*Primary Progressive Aphasia, a degeneration of the part of the brain that affects speech.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Matching Bands

In 1998, when Tommy and I got married, we went to Service Merchandise to buy matching gold wedding bands. It was the second marriage for both, we were in our 60's. I think we paid $25 for each. Fancy gems weren’t important to us back then; still aren't.

This year --2012 -- our gold rings still encircle our fingers, but we’ve added an accessory just a few inches below these symbols of our union.

We wear matching black flex bands with 2-inch-wide stainless metal plates. Engraving on the front side of Tommy’s reads, "Tom Madison, Aphasia, Chicago." On the inside, "Call Wife, Elaine Soloway," and my cell phone number.

While Tommy’s band is size 7, mine is 6. Engraved on the front side of mine is simply, "Elaine Soloway, Chicago." Thus far, I have no medical issue that requires explanation. Arthritis doesn't count, does it?

On the reverse of my band: "In Emergency, H. Soloway, MD," with my ex-husband's cell phone number. The two bands cost $46.90 including shipping and handling. Nearly the same as our gold ones.

I ordered our medical alert bracelets after Tommy got lost. “You shouldn’t let him travel alone,” a daughter had warned. But, I knew he treasured his CTA senior card, and I believed since all previous trips returned him home safely, he’d be fine. I had already taken away his car keys. I hated the idea of robbing him of one more symbol of independence.

On the afternoon Tommy got lost, he was on his way to see his speech therapist. Her office is at Michigan Ave. between Randolph and Washington in Chicago. One hour and 15 minutes after he left, the home phone rang. No one except marketers call on this line, and I’ve urged Tommy to only use my cell. But, I answered it.

Dead air. Finally, garbled words. “Honey, where are you?” I said. I held on to my desk. “Mmmm,” he got out.

“Are you in the subway?” I envisioned him in the depths, alone, scared. My grip tightened.

“Mmmm,” he repeated.

“Honey,” I pleaded. “Please find someone you can hand the phone to.”

I was grateful he carried his cell phone, grateful he could punch in the number -- even if it was the landline -- but terrified on how to find him.

Finally, a female voice. “Hi, this is Marcello’s.”

“Marcello’s on North Ave. and Halsted?” I asked.


“Tell my husband to wait there, I’m on my way.”

“Oh, he’s okay,” she said. “He just bought a slice of coffee cake.”

You know those photos of people doing super-human feats in an emergency? Wee women lifting automobiles off of trapped victims?

It was 4:30 p.m., rush hour in Chicago, and I was about to drive five miles from our house to the intersection of North Ave., Halsted St., and Clybourn Ave. -- the traffic triangle from hell. But, I was super human.

I put the leash on the dog, got in the car, and together we slogged along I90 to North Ave., then crept east to the restaurant. At every mile, I thanked God, grateful Tommy was found, grateful he was okay, grateful he ate coffee cake.

My husband was seated on a bench outside the restaurant. “How did you get here?” I asked. Before getting into the passenger seat, Tommy opened the back door and patted Buddy’s head.

The best I can figure from Tommy’s “yes” and “no” responses, is that he exited the subway at Washington and Dearborn as usual. Then, he got confused and started walking. And he walked the three miles to Marcello’s.

When the medical alert bands arrived a few days after this episode, I thought Tommy would balk at putting his on because he doesn’t like to cop to his illness. But, this time, no argument; he slipped it on.

My own medical alert band, with my ex's information was necessary because I can no longer list Tommy as emergency contact. “Do you mind?” I had asked Harry. We were married for 30 years, he knows my doctors, has our daughters’ phone numbers plugged into his cell, and with the MD after his name, I knew I’d get immediate attention. And, we are blessed with a good relationship. “No problem,” he said.

I only wear my medical alert band when I leave the house. But the gold ring hasn’t left my finger -- nor Tommy’s -- since the ecumenical minister who married us in Las Vegas encouraged their mutual exchange.

In that ceremony, as we slipped gold bands on each other's finger, we echoed the clergyman’s words. “In sickness and in health,” we vowed.

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