The doorway going into the main bathroom was the measuring post. Every now and then we would catch a child as he rushed hither and thither and announce cheerfully:
“Let’s see how much you have grown.” Then out would come the measuring tape and a new pencil mark would be placed on the door jamb.
“Hey, you have grown another inch.”
As our boys grew there were other measuring tools. Next grade in school, clothes and shoes that were outgrown far too quickly.
There are no boys in the home any longer but I am still measuring. It is a different kind. Now I measure the regression. I notice a similarity. The boys had growth spurts; the regression also has spurts. For a month or three I am relishing the pause of a good plateau and a manageable routine, and then:
“Paula, I got three.” My Bert is lying in bed. The sentence catches my attention as the tone has a certain timbre that tells me this is not a welcome ‘three’.
“Three what?” I ask.
“Three!!” There is a note of impatience.
My Bert puts his thumb and first finger together to form a circle and says, even more impatiently:
“Three. Three of these.” I look at him and calmly say:
“Three round holes? What do you want to do with them?”
“I don’t know.” Now he sounds agitated. I remain calm on the surface. This is totally out of context and beyond the norm. This is entering Alzheimer’s World.
“They are just holes. Don’t worry about them. Just ignore them and go to sleep.”
“I can go to sleep? Do you have them?” He shows me the round holes and I make as if to take them away as I open his fingers.
“Yes. I have them.” I say with a smile.
“OK, good. Goodnight, Sweet Pea. I love you!”
“’Night, ‘night. I love you too.”
That is not all. I now regularly sleep with a variety of people that only my Bert sees. They are real to him.
“Paula. They are there.”
“You know, them. The ones, who um, but they go to sleep. They sleep with us.” He chuckles: “They are going with us. They are…see… and we need cheese.”
I grasp onto that: “Tomorrow I am going to the Dutch shop and I will get cheese for your breakfast.”
“What cheese? I want to sleep. Take care of …mumble.”
“OK. I will.”
We are preparing breakfast. My Bert is painstakingly building his usual cheese sandwich. He puts the cheese away and looks at the sandwich. He is not satisfied and I notice a spot where the bread is not covered. I know that will not do.
“I see an empty spot”, I say.
“Oh yes. Give me the shoes.”
Without the least hesitation I pass him the cheese. He takes it, covers the naked spot. He looks at the sandwich and smile. Should I have corrected him? Why? I am in Alzheimer’s world and I speak and understand Alzheimer.
In less than 12 hours I have witnessed a bit of anxiety, aphasia, confusion and hallucination. I think we have just fallen off the plateau. There will be another and I will have to adjust. I know there will be more work, more care, patience and love needed.
I have received notice of the new plateau. Now after eating I surreptitiously stack the dishwasher. Yes, my Bert wants to ‘help’ me by doing the few dishes but he has forgotten how to get hot water. The kitchen tap is a single faucet. You turn the lever to the left for cold and right for hot. My Bert, until two weeks ago had no difficulty. Now he calls to tell me there is no hot water. I notice he is pulling the entire faucet forward and my Bert is strong. I can imagine the plumbing bill should he wreck it. So as soon as we eat I collect the dishes and put them directly into the dishwasher. I tell my Bert we are letting the dishwasher do its job so we can have time to play, listen to music or dance. Usually he opts for music and promptly falls asleep in his chair. Many times he will just decide to go to bed. That works for me too.
The Meander: “The time has come,” the Walrus
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
Thank you, Lewis Carroll for nonsense verses like The Walrus and the Carpenter. I smile and think Alzheimer’s World is in truth Through the Looking Glass. Perhaps my Bert is the Walrus and I the Carpenter. Maybe the next plateau will be pigs with wings.