|Joe at Pebble Beach in 1994|
Sunday, October 11, 2015
ALZHEIMER'S: A STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
It’s dark. It must be at least eleven o’clock by now and it’s raining. I don’t remember hearing about rain in today’s forecast. We’ve been in the car for several hours, at least that’s how it seems. I’m tired but I’ve got to stay awake, Joe might need help seeing the road. These mountain passes are windy and narrow and I’m wishing we’d taken another route.
“Slow down!” Why is he driving so fast?
Is it me or is Joe too close to the edge of the road? Suddenly I remember:
“Wait a minute, why are you driving? You have Alzheimer’s. You haven’t driven for almost two years. How on earth did this happen? You’ve got to pull over.”
I realize the car is now in the air and I can feel the weight of gravity pushing us down. It seems like we’ve been falling a long time. The car lands on the hillside and we roll like a barrel down to the bottom of the canyon. It’s odd but I don’t feel pain. I don’t feel anything.
I awaken as the car jerks to a stop. I sit up in bed and try to reorient myself. I squint to look at the clock. It’s 3 AM, and I look over at Joe lying beside me and hear him breathing. I fluff my pillow and lie down again but I’m not going back to sleep. I’m wide awake. Jeez!
It’s not the first time I’ve had this dream. They’re not all exactly the same but they always involve Joe in the driver’s seat and me trying to get us stopped. I’ll bet Freud could have told me why this is happening. Maybe there’s an online source for dream interpretations that I could use to investigate this phenomena.
I remember going to get auto insurance when we first moved to Arizona, and how confused the agent seemed that Joe still had a valid Oregon driver’s license but would not be included on the policy. The agent made me repeat to him several times that under no circumstances would Joe get behind the wheel. (I had the urge to be sarcastic and say something like, “Well, Joe won’t drive unless I’m really busy and he needs something important like ice cream.”) Of course Joe wouldn’t be driving the car. I may be blonde but I’m not stupid.
I think I’m developing an attitude.
A couple of weeks ago we were at the clinic to see Joe’s endocrinologist (the Diabetes guy). This was our initial appointment and since one of the first words on Joe’s chart is “Dementia” I had expected a friendly, welcoming doctor whose communication would adapt to Joe’s situation. This was not the case. Even after asking the doctor to slow down and speak directly to Joe, all we saw was the back of the doctor’s head as he mumbled and focused on his laptop. So much for bedside manner.
As we’re leaving the appointment I ask Joe if he understood any of what the doctor had said. Of course he hadn’t but, he tells me, he thought it might be that the doctor had been speaking another language. Seriously!
Most people don’t understand that communicating with someone struggling with Dementia/Alzheimer’s requires a different way of communicating. I tend to speak in stream of consciousness, a continuous flow of ideas and thoughts largely unedited, which doesn’t work for Joe. All he hears is an unconnected, unorganized succession of words. It’s taken me a while to understand this and remember that our conversations can’t flow like they once did.
Now when Joe and I talk, I first have to be a good listener (which I typically am not). Then, I have to focus only on a couple things I need Joe to understand. Asking several questions at a time will net an answer to none. I have to admit, sometimes it feels a bit cramped and confined. After a few days of only talking with Joe, I start to twitch. I find myself “talking-the-leg-off” anyone who dares to call me, and frequently wind up apologizing for talking too much. But I have to remember that there will come a time when I too may need a little more help and will appreciate someone making adjustments for me. I’m not immune to any of this.
Last week, we saw Joe’s dermatologist, and as I’ve feared might happen with Joe’s fair skin and a childhood spent on a ball field without sun protection (not to mention years on the golf course), this visit involved a rather large divot taken from his cheek for biopsy. As we’re walking back to the car I’m thinking this guy really doesn’t need anything else to deal with. Enough is enough.
You may have noted that I didn’t mention Al at all in this post. I’m refusing to acknowledge him. I’m taking a break from Al. But just in case he can hear me, “Al, you will not get us down. No matter what you do or say to Joe I will outlast you because I’m durable and persistent”. And, just to prove I’m in control, I’ve stopped eating pasta. Now that’s attitude.