Friday, January 15, 2010


I recently had an aunt and uncle get severely injured by a motorist. Prognoses are pretty bleak, given that both are in their seventies. It wouldn’t be good for anyone, but people in an already fragile state of health, on blood thinners, etc., are just that much less likely to pull through. It’s making me really uncomfortable, honestly, but it’s not really because of the injuries and prospects for recovery; we aren’t exactly close, though I do feel bad for them. It mostly stems from something posted online by their daughter. She mentioned that my uncle, the more likely of the two to survive and “fully” recover, is having a really hard time. He has Alzheimer’s, and his world is basically confined to his wife (who he can’t see, and might not see again), his dogs (who he can’t see), and his house (where he can’t currently go, and may not get to until a stint in a rehab facility). His entire world, everything he knows, has been stripped away, and most of it may not return for some time; some of it may never do so.

Even just considering that situation from a distance is pure, unadulterated torture for me. I have a lot of anxiety, but not a lot of real fears. My biggest, most horrible boogeyman, though, is the idea of losing my cognition to something like Alzheimer’s. I know I’ve said it here before, but the idea of looking at the world through a fog, of being unknowing of whether things are supposed to be familiar or not, or trying to interact meaningfully and failing to retain it…That is pure bowel-emptying terror for me. I generally don’t think I have a lot going for me (self-esteem issues are entirely different matter, though), but damnit, I am what I am. All those experiences, feelings, ideas, and memories are mine. I wouldn’t give up a second of it; and, while I often don’t see as much as I’d like, my world is bigger than my home. If that were stripped away, either all at once, or gradually…hell, I’m having trouble typing this, I’m shaking so hard at the thought. I’m almost in tears. It messes with me that much. If you want to torture me, don’t dunk me underwater or shock me; just describe in detail what it would be like for me to have gradually decreasing cognition.

It hits me hard me anytime that I’m reminded of the possibility that my future could be like that. There’s some family history of dementia on my mom’s side, including this uncle. It made it hard for me to be around my grandmother, sometimes. Most of the others on that side of the family have been at least a little bit nuts (ranging from “a little off” to “homicidal”), but it is hard to differentiate between physiological and psychological issues with that group. In any case, there’s no guarantee, and there are plenty of confounding factors; call it a slightly increased chance. Add to that the wide-ranging nature of that section of the family (three states away in the case of my uncle), and I can live “out-of sight, out-of-mind” on the dementia issue. But, this accident has thrust it to the forefront with me again, and I’m uncomfortable about it, though I’m hundreds of miles away.

I will say, oddly enough, that there is one person with decreased capacity that I’ve had a lot of interaction with never really bothered me for some reason. My wife has an uncle who lost a lot of his memory and function due to a series of micro-strokes; they were so small that the original scans didn’t even pick them up, though the effects were obvious. It seems like large chunks his memory, particularly after a certain point, was just shut off. For example, he knew I existed, but not my name; he could drive from a long-frequented store to his house, but not from one more recently opened. He has no memory of being a lifelong Steelers fan. I interacted with him a good amount after this happened, at least as frequently as my own immediate kin. Despite his issues, and his own depression about them (his brain/mouth filter took a hit, too, so you got a lot of what was on his mind at any given moment), I never got that raw, cringing terror from being around him. You could see the sadness in his eyes when something he knew he should remember just kept escaping his grasp. Now, sitting here, typing this, I get the fear; my chest is tightening and I’m tearing up again. I never, ever had it in his presence, though. I don’t understand it. It just is.

In the end, I just worry for my uncle. I can’t imagine having an already-small world being taken away like that. I don’t know if I could survive it. I don’t know if he will.

No comments: