Playing the Alz card

C’mon, you caregiver’s know what I’m talking about. You know you’ve benefited from your situation and at times taken advantage; need to move to the head of the line at Starbucks and you’re running late (so you oh so casually (and humbly) mention to the person(s) in front of you that you’re in a rush and you’re on an errand for a parent with Alzheimer’s) and see how fast you get your double mocha, half caf, latte.

Or, you’re at work and want to leave early (there’s a pair of sling backs you’ve had your eye on and today’s the start of the sale at DSW) but instead you tell your boss that you need to get to CVS to talk to the pharmacist about a dementia prescription mix-up and before you can say Jimmy Choo -off you goo.

Want to get out of ‘finally’ meeting a facebook friend ‘face to face’ (because it’s only a cyber based relationship for you but the other person doesn’t know that), simply IM them that you’re so busy trying to find your wandering parent that your ’friend’ will understand and you’ll be able to get back to your faux-friendship online without worry of testing it’s authenticity ‘in the real world’.

Careful though, over-use of this “get out of jail free card” can lead to having your Alz card invalidated-play it one time too many (especially with the same person(s) and you’ll know the card’s expired when you get an eye-roll instead of what you want.

For me, it started innocently enough; I needed something (the who, what, where doesn’t really matter) and as I told whomever what I needed I ‘mentioned’ that my mom “has Alzheimer’s” and just like that-I got what I wanted.

I instantly felt guilty (not so guilty that I gave back whatever it was that I’d gained). So, I vowed to not do that again-until the next time it happened and now it seems that sometimes there’s been a conscious shift in how I bring up my mother’s condition and when I make the disclosure-God, can I be that shallow?

Who uses their loved one for personal gain? Well, celebrities and politicians to name just two but I’m neither, so I’m going to need a hand here-nod to yourself if you know what I’m talking about.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never played it to get out of a traffic ticket or anything. Although (in full disclosure there was an incident more than a year ago that shouldn’t count.)

I wasn’t playing the Alz card so much as having a mini-breakdown:

About eighteen months ago a policeman pulled me over on a dark country road in rural Virginia. I was driving back to my brother’s house where I was staying while I tended to Miss Cathy for fourteen hours a day while she was in her first rehabilitation facility for a month after her fall and dementia diagnosis.

I remember thinking that I just needed to nap for a few hours, shower and get back to her when I saw the lights in my rearview mirror. I was so out of it emotionally I had no idea why he’d pulled me over but I knew it wasn’t to welcome me to Bum-fuck Virginnie.

After I rolled down the window and gave him my best Sidney Poitier (non -threatening Black man) smile and greeting he asked for my license and registration. The officer then told me that I’d been driving 28 miles over the posted speed limit.

Yikes! I thought as I non-threateningly gave him my license. I rummaged around in the glove compartment to discover (to my horror) I couldn’t find the registration (I was driving my mothers car).

He took my license, told me to stay in the car (gladly) and I watched in my side-view mirror as he walked back to his squad car and did whatever it is that police do in there. After what felt like an eternity he sidled back up to my window, shined his flashlight into the car and then into my face. It was very uncomfortable sitting there with the light shining in my face, he disappeared somewhere behind the glow of his flashlight. My eyes tried to adjust and all I could hear was his voice asking me,” Where I was coming from at this hour?” And, “Where was I going in such a hurry?”

That’s when (to my horror and his (and my) surprise) I looked into the light and burst into tears. I found myself (like an actor under a spotlight on a stage delivering a soliloquy) the entire story of my mother’s fall, her discovery after three days, the drama of the police having to break down the door-all of it, I didn’t leave out a single detail. My monologue ended with her diagnosis and (at the time) unknown prognosis from the doctors about her future and her stay at the rehab where I’d just come from.

Completely spent, I blubbered out the last of my story and was able to see the policeman’s face because he had turned off the flashlight at some point during my narrative.

“I’m real sorry to hear all that,” he said, “Sounds like you need some sleep buddy. You need to slow down, get home and rest up if you expect to be of any help to your mom. My dad had Alzheimer’s so I know how you feel, he got so bad that he had to move in with my wife and me and we took care of him till he died.”

“Your mom’s real lucky to have you to take care of her. Now you slow down and get home safe.”

He handed me back my license and my dignity and with a tip of his hat he was back in his car and was gone. All I could do was sit there for a while (still sniveling) so that I could compose myself and absorb what had just happened. Did I just cry like Meryl Streep in “Sophie’s Choice” in front of a cop? And, did that cop just let me go-without so much as a warning ticket? No registration and more than twenty miles over the speed limit-in rural Virginia? I’m not saying it’s Selma in 1954 but still….I kept the windows rolled down to dry my tears. The shock of the policeman’s compassion filled the car along with the night air as I drove back to my brother’s house that night.

That experience stayed with me for a long time and I am grateful for that policeman’s kindness and understanding.

That wasn’t the Alz card so much as it was telling the truth and me benefited from another person’s compassion-besides, everything was so new then that I my life hadn’t been taken over by the disease (just yet).

And when I signed on to become my mother’s caregiver it’s not like the Alz card came in the mail with all the other Alzheimer’s and dementia pamphlets and brochures that I requested. I (we) didn’t ask for the privilege; nine times out of ten it just came to us innocently enough after someone saw, heard or learned about our care giving situation and treated us differently (like we were special for what we were doing) and from there on we realized a benefit from our new life situation beyond the sympathetic nods and empathetic gazes.

So, I’ve had my Alz card punched a time or three and I’m sure there’s plenty of room on it for a few more. But like any “card” that has it’s privileges; you have to be mindful of the responsibilities too and not abuse your position or the kindness of others who for whatever reason think we’re deserving of special treatment for doing something that we’ve chosen to do out of love and not for personal gain.


3 thoughts on “Playing the Alz card

  1. Unfortunately, the Alz card doesn’t always work. I got a speeding ticket about a year ago less than 1/2 mile into a 30 zone — the limit dropped from 55 to 30 and quite honestly I was preoccupied thinking about what I was going to encounter when I got to my mother’s house. By the time I realized I was inside the village limits — and caught — it was too late. I apologized, explained that I was on my way to help my mother and that she has Alzheimer’s. I didn’t cry — I think that was the fatal error. No tears, no compassion.

    Great post. And so true.

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