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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Driving with Alzheimers

Question.  Do I have the wrong concept of "disease?"   I think of a disease strictly as being a condition that is passed along by something   By that definition, how can Alzheimer's be a disease?  It's the same way with old age.   From what I understand, you don't catch it from somebody or something.   It sets in all on its own.

We -- my wife much  more so than I -- are closely acquainted with a long-time friend, a lady,who, while still in her late 50's, was diagnosed two or three years ago with pre-Alzheimer's.   But today it isn't "pre" anymore.   Instead it looks to be in full swing .

She lives about 10 miles from here with her husband of nearly the same age, and he is  a newly retired and very successful school teacher.  One of her favorite activities has long been to take walks with  my wife, and so regularly the husband brings her over here to walk  while he and I play chess.   (So far we've played about 15 games, and I've won them all.   But that's another post.)

It is very interesting to see what this lady does.  In her former life I thought of her as being very cool and mysterious, even understated, and eminently sensible.   That all has changed, and nowadays, as soon as she arrives here, and I think just about anywhere, the first statement out of her mouth is, "It's so quiet and peaceful here!"   And the second is, "Isn't this county such a great place to live!"   And she will repeat both statements with various frequency throughout her visit, along with a slew of any other repetitions that please her at the time.

      She takes part in the conversations but only like a deacon  shouting amens at a Baptist church or an opera fanatic screaming "Bravo!" at a performance..   She laughs very loudly and often, with shouts of appreciation.   Yet she never initiates a subject for conversation, and her memory is only about a minute long..   But even with that, she is unbelievably skilled at finding ways to get around any question that is not comfortable to her.

.     This lady is of this world yet not in it.   She is uproariously happy, and she should be, because she doesn't have to do or care about a thing.   Though she is sitll quite healthy and able-bodied, a lot of things have to be done for her, as for a child.  In fact her husband likens her to an adult returning, at an accelerated rate, to being a child, which is odd to him, after a lifetime spent in watching all those pupils, among others, going the other way..

Usually he does all the driving, but this lady is so fond of walking with my wife that she has driven over here on her own, unannounced, several times, and each time being highly put off and even suspicious because it happened that Esther wasn't here.   As soon as she started doing that, this lady put my nerves on edge.   But my wife and this lady's husband, being more phlegmatic types, weren't bothered.  They pointed out that this woman knew the route, which was all on very lightly traveled country roads, plus she was almost autistic in adhering to the rules of the road.   For one thing she never drove one mile under or above the speed limit.

But for me that wasn't nearly enough.   I see driving  anywhere, even on a salt  flat with no obstructions around for miles in all directions, as always being a serious and hazardous business and not to be undertaken by someone with no sense of responsibility, such as a child, a lunatic, or someone with a condition like Alzheimers.

So the other day, her husband called and said he had come home from some errands in town and his wife was missing.  But Esther had heard nothing from her.   So he decided not to worry because his wife could just as well have gone to several other places.

But after a while he decided that he had better look for her, and the most likely route to follow was the road that led to here.

Formerly the route he had always taken and therefore the one  most familiar to his wife involved crossing a sizable creek about four miles from their house.   But recently that bridge was closed for rebuilding, and he had been taking a more torturous route over a mountain.   She had asked why, and he had told her, but his explanation didn't fit her idea of the essentials, and for this latest solo excursion of hers,  this lady decided that the old route would do quite well.

When she came to the bridge, she found it blocked by a huge white sign saying in big red letters, "Bridge closed."

No problem.   She simply drove down into the field next to the approach, went a short way, then drove back onto the bridge that was now missing a good number of its planks.   No one knows how she managed to squeeze the car through a very narrow space between a piece of heavy equipment and some other barrier without scratching the car but she did.   But then she was faced with maneuvering the car over the now bared steel beams.  She tried, but a set of her wheels sank down into an open space and stopped her cold, and there she stayed -- for the next four hours.

Everybody for miles around knew that that bridge was out, so there was no reason for anybody to come there, and there were no houses anywhere close.

But this lady was content.   She spent all that time happily waiting, with the car running and the air-conditioning going and the radio playing.   She expected her husband or my wife to come and get her, but she had driven places on her own before, and they had expected her come tooling back home at any moment.

Finally the husband decided that it was time to go looking, and the likeliest place was the road to our house.  He found his wife of many years at the bridge, took her home, then got some guys to help him pull the car off the bridge with a cable.   Miraculously it was undamaged, though it had been sitting on the beams on its undercarriage.

Now he has told his wife that she can drive no more.  She says okay, though putting aside her now constant joyousness just long enough to demand to know why.   And he has vowed to keep the keys hidden from her.

He and Esther are convinced that that will work, but I  am still not convinced.   I think this lady is far too determined to enjoy this most recent condition in her life to the utmost, and that is to do whatever she wants, unless there is someone around to suggest something else, which she is always just as happy to do.  But remembering that she isn't supposed to do something that she likes to do?   I may be wrong, but I think that that all-important capacity has been deleted from her mind almost completely, and in a word, under all the mirth she has also become willful.

That's a defining characteristic of a certain group, isn't it?


Blogger LeftLeaningLady said...

That is so scary. I just don't understand. She doesn't need to be left alone. I can create a very long list of horrible things that could happen to her, but you are obviously concerned enough already. Her husband should have someone sit with her if he has to go out and can not take her.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Carl (aka Sofarsogoo) said...

Yes, I would say that,too, Lady.

I believe that what holds him up is that he's still in the grip of the ambience of the very self-sufficient woman that she used to be just a short while ago. Plus he could be a little light in being able to picture terrible things that could happen. That comes out clearly in his chess-playing.

8:44 AM  
Blogger LeftLeaningLady said...

Ok, but I STINK at chess. Really. At scrabble also. I think it is a spatial thing. But I can picture the horrible things that can happen to people.

I don't want to encourage a person to read trash. I do, but that is my choice, but Danielle Steele wrote a book many, many years ago, entitled, "Daddy." To make a long story short, his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and had to be placed in a home. But she had a couple of good days & the dad brought her home. And she was hit by a car, because she became confused and wandered into its path. Horrible! I cried. Of course I was probably 16. Still. He does need a wakeup call.

9:40 PM  

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