(Reprinted from my newsletter - Spring '04)
People occasionally ask me how my dad is doing. I generally don't know how to answer that question, not because I'm not around my dad enough to know, but because its not really the right question to be asking. My dad is pretty much the same from day to day and month to month. He doesn't know what has befallen him so there's no sense of "how is he doing in dealing with his disease." He doesn't deal with it. He doesn't realize it. To him, there is nothing wrong. He doesn't remember that he doesn't remember. He has no emotions about it.
The better question to ask might be, "How is your mom doing?" She's the one who is most often frustrated by dad's constant flow of questions (the same questions, over and over and over and over...). She is the one is who has to deal with dad at the check out counter when he says (rather loudly and in great alarm), "Fifty two dollars for groceries?! That's too much!" She is the one who has to plan her events around whether or not one of her daughters can watch her husband.
So, I thought that, in order to give my readers a better sense of this disease, I'd give you a peek at one minute with my dad. A typical minute together would go something (if not exactly) like this: (You may want to read this outloud for full effect. And feel free to pause a few seconds between questions. That's about how long Dad waits.)
Les: Did Mom tell you what her schedule is today?
Meg: She'll be here at 5:15 to pick you up.
Les: Did she say what she's going to do before that?
Meg: She's at work all day until 5 o'clock.
Les: Do you remember what day this is?
Les: Wednesday. (Pulls out daytimer and looks it up.) That's right. The day Mom works.
Les: So you want me to fold the laundry that's in the dryer? (He says as he reads the list I made for him that says exactly that.)
Les: Let's see. Do you remember what day this is?
Les: (Pulls out daytimer and looks it up.) Yeah. The day Mom works.
Les: Do you know if she's coming to get me after that?
Les: She is? What time?
Les: Oh, 5:15. (pause) So you want me to fold the laundry that's in the dryer?
Meg: Yes, dad.
Les: Hmmmm. Did Mom tell you what her schedule is today?
Meg: She's at work, Dad.
Les: Do you know if she's going to pick me up?
Les: Oh. So maybe I'll go fold the laundry that's in the dryer.
Meg: Yes Dad, why don't you do that.
Les: Do you remember what day this is today?
Eventually Dad will go and fold the laundry, but not until there's been several minutes worth of the above discussion. Now imagine being with him all day....
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
of course, that was a year ago. he's much worse now. here's a quick example of a recent conversation with my dad.
Les: I'd like to take your dog for a walk.
Meg: She's got 7 stitches in her foot, Dad. She can't go for a walk today.
Les: (looks down at dog. notices bandage.) Oh. yeah. Well, I'd like to take your dog for a walk.
Meg: She can't go for a walk dad. She's injured.
Les: (glances down at dog) Oh. Well, I'd like to take her for a walk.
(it goes on like this until i finally distract him by encouraging him to work on a puzzle. or until i remove the dog from sight in hopes that he might forget about her.)