Friday, April 23, 2010

Alz-hammered

E and I are on our way east in a couple hours, but I have time for a post.  Just time.

Yesterday was another marathon trip to a doctor with the elders.  Grampie's return neurologist appointment.  When all was said and done, the answer was clear.  The doctor was quickly, but thoroughly going over the results of the tests, aiming his words toward me mostly, when Grampie cut through to say, "So have I been Alz-hammered?"  I started chuckling.  Exactly! I thought.  Like a giant hammer came down on his head (wow, suddenly I'm singing about Maxwell's silver hammer!), creating holes everywhere.  Alz-hammered.  The answer to Grampie's question is yes, all indications are that this is very likely what we're dealing with.  And I say we because Alzheimers, more than most diseases, affects a whole family.

We've suspected this for a long time, of course.  Well before they moved here we thought there was something amiss, tried to tell him/them so, and they decided he "just needs to concentrate more."  But since they've been in town, our suspicions have become certainties.  We know, we've seen these things before.  Everything's all too familiar, too sadly familiar.

What isn't familiar is this:
On the way home from the doctor, with Thyrza in the backseat, Grampie said, "It doesn't bother me to have Alzheimers."
"It doesn't?" I asked.  "Why is that?"
 "I'm 86 years old," he said. "I've already outlived most of my compadres.  Something's going to get me one of these days.  So it might as well be this."
"Well, Grampie," I said. "Then I'll tell you what the doctor wouldn't bring himself to say outright--you do have it."
"I know it," he nodded.  Then he drifted off for a nap in the sun.  Unfazed by it.  Content as a cat.

As I drove on home, I thought of a conversation I'd had with my mother about 5 or 6 years ago, when she was first being tentatively diagnosed with Alzheimers (always so dang tentatively, which may make the process more painful (just put your money down on a spot and make an educated guess, doctors, please! If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, isn't it a duck?  An Alzheimers duck?).  My mother was a puddle of pain in her living room.  Crying, worrying, fearful pain.  The idea of losing her mind seemed the most horrible thing she could imagine.  And almost nothing I said that day could pierce her fear.

And I have to say, the memory of her reaction made me push all of us to keep Grampie for having to face this.  I didn't think there was any point in putting him through it.  Didn't want to go through it myself.  But I'd completely overlooked two critical issues.  The first is that my mother was only in her early 70s when she first began dealing with the kinds of memory losses that Grampie has now.  When she sat in a room with a neurologist hearing about Alzheimers, she was dozen years younger than he is.  That's a huge difference.  Not just in quantity of years but in quality of life.  Her body was far more healthy at 73 than his is at 86.  Obviously.  Shoot, her body, even with no brain left in it, is healthier at 79 than his is at 86. A world of difference between them.

But a bigger world of difference is the difference between their core personalities.  I've never seen my father-in-law shed a tear.  Never seen him throw a fit of anger.  Never even heard him yell.  He has the steady-as-they-come gene that has passed to Beve and from Beve to E.  Why on earth would I have expected him to respond to this diagnosis in a non-characteristic way?  It just isn't in him.  The doctor remarked yesterday that even as we spoke of his declining mental acuities, he just sat there smiling and nodding. "I don't see many patients as calm as you," he said. "Does what she's (meaning me) saying bother you?" "Nope," said Grampie.  "Just telling the truth."

I've used this example before, and suspect I will again, but bear with me, because it fits soooo perfectly.  When you knock into a cup of water, what spills out is...water.  Whatever is in the cup when pressure is applied against it is what spills out.  And when pressure is applied against our lives, what is really within us spills out.  Not what we'd like to have in us, not what we think should be within us, but what is actually in us.  I think that the vicissitudes of age bear this out as well as anything else.  The older we get, the more like ourselves we get. Does that make sense?  We stop being able to fake it, I mean.  Too much pressure--too many infirmities, inabilities, whatever--is applied against our lives.  And whatever we are, whatever is truly in us, is bound to spill out.

It makes me bend my knees, knowing this.  Makes me want to empty myself of me, more and more and more.  Because I know that left to myself what will spill out of me will be--is--pretty pretty ugly.  Selfish. Controlling. More like my mom than Beve's dad. So, the more of Him there is filling me, the more of Him there is spilling out.

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