turn of mind

My name is Dr. Jennifer White.  I am sixty-four years old.  I have dementia.  My son, Mark, is twenty-nine.  My daughter, Fiona, twenty-four.  A caregiver, Magdalena, lives with me.

. . . From my notebook:

A good day.  Excellent day, my brain mostly clear.  I performed a Mini-Cog test on myself.  Uncertain of the year, month, and day, but confidence of the season.  Not sure of my age, but I recognized the woman I saw in the mirror.  Still a touch of auburn in the hair, deep brown eyes unfaded, the lines around the eyes and forehead, if not exactly laugh lines, at least indicating a sense of humor.

I know my name: Jennifer White.  I know my address: 2153 Sheffield.  And spring has arrived.  The smell of warm, wet earth, the promise of renewal, of things emerging from a dormant state.  I opened the windows and waved at the neighbor across the street, already turning over his raised beds, preparing for the glorious array of angel’s trumpets, blood flowers, blue butterfly bushes.

Went into the kitchen and remembered how to make the strong, bitter coffee I love: how to shake the beans into the grinder, how to sniff the rich scent as the blades slash through the hard shells, how to count the scoops of fragrant deep brown coarse particles into the coffeemaker, how to pour the fresh cold water into the receptacle.

Then Fiona stopped by.  Ah, my girl delights me!  With her short pixie haircut and upper right arm entwined by a red and blue rattlesnake tattoo.  Usually she keeps it hidden, and only a chosen few in her current life know about it, about her wilder days.

She came to collect my financial statements, go over some numbers that I will not understand.  No matter.  I have my financial genius.  My monetary rock.  Graduated from high school at sixteen, from college at twenty, and at twenty-four, the youngest female tenure-track professor at the U of C business school.  her area of specialization is international monetary economics–she routinely gets calls from Washington, London, Frankfurt.

After James died, once I was certain fo my prognosis, I signed over financial power of attorney.  Her I trust.  My Fiona.  She places paper after paper in front of me, and I sign without reading.  I ask her if there is anything I should pay special attention to, and she says no.  Today was different,however.  She had no papers but just sat at the table with me and held my hand in hers.  My remarkable girl.

At our Alzheimer’s support group today; we talk about what we hate.  Hate is a powerful emotion, our young leader asks.  Ask a dementia patient who she loves, and she draws a blank.  Ask her who she hates, and the memories come flooding in.

Hatred.  Hate.  The word resonates.  My stomach contracts, and bile rises in my throat.  I hate.  I find my hands clenched into fists.  Faces turn to look at me.  Some men, mostly women.  A variety of races, of creeds.  A United Nations of the despised, of the despicable.  I cannot make out their features exactly.  An anonymous mob.

It is becoming hard to breathe.  What is that noise.  Is it me.  Who are you staring at.

Our leader is coming over.  Our leader is leaving the room, he returns with a youngish woman, bleached blond hair, too much makeup.  She comes straight over to me.

Dr. White, the woman says.  Jennifer.  We’re going home now.  Shhh.  No yelling.  No.  Please stop.  Stop.  You’re hurting me.  No, don’t call, I can handle this.  Jennifer.  Come now.  That’s right.  We’re going home.  Shhh.  It’s okay.  It’s okay.  It’s me, look at me.  At me, Magdalena.  That’s right.  We’re going home.

LaPlante has witnessed firsthand the paradox of dementia and Alzheimer’s, with alternating phases of deterioration and lucidity. “One of the big problems with dementia is personality change,” she said. “Many people don’t realize that. My mother was a warm, kind, patient woman. When she got ill, she became aggressive. Alzheimer’s patients tend to take out a lot of aggression on the primary caregiver. She’s very angry at my father. She’ll come back with her warm personality at times. Just less and less.”

Source: The Daily Beast, article by Jane Ciabattari

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