Thursday, January 17, 2013

Just a Test

I grew up during the cold war era, and it wasn’t unusual to be watching TV and see a test pattern pop up on the screen and hear a shrill tone scream an alarm. When I was a kid, my heart would thud in my chest if I heard the tone without the preamble, “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.” I always felt relieved when at the end the words, “This is only a test” were repeated.

Eventually, the rules changed, and the EBS was used to warn of impending natural disasters, and in our area, that would be tornadoes. I didn’t get the memo about the new use for the notification system. The first time I heard, “We interrupt this broadcast,” followed with a tone that could make a dog howl, I spent thirty long seconds imagining we were going to be a nation of crispy critters as soon as the nuclear mushroom cloud radiated us. I was one darned happy kid to find out it was merely a tornado in a different county.

Of course, tests later caused a different kind of anxiety. I always over-studied the material to make a good grade on tests. I hated to miss any questions and a B just wasn’t an acceptable grade. The problem I found with knowing the material so well is that sometimes I would miss a question because of a nuance that made the answer technically incorrect. It seems that other kids just skimmed the surface and marked it, but I would know that part of the answer was wrong.

Not long ago, my daughter-in-law and I were discussing the answers to a quiz, and I discovered that she was a lot like me when it came to analyzing multiple-choice answers. We tried to figure out why a teacher would give two answers that could technically be right, but expect the student to decipher which answer she expected. One question had to do with what you would say to a new mother who had cut down on cigarettes. One answer was to tell her “It is good you cut down, but you are probably still getting nicotine.” Because of the word “probably,” we knew that had to be the wrong answer. Wrong! That was the teacher’s choice.

Now, most of the tests I have are medical tests and you can’t study for those. It seems that the older I get, the more determined physicians are that they can surely to goodness find something wrong with me. By the time they poke and prod, take a few vials of blood, and run tubes with little camera down my throat or up my ahem, I don’t stand a chance. Sure enough, they always find something. What happened to the days when I felt pretty darned good and was blissfully unaware that things were falling apart on the inside?

When Jim started having memory problems, our family doctor sent him to a psychologist, who in turn sent Jim for a battery of tests. The results of those tests proved to be a turning point in our lives. I knew Jim was having problems, but the tests showed he had dementia. He couldn’t do simple math, count backwards from ten, or name any words that began with the letter “a.” Jim had done a good job of covering his deficits, and I was shocked to learn about the problems he had with abstract thinking.

Jim became part of a study for a Phase III drug. He was tested during each follow up visit with the neurologist. They let me stay with him during the testing.

“What season is it,” the nurse asked.

“I have no idea,” Jim replied.

“Did you wear a coat today?” she asked as a cue.


“What season do you think it is if you are wearing a coat?”

“I have no idea.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“A hospital.”

“Do you know what city this is?”

“Yes.” He couldn’t come up with a name, but was confident he knew where he was.

“Do you know where the stamp goes on this envelope?” She handed him an envelope.

“Right there,” he said pointing to the upper right hand corner. He gave me a look, like he thought she might be just a bit stupid to not know where the stamp went.

It was a test, right? Just a test. So why did it bring tears to my eyes?

Early Onset Alzheimer's blog is in a contest for the Best Health Blog of 2012 with a $1,000 prize. Currently, I'm in the top ten out of 300+ blogs. You can vote via Facebook or Twitter daily between now and February 15. Please remember to vote every day because your vote really counts! Click on the Vote for me button on this page.

Copyright © January 2013 by L. S. Fisher

No comments: