‘…my brain was a jumbled mess and I couldn’t remember what number comes after potato!’

My husband is —was — a math whiz. Dementia overloaded his brain more than ten years ago, but every now and then, it reboots.

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-11-47-05-amThis puzzle showed up on-line a few days ago.  If you can solve this, you are a genius, it read. I showed it to Peter. “I’ll bet you can do it,” I said, “and you know I can’t!” I added. He laughed. He knows how absolutely hopeless I am at math. I left him to it, pencil in hand.

Within minutes he was done. When he tried to explain how he’d arrived at the correct answer, he lost me, not only because numbers muddle my brain as if it’s being whirled in a blender, but also because he can barely put sentences together any more.

I’d copied the two possible ways to solve it, but I didn’t even understand how to apply either solution. Here’s what Peter did:

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You are a genius!

Interestingly, he keeps a scrap of paper by his chair that shows the way he figures out how old he is. I’m not smart enough to understand that either. First, he looks at the newspaper to see what year it is: next to 2017 he writes 17 and underneath, 62; to the left, 1938. Simple subtraction, 2017 minus 1938 should tell him he’ll be 79 this month. (Even I can manage that!) But then he adds 17 and 62 to get 79, too. See, I don’t get that at all, but he does and that’s all that matters.

There are probably several geniuses among my followers who can solve the “genius” problem. I am in awe of you. But I’m more in awe of my husband who did it so quickly, yet he can’t remember where the dog’s leash is kept, where the salt and pepper live, nor how old he is.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

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Headline quote: Tara Sivec, USA Today best-selling author, Seduction and Snacks.
Header photo: Performance  Brain Training

‘A good time to laugh is any time there is.’

“Any news from upstate?” Peter asks. It’s dinnertime and that’s the question he repeats over and over during our meals.

“No,” I say.

We listen to the evening news while we eat, me grumbling at the goings-on in Washington, Peter listening carefully to the weather report.

“Any news from upstate?” he asks again.

I start to shake my head, but instead, decide to try a different response. “No,” I tell him, “but Leslie and Martin spent the weekend at the river.”

“Really? In this…?” he asks. He nods his head towards the fog outside, the rain-streaked window. “What did they do?”

I laugh. “We were there, too,” I say. I’d hoped he might remember the two days, the cozy fires, the good food, log-wrangling with Martin, Leslie and me laughing hysterically over nothing at all.

He shakes his head disgustedly, but recovers with his usual line, “Oh, well, that was a long time ago. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast.”

I nod, laugh, frown.

Laughter in the face of reality is one of the finest sounds there is. In fact, a good time to laugh is any time there is.”  Linda Ellerbee


2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

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Morning walks clear the head.

For the past week a bad cold gripped my head, a cold I caught from my husband who still insists he didn’t have one. For once, I took my own advice and lay low, resting and drinking lots of tea, force-feeding Vitamin C in various forms. I was a real grump because I couldn’t go out and play in the first snow of the season. I even forfeited my daily walks, until this morning.

img_4730Mid-morning, I heard Peter tell Nobby it was time time for a walk. The dog has adopted his master’s ways, he is not a morning dog; he needs coaxing. “Will you wait for me to get dressed so I can go with you?” I yelled. I was still in snowflake pj’s and mommy robe.

Peter smiled. “Yes! Thank  you,” he said. As I dashed upstairs I heard him tell Nobby “she” is going with us so we don’t get lost. He sounded happy. I had to hurry or he’d forget and leave without me.

We walked for nearly an hour, not so far in distance, but slowed by the dog’s need to figure out who else had walked that way.

The fresh air — mild after last weekend’s snow and near zero temperatures — revived me. Ideas began to gel, solutions to problems began to surface. By the time we came in the door, I felt better than I had in more than a week.

While I poured coffee, Peter studied the dry erase board beside me. “Today is Sunday, isn’t it?” he asked.  I nodded, then noticed he was wiping “Saturday” and “14” off the board. I’d been so wrapped up in my thoughts earlier that I hadn’t updated the message first thing, something I always do.

“Yay, you know what day it is!” I said. He smiled proudly while I updated the day and date.

Leslie called a little later. Did we want to go to a matinee and then to eat after? Yes we did. I added that information and showed the message board to Peter. Slowly, he read the words out loud, then smiled. “Something to do on Sunday,” he said.

Smiles are hard to find some days, but they are always worth looking for.

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2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

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Forever — is composed of nows —

For my husband to give me a meaningful card for our anniversary was present enough. But coupled with heart-shaped earrings in a beautiful little box, WOW!  With Leslie’s help — she offered him three choices — he picked the earrings and the handcrafted box to put them in. He doesn’t remember our Boxing Day anniversary, nor how many years we’ve been married, but some glimmer helped him choose perfectly.

When I opened the Leslie-wrapped present, he hung over my shoulder to see what he’d given me and why. “Our anniversary? Did I forget?” I said he hadn’t, and that the box and earrings were what he’d given me.

“I did a good job, didn’t I?” he said. “Did you give me something?”

“I did. That card on the mantle…and shoes.”

“Shoes? You gave me shoes?”

I laughed. “Two pair yesterday,” I said.

“Why?”

“Why did I give you shoes, or why did I give you two pair?

“Yes.”

“”Well, shoes because you’ve been complaining you don’t have any, and one pair because it was Christmas and the other pair as an early anniversary present…”

“Anniversary? Did I miss it?”

“No, it’s today, it’s ‘now,'” I said. I held the box up to show him Emily Dickinson’s line.

He shook his head. “I don’t know what that means.”

Hm, Dickinson is sometimes hard to explain. “It means ‘now’ should be treasured and celebrated, our anniversary, for instance. ‘Now’ means the present…right now…’forever’ is made of all our ‘nows.'”

I don’t think my stumbling explanation made sense to him, but he was pleased that I was pleased with “the present” he chose.

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Birdseye maple box, Mike Mikutowski Wood-working. Lapis lazuli earrings above, Cathy Guss

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest, second place, blog category.

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Trouble with a capital T rhymes with me!

My friend Bette made it a point to tell me she’d seen Peter at the grocery store recently. She figured I must be in the store somewhere, although she didn’t see me. Bette introduced herself to him because she knew he wouldn’t remember her name. His response was quick and so typical of him. “Don’t tell ‘anyone’ I’m here. I’ll be in trouble.”

Anyone meant me, of course.

She didn’t remember what day it was, but I figured it was probably the Tuesday he snuck out without telling me he was leaving, nor where he was going. When I realized he wasn’t here and that he had probably been gone well over an hour, I went looking. By the time I got home, he was back. “Where’ve you been?” he asked, greeting me at the door as if he’d been out looking for me.

“You didn’t tell you were going out,” I said. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“I didn’t know where I was going,” he said. “I just went for a walk.”

“Where?”

DSC01592He shook his head. “Can’t remember.…that was a long time ago.” He uses the “long time ago” line a lot in attempt to joke his way out of Trouble. His only Trouble would’ve been if he had gotten lost for real!

That evening I found a Hershey bar wrapper and deduced that he’d gone to Kroger’s.

Several days later someone else told me she’d seen Peter at Kroger’s and he seemed confused. She saw him leave and decided to call me — it was that same Tuesday. I didn’t see her voice mail until after he’d “found himself,” but it is comforting to know we have friends to help me keep track.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 11.56.06 AMI am researching personal tracking devices. There are several types on the market, but he wouldn’t use any of them willingly, and I know he would find ways to “lose” them. He’s crafty that way.  I wish someone would come up with a microchip like veterinarians implant in dogs. The idea would make Peter laugh…I think that will be my little secret.

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Breadcrumbs?

 

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Did anyone hear me yelling a few days ago? I yelled out of frustration with myself as much as with my husband…

…because once again he managed to confuse our so-called “smart” tv by pushing the wrong buttons on the [cable] remote. I’m not smart enough to know what’s wrong, so I can’t fix it.”

After stewing about the problem for days, I finally got smart and photographed the television screen with its various error messages. Then I gathered up the remotes and my smart phone and went to the shop where we bought the tv. I explained how the remote got bungled and asked if there was such a thing as a remote with on/off and channel/volume choices only? I laughed, but I wasn’t kidding.

The owner wasn’t kidding either when he suggested he might be able to disable the two problem buttons so they wouldn’t function at all.

“Go for it,” I said. Five minutes later he was done. I giggled when he told me he’d taped over the tiny printed circuit boards. “My husband was an electrical engineer for forty years,” I said. “At one time, problem-solving, printed circuit boards and codes were his expertise.” I put my sunglasses on quickly to hide the tears that flooded my eyes at the irony.

That evening, even with television viewing possible again, I suggested we go to a movie. “‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is playing,” I said. “Remember, we saw the previews…about a math genius. You thought it looked interesting.”

Peter nodded. “I do remember. Yes. Let’s go.” He was as surprised as I was that he remembered, but he’s always been numbers man. He can still count backwards by sevens from one hundred easily, a skill that is rated on Alzheimer’s assessments.

The movie was absolutely engrossing. One review gave it two stars, but I gave it five on a four-star scale. I peeked at Peter throughout. He never once nodded off. Every so often I asked if he understood what they were talking about because I certainly didn’t. He did.

On the way home, I asked again if he really understood all the terms — partitions, proofs, integers, numbers theory — gobbledygook to me. He laughed. “Course I did,” he said, “but that was way before my time.”

The brilliant minds of Srinivasa Ramanujan and G.H. Hardy (Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons) are beyond my ken, but I appreciate their story. I cried at the end. I almost never cry at movies.

The five partitions of the number four
1+1+1+1  |   1+1+2   |   1+3   |   2+2  |  4

Dementia moment.

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong these past several weeks. From our backed-up sewer pipe that breached the basement, to new stove installation that was a disaster start to finish, to Peter’s emergency eye problem, an infuriating parking ticket, and a television on the blink for five days.

The latter was the worst of it, in a way. Television is my husband’s friend. He’ll watch almost anything and lots of it.

This morning, when the technician departed after sorting our t.v. problems and the plumber left after he attached, properly, the gas line to my new range, Peter’s unsolicited hug was a welcome surprise.

“Sorry I’m no use to you anymore,” he said. I hadn’t realized he understood my frustrations dealing with all our problems on my own.

I hugged him back. “I’m sorry too,” I said. “But look, you’re here. That’s good use of you!”

He smiled and gave me another squeeze. It was moment I’ll remember, even if he won’t.

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Photos: Not fade away by Rachel B. Hayes, 2015. Site-specific installation at The  Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia, through 11/6/16.

 

The right eye had it.

As weeks go, last week was awful. Monday our sewer line backed up into the basement. And we had guests. I’m sure they were glad to leave Tuesday.

Things continued downhill — thank me for not sharing details. By Friday, I was knackered. I took Nobby to the vet at three o’clock, and promised myself I would relax afterwards with a cup of tea and the book I’d been trying to finish. Never happened.

Leslie called to ask if we wanted to meet for dinner then go to “My name is Doris.” Yes! Just what I needed. A meal I didn’t have to cook and a few laughs.

I encouraged Peter to take Nobby for a quick walk, while I made myself presentable. But before the leash was fastened, Peter came upstairs covering his right eye with his hand and a handkerchief. “Something in my eye… hurts…geez!”  It was watering and red, but I couldn’t see anything. I suspected he’d scratched his cornea. From experience, I knew how it hurt. A warm water rinse didn’t help, nor did the drops I had on hand. I took him to “speedy” urgent care, and let Leslie know we wouldn’t join them.

Start to finish, we were there more than two hours, the final fifteen minutes of which my husband charmed both nurse and doctor. He was his chatty best, happy to have a new audience.

“Where are you from?” the doctor asked.

Oh, heavens, I begged silently, give her a straight answer. After mulling his usual responses he said, “Hammersmith.” Different from his usual, “Oi’m from London, int-eye?” He added, “‘Burrah’ [borough] of London,”

She laughed. “That’s what I thought.” She told him she’d been to England several times and loved it. “I probably like Scotland even more though,” she added.

“Ooo, caw, they tauk funny up there,” he said.

The nurse took over when the doctor left the room, then we were free to leave. “Cheerio,” the doctor called as we headed down the hall.

Peter embellished his “Cheerio” with a Dick VanDyke double-hop-skip out the door. What could we do but laugh?

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Saturday morning, he had just gotten up when I returned from my walk. His eye was puffy, weepy. “How does it feel this morning?” I asked.

Confusion spread across his face in italics. “How does what feel?”

“Your eye! Don’t you remember how it hurt last evening…we went to the clinic…didn’t have any dinner?” If anything, he’d remember not eating.

“I can’t remember anything, you know that,” he said.

Sometimes, I suppose, there are advantages to having dementia.

Random thoughts, not remembered.

Peter has trouble expressing himself more and more frequently. The other evening he was trying to explain something, but his words were jumbled. I leaned closer hoping I could catch a few words and make sense of them. Instead, he smacked himself on the head and said, “My thoughts just won’t stay in one place long enough for me to remember what I’m trying to say.”

We both laughed, but that in itself was quite a mouthful for him these days.

APHASIA (uhfey-zhuh) noun, Pathology.
The loss of a previously held ability to speak or understand
spoken or written language, due to disease or injury of the brain.

It’s so difficult for those of us whose thoughts do stay in one place to imagine what it would be like to have some form of dementia. Peter falls back on his sense of humor to get by, and I borrow on that a lot. At times, though, it’s exhausting, probably as much for him as it is for me.

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©Dan Murphy cartoon, 6/18/95

Later Peter asked, “Did you know me before my mind got like this,” he waggled his hands above his head, “before my bike accident?”

“Of course I did, silly,” I answered. “That was in 1980. We met in 1974. Besides, your mind didn’t get ‘like this’ until a few years ago. ‘”

“How do you remember all that?”

“‘Elephant brain’,” I joked. “Important stuff. How could I forget?”

“I did,” he said sadly.

 

Header photo: web grab

‘Laughing all the way…’

“You’ve made my tea!” Peter had just come back from walking Nobby. He was surprised because I don’t usually make his multiple morning cups of tea.

“Yes, Leslie is coming by to pick you up in twenty minutes. She’s taking you shopping.”

“Why? Do I need to go shopping?”

“You don’t need to, but you always like to look,” I said. “You don’t have to buy anything.”

He grinned. “Oh, I get it. You put her up to this, didn’t you?”

“Nope. She just called and said she was taking you out. It’ll be fun.”

“Well, I love ya’ anyway, don’t I?” he said as he came towards me, arms outstretched for a hug.

I stalled him by pulling his jacket open to check if his shirt was clean. “Oh, you look good!” I said, surprised.

Without so much as a pause, he yanked my hoodie open, gave me his lecherous glance, and said, “You do too, Darlin’!”

I doubled over with laughter. He hasn’t forgotten how to lay it on. With his hug I handed him a generous supply of cash. Just in case he, you know, wanted to buy anything for anyone…for Christmas.

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