As I sit in the breakfast restaurant I feel the kindred spirit of my dad. My dad went out to get a strawberry crepe before he went to visit mom. I ordered a peanut butter pancake, while my wife and son are in Ontario. Its like the adventure,”no one is watching lets eat something sweet for breakfast.” But the difference between dad and I end there: in a couple of days my wife and son will be home, but my mom is not coming home – she is in a “memory care” center, living out the remainder of her days because a disease has robbed her mind.
It has been difficult for dad, as well as my brother, and I to watch mom go through this deterioration. We didn’t want to believe it; we wanted to think it was something else-her medicine, her seizures, her depression. It was a rapid decline from a woman who for over 65 years was my dad’s companion, who every morning would get up- clean the house, go outside and work in her garden and then the two of them would go to breakfast together. In what seemed like a short period of time she retreated from that world to just sitting in a chair.
The golden years were not kind to mom. First macular degeneration stole her vision; she can see shapes, and light, but cannot read. She had to give up cooking because she couldn’t read the settings on the stove, or tell when food was properly cooked, and my mom is the best cook I know. Her hearing started to leave her, and since my dad has a low voice, it was hard for her to hear the man she loves.
Then she became confused. It was difficult to tell because mom has suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy for years and after a seizure mom was always, to quote her,”out of it.” She was having more of the temporal lobe seizures, but then we noticed more confusion, especially at night when she would say, “What am I suppose to do now?” Dementia isn’t kind, because you know what is happening to you, and at one point she said that she thought she should get turned over to the state because she just wasn’t any use to anyone anymore.
Two hospitalizations later, we made trips back to Oregon to see how she was. At times she seemed just fine- but then she would drift off again.The last time she went to the hospital they diagnosed her with a rapid progression of dementia. It was time to find a place for her to go where she could be taken care of around the clock, by amazing people who dedicate their lives to this.
It isn’t easy. Mom now will spit it out if she doesn’t like it. When mom was well, always the lady, would never have done that- but now she will spit it out at the people who serve it – unless it is my dad.
For dad, waking up and not having mom next to him in bed is hard. Imagine for over 65 years you wake up to the same person, have daily conversations with them, and then it is gone. I’ve only seen my dad cry a couple of times in life, the last time was when my brother died. He has had a lot of tears now.
Talking to dad everyday is a joy- and we share our “secret” moments of having gotten away with eating something sweet. The truth is, both of us would rather have our family back and eating with sensibility.
It made me realize something: when there is a “bad” moment between my wife and I – an angry look, or a misunderstanding, I have to go out of my way to make sure there are a lot more moments where she is happy – be it scratching her back, smiling at her, complimenting her. Life ends all too soon- so when my wife and son come home I am going to hug them extra hard, because the tears of joy will someday end in tears of sorrow, and I want as much joy as I can get while I can get it.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.