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a world full of strangers

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

My father was killed by Alzheimer’s Disease. I say “killed” other than “died from” quite deliberately. I consider Alzheimer’s a killer. If the devil exists he or she or whatever it is surely slithers around in the guise of Dementia. Fully 1% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product is eaten by Alzheimer’s. That’s $604 billion. And ironically, as medical breakthroughs allow us to live longer, Alzheimer’s gets worse. At age 85 a person has a 50% chance of getting it. It’s always been with us. We’ve just normally not lived long enough for suffer its wrath.

Alzheimer’s killed my father twice. It took away his memories before it stopped his heart. And before it stopped his heart it surely broke it as well. Surrounded by family, he was still alone. Scared. Confused. Anxious. Furious. Oblivious to his surroundings sometimes, and all too aware of them at others. We could do nothing except hold his hand and whisper that everything was going to be alright. In other words, we could do nothing but lie. So we lashed out. At each other. At caregivers. At doctors. At complete strangers. The last few month’s of my father’s life was not a time to cut any of us off in traffic.

There came a time when my Mother could not care for him at home anymore. I still remember that night. The night after the Super Bowl it was. We pretended when we left the house that we’d all be back. But all of us knew. Except my father. He didn’t know his own house anymore. He wanted to go “home”. I promised to take him. He believed me. He knew the Saints had won the game the night before, so he grabbed a New Orleans ball cap before we left. We went to the hospital, where eventually he needed to be tranquilized so he wouldn’t keep getting up, putting on his jacket, and wanting to go home. Me and my Mom stayed with him until the wee hours. I sat on the floor and a few times caught myself dozing. My mother sat on a stiff backed chair and never once closed her eyes. 

Pop never slept in his own bed again.

For me and my mother, it was, at the time, the worst and longest night of our lives.

From the hospital we went ping-ponging back and forth….to a managed care facility, then back to the ER, then to a specialized care unit, then back to managed care. It was bewildering and exhausting for us. Thinking about what it did to him still keeps me up nights. Eventually, you hit a care-wall. There’s nothing even the most well-intentioned care giver can do except ease pain. And allow what’s going to happen to happen in relative peace.

My father was in hospice when he died. He felt no pain. While there he was treated with dignity and respect. There was no cure for his affliction, so we were watching him die. We wanted death to come to ease his pain, but wanted life to stay to ease ours. His last few hours will never be erased from my memory.

Unless of course I too succumb to this disease.

How horrific is it to live in a world full of strangers? Of fear? Or incomprehension? Like a child abandoned. That’s how it must feel. And to know, before the curtains are drawn completely, what your fate is to be. It is every bit as awful as Cancer. Which is why Alzheimer’s Disease is now the 2nd most dreaded affliction in America….redeemed only by it’s inability to kill a child. Cancer is still the undisputed king. But in time? Who can tell? A cure may be found for cancer. But can we cure getting old?

None of us have not been affected by one or the other. Most have known both. Yet still I hear dismay in the voice of others when I speak of my lack of faith. Like I am somehow letting them down.

I feel let down. In a world where Alzheimer’s and Cancer has become a coin flip, I feel silly on my knees. Like a beggar in a city full of rich, obnoxious assholes.

In a bit…


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