My wife and I first suspected she was headed for Alzheimer’s Disease–and possibly Parkinson’s, with the tremors–back in Anaconda, Montana, circa 2002. Her panties were still under control then, but her son was visiting us from Arizona for a while and often attracted friends who rode bicycles.
In her day, Pam had been a world class athlete. In her senior year of high school, she kicked tail at the Nationals and qualified for the Olympics in four gymnastic events. She has black belt level training in both Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido. She became so deadly that in tournaments no women of any weight class would fight her; she had to fight men, often giving away 20 to 30 pounds even then. In the one and only street fight I personally witnessed, she looked like Manny Pacquaio in action, punching so hard that she hairline fractured her own left humerus. She stood five feet tall, 92 pounds of pure dynamite redhead; there was pretty much nothing she couldn’t do athletically.
It was thus a truly crushing blow that day in Anaconda when she discovered to her horror that she could no longer even balance safely on a bicycle.
That’s no exaggeration. We were all outside in the driveway, enjoying a sunny afternoon, when she clambered aboard a teenaged boy’s bike–and could not keep it upright long enough to get up to speed, no matter how hard she tried. Her spelling had already deteriorated, a mighty frustrating thing for a girl who’d graduated at the head of her class with a Stanford Binet I.Q. measurement of 144, but losing her extreme athleticism like that was a harder blow by far.
Still, here we are in southern Arizona some 12 years later, and she’s still hanging in there. The woman is as tender hearted as they come and as tough as titanium nails. She owns her Alzheimer’s, determined to keep going as well as she can for as long as she can no matter how many hurdles she has to face on the Memory Turnpike.
In June of 2014, a couple of months ago, she had to confess. Her morning pattern is to get up out of bed (at which time I’ve usually just gone to bed), stand leaning against the bed until she feels stable enough to move without falling, and then accomplish three specific tasks in no particular order:
1. Go out to the small, enclosed front porch for a smoke. Note: No preaching in the comments, please. Smoking is, for my wife, a whole ‘nother issue, the pluses and minuses of which will not be discussed here.
2. Go to the bathroom.
3. Take her morning meds.
The first thing she told me that day (in June) was, “I went out to the porch to smoke this morning and had my panties halfway down before I realized, hey, this isn’t the toilet! Where’s the toilet? And why am I here?” In the time it took her to cover the 25 feet or so between her bed and the porch, she’d forgotten all about her intention to, as the veteran smoker always puts it, “get a couple of drags”.
I had to think about that. Fortunately, the answer was simple. Technical instructions for the assembly of a jet aircraft are out, but she can still understand what she’s reading as long as it’s a fairly simple message. Within an hour or so after her “confession” (she’d been hiding the issue from me for months but had finally realized she was at the point of needing help before she peed on the chair or some such), I’d posted two messages on the far wall–which isn’t far at all; the porch is a little mud porch, only 7 feet wide.
The first message reads, “Toilet is in bedroom, NOT HERE!”
The second message reads, “Here is where you sit to SMOKE!”
Smiley faces were of course required.
A week or two after putting up the signs, I asked Pam if they were helping. “Yes, definitely,” she replied.
“No more panties halfway down?”
“Oh, that still happens at least once a day.”
“But at least you’re able to figure it out when you read the signs? You haven’t peed on the chair yet?”
“Nope! Not yet!”
So far, so good. And of course this sort of thing really makes us appreciate our semi-remote off grid home site even more than we already did. We don’t have to worry about uninvited neighbors dropping by, wondering why the lady of the house is bare bottomed in the front porch.