What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 2

Alzheimer’s cannot destroy my mother’s legacy.

She was a registered nurse – not because she loved nursing or even because she had always wanted a career in medicine. She was a nurse because that was her only choice.cross necklace

During World War 2, the war effort needed more nurses. So they put out a plea for women who might be interested (male nurses did not exist at the time). If a woman signed up to be an Army nurse, the government would pay for her training and her license.

My mother wanted to be a writer, but she had no possibility of pursuing a degree at a liberal arts college. The only way she could somehow earn a degree beyond high school was to accept the Army’s offer and become a nurse.

So that’s what she did. It was her only choice, and she made it a good choice because she worked hard all her life to care for others.

Mom finished the training, but just before she was to be sent overseas, the war ended. So she never really served as an Army nurse, but her degree served her well.

I used to watch her dress for work. White uniform (always a dress, slacks were not allowed), white hose, white shoes polished every day, the starched white hat and no jewelry except a simple wedding band.

But one day, I watched as Mom slipped a tiny cross necklace underneath her uniform.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to wear any jewelry,” I queried.

“That’s right, but I wear this next to my heart,” Mom said. “It’s a reminder of who I am.”

“What do you mean?”

“This cross reminds me I’m a Christian. It helps me remember how I should behave when a doctor yells at me, when I have to tell a family that their baby is dead or when I have to clean up someone’s poop. I am serving others because I love Jesus, and he came to earth as a servant. I am serving in his name.”

I have never forgotten that moment. It is part of Mom’s legacy, a piece of who she is.

Alzheimer’s cannot take that away.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Tip # 1 for Caregivers

If Reverend G were writing this blog—and isn’t that a bit weird, b/c she and I really are writing this blog—she would remind us of the 7 Tips for Caregivers.

Tip # 1 is “Talk to Me.”

When we deal with Alzheimer’s patients, it is easy to forget that a living, breathing human being is in the room. Sometimes they no longer speak or their speech is affected by expressive aphasia and we can’t understand them. Most often, they want to communicate, but the correct words fail to travel from brain to tongue. In the “Unraveling of Reverend G,” even her beloved doctor talks around her and instead, addresses her son. She feels ignored and betrayed by the horrid disease that hounds her.

Last spring, my sister and I took Mom to the emergency clinic. She had a vicious cough, followed by a wheeze so we were worried about pneumonia. At one point, Mom sat on the sterile table while the doctor discussed her symptoms with my sister and me. Mom listened and acted alert, but we talked around her.

I was in the middle of editing my book, writing about Reverend G and how others ignored her. So I suddenly realized what we were doing. I looked directly at Mom and said, “The doctor is going to give you some medicine. It will help your cough. What do you think about that?”

In her typical take-charge fashion, she announced, “I’m fine. Just fine. Nothing wrong with me.”

In spite of Mom’s rebuttal, we drove to the pharmacy and bought her medicine. She swallowed it and soon felt better. But at least I gave her the opportunity to state her opinion and hopefully, she felt as if we had not forgotten her.

So Reverend G would remind us, “Keep communicating with me, even if I can’t answer. Look me in the eyes, touch me, show me you still care about the person hiding inside me. Remind me that I still matter.”

“Talk to me.”