It’s been almost two years since Kate first asked my name. I mentioned it to a friend in Rotary who has been very active in our club’s support of a project to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research (CART, Coins for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment). A week later he made an announcement encouraging club members to contribute and mentioned what I had said. He conveyed how devastating that must have been for me.
While I would not have used that word, it was a moment that took me aback even though I knew that it would come eventually. I also knew that this was just forgetting my name in one moment and that at other times she would recall. I took it as a sign that the day might be coming when she would completely forget who I am and wondered how long that would be. At this point, I still don’t know. That’s good news because it means she continues to remember off and on both my name and that I am her husband. In fact, in the past few months, she has called me by name more than she did a year ago.
There is even more good news. Although it is common for her not to remember my name and relationship, she almost always recognizes me as someone who is familiar and with whom she feels comfortable. She trusts me. Two incidents occurred yesterday that are good illustrations.
At 8:30 yesterday morning, twelve minutes into my walk, Kate sat up in bed. I went to her. She was ready to get up. Although she expressed her general unfamiliarity with the location of the bathroom and what to do when there, she did not appear to be disturbed at all. I took her hand and walked her to the bathroom.
For months, she has asked what to do when I show her the toilet. Recently, I started telling her to pull her underwear down and sit on the toilet, and everything would come naturally. Once seated she understands I was right and sometimes, as she did yesterday, seems amazed that “the water just comes out.”
After using the toilet, she asked, “What next?” I told her it would be a good time for a shower. She didn’t hesitate and just asked where and what to do. I turned on the shower and led her inside. She was very comfortable with me and preferred that I take the lead in bathing. The was the first time she just stood there and turned around when I asked so that I could reach all around her.
As we walked out of the shower, I said something I don’t often say, “Do you know who I am?” She said, “No, who are you?” I gave her my name, and we continued to the bedroom where I helped her dress. Then she lay down to rest. I believe that during the time from getting up until that moment she didn’t know my name or our relationship, but she obviously trusted me. Of course, that could have been because I was the only one available. I believe, however, that her comfort level expressed the nature of our relationship and that she would not have responded the same way with a stranger.
The second illustration occurred late yesterday afternoon and early evening. Following her afternoon rest, she sat up and said she was ready to eat. I told her it was a little early for dinner and suggested she have a snack to tide her over until then. We went into the kitchen where I gave her a banana. She didn’t remember what a banana is but was delighted when she took the first bite.
It was clear that she also didn’t remember we were in our house, so I decided to give her a tour of the dining and living rooms. We must have spent ten minutes in the dining room. I am embellishing my commentary even more now. I pointed to the chandelier (never remembers what a chandelier is) and explained that was from her parents’ home. I said, “Can you picture your mother and daddy looking at different fixtures and finally deciding this was the one they believed was best for their new home then under construction. Her mother was quite a cook and loved to entertain. I reminded Kate of all the celebratory occasions and specific family members that would have eaten under the light of that chandelier. She loved the tour, but all the family items I showed her never made her recognize she was in her own home.
When we entered the living room, she was tired of standing and asked if she could sit down. We sat on the sofa that had been in her parents’ living room. I reminded her of the times we had sat on that sofa and sneaked a kiss or two after her mother and daddy had gone to bed. I didn’t yesterday but sometimes I also remind her of the doorbell that her parents had installed for her grandmother who stayed with them in the winter. Her mother rang the doorbell as a signal when it was time for me to leave.
Kate was tired and asked if she could rest on the sofa. I told her that would be fine and that I would get my laptop and sit with her. She rested about forty-five minutes before asking when we were going to eat. I told her we could order takeout from Chalupas right then.
As she got up, she asked me where I live. I said, “Right here with you. This is our house.” She looked at me skeptically. I didn’t say anything more. Her conversation in the car going to and returning from the restaurant made it very clear that she didn’t know my name or our relationship. I responded to one of her comments by saying, “I hope you feel you can trust me.” She said, “I do. You’re a nice guy.” I said, “I’m glad to hear that because I like being with you.” She said, “I like being with you.”
We ate our meal and then went to the bedroom where she started to work on puzzles but became frustrated with the first one. I gave her a couple of photo books to look at while I watched some of the evening news. She wasn’t interested. I asked if she would like to get ready for bed. She was. She was very cooperative in taking her medicine and putting on her night clothes. She went to sleep but woke at least for a minute or two when I got in bed an hour and a half later. She responded to me warmly just as though she knew I was her husband. Did she? I don’t know. I do know that she tapped me on the arm early this morning. I looked at my watch. It was 4:44. She said, “I love you.” I said, “I love you too.”
Does it really matter whether she knows my name or that I am her husband? She knows “me.”