for, looked at me quizzically. I took back the second credit card and put it in Mom's wallet. Mom sighed. "I guess I shouldn't go shopping alone from now on," she said sadly. She looked at me with such unconprehending despair that I think I died a little bit.

"It's OK, Mom. I'm here to take care of you." I tried to smile, but it felt like a rictus and I'm sure it looked as false as it felt. I took her home, got her settled, gave her her meds, came home, told Lady she had the helm, and drank myself insensate. (OK, five beers

So now wheels are in motion. Doctors and lawyers and insurance agents squawking like carrion birds over a still-twitching roadkill. I shouldn't say that. I'm going to depend a lot on these high-dollar professionals in the coming months and years. But as someone who's always believed that the least trustworthy individual on the planet is a white man in a suit, I have a sinking suspicion I'm about to live out my worst nightmare.

Gee, BOP, sucks for you -- but how about your MOM?! How about HER living out HER worst nightmare? This woman watched her sister descend into abject dementia. She saw her little sister go through what she's now facing, and she saw that it was sad and ugly and undignified and protracted and hellish. What's THAT gotta be like?

And when I'm speaking and my words get tangled up or I forget my point before I get to it or I momentarily blank on a name I've known for ages, what's that? Is it the normal blips of aging and wear-and-tear, or is it something much more sinister tapping me on the shoulder and daring me to turn and face it?

My mother met her sister's death with remarkable equanimity. She had been fading for years and the end, Mom felt, was a blessing for her and her family. Mom had already said goodbye, though she continued to visit her and check in and do all that, she knew her sister was essentially gone long before her physical shell gave out. At least that's how she acted. My family reserves the melodrama for inconsequential tiffs, and meets the important stuff head-on with stoic shrugs and determination.

In a very important way, she's provided me a template.

I hope.

I think my blog has a new topic.


1 comment:

Kenn said...

I'm really sorry for the news for you, brother. My maternal grandparents both had Alzheimer's, and I remember those times all too clearly.

If you ever need to talk, feel free to drop me a line. Not sure that I can be much help or comfort, but I'm a reasonable ear, I hear.