Yesterday morning as I was starting the car for our trip to Panera, Kate opened her door and said, “Wait a minute.” I saw her flip something out of her hand in an underhanded, backward motion. Then she looked back. With a big grin on her face, she said, “It went right in.” She was proud as a child who has thrown a piece of paper rolled into a ball from across a room and into a waste basket. In her case, she had thrown a tissue in the basket she keeps in the garage for all of her used tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper. She uses them to wipe the saliva from her mouth. Yes, she is still not swallowing her saliva.
As I have often said, Kate handles herself well in social situations and has done so since we arrived here in San Angelo. Before she got up yesterday morning, Ken, Virginia, and I talked about how well she is doing. Of course, she slips up occasionally. That occurred last evening when we left our table at the restaurant and moved to an adjoining coffee shop. Ken and I went to the counter to order our dessert while Kate and Virginia selected a table. I should add that we have known Virginia since 1993 when she and Ken got married. Later Virginia told me that Kate said, “How do you know Ken?” Virginia answered, “He is my husband. I am his wife, Virginia.” She said Kate’s face lit up and she said, “I’ve heard your name. I’ve heard such wonderful things about you. I am so glad to put a face with the name.” Although some might focus on the sad aspects of memory loss at at time like this, Virginia celebrated the moment with Kate who was so happy to meet her (again). When Virginia told the the story, I felt the same way. It makes me happy to know she can experience such special moments.
She had a similar experience when we first arrived on Tuesday. She saw the photo album Ken had sent to her about ten days ago. She went through it two or three times. Each time she experienced it as though it were her first time to see it. Each time she showed Ken and Virginia a page with their wedding picture.
If you are a regular reader of this blog or someone who knows me well, you are aware that I have a few OCD tendencies (well, maybe more than a few). Kate has never been this way at all. Alzheimer’s has made our differences even more pronounced. Recently, it has come as a surprise to see her exhibiting some of my characteristics. After a long period of time during which she didn’t put up her clothes, she started doing so. She doesn’t always do this immediately after taking them off, but she no longer lets them accumulate on the beds, furniture, and floor as she did in the earlier stages.
The next behavior involves making up the bed. Over the course of our marriage, I recall hearing her say that her mother had taught her to make up the bed right after she gets up. This is something she has always done and continued for the first few years after her diagnosis. Gradually, however, she got out of the habit. Over the past few months, she has started again. She didn’t do it immediately and not nearly as well as she did before, but she was making a good stab at it. Within the past week, I have noticed that she takes more time and is doing a much better job. I’ve even noticed her looking over what she has done and doing a little straightening where she thinks it is needed.
What has been more surprising is her cleaning up at Panera. Their drink dispensers can be a little tricky. It is challenging to fill your cup without some of the drink dripping down the side of the cup and often spilling on to the counter. When this happens, she has started getting a napkin or two and wiping the entire counter, and she does it with as much care as she can. That’s not something she would have done before. In addition, crumbs always fall from her muffin to the table. When we are ready to leave, she has become very careful about getting up each and every crumb.
One final behavior involves a white board on our island. I got it a few years ago to let her know what day it is, appointments we have that day, and where I was if I were not at home. Over time, she stopped reading what I was writing, so I just put the day and date. I finally got tired of that, especially because I could not tell that she was reading it. I bought a digital clock with very large print that provides the same information and the time as well. It sits on the counter across from the island. Now the white board has a single purpose. That is where I put her morning medications. I use that because she can see them easily against the white background.
That was a lengthy introduction for what is a very short story. The other day when she was taking her medicine, she turned the white board at an angle. Then she said, “I keep changing this, and someone else changes it back.” To the best of my knowledge, that is the first time this has occurred, but what struck me was her desire to have it in arranged in a particular way. That seemed to be totally out of character. On reflection, I do recall that she has always had particular arrangements for the knick knacks on furniture or book shelves. Maybe she is just treating the white board in the same way. It’s a Knick Knack on the island. If so, that would make it a normal behavior for her. At any rate, I am leaving it at an angle just the way she arranged it.
At lunch today, Kate looked at me across the table, smiled, and said with confidence, “Ask me where we are.” I said, “Where?” She said, “McAlister’s.” I said, “Wow.” Then she said, “Well, it wasn’t that hard.” As she said that, she looked at a sign on the table with the name printed on it. I followed that by saying, “I thought you meant what city.” Then she said, “What city?’ I asked, “What do you think?” She answered, “Fort Worth?” I told her Knoxville. She seems never to remember that, and we’ve lived here almost 47 years.
This occurred without any sense of frustration or concern about not knowing where she was. That is quite a contrast with the way she was in the early stages of the disease. She experienced a good bit of frustration then. I suspect that is largely a result of her no longer connecting her poor memory with her diagnosis. I also notice how open she is in acknowledging things she doesn’t remember. It is very natural to ask the names of people we see as well as our children and even me. While it always saddens me to see her memory deteriorate, I am also glad that she can be honest with me. I like to think it is a good thing that she has someone with whom she can be so open.
Now the story gets funnier. After finishing my previous post, I told Kate I was going to the men’s room and would be right back. She said she was ready to go home anytime. That surprised me because she has never indicated a desire to leave Barnes & Noble. I’m not sure we have ever stayed less than an hour and a half sometimes two and a half hours.
When I returned from the men’s room and sat down at the table, Kate asked again where the bathroom was. I told her we should get our things together and I would show her. Then we would go home.
We arrived at home, I remembered it was time for her to take a Tylenol, one of the other things recommended by her doctor. She asked me, What now?” I reminded her that she had wanted to come home and that she could work on her iPad. She said she would like to do that and would come to the family room. I gave her the Tylenol and asked where her cup was. That was silly of me. Of course, she couldn’t remember. I know that. Why then did I ask? I told her it was probably in the car and stepped out the door to get it. As I brought it inside, she was getting another cup. At any rate she was going to take her Tylenol.
I went to get her iPad. When I returned to the laundry room, she wasn’t there. I looked around the rest of the house. She wasn’t anywhere. Then I thought she might have gone to the car. That is where she was waiting for me. I went out and reminded her that we had just gotten home and that she had said she wanted to work on her iPad in the family room. She said, “Oh” and got out of the car and came inside where she is doing just that. She is happy, and I have a moment to make this post. In another thirty minutes we will leave for dinner. Then we will be back home for what has become one of the nicest times of the day. We’ll turn on the TV. I’ll watch a little news. Then I will shower and watch a little of tonight’s Olympics before going to bed. Except for her grumpiness at the start of the day, Kate has been in a good humor. All in all, it will have been a good day in the Creighton house.
It’s no surprise that at this time of day we are at Panera. A few minutes ago, Kate went to the restroom which is just around the corner from where I am seated. The next thing I knew she tapped me on my shoulder and said, “I found you.” I said, “Did you walk around to the front?” She said, “No, I just turned right and walked right to you.” I gave her a “two thumbs up” response. She laughed and said, “But will I be able to find you next time?”
She took her seat at our table and stated to work on a puzzle. Pretty soon she ran into a problem and handed the iPad to me. She said, “You’ll probably fix it just like that.” She had three puzzle pieces that were out of place. I put them in the proper spots. She said, “You’re so smart. I would never have figured it out.” I told her the problem was her eyesight and that it can be difficult to see if the pieces are not exactly in their places. (This is one of the puzzles that doesn’t have a snap feature that draws the pieces in place when you are close.) She acted like she was irritated because I had fixed it so quickly. In a minute, she looked up at me, and blew me a kiss.
I think this provides a glimpse of how most of our interaction goes and why I say that our personalities fit well together to minimize significant problems.
Before coming to Panera, I noticed that Kate had put on her pants inside-out. I mentioned it to he rand then went to get her iPad to take with us. When I returned to the kitchen, she had already gone to the car. After we had been at Panera almost an hour, she got up, and smiled, and said, “I think I should put my pants on the right way.” That was the first time that I had noticed she hadn’t changed at the house. When she hadn’t returned to the table in the time I expected, I got up to look for her. It is not unusual for her to forget where we are and take a seat at another table until I find her. I didn’t see her and turned around to return to our table. When I did, I saw her walking toward me. I said, “I guess you got your pants taken care of.” She chuckled and said, “Why do you think I went to the restroom?” This is one of those light-hearted moments we have frequently even though it could be frustrating to Kate and sad for me. It is one of the ways we both cope.
That reminds me of a phone call I received from a friend yesterday. I have known him in connection with our volunteer service for many years. We first met at Junior Achievement when we served on its board. Later, we worked together at United Way and then the foundation of the UT Medical Center. His wife was an Alzheimer’s patient who died a year ago. He calls once in a while to check on me. This time he let me know that he is going to get married in May.
As we talked, I filled him in on our lives. I said something about Kate’s asking me things (for example, names of family members or close friends) that she would not be as likely to ask other people. It was interesting to hear his response. He knew exactly what I was talking about and the feeling you get when that happens. We both feel that it comes from the trust she feels because of the closeness of our relationship. In that respect, he and I both acknowledged a sense of gratitude and closeness that we feel when these things happen.
For me, it is especially interesting in that Kate still does not talk about her Alzheimer’s in any direct way. She never mentions it anymore, but she is not at all guarded or hesitant to say many things that are obviously symptoms of the disease. I often wonder if she makes any connection between her symptoms and her diagnosis. I really think she doesn’t. I would like to know, but I feel it doesn’t serve any good purpose for me to inquire. She is happy. I want her to stay that way.
We are seated at a table at Panera. A moment ago, she accidentally lifted her plate off the table and then dropped it. It made a noise, and she audibly reacted. That is no surprise. These kinds of things happen regularly when she heard a sudden noise. In this case, I said, “This time you scared yourself.” She answered, “Not scared. Startled. There is a difference you know. (Pause.) I am a former English teacher.” She smiled.
This morning I had fixed a glass of ice water and placed it on the kitchen counter where I was preparing to use my computer. Kate came in and put ice in a glass and put it on the island. She also brought in an empty glass and put it on the counter next to the sink. In a few minutes she pointed to my glass and asked if it were hers. I told her it wasn’t, that hers was on the island. Then I said (pointing to the empty glass on the counter next to the sink), “That one is yours too. We both laughed, and she gave me a hug. We both knew that I was joking about her memory in that she had put 2 glasses in the kitchen including one to which she had added ice but had forgotten. All this occurred in a matter of minutes. I then said, “That was mean. I shouldn’t have said that.” She wasn’t at all troubled and said something about liking my humor.
Although some stories of my life these days are sad ones or frustrating ones, there are some or aspects of some, that I think of as cute or sweet or humorous. One of those occurred yesterday. Between Panera Bread and the road that runs to our house there is another road that runs parallel to it and then curves around the back of the shopping center (where Panera’s is located) toward town. The road has been closed for several months while work was being completed on draining issues and then resurfaced. After it re-opened, Kate wanted me to drive along the road. For some reason she liked the drive. Yesterday as we left Panera’s, she asked me to drive home “the other way.” I knew exactly what she meant and did so. What I think is cute about this is that it is NOT another way home at all. It is a road that runs into 2 other roads that brings us right back to the same shopping center we just left. This time we just drive by “the other way home” and turn on the road we should have turned on to start with. In miles, it must be two-mile circle to get back where we started. She does not appear to have any sense of this. I should add that she has always been geographically challenged, but in the past she would have recognized this is not simply another way home.
I hasten to say that this kind of thing also involves a touch of sadness as I see her becoming more childlike.