I took Miss Cathy to her neurologists’ appointment last Monday and I walked away from the meeting feeling like my head was the one being f*cked with. The day had started out a little a rough because (unfortunately) we had a little spat in the car on the way (I couldn’t take her back seat driving and “snorting” one more minute and told her so). It was a big step “backwards” from the good will and wonderful feelings that had been in place since “the talk” a couple weeks ago but I guess that bubble had to burst at some point.
So, we, or should I say, “I” entered the meeting “feelings” first. It was her third visit to the neurologist, Dr Alemayhu (her last being nine months ago). He wanted to talk with her and observe how she was progressing. I hadn’t seen the doctor since his initial diagnosis over a year ago after the fall and hospitalization that brought her condition to light. He’s the specialist I had brought in to examine her when I got to the hospital a day after she was hospitalized. Even though she was being hydrated and her physical needs were being met, I just felt something wasn’t quite “right” and I wanted someone to examine her mental state and sure enough it was Dr Alemayhu who came up with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
The exam room was your typical, generic space with an exam table, posters of the human body (dissected) and art (which should have been eviscerated) as well as three chairs. “Where oh where to sit?” I wondered till Miss Cathy took an armchair that was positioned right across from what was obviously reserved for the doctor, “Well played” I thought. I parked my carcass off to the side is an armless chair, a supporting player in the tableau that was about to begin.
I had encouraged her to write down any/all questions she might have about her condition back when we had “the talk”. She had so many questions that we couldn’t answer them all (again) so I reminded her that we were seeing the doctor soon and it would be a perfect opportunity for her to get what she was after. I shouldn’t have been surprised by what happened in the doctor’s office–but I was.
No sooner had we sat down with the doctor and she was off campaigning for her “freedom”. Her first question was less a query then a statement of discontent and frustration about the difficulties of being “uprooted” and shuttled back and forth whenever I go out of town for work and how difficult it is to have to sleep in strange beds (the guestroom bed at Tony’s is now somehow “strange”).
She told him how she had to take her own food because you never know what “strange” food there may be wherever you’re going and she stressed how expensive food is and how she didn’t want to be a burden on “anyone”. She was packing on the adjectives and hand wringing to beat the band-she may have Alzheimer’s but she’s a damn good actress when she needs to be-Meryl Streep ain’t got nothing on her. If I wasn’t so pissed off (and hadn’t heard it all before) I would have felt sorry for her, too.
I thought, ”I just can’t sit here and let her get away with representing the past year the way she is.” I’m well aware that she’s entitled to her interpretation of events and her feelings are her feelings AND I know that this is all being filtered through the lenses of someone with dementia ……but jeez! It still hurts to hear that your mother is unhappy and miserable with the decisions and choices that “you” are making for her. I told her (for the umpteenth time) and the doctor (for the first time) that my sole purpose in moving in with her was so that she could be happy in her own home for the time that she has left before the disease progresses but if my being here (and making the choices for her safety that I have made) is only making her unhappy then why am I here?
Miss Cathy said that she appreciated all that my brother and I have done for her but she knows best what help she needs-and when she needs it. It quickly became apparent that her “check up” was turning into a counseling session, with the neurologist substituting for a shrink (which is ironic because I got the impression later on that Dr Alemayhu wasn’t a big fan of psychiatrists).
Several emotions (anger, hurt, disappointment, sadness, betrayal) flashed before my eyes like stills from a movie reel while I was sitting there listening to her and watching the doctor “react” to her. Remember how I’ve said that it upset me (to no end) when Miss Cathy would talk about how her time staying at Tony’s was like she was interred in a concentration camp or something, it made me feel just horrible knowing the truth of the sacrifice, love and patience that Tony and Suemi made to care for her and all she seemed to do is characterize the time in that hateful, dismissive way. Well, this was worse because she wasn’t talking about somebody or something else-she was talking about “home” and that’s where I am-everything she said sounded like a direct slam against me.
After listening to her tale of unhappiness, Dr Alemayhu surprised me by agreeing with Miss Cathy that she’s perfectly fine to stay on her own when I go out of town. My first thought was that if he knew the “full” story (and not just her version) he wouldn’t be so quick or so casual with his recommendations-after all, he’s making life-changing decisions after spending “minutes” with Miss Cathy (who for some reason he called “Mom” the entire time we were there) and I’ve logged more than five hundred, twenty five thousand minutes being with her 24/7 for the better part of a year.
I thought he’d reverse his judgment after I filled him in on the kitchen fire, falling down and hitting her head and other questionable behavior she’s exhibited over the last nine months. I sat ready for him to say, ”Oh, now that I have that information I’ve changed my mind.” But no, he seemed to dismiss most of what I presented as just “things that happen to the elderly”. “If these are just things that happen to the elderly, then why am I here?” I pondered, so I asked him. “Did I jump the gun by moving in with her?” I told him that it was my idea to be here (and I take full responsibility for my choices) but I was acting on information that I got from him and other doctors’ at the time and they all said that she shouldn’t live alone anymore.” While I sat waiting for an answer, Miss Cathy sat beaming during this exchange. She had heard what she wanted so she was content to sit back and drink in her newfound freedom and independence. Dr Alemayhu answered me by saying that while he agreed with Miss Cathy that there was no need for her to leave the apartment when I go out of town (at which point she interrupted to tell the doctor that what he said made her “happy” for the first time since this all began (over a year ago). She reached out and asked to shake his hand (and not being quite satisfied with that acknowledgement of her victory) she asked if he was a “hugger” and gave him an awkward chair-to-chair hug.
I found her gloating distasteful and a bit offensive. It was hard to watch (like a Jennifer Anniston movie) but I hadn’t heard what the doctor had to say to me so wait (and watch) I must.