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Alzheimer’s – Lessons from my first patient

She was brought to the hospital the following morning and the doctors performed a battery of tests which revealed high beta amyloid levels and decreased temporal brain volume~ indicative of Alzheimer’s which rarely occurs at such a young age.

I touched the tarnished wooden door, the last in the hallway of one of the most prestigious medical facilities in the country and the veil between me and my first tryst with a patient.

Inside, was a petite middle aged woman, whose face was pretty in an unusual way. She was perched on a small hospital bed and hurried to sit up at the arrival of the team of doctors that I, timidly, accompanied. She greeted us with a beaming smile and nervous eyes. The distinguished doctor was quick with his routine enquiries after which he urged me to take lead and ask her relevant questions that would disclose what ailed her. I was shy in my approach, as expected of a newbie, and she was nothing but kind and patient with me. I learned that she was 42 years old, mother of two and lived in the nearby district, she had been married for nearly two decades now and had been frequenting the hospital for the past two months. What started as forgetting her keys or some passwords, led to a night spent away from home and her having no recollection of her whereabouts.

She was brought to the hospital the following morning and the doctors performed a battery of tests which revealed high beta amyloid levels and decreased temporal brain volume~ indicative of Alzheimer’s which rarely occurs at such a young age. She had been an accomplished lawyer, a loving mother, devoted wife and more to everyone she knew, yet now she seemed disoriented and detached from her old self.

Purple is the most recognizable color out of the color wheel. It tends to be the last color that Alzheimer’s patients forget. The elephant is a symbol because that is the only animal that will never forget anything.

The doctor began to proceed with his examination, and asked her to look at the clock plastered into the dull grey walls of the dingy room and announce the time. She smiled, uneasily and simply shook her head. The doctor turned towards the small window in the room and asked her to look outside, only asking her whether it was morning or night. His question was met with silence, and I felt the air in the room become heavier. I was astonished and also, devastated for her, yet she kept smiling sweetly at us, embarrassment clearly visible through her flushed cheeks and quivering hands. He then offered her a glass of water which she gulped down instantly and engaged with her in some trivial conversation that I could not hear, perhaps in an effort to calm her nerves.

The door was pushed audibly ajar and two children walked in, a boy, fourteen? And a girl trailing behind him, merely, six if I had to guess. Their faces, curious and eyes wide. They walked straight pass me and stood in front of their mother, while  their father slipped in quietly and stood behind me, silently observing the woman he married, fade away. She seemed overwhelmed at the site of her family, with a vast multitude of emotions that I fail to put adequately into words now. I learned later, that the children had been instructed to ask their mother if she knew their names. At the time that they did ask her, I could only imagine the turmoil that must have flooded the woman. What I can say, is that my heart has never recovered from the damage of seeing her fail to answer. Her eyes brimmed with tears, yet her smile never faded. She asked us to stop this, ‘inquisition’ of sorts, politely, but the doctors didn’t give in to her request. Instead he stepped forward, looking straight into her eyes, urging her to remember for the sake of her children. I saw her struggle and refuse repeatedly but he showed no mercy, while my attention split between her anguish and the frames on her bedside, filled with photographs of her laughing, her beauty accentuated by the small wrinkles of her once smiling face.

Sometime, in the middle of her agony, I chimed in, requesting the doctor to give them some privacy, telling him that I had learned enough for a day, when her husband whispered to me, his face twisted with hurt, “Medications can do only so much good, This pain is the cure for her dementia, to remind her that her family is  her strength to combat the loss of losing pieces of herself. ” I stood quietly, with pursed lips for the next twenty minutes as she glanced helplessly at all our faces, still unable to answer any of the questions.

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