Alzheimer’s

On Monday, I visited my Uncle Ralph, who is in a hospital in Maryville, TN, waiting for his kidneys to clear up and recovering from an urinary tract infection.   Then, he will undergo a heart catheterization procedure to see if his heart attack last week damaged his heart. A few weeks ago, he had finally put his wife, Polly, in a facility called Asbury Acres for people with Alzheimer’s disease. After seeing my uncle, I went to visit my aunt and here’s what I saw:

 

Yesterday evening, I was driving around Maryville seeing all the new subdivisions being built and I drove by Asbury Acres. Against my better judgment (I was still a little nerve-wrecked from visiting Ralph), I turned around and drove back to Asbury Acres. I walked into the retirement home and was told by the receptionist that Polly was in the medical center. The receptionist then proceeded to give me instructions about access to the building. Here is a summary of my visit:

 

I drove up to the medical center building, which is around the corner from the retirement home (from the entrance, the medical center appears to be a single story structure, although you can see there are what appear to be “underground” stories). I entered the foyer and walked down the hall past an interesting birdhouse to the elevator. Inside the elevator, I had to punch in a code on a keypad (*234) before the elevator floor buttons would become operational. I punched the first floor button, and the elevator went down.

 

Upon exiting the elevator, I turned to a door on the left, where I had to press a button on the wall in order to unlock the door. As I opened the door, I saw several people who seemed at least halfway coherent standing around or shuffling down the hall. A floor nurse (I’ll call her floor nurse #1) stood behind a counter and gave me instructions on how to get to Polly’s section. As I walked down the hall to Polly’s section, I observed two women looking at a picture of themselves posted on the wall outside a room. I stood at entrance to Polly’s section and watched the two women for a moment. One woman said to the other, “See, this is your room because that’s your picture. My picture’s there, too, so I must live in this room, too.” Floor nurse #1 kept yelling at me to press the keycode on the wall so I looked around and finally noticed a small keypad on the wall on the right side of the entrance.

 

I had to punch in the same keycode I used in the elevator in order to unlock the door. As I opened the door, I saw several people (who looked liked ghosts of their former selves) standing or shuffling along. My nervousness shot up a notch. I asked the floor nurse of Polly’s section (floor nurse #2) where Polly was. She told me that Polly had just been put to bed (it was around 7 p.m. Eastern time) and pointed me around the corner. I walked through another set of double doors (these doors were already open and did not need to be unlocked). Polly’s room, 132N, was on the right. At the entrance to Polly’s room, a woman in a wheelchair stared at the nameplates. She looked at me as if I was going to scold her and said, “Oh, I’m just looking at the names to see if it’s anyone I know.” I nodded my head and walked into the room.

 

I had seen Polly recently and already knew how thin she was. Laying in bed, she looked even thinner. Her eyes were shut and she was curling into and out of a fetal position, while talking out loud. From what I could tell from the words coming out of Polly’s mouth, there were several streams of conversations taking place. In one stream, a mother and her young daughter were talking to each other. In another stream, she was describing something she was seeing that I could not understand. In another stream, she was just mumbling. I stood by her bed for several minutes and listened to her, not knowing if I should speak because I couldn’t tell if she was in a dream state, in a state of delirium from drugs or wide awake. In any case, she did not know I was there so I looked at the pictures on the wall. The most touching picture was the one of Ralph and Polly from 1995 — they both looked very happy. I waited until my nerves could no longer take it and walked out (I almost ran out of the room). To calm myself down, I spent a few minutes talking with floor nurse #2 about the latest word on Ralph. She had not seen any of Polly’s family yesterday and did not know if the heart cath procedure was a definite thing; she knew that Ralph was very worried about Polly. I told her the heart cath was planned for this morning and asked her to pray for Ralph — she said she had been and would continue to do so.

 

After I left Polly’s section, I hurried to get…to get out of the next section but was blocked by a man in a stand-up wheelchair. He insisted on shaking my hand and was mumbling. Floor nurse #1 told me that he spoke only Spanish so I told the man, “Hasta manana”. He shook his head as if he wanted me to stay and talk with him. I nodded my head and repeated, “Hasta manana” and patted him on the shoulder. Floor nurse #1 gave me a smile of sympathy and pointed me to the exit. I punched in the keycode, opened the door and walked over to the elevator. When the elevator door opened, two women inside were as confused and nervous as I was and we could not determine which floor led to the building exit. The elevator moved to the third floor and a man stepped on who said he had been as confused as we were and had ridden the elevator up and down a few times himself. We figured out that the building exit was on the second floor.

 

We all stepped off the elevator with relief. I stopped to look at the birdhouse, which is like a glass aquarium except it has birds, mainly finches from what I could tell.

 

I got in the car and was ready to cry. I drove around Maryville some more and ended up at the old Kay’s ice cream store. I had a refreshing vanilla milkshake. I called my sister and told her about the experience. We decided that perhaps I shouldn’t tell Mom about the trip to Polly’s until after the outcome of Ralph’s surgery.

 

I can see why Ralph cries anytime he mentions Polly at Asbury Acres. I’m sure it was a tough decision to put her away, so to speak. I can also see why he’s able to get a full night’s sleep, if what I saw was Polly’s normal condition.

 

 

so, b, you’ve seen the world — what’s it all about? i feel like we’re just supposed to live our lives and hope we aren’t too much of a burden on others. but what’s the definition of a burden? if we do something for someone out of love for that person, no matter how much we suffer in the process, should that be considered having a burden placed on us by the loved one? no. then i guess we’re supposed to live our lives and hope we’ve generated enough love that others will want to take care of us at our worst. but what is love? love is many things to many people, of course, but in this case, love is the…the biochemical attraction that makes us go crazy when we’re not with the other person, that makes us do what it takes to keep that other person with us…a mutual attraction…a positive reinforcing codependency, of sorts. so why do some humans have this love for one other human and some do not? if we’re just here to procreate, then this love would be beneficial to the whole species (and seems to be so for other species, as well). why the disparity between members of our species? in the end, when i’m sitting in some nursing home pooping in my pants, will anything i have said really matter, even if i have said something that has benefited our species? after visiting my aunt and seeing the unnamed faces in the hallway, it sure didn’t feel that way. but that’s just me, of course, i always look for ways to feel depressed, a kind of euphoria that’s down instead of up, a kind of emotion that’s addictive in ways that are detrimental to my daily living, a habit i have to constantly ensure i’m not picking up again, like some kind of ex-druggie surrounded by pushers i have to keep saying no out loud while inside i’m saying yes.

 

enough already, i have to get ready to go see A Mighty Wind.

 

– 28 May 2003

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