By Teresa Swartz Roberts
19. Copyright 2017
Me (reading a Snapple cap “real fact”): Tennessee’s state animal is the raccoon.
My Honey: I wonder what Georgia’s state animal is.
The Boy: I remember Maine’s state bird is the chickadee, but I don’t know the state animal.
Me: Did you hear that Jennifer Garner is doing another action role?
Welcome to Hypertext Theater.
My mother-in-law, who had Alzheimer’s Disease, used to start conversations in the middle. She’d say, “You know it?” My husband would say, “What, Mom?” And her answer would be something like, “Onions.” It all made perfect sense to her, and we’re pretty sure she was doing that before the Alzheimer’s took hold.
A percentage of Parkinson’s patients, from 10 to 40 depending on the source, will develop dementia. I am afraid of losing my mind. My family is afraid for me. We’ve been through the process with my mother-in-law and my mother and other beloved family members. One of my best friends has Alzheimer’s Disease. So I am aware of the signs and tend to examine my hypertexts to see whether they make some kind of sense.
Jennifer Garner is from West Virginia, my home state. But there’s more. She, like a lot of West Virginians, has a fierce love for the Mountain State. She’s not afraid to share that love, and she shared it with Conan O’Brien in a 2012 appearance. Garner knew the state insect and broke into a spirited rendition of the state song. It makes sense that a discussion of state animals and birds would lead to a mention of Jennifer Garner, a home-town girl who made good. Right? I’m making sense, right? That’s a question I ask myself a lot.
The other day, I started to pour some Snapple into a cup with ice, but then I realized I was pouring into the Dixie cup where I had laid out my medicine. I felt like an idiot. For a minute. Then I thought about all the videos I’ve seen that showed people poking themselves with straws or drinking ketchup because they weren’t paying attention. I said so, and my son said, “I’m glad you said that. You usually ask if you’re developing dementia when you do something like that.” For the record, I also ask passengers to evaluate my driving. I don’t want to be the last to know I’m unsafe.
I don’t know whether I will know if I do start losing my mind. I like to think I’d be like Charlie in the novella and later expanded novel Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. I’m going all the way back to junior high for these memories. Charlie is developmentally disabled and has an operation, first tried on Algernon the mouse, that makes him more intelligent. Spoiler alert– it works, and then it starts to reverse itself, and Charlie is smart enough to understand what it means when Algernon the mouse dies. As I recall, Charlie writes down what he thinks about it all. I think I’d like to know and keep track, but maybe I’m wrong.
I definitely have changed how I think. A friend who has Lyme Disease mentioned experiencing changes in cognitive capacity, a wonderful description. Parkinson’s is a brain disease that mostly affects movement, but there are also cognitive effects. Multi-tasking can be difficult. Following a complicated conversation or plot can be difficult. Parkinson’s patients often have to think about their movements, telling their muscles to take a step or open their fingers. It is literally difficult to chew gum and walk at the same time. It’s a new way of thinking.
My neurologist, who has been urging me to stop putting off a knee replacement, doesn’t understand my reluctance. I’ve decided to avoid the replacement as long as possible until I can no longer endure the pain or my knee won’t hold me. Why? I worry that the anesthesia will cause neural confusion. He told me that the confusion following surgery is technically delirium, not dementia, and it’s not permanent, although it could last for months. I’m not willing to give up the time until I must. I celebrate every day I have. I need every day.
So what am I going to do? I’ll keep learning, listening, creating. Yesterday I met a long-term goal by writing a long piece of fiction, a novella, that I entered in a contest. I don’t need to win; I’ve already crossed the finish line. As tough as it is to keep track of people, policy, and technology in today’s world, I follow current events. I embrace creativity. I’ve been learning to paint and have been finding my style for the last couple of years. These activities help me be myself and be more than myself–expand myself. When I worry, I try to worry creatively, which means I sometimes come up with solutions.
The neurologist says that if I’m going to develop dementia, I’m going to develop dementia. Well, that’s pretty definitive. No solution to figure out. So I guess I don’t have anything to worry about.