Alzheimer’s. Enough Already.

Several months ago, my dad’s nursing home roommate died. No one called to tell me. Well, they called, but only to let me know my dad would be getting a new roommate. 

“That’s fine,” I said. “But, why’s he getting someone new? What happened to Mr. Grant?” 

“Oh…well. Sadly, he passed away a few days ago.” 

“My God,” I said. “I just saw him!” You know. As if that mattered. 

I hung up the phone and thought about this, because I am nothing if not an over-thinker. What if I hadn’t asked? Weren’t they going to tell me? Didn’t I deserve to know? 

I didn’t know Mr. Grant, of course. In general, it’s very hard to know a person once they’ve reached the stage where they need full-time dementia care. But I said hello to him all the time and he occasionally said it back. I listened when he muttered to himself about someone who was “always too busy” and “why don’t I just dig my own grave.” I did not share my dad’s cookies with him, because he was diabetic and wasn’t supposed to have them. I suspect he helped himself to them anyway after I’d gone. It’s possible that I had a hand in killing him, by bringing the cookies in the first place. I choose not to dwell on that.  

These days, every time I go to the nursing home, I take a mental roll call. There’s Bert, who sits by the window and never fails to ask whether my kids are playing baseball today. There’s Grace, who always wears a winter coat and only wants grilled cheese for lunch. Over there is Richard, who thinks he’s married to Margaret except when his real wife is there, then he’s married to her. And here comes Annemarie, who is one of my favorites. Recently a guy was shaking the back of my dad’s chair for no apparent reason, and Annemarie walked over and stood in front of my dad, leaning so she was right in the guy’s face. “If you don’t leave him alone,” she said to the guy, “I will knock you on your ass.” Annemarie is about 84. The guy, either chastised or frightened, walked away. 

Days go by where I don’t see one of them, Annemarie or any of the others, and I start to worry but I feel weird asking. Like maybe HIPAA prevents me from inquiring as to whether a person is still alive. I don’t know. Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen Stevie and his Scooby-Doo doll in a while, nor have I seen Mr. Gordon, who says hilarious things and then turns around and threatens someone’s life and/or limbs. Once, I got there and the person I couldn’t find was my dad, but then I located him riding an exercise bike in the physical therapy room, because he is like Michael Myers and really cannot be killed. It is unsettling to say the least. 

There are new people coming on the floor all the time – honestly, it gets to where a person can’t keep up. I did make friends with a woman named Elizabeth, who has very nice hair and who told me about the time Mario Lemieux visited the nursing home. Which never happened. There’s another lady who throws entire drinks on nurses and aides and then screams at them to bring her another. “I said, bring me more water, bitch!” Her words, not mine. You can’t help but think she was always like this, that she beat her children with wire hangers and threw skillets at her husband when he dared stop off for a drink after work. But the fact is, you have no idea. She may have been the brown-sugar-scented grandma of your dreams. This is dementia. 

It’s Annemarie who I wonder about the most. She’s a busybody and a flirt, and she’s not afraid of anyone (hence the “I will knock you on your ass”). She tells me often that I don’t need to worry, that she takes care of my dad when I’m not around. “I love him,” she said. When I expressed my appreciation for this, she followed it up with, “Listen. What I am saying to you is that I am in love with him.” She also told me once that she’s 94 years old (she isn’t) and that her mother, still alive, is 130. “People can’t believe it,” she told me. “I’ll bet,” I said. 

I can’t imagine that Annemarie could die – die! – and I would never know it.  

That’s it. I’ve made up my mind. Next time I go there I’m going to ask, at least about Stevie for sure. Stevie once told me that when he was young he’d been hit by a train in Oakmont, but he didn’t sue anyone because he’d been running numbers at the time and worried about getting in trouble. It had the ring of truth and so I believed him, even though I’ve watched him “feed” Scooby-Doo with my own eyes.

Last but not least, there’s Ellen. She doesn’t say much. She’s small and resembles my mother a bit, and once my dad said she was his girlfriend. I think he’s since forgotten the relationship and I’m pretty sure she never knew about it in the first place. Her husband was with her one day, and he told me they’d been married for 58 years. Ellen’s face lit up at this.

“We’re married?” she said, awestruck.

“We are,” said her husband. “You’re my wife.”

“Oh!” I’d never seen Ellen smile before, now I didn’t think she’d ever stop. “Well,” she said, “it’s so nice of you to come and visit me.”

My family and I will participate again this year in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. You can join our team or make a donation here. We probably won’t cure Stevie or Annemarie or the water-throwing lady or my dad. All the same, I’m pretty sure future generations will thank us if we can put this nonsense behind us once and for all.

Unless You’re The Fonz, Please Don’t Use A Toilet As Your Office

Once you reach a certain age, I think it’s around forty, you start to hear people talk a lot about “the old days.” Things were so much better then, according to the people who talk about it. They say things like, we didn’t come in until the streetlights came on and we had discipline and no one gave me a trophy even when I won that Presidential thing in gym class! And so on.

These people are a tiny bit obnoxious, if you want to know my opinion. I mean, times change. The world changes. Progress is made and some things get better at the same time as other things get stupider. When today’s children reach this ‘certain age,’ they’ll be saying things like, “I’m so glad there was no teleporting when was in high school,” or whatever. This is just the way it goes and on the whole, I’m sticking with the opinion that progress is inevitable and also generally good-ish.

However. There is actually one thing I really do miss about the glorious era that was the 1970’s and 80’s, which is that we did not talk on telephones while we were using a toilet. Ever. Granted, this is because the phone cord typically did not reach the bathroom, especially in office buildings, so we couldn’t. Possibly if we had the option, we too would have forgot our manners and went crazy with the freedom. Possibly. But I doubt it.

Not to brag, but I use a lot of public restrooms. This isn’t some kind of weird fetish thing. I’m pretty sure that anyone who has a job outside the home uses public restrooms on the regular. This makes it pretty difficult to avoid occasionally peeing while someone else is shouting into their cell phone like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. By the way, I really disliked that movie. I think the drug-fueled nature of the whole thing just brought me down. In the end I didn’t just want Leo DiCaprio in prison, I actually wanted to end his life with my own hands in some very gruesome manner. And I don’t mean the character he played, I mean Leo DiCaprio himself, for having accepted such a sleazy, sickening role and then making matters worse by playing it so well.

Even so, I can honestly tell you that The Wolf of Wall Street did not chill me to the core quite as thoroughly as the sound of a cell phone conversation in a public shitter. “Shitter” being what my dad would call it, not me. Seriously. I think the worst thing a person can do in life, worse even than feeling apathetic toward our current government situation or not limiting a child’s screen time, is to engage in a telephone conversation while simultaneously engaging in emptying one’s bladder (or oh God, producing a bowel movement) in a public restroom.

Just yesterday I had a quick stop in the lobby restroom of the William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. While there, I got to overhear a woman discussing the promotion she recently did not get. She talked and peed as if that’s just what you’re supposed to do. It wasn’t even one of those quiet pees where the stream hits the side of the bowl very delicately and then goes gently off into that good night, or whatever the quote is. This was full-volume, waterfall pee. Then she flushed. There is no quiet flushing no matter what kind of high-tech plumbing you’ve invested in. The woman was confused about why she hadn’t gotten the promotion. I was not.

None of this is to say that all of this is A-OK if done in the privacy of one’s home; it’s really sort of unacceptable no matter where you are. The only reason I can give you a pass when you’re at home is because at least then, I don’t have to witness it. Assuming I am not the unlucky person on the other end of the line.

To sum up: I think the rules are pretty simple in life. Be kind. Don’t text and drive. Don’t talk and excrete waste from your body. I wish we could make this a law but I’m pretty sure it would never fly. The best I can do is what I’m doing here: asking the 7 or 8 people who read what I write to set an example. Be silent types in the women’s or men’s rooms. We’ll be starting small, but progress is progress and eventually I bet we can change the world.

Because, as I mentioned, change is good. Ish.