Weatherford Democrat

September 20, 2011

Don’t lose this thought

Sandy M. Owen
Weatherford Democrat

WEATHERFORD — Last night during an event, I forgot a donor’s name and used some sleight-of-hand movements to sneak a peek at his name tag. I called my forgetfulness stress-related.

At home this morning, I rummaged through my purse in a semi-frantic state, searching for my missing car keys. I called that forgetfulness age-related.

Finally locating the keys, I misspelled buffoon. I called that forgetfulness just plain scary.

Our daddy lived with Alzheimer’s disease for six years, the last two with only a rare glimmer of recognizable memory. My three sisters and I know that we may carry a genetic pre-disposition to this disease that will take away every memory we ever had.

For now, we recall the fear in his clear blue eyes upon hearing the doctor’s fatal diagnosis. We recall more clearly the blank, glazed-over stare that followed as his illness progressed. We recall the fear in our mother’s clear blue eyes upon hearing how unpredictable her future and his would be. We recall equally the exhaustion that represented itself across her otherwise beautiful face when only three years into this battle had passed.  

Because no one else should have to see in their loved ones’ eyes all that we have seen, I ask you to stride side-by-side with me and your neighbors this Saturday, Sept. 24, and walk 2.5 miles to end Alzheimer’s.

Join honorary chairman and Weatherford neurologist Sheri Hull and the North Central Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at 8 a.m. sharp at Weatherford College baseball field on College Park Avenue. It’s a walk to remember.

Now, here’s my story of one precious man who wasn’t that lucky.

Daddy was a retired 75-year-old entrepreneur so healthy that he took no prescription drugs. For at least a year before his official Alzheimer’s diagnosis many signs were there, but none of us could bear to mention what we feared the most. OK , so he drove on the wrong side of the road last week. We raised eyebrows, shrugged and denied, denied, denied. Then – no denying.

Daddy had been a soft-spoken, gentle family man but also strong and athletic. As the disease progressed, his personality departed but not his physicality.

Aggression and agitation were unleashed unpredictably but always at their worst during the “sundowner” hours of evening. On several occasions, he demanded Mom leave their bed, insisting she was a stranger. Nearer the end of his time at home, he started locking her out of the house. No 30-minute period of time, day or night, allowed for a relaxing reprieve from the anxiety – and subtle fear – of Daddy’s surly, sure departure from all that we recognized as him. Three years into his diagnosis, Mom simply slumped to the floor in a torrent of tears, and we knew it was well past time to relieve her primary caregiver stress.

Nursing homes, including those with special Alzheimer’s units, are poorly equipped to handle an otherwise strong, healthy man without a mind He threw chairs over the fence; he struck an orderly; he grabbed at several others for imagined infractions. The battered staff over-drugged him and finally “kicked him out” for further evaluation and placement elsewhere.

Our gentle giant of a daddy had become a terror!

The Waco VA Hospital became his salvation and ours. For lack of another solution, our ever-faithful Marine captain was housed his final two years with mentally-ill veterans. We no longer could visit him in his room. He was rolled out to us in the waiting room, well secured in a wheelchair and sparing us the uglier reality of his retreating life beyond those locked doors.

Family members tag-teamed to assure Daddy had regular visits. Feeding him became the only interactivity that remained.

Though he moved in constant agitation, signs of recognition became blips on a flatline. A year or so before he died, Daddy asked Mom to marry him. For months after, she said she was going to visit her fiancé.

Very late in his illness, in the midst of blankness, he expressed a precious flicker of joy at the sight of his new great grandchild. At the end, unable to secure hospice care, we were desperate that he be allowed to leave this world in a restful, pain-free state. We feel indebted to the hospital nurse who communicated our wishes to the only night doctor on the floor. For the first time in years, his exhausted body relaxed. He slept and then gently slipped into death. One last breath in and out.

Peace be with you, Daddy.

Sandy M. Owen is a guest columnist from Fort Worth, working on Weatherford’s Walk to End Alzheimers, a one-mile walk to raise awareness for the disease. For more information on the walk, call 817-598-6273.