Thursday, September 12, 2013
Tonight when I went to see my Dad, he was napping in his lift chair, which he's never learned to operate other than just sitting in it. (Not that he needs the lift function, but I'm sure he's unaware that there is an electric motor or a remote control.) The room was dark, and for a moment I didn't think he was even in the room.
I turned on the light, and he was glad to see me. He told me about things he wanted to get done: a manicure, ear hairs trimmed, nose hairs trimmed, a shave that isn't really needed at the moment, and trimming of his already neat hair. He's constantly frustrated that he can't find scissors, razors and clippers sitting around - except when they are, because someone forgot to lock something up. When he does find a razor or scissors he always ends up mildly injuring himself, but he doesn't understand or remember that. Neither does he understand when I explain that having these tools accessible is against the rules, that he's not allowed to shave himself. I tell him that the caregivers do have the tools and it's their job to shave him and trim his nails. He only has to ask. Dad's response is basically to shrug and indicate that he has no idea what I'm talking about.
Dad also did a little inventory of the things on his little table, pointing out to me a water bottle, half full and with the cap on; his glasses case, in which he keeps both his glasses and a small black comb; and a white handkerchief. He had pulled the handkerchief from his pocket along with the pocket lining, which was poking out of his pants, completely inside out. He seemed to think he needed to remove the lining before the pocket would be truly empty. I told him it was okay to push it back in, and did so for him.
I also tried, two or three times, to explain that the nurse practitioner had not frozen the wart or lesion off his hand yet because she wanted me to sign off my permission for this minor surgery, which I did tonight. All he did was push against the bump and explain that was the best he could do with it.
This is a man who was a PhD, a college dean. Now he doesn't know how a pocket works.
As I pulled out of the facility's parking lot, it occurred to me that I'm living in a rewrite of "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. In case you're unfamiliar with the story, let me explain. It's a science fiction tale of a mentally challenged man who receives an experimental treatment, as does a rat called Algernon. Over the course of a series of progress reports, Charly becomes more intelligent, to the point where, as a genius, he takes over the research into his own case. The rat dies, the research fails, and Charly ends up back where he started intellectually.
My dad's case isn't science fiction. There is no experimental treatment on offer. Over the past few years he has slid further and further, from near-genius level intellect to an utter inability to understand anything beyond the most concrete facts. But I know that somewhere out these in the world, researchers are working on understanding how Alzheimer's does its damage, how other forms of dementia arise, and what can be done about it. None of that is going to help my Dad. At the risk of being selfish, though, I hope to God they find some answers in time to keep me from losing the ability to understand what a pocket lining is.