I’m sitting at work a little after noon today and the phone rings. It’s J. As usual, she’s speaking in broken phrases, but she has my attention. J has Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a continuing care retirement community. She almost never calls me, and usually only when she’s in distress. She manages to get out, “I have a problem.” “Do you need something?” “Yes.” But what? I suggest a few things but don’t get an answer I can understand.
Next I call the nursing office on her floor. The nurse says she was in a couple of days ago asking for toothpaste. That’s funny. Not that long ago, I bought her two large tubes. A couple of days after that, friends who had visited J let me know that she didn’t have any toothpaste when they were there, so they kindly got her some. Where is the toothpaste going? Could it be the same place as the many articles that disappeared around the house when she was still there?
I ask the nurse to visit J’s room and call me back. Before that happens, my phone rings. It’s J again. Twice in one day! “Is everything ok?” “Yes,” she says. “Do you need something?” “Yes.” “Toothpaste?” “Yes.” I’m not convinced.
No one calls me back, so I keep dialing until someone picks up in the nurses’ office. I speak to Gwen, who tells me that J was walking around yesterday carrying an empty tube. She was offered the off-brand stuff the CCRC carries. She looked at it, said, “Huh,” and walked away. Toothpaste it is.
While I was waiting for the call back from the nurse, I thought about the weekend after last when I visited J. She has plenty of hoodies and sweaters, but when I was leaving, she hugged herself and mimicked shivers. “Are you cold?” “Yes,” she said, eyeing my favorite hoodie from Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. “Let’s go up to your room. You have plenty of hoodies there.” “No, I don’t.” (Let’s not even mention the one I bought her at the San Diego Zoo, which she now insists we never visited.) Off came my hoodie and onto her. Big smile.
The next week I go see J. My hoodie, as well as two others, lay in a heap on her closet floor. I pick mine up. “Do you like this?” “No,” J says, with a look of disgust. “Do you mind if I take it?” “No.”
I’m not proud of myself, especially since I preach to our children that things don’t really matter. But I have to admit I’m happy to have the hoodie back. I have always thought that having children made me less selfish. I can’t say that having a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease has the same effect.
So I’m going to focus on what her face is likely to look like tomorrow when her brother produces the Crest. Another big smile.