“Adele… skip.” I fingered the next button on the Spotify app, making it the first time ever that I skipped an Adele song. The last thing I needed was the melancholy of Adele. I was not going to have a meltdown in front of uniformed strangers.
Before me was a pen tethered to a blue chipboard. Awaiting me was a multiple-page questionnaire. I didn’t know I was applying for a job here. I was no stranger to overly-lengthy questionnaires. The army makes me fill in one at the end of every reservist cycle, asking deeply-philosophical questions about loyalty and how I feel about being the nation’s sacrificial lamb.
I felt momentary relief when I read this line: “Have you ever yelled at the relative as a way of getting him/her to do something the right way?” My guilt was temporarily assuaged. There and then I knew I wasn’t the only one who did so. It was, for lack of a better word, normal. I wasn’t the devil incarnate.
The other pages of questions offered little comfort. I checked ‘yes’ in columns that read: “Reduced interest in hobbies”; “Repeats questions, stories or statements”; “Forgets day, date, month or year”; “Consistent problems with thinking and/or memory”; and more. It began with the little things. Her misplacing items, from her identification card (twice) to her wallet and even dentures. There was the incessant repetition of questions. With relatives around, we’d laugh (with good intentions). When left alone with her, everyone would find it exhausting to hold a conversation.
I of course knew much about dementia and the ugly symptoms it reared. After all, I have spent 11 years studying the topic. Okay, watching Grey’s Anatomy. Ellis Grey, erstwhile brilliant surgeon and mother of titular character Meredith Grey, had early Alzheimer’s. There is even speculation that Meredith had inherited her mother’s condition. I put two and two together. My relatives did too.
And finally after an hour of “pointless activities” — my mother’s words after she was put through an initial cognitive test — we were summoned to the doctor’s office. Her results for the cognitive test were not good. The doctor’s downcast countenance betrayed her attempt to remain upbeat.
“Unfortunately, it is dementia.” She then reconciled the test results with my personal account of my mother’s condition.
My mother took it surprisingly well. She said, almost too defensively, that her father had dementia too — true, but he was in his twilight years when that happened.
I too took the diagnosis well the whole time I was in the doctor’s office. It had been a long time coming. Why did we wait this long? I guess it was the binary of fear and hope. The fear that something really is wrong; and that last glimmer of hope that maybe it wasn’t our worst fears manifested. But now it’s official. It has a name. It’s real.
And just like that, I soared through the ranks to become a care-giver. As the youngest child, I was always the spoilt brat. Look ma, I’m all grown up. Oh, wait.
After the consultation, my mother still had to do a blood test and undergo a MRI. The doctor explained that they wanted to see if there had been strokes in the brain — and in my mind I was like, “Doctor, please. I watch Grey’s Anatomy. I know what a MRI is for.”
I beelined for the payment counter. There I sat, as the nurse took me through the schedules and payments. She spoke in a saccharine, uplifting voice. Through my peripheral vision I saw there were two nurses hovering. Their faces were stern. They were very quiet. That was when I felt the gravity of it all. I stifled a cry just in time with a deep breath.
When we reached home, I quizzed my mother on what transpired this morning. It was the second time I did so in one afternoon. “Do you remember what the doctor said? Do you know what your diagnosis is? Do you know why you were at the doctor’s?”
“For my ears.”
I honestly do not know if she does not remember. Maybe she does, but is just making up a wrong answer as a form of defence mechanism.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s good that she doesn’t.