Friends encounter Alzheimer's. What happens after the word is heard.
Today is the first day that Rose has had the desire to write. She’s thought about it for months, even years, but this is the first time she feels the need. She wants to write of the struggle she's going through with this horrific disease called Alzheimer’s. She wants to write how the caregiver loses herself along with the victim. Victim—it’s the first she’s used this word. But there is no other that best describes it. Carol, Rose’s friend, is a victim of time.
Monday morning I run down to the motel’s continental breakfast, bringing back cereal, bananas, and coffee. Just finishing coffee, the phone rings. I look at Carol, then pick up the receiver.
“Good morning. How are you this morning?” Dr. Greenberg asks.
“Fine, thank you.” I’d been waiting for this call. We both had been waiting, but not mentioned in words. I’m sure it’s nothing, maybe a gland problem they haven’t found yet, or a blood disorder not picked up. In New York, we had the best doctor’s and hospitals. I was sure someone would find what was wrong with her, and finally asked, “Do you have any news for us?”
He goes into a long explanation of Carol’s PET scan and the other test. Some I understand, most I don’t.
“I’m sorry to tell you Rose, Carol has a dementia disease known as Alzheimer’s.”
I heard him, yet not. I ask him to repeat it. Again, I hear the word, Alzheimer’s. I stand from my safe sitting spot on the bed. I can’t say anything and want him to take back the ‘word’.
I’m unable to say anything while he finishes telling me his findings. “Thank you,” I say and hang up.
Thank you? Thank you for what? You don’t thank someone for this word. You thank someone when they say God bless you, after you sneeze, or when they give you a gift. This wasn’t a sneeze or a gift. There wasn’t anything to say Thank you for?
Carol, reading by the window, looks at me.
“Who was it?”
I can’t answer.
“Was it the doctor?”
I hear, but don’t know what to say. I need to get my thoughts in order.
Alzheimer’s? How? Why? Where did she get it? How bad is it?
Again, as in a distance she asks, “What is it?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.” How do I tell her when I don’t believe it. How do I do this? There were no lessons in school on this. How do you tell someone they’re ill, or possibly going to die? Who knows what will happen? We never used this word. We didn’t know anyone who had this word. After a few minutes I put my words together, “Yes, that was the doctor.”
“Well, what did he say?”
I look at her, feeling pity—no, sorrow—no, nothing. I’m numb, in shock. Like a robot, I speak, “The doctor says you have Alzheimer’s disease.”
She stares at me for what seems a long time. Then her eyes go wide, and then she closes them. Her mouth forms an O as she throws back her head, ‘Oh, my God…No!’ Her hands cover her face and she leans forward, her body shakes with hard sobs. I go to her, kneel on the floor and hold her.
“Oh God,” she cries. And my heart cries along with her. “I’ll need to go into a nursing home,” she says.
“No—no, you won’t. We’ll go through this together. I promise. Maybe they’re wrong, maybe they made a mistake.” I cry with her, letting her know we will go through this together.
Somewhere tucked in my heart, I know the love between us is stronger than any illness. That alone will cure her. I know YOU will hear our cries, dear Lord.
In bed I pull the cover up around us, and hold her for a long time. The phone rings. I pick it up.
“Hello, Rose? I just got off the phone with Dr. Greenberg. I’m sorry to hear about Carol. If there’s anything I can do, please call me.” Dr. Ban from Florida.
I thank him for calling and say we’ll be home in a few days, no more comes out of me.
I decide to call Mom, telling her I have one of my migraines, and we’ll see her tomorrow. I don’t mention the word Alzheimer’s. For the rest of the day we stay in our room, sending out for dinner. The day is lost, like us.
The next two days I tell family and some friends the news. For them, like us, it’s hard to believe and soon we’re headed south on a train. We stay in our compartment playing gin rummy or staring out a window, not believing the new word Alzheimer’s.