My Journey Toward Peace
In the fall of 2019 I was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, much to my surprise.
The story leading up to it is not important, other than to note that it occurred over several subsequent sessions with my doctor, a geriatric physician, in Santa Fe who had been my physician since moving here in the fall of 2017. At each annual checkup a short cognitive test is performed as required by Medicare for seniors (I am soon to be 77 years old), and I performed the first two with flying colors.
The tests are standard, there are several versions of them, and they measure short term memory. The part I recall most is a test given to suspected drunk drivers to ascertain their degree of sobriety (this goes back to my Navy days during the Vietnam War era) and consist of verbally counting backward from 100 by 9's (or sometimes from another number, in order to weed out people like me who would memorize the sequence to pass the test), until you either pass or fail. As a trained engineer, I usually breezed through them, without regard to my state of inebriation. I have not been required to pass such a sobriety test if over fifty years, I will add.
On one of these recent occasions, I did not perform adequately. I was quite surprised, and so we conducted some other tests with no problems. Subsequently, I took the tests again, with slight variations (one has the patient draw a clock with numbers and hour and second hands to correspond with a particular time the physician indicates and which you do not know in advance). On one of those tests I did not draw the hands correctly, to my great surprise.
Based on these and some other similar tests, I was diagnosed first with mild cognitive impairment, then cognitive impairment, then mild Alzheimer's Disease, and the final winning prize, full Alzheimer's Disease.
I of course was in almost total denial, as I functioned effectively in all worldly matters, I thought, until my wife Liz said that she had seen similar memory issues in me but had not made a big deal out of them.
I am now beginning to notice that although I can handle all matters easily and completely, that sometimes I do forget things, or fail to notice some errors. This is highly difficult to accept, but there is the evidence, and after all, I am an evidence-based engineer, albeit a frail human (more about that later).
I am now taking every vitamin supplement known to mankind (you'll note throughout these diaries that I tend to exaggerate for effect, in an attempt to laugh off bad news), since studies show that nutrition and exercise are the most effective antidotes to memory issues, and I have greatly increased my use of and awareness of those remedies in the two year or so I have been in Santa Fe. I have become a nutritional supplement "junkie", if you will. In fact, I am in my best physical shape of my life by most standards (Body Mass Index around 23, where it used to be 30), my lowest weight in perhaps forty years, far better than my pudgy self throughout my life to date, and feel great. It's just that I can't remember "stuff " sometimes. And I even sometimes revert to denial, but not overly so. And more often humor, as you will see, which is my primary coping mechanism.
In addition, I am taking Aracept, a prescription medication, which in my experience gives me the most vivid and unusually interesting dreams I have ever had, and is a known side effect. I have no idea if it helps my memory since there is no control situation, meaning that I don't know how I would be memory-wise were I not taking it. The more, the merrier, has been my often-used remedy for discomfort throughout my life, a precept which I am now reluctantly re-examining.
So what really is the purpose of this website? I thought it would be kind and generous of me to donate my wit and humor (and denial) to describe how one can come to accept and deal with this type of bad news. It's good therapy for me, I'm a passable writer, and rather than donate my body to science, I could donate this website to whatever use others may find for it.
I have no idea at this point what the outcome or direction or content will be, and will simply go with the flow and see what happens. Perhaps I'll discover something in me that could be useful to me or others, or not.
I invite you to come along for the ride and view the somewhat irregular diary entries that will follow as time and my whims permit.
One final note: The cover page shows a cairn in a small canyon leading to a grave site nearby. I was not trying to be wittingly morbid, but saw that as we get older in life, some look at their life and ask eternal questions about purpose and contribution and impact and meaning. Ultimately, the cairns of whatever type we leave on our path finally lead to the same resting place; the difference is perhaps one's view of their usefulness and value to those who share, or come after, our own journey.