Over the Hill

‘I’m hungry. I didn’t have breakfast today,’ she said. That was my first Alzheimer’s clue

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

On Feb. 12 I was gripped by the Tribune’s “Ask the Doctors” feature. I read it very carefully, several times. It was about Alzheimer’s disease. You see, my wife Mamie died last Fourth of July, and the cause of death on her official death certificate is “ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE.”

That article in the Tribune said that as of the year 2016, 5.4 million Americans were afflicted with Alzheimer’s and the number of cases is increasing. So far there is no known cure.

I began to suspect that Mamie might have Alzheimer’s more than 10 years earlier. The first mention of it that I could find in my disorganized collection of notebooks is dated Jan. 22, 2007. I wrote, “This morning we went to Vic’s for breakfast. We usually go each Saturday. Then this noon, or more like 1 p.m. Mamie said, ‘I’m hungry. I didn’t have breakfast today.’”

That note also says, “Yesterday morning I cooked us oatmeal for breakfast. (Then) Yesterday noon, or 1 p.m. she said, ‘I’m really hungry today. I didn’t eat any breakfast.’ I reminded her about the oatmeal and the two pieces of toast.”

The same note also says that later that afternoon I came in from the garage and couldn’t find her anywhere. I looked in every room twice. I then looked in the backyard and finally found her in the narrow side-yard that we seldom use. She was sweeping a few leaves with a broom.

I offered to get a rake. She said the broom was fine. Then she said, “I’m really depressed.”

About 1½ months later, I wrote in that same notebook about surgery I’d had two days earlier to remove a skin cancer from my right hand. I wrote, “Mamie went with me and sat in the waiting room while it was done. We have discussed the surgery since then.”

A little farther down I wrote, “Tonight as we were eating supper, she looked at the bandage on my right hand as if trying to remember something and said, ‘How did you hurt your hand?’” (“Oh, Mamie.”)

But she wasn’t confused all the time. During that same period, on Feb. 5, 2007, Mamie’s powerful sense of sympathy temporarily swept aside her brain’s multiplying cobwebs.

We had stopped for lunch north of Paso Robles at the truck stop at Highway 101 and Wellsona Road. Looking out the restaurant window, we saw a woman pull into the parking but not get out of her car. Instead she started feeding her baby with a bottle.

Mamie watched intently and finally went out to ask the woman if she needed any help. They had a smiling conversation. The woman thanked her, and said she was fine and would soon be home in Morro Bay. Mamie returned to our table satisfied.

But that was just a temporary victory in Mamie’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.

Soon came more confusion, a walker, a wheelchair, a nursing home and on this past Fourth of July, she died. We must find a cure.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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