Sunday, April 22, 2012

Conversation with a Cab Driver

My sister and I rolled our suitcases down the sidewalk to the designated area to catch a cab to our hotel. We had come to DC to ask for resources to support NAPA (the National Alzheimer’s Project Act) and seek cosponsors for the HOPE (Health Outcomes, Planning and Education) for Alzheimer’s Act.

“What brings you to DC?” the cab driver asked after loading our luggage into the trunk. He spoke with an accent, which is the norm for Washington DC taxi drivers.

“We’re here for the Alzheimer’s Forum,” I replied.

“Is it for research?” he asked.

“We’ll hear about research,” I said, “but we are here as advocates.”

It seems that everywhere I go, I run into someone who has a personal experience with Alzheimer’s.

“My mother has Alzheimer’s,” he said. “Some days she seems okay, but other days she makes up things. She said that my sister and her husband got a divorce, and it wasn’t true.”

“That can happen,” I said. “People with Alzheimer’s get confused and think something is real when it isn’t. Sometimes they think someone is stealing from them.”

“Oh, yes,” he said. “My mother thinks that people are stealing from her.”

“Well,” I said, “she probably misplaces things and can’t remember where she put them so she thinks someone has stolen them. Of course, there is always the chance that someone could be stealing from her, so you want to make sure it isn’t true.”

“They don’t have a cure for Alzheimer’s, do they?” he asked.

“No, they sure don’t. That’s the reason we are here. We talk to our legislators about research funding.” Alzheimer’s deaths increased sixty-five percent while deaths from other major diseases declined.

Once again, advocates from across the United States were at our nation’s capitol trying to rally our senators and representatives to fund Alzheimer’s research.

 “My husband had an Alzheimer’s type of dementia,” I said. “It wasn’t Alzheimer’s but the Alzheimer’s Association helped me so much that I keep coming to DC each year.”

 The cabbie continued to ask questions about the disease affecting his seventy-seven-year-old mother. He told us his mother had come to the US from Somalia.  

“What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?” he asked

“You can think of dementia like an umbrella and beneath that umbrella are a lot of different diseases that cause dementia. Alzheimer’s is the main cause of dementia, but there are a lot of other diseases that can cause dementia, like Lewy Body disease, vascular dementia, or frontotemporal dementia.”

“Like an umbrella.” He nodded his understanding.

“Yes,” I said. “Dementia is a general term for people with memory loss and who have trouble performing daily activities. Different conditions cause dementia symptoms, including some that are reversible. That’s why it’s important to have a complete medical workup.”

It always concerns me that someone will assume his loved one’s memory loss is Alzheimer’s when it might be a condition that can be treated.

“The doctor said my mother has Alzheimer’s,” he said. “He said she didn’t have thyroid or a vitamin deficiency.”

“It’s good they checked those things out,” I said. We were pulling up to the hotel. “Be sure to contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. They can help you cope with the changes ahead.”

We settled the tab and as I stepped from the cab, I told him, “I wish you the best with your mom.” He smiled and thanked me.

As I closed the door, my heart went out to the cab driver who had shared a slice of his life. His story is repeated  millions of time throughout this country and has a predictable ending, at least for now. Maybe someday I can share happier news with strangers I meet.

Copyright April 2012 by L. S. Fisher

Monday, April 16, 2012

Midnight Thunder and Music

The April showers of a few nights ago morphed into a thunderstorm. The booming thunder awakened me from a deep sleep. There’s something about the sound of thunder that leaves me feeling vulnerable, and a little sad. I turned over to look at my clock and it was flashing on and off, off and on.

Since I didn’t have to work the next morning, I didn’t bother to set the clock and just went back to sleep. Thunder boomed closer, and as I tossed in the other direction, I heard music.

Music? Where could that be coming from? I thought it might be my cell since I had left it in my purse, but the music kept playing. I couldn’t hear the tune well enough to tell what it was, but I knew there was no reason music would be playing in the middle of the night.

The sound of music was replaced with rolling thunder. As I listened, the storm got louder and louder, rain pelted against the window, and I forgot about the music.

I used to be scared of storms, and Jim would hold me close when thunder came in the night. He was fearless and tried to convince me there was no reason to be afraid. That argument never gave me comfort when tornado watches turned to warnings.

The downside of spring is the storms that have passed through my life. Our journey through the land of dementia ended on April 18, 2005 when Jim left this world. Death rolled through our lives with the force of a tornado leaving an aftermath of eerie stillness behind.

You would think with the devastating tornadoes last year, I would still be afraid. It was only the noise and not fear that kept me awake during the storm Thursday night. As the storm faded into the night, I once again heard the faint sound of music.

Okay, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to sleep until I figured out where the music was coming from. I got up out of bed and wandered through the house, following the sound. In the hallway, I recognized the melody: “Winter Wonderland.” A few more steps, and I knew it was Brad Paisley singing. I crossed the room and walked to over to the docking station and turned off my iPod. I had to smile at a Christmas song competing with a spring thunderstorm.

On my way back to bed, I tried to reason how the iPod started up on its own. So maybe a jolt of electricity triggered the on button.

Or maybe, there wasn’t a logical explanation and it was a message. A reminder that storms pass, and music can chase away the most ominous moods.

Copyright© April 2012 by L. S. Fisher  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sitting on the Front Porch

It seems that every minute of the day fills me with an anxious feeling that I should be working on a project, or two, or three. Sometimes I feel like I’m juggling burning batons of responsibility and if I don’t keep tossing my hair is going to catch on fire.

This weekend was different. After all, it was a holiday weekend, and one of those rare opportunities when my entire family was under my roof. I figured emails, book orders, volunteer work, and that nagging little voice in my head that keeps saying, “you’re getting farther behind,” could just take a rest.

After breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we had an impromptu Easter egg hunt for the two youngest grandkids. Since they were dressed in their Easter outfits and ready for church, we hid the plastic eggs in the living room.

During services this morning, the pastor asked the questions, “How many doors have you gone through this morning?” I’ll have to admit, I’ve often thought of the symbolism of doors. Jim always likened death to closing one door and opening another. But physical doors—had I ever thought about that? How many doors do I go through in the course of a day?

This house that Jim and I built has a lot of doors. I pass through them time after time. It seems that as I get older, I’m passing through them even more often when I realize I’ve forgotten something in another room. In addition, this morning, I was almost to my car when I remembered my camera. I into the house, picked up the camera and passed through the same door to go outside.  

This afternoon, I spent about an hour working on an upcoming presentation. With the sun shining brightly outside, I turned off the netbook and made a pitcher of tea. I poured a glass and walked through the door to join my son, Eric, and daughter-in-law, Shawna, on the front porch.

“This is a perfect day,” I said. The thermometer showed nearly seventy degrees, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We walked out into the yard to enjoy the warmth of the sunlight. Birds chirped, squirrels barked, and a crow cawed loudly before he flew across the yard in a straight line toward the woods. The phrase ran through my head, “as the crow flies.” We talk about that when we are trying to describe not how we would make the journey, but the distance without those normal boundaries. I noted that the crow actually flew in a straight line.

We meandered out onto the gravel road and started walking.

“You used to walk the dogs to the corner nearly every day,” Eric said.

“Yes, I did,” I said thinking about Bubba the huge, furry mixed-breed dog and Sherry the German shepherd. Both dogs died years ago. Bubba died from old age and Sherry died from grief a few months later.

After our walk, we sat on the front porch visiting and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Sunday was so unlike Easters of the past. When Jim’s parents were living, their house and yard overflowed with family. The little kids would be kept inside while the older kids and adults hid hundreds of eggs—plastic eggs, hard-boiled eggs, peeps, chocolate foil wrapped eggs. The kids would  rush outdoors with the biggest basket they could carry to gather Easter Goodies.

This Easter, we watched Katrina the cat chase a lizard. We sat and visited like the old days except that the ding of cell phones interrupted the conversations as friends near and far checked in via text messaging, email, and Facebook.

After a few relaxing hours spent on the front porch, I carried the holiday feeling throughout the evening. I didn’t turn on the netbook and answer the annoying email I ignored yesterday. I didn’t work on the spreadsheet, place any orders, worry about my committee lists or corporate sponsors, or my taxes for that matter.

A holiday should allow time to sit and contemplate the significance of how many doors I pass through in the course of a day. And on Easter Sunday, I enjoyed the gift of a perfect day when I indulged in the simple pleasure of sitting on the front porch with family.

Copyright April 2012 by L.S. Fisher