Friday, January 11, 2013

Day 10: Memory Baloney

I guess it's completely appropriate that I am tackling Day 10 of January Blog-a-Day, with the assigned topic of "memory," on Day 11 of January. I totally forgot to do it yesterday.

(So now, my dilemma is, should I write two blogs in a row?)

Dad when he and my mom lived in
Singapore, long before the onset of
Alzheimer's ... where he used
to eat lots of bananas.
I talked earlier about Alzheimer's, which runs in my family, and my fear of it. But in truth, there is always a silver lining behind every cloud. When my dad (and his Alzheimer's) lived with us for nearly a year, then afterward when he lived in a wonderful adult family home just five minutes' down the road, for about three years, there were many fabulously funny moments that came with the territory. I thought I would use this space to recount one or two of them. (I would go for three, but not sure if I can remember that many.)

Actually, one of my favorites started even before he lived with us. One time when he still lived with his wife in Alabama but was visiting with us, we took him to our family physician, who specialized in ailments afflicting the elderly. We had described to Dr. Sinden Dad's symptoms, and he said he would be willing to see him. On their first visit, among other things he gave him a memory test.

"Merl," he said, "I want you to remember the names of three unrelated objects I am going to tell you. In about five minutes I'm going to ask you to tell me back what they were. They are simple objects. Are you ready? Pencil. Car. Banana." He had my dad repeat these three names back to him. My dad wasn't terribly cooperative. At first, all he would say is, "This is a bunch of baloney." But finally he relented and agreed to try and remember those three items: Pencil. Car. Banana.

Less than five minutes later, Dr. Sinden suddenly returned to the subject. "Merl, five minutes ago I asked you to remember the names of three objects. Can you tell me what those were?"

My dad looked disgusted. "You asked me what? What the heck are you talking about?" Of course he couldn't remember a single object. All he could say was, "This is a bunch of baloney!"

Dr. Sinden told me he felt Dad was definitely suffering from memory-related dementia, most likely caused by Alzheimer's. "There's no way he should be driving," he warned me. This had been one of my major concerns. So at that point I began working with the state of Alabama to get his license revoked, for his own protection and for the protection of those around him. When it finally happened (almost a year later -- I discovered the State of Alabama doesn't do anything quickly), Dad was understandably angry. We told him it was doctor's orders. "That doctor of yours did this?" he demanded to know. "That guy was just a bunch of baloney."

Shortly after that, Dad came to live with us. And I knew I needed to take him to regular doctor visits, but I was reluctant to take him back to Dr. Sinden, whom Dad always called "That baloney doctor!" But I trusted Dr. Sinden and so I figured I'd give it a try. If it didn't work, perhaps he could refer us somewhere else.

So, for my dad's first appointment back with Dr. Sinden, I was filled with fear and trepidation. As we sat there and waited, Dad said to me, "I hope this guy isn't another baloney doctor of yours." I didn't respond. Then Dr. Sinden walked in. He greeted my dad warmly, "Hello, Merl! It's been awhile, hasn't it? How are you feeling?"

My Dad eyed Dr. Sinden suspiciously. But, as the appointment progressed, he began to feel more and more comfortable with him, and it soon became evident he didn't remember that Dr. Sinden was "that baloney doctor."

As we were getting ready to leave, Dr. Sinden jovially extended his hand to shake Dad's. But instead, Dad threw his arms around him and gave him a huge hug, with all the nurses watching curiously. He then lowered his voice conspiratorially and shared:

"You know, Don, when Larry first brought me here I was worried he was going to take me back to that baloney doctor. That guy was really a jerk! But, I'm so glad he decided to bring me to you instead!"

Dad visited Dr. Sinden a number of times after that, and always treated him like they were the best of friends. And every time he told him the story of "that baloney doctor" whom he detested so badly.

Okay, my second favorite story ... and this one didn't happen until after Dad took up residence in the adult family home nearby. For a person with Alzheimer's, any major transition (such as moving to a new place) is profoundly difficult. And even though it was a wonderful adult family home, with a half dozen very friendly occupants and very loving and kind staff, the first few months of adjustment were rough.

We visited several times each week, and even though they were feeding him very well, he often complained about the food. One evening he insisted, "Today they tried to force me to eat something that wasn't food! But it didn't work. I was able to hide it in my shoe."

"Not food?" we asked, intrigued. "What was it?"

"I have no idea," he said. "I've never seen one before. But there's no way I could eat it."

It was useless to try and get him to describe it to us, whatever it was. But suddenly, his eyes lit up. "Wait!" he said. "I still have it! I think it's still in my shoe ..."

So, he led us to his closet, where he started methodically going through all of his slippers and shoes. And he had quite a few. After awhile he was down to his last pair, feeling through each shoe, when suddenly he exclaimed, "Here it is!"

And he pulled out of his shoe ... a banana.

"Dad," I said as calmly as I could, trying not to laugh, "that's a banana! You certainly can eat those, they are indeed food. In fact, you've eaten thousands of them before. They're very tasty."

Dad looked at me like I was crazy. "Banana?!?" he exclaimed. "Never heard of it!"

"Try it," I said, "I think you'll like it."

So, Dad shrugged, then took a tentative nibble. But his teeth couldn't penetrate the peel.

"Well, actually," I confessed, realizing his problem, "you have to peel it first." And I showed him how to peel a banana, thinking back on all those hundreds of times I sat and ate a banana with my dad, I could never imagine I would be showing him how to peel one.

"Hmmm, this IS pretty good. I've never had one before," he assured me, as he munched happily away on the banana he had hidden in his shoe.

Well, I could write a whole book of funny things that happened with my dad. The time he asked me for a bicycle so he could ride back to Alabama. The time we were watching the National Geographic special about a polar bear trying to attack a herd of seals, unsuccessfully, and Dad suddenly sprang out of his chair, very upset and shouting, "This is a bunch of baloney!"

That was one word he never forgot -- baloney.

Well, I love and miss my dad ... and I hope where he is walking those beautiful hills of heaven right now, he too is remembering all these crazy "baloney" moments and laughing along with me!


Kristin Mahoney said...

I've got a couple of favorites to add to your list:

When I was Merl's in home caregiver we would often take trips out to eat for lunch as he seemed to enjoy them and it would get him out of the house for a bit. He had a few favorite places to eat, and he especially enjoyed McDonalds, but every once in a while one or both of us would decide we'd like a change of pace. Occaisionally we'd try a Chinese or Thai place for lunch and he tended to enjoy Asian food quite a bit. One particular lunch, however, signalled the end of trips to a favorite Thai restaurant. I had long been aware that to Merl only meat was food. Other things might be edible but they were "not food." If a meal was vegetarian he'd look at it in disgust and proclaim "this isn't food!" This proclamation was also frequent after he'd eaten all of the meat out of a certain dish and then looked back down at it to find only non-meat items remaining. When I was cooking lunches back at the Shorts' I'd learned to occaisionally keep some meat in reserve so that I could then give him a second helping and say, "See, it is good food." This was usually, though not always, met with agreement. "Oh, good. For a second there I was worried this was not food."
On that particular trip to the Thai restaurant, though, I noted with alarm that the entree Merl was most interested in was vegetarian. Seeing potential calamity I attempted to steer him to another entree but had no success. He ordered the vegetarian entree. After a few bites he looked down at his plate, wrinkled his nose a bit, and declared, "This isn't food! There's no meat in it." I lamely attempted to explain that that was what he'd ordered, but he'd have none of it and complained to the waitress. I don't remember exactly what they did to remedy the situation, perhaps bringing out a plate of chicken to augment the meal, but I do know that he grumbled about it for the rest of lunch. From then on we stuck more frequently with McDonalds.
I am often amused now when my husband complains if there isn't enough meat in his meal. Having heard the story he usually tells me that I should stop feeding him stuff that is not food.

On our trips away from the house Merl did surprise me by remembering, after about the third trip to lunch, how to lock and unlock the doors on my Jeep. I had old style locks that required the handle to be held a certain way for the door to lock. Merl never liked me having to lock the door for him because he couldn't remember how, but I didn't have to help him for long because somehow that little tiny piece of information stuck in his brain and never left. It never ceased to amaze me, and after that first week he never forgot how to handle those locks. This was more impressive for the fact that I would occaisionally forget to lock the door properly!

One final story, at the risk of posting far too long a comment~
One day Merl offered me a piece of true Alzheimer's wisdon. We were watching Walker Texas Ranger for the umpteenth time and I commented that I thought I'd seen that episode before. A lot. He glanced over, smiled, and said, "You know, the one thing about Alzheimer's. There's never such a thing as a re-run." Then he leaned back in his armchair and contentedly went back to watching his episode. I couldn't help but smile at this little kernel of truth- one of his silver linings.

~That Little Girl

Larry Short said...

Kristin, you have no idea how much your comment means to me!!! I had never heard that last one (about there being no such thing as re-runs for people with Alzheimer's) ... that is a pearl of wisdom indeed. And so typical of Dad! He maintained a great sense of humor, even to the end.

Darlene and I so appreciated the love and kindness you bestowed when you were Dad's caregiver. There's no way we could have done without you!

Ben Teoh said...

Thanks for sharing, Larry. Really enjoyed reading it and how you can approach something like Alzheimer's with a good sense of humour!

Also, just added this to my 'Top Ten' post -