An Update on Eating Out

As I have expressed in other posts, a variety of things have played a role in how well Kate and I have gotten along through six of the seven stages of Alzheimer’s. I believe that nothing has been more important than our eating out for lunch and dinner. That has kept us socially active without having to depend on our friends. Of course, some of our eating occasions are with friends, but we almost always dine alone. There are notable exceptions like our three music nights a month at Casa Bella when we sit with two to six others. In addition, we met a couple at these music nights with whom we eat on other occasions at least once a month.

Now that she is in the last stage of Alzheimer’s I see more signs that her symptoms could ultimately be a bit of a problem with other people. For quite a long time, she has been a “messy” eater. She is even messier now. She regularly drops food on the table, the floor around her, and, of course, her clothes. When her meal includes items that she doesn’t like, she often takes them out of her mouth and puts them on the table. If we are sitting close enough, I reach over and put them on my plate, in a paper napkin, or another appropriate place.

I have gotten rather accustomed to her frequent use of her hands rather than a fork which is especially common when she eats a sandwich. She almost always takes it apart and picks up the various pieces (cheese, tomato, or meat) with her hand. Depending on the amount of sauce or other condiments, that can be messy.

At lunch on Saturday, she did something she hasn’t done before. Our server brought us a piece of cheesecake. After she placed it on the table, I asked her a question. She started to answer when I noticed that she was looking at Kate. I looked at her and saw that she had picked up the whole piece, taken a bite out of it, and placed it back on the plate. This was not a problem for either the server or me although the server was surprised. She is aware of Kate’s diagnosis and is very understanding; however, it is only recently that she has had the opportunity to witness some of her symptoms. Things like this do make me think about what might lie ahead.

There are also times when I say or do something that bothers Kate, and she snaps back at me. The other day at a restaurant she placed her sweater over the back of her chair. It apparently didn’t feel right when she leaned against it. I asked if she would like me to put it on the back of an empty chair beside us. She looked like she didn’t quite understand me, and I reached over and took the sweater from her chair. I don’t remember what she said, but she quickly gave me a sharp response as the server approached our table. I apologized to Kate and put the sweater back. It turned out that she was then embarrassed to have spoken to me like that. She had tears in her eyes and said to the server, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I want you to know that I am not usually like that.” That is very true, and I suspect the server recognized that as well. She has served us many times in the past few years and never observed anything like that before.

I believe that all our servers and the people with whom we eat are also understanding, but I wonder if there is a limit to which I should go in putting Kate in situations where some might not feel the same way. For the moment, I am optimistic that we will be able to continue eating with others for quite a while; however, I am going to be watching very carefully to sense what is best in the future.

Last night at Casa Bella we encountered an entirely different kind of situation that was a lesson learned for me. Two months ago, we learned they were sponsoring a special Italian dinner that occurred last night. It sounded like the kind of event we would enjoy, but I was concerned about two things. First, all seating was to be outside in the street in front of the restaurant. Kate is very sensitive to heat, and September can still bring hot weather. Second, I wasn’t sure about the seating. Big crowds are confusing for Kate, and I didn’t want to be seated with a group of strangers that might add to her confusion. On the other hand, I wanted to support the owners whom we have come to know the past few years. I talked with them and learned that we would be seated with the same people with whom we normally sit. I decided to take a chance and attend.

As it turned out, I wish I hadn’t. It was 90 degrees when we arrived and didn’t drop a lot during the meal though it felt better after the sun went down. The gnats were there in abundance as well. The benefit of being seated with our regular couples was offset by the noise level. The tables were under a large tent to protect from the weather, but I think that contributed to the noise. It was very difficult to converse. Everyone was asking everyone else to repeat what the other person said. Kate remained quiet except to make noises associated with gnats that periodically flew in her eyes.

Given all of this, Kate took it quite well, but I could see I had made a mistake in deciding to come. I was glad we hadn’t shown up for the cocktail hour that preceded the dinner. We were the first ones to leave shortly after finishing our meal. I have been very careful to avoid situations like this in the past. I should have done that this time.