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

Monday, April 16, 2012

Four Times Around

Tommy holds two hands in the air. Two fingers on each hand are raised. He uses one hand to draw a circle in front of him, as if he were twirling a lasso. He draws that circle twice. His face shines with sweat and he is smiling.

“Four times around,” I say. “That’s two miles!”

He nods, “yes.”

My husband’s first attempt, to walk around the park for exercise instead of riding his bike, is a success. This shouldn’t surprise me; he used to be a runner.

“Half marathons,” he said back in 1996 when we first met. He was 61, muscled with no visible fat, divorced, and a bachelor for 15 years. I was 58, separated from my husband of 30 years, and on the lookout for a second.

Just a few months after our first hellos and a sweet romance, little by little, Tommy moved in with me. His exercise gear came first. Dozens of T-shirts, imprinted with running event logos, scooted my Gap T’s along the closet rod.

I relinquished one dresser drawer, then two, for his shorts, tank tops, and tube socks. And when his well-worn running shoes jumbled onto the closet floor, my high heels and sandals adjusted.

Once my divorce was final, Tommy and I married, and his workout stuff claimed permanent residency. Several years later he stopped running. Plantar fascia, or some other pain in the bottom of his foot ended it. To keep in shape, he switched to an elliptical machine at the local Y. And, when weather permitted, rode his Schwinn.

I’m happy to see my husband continue to be active today. He has Primary progressive aphasia (PPA), a degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain that affects speech. In some cases, the illness impacts physical condition. Perhaps Tommy’s allegiance to fitness has deflected this symptom.

Because he communicates by gestures, nods, and words on note pads, when he rides his bike, I insist on him carrying his cellphone, notepad and golf-sized pencil. This way, if he were to have an accident, he could communicate to a passerby and get help.

I thought I was doing well protecting my husband, but a few nights ago, I changed my mind. Tommy and I happened to be undressing for bed at the same time. Usually, I turn in two hours before him. But because we returned home late from a Passover dinner, he joined me upstairs.

He pulled off his sweater and an old running event logo T-shirt he uses as an undershirt. When he started to shuck his slacks, I saw it. Tommy’s body, still slim as the day we met, now bore a black and blue bruise. It was imprinted on his left thigh and resembled a drawing of a map of Italy. Long, wide at one point, then narrowing.

“Tommy, what happened?” I asked. I ran my hand over the surface of the bruise, as if I were stroking a kitten. “Does it hurt?”

He shook his head “no.”

“When did this happen?” No answer. This bruise could’ve been on my husband’s thigh for days or weeks.

“Are you sure it doesn’t hurt? I’ll call the doctor in the morning,” I said.

A head shake, “no.”

“Did it happen at the Y? Did you fall off the elliptical?”

Another head shake.

“Did you fall off your bike?”

A nod, “yes.” Bingo.

“When?” I sat down on the edge of the bed.

He took a pad and pencil from his nightstand -- we have these all over the house -- and wrote, “2.”

“Two days ago? Why didn’t you tell me?”

A shrug as he replaced the pad and pencil.

To me, the bruise appeared to be more ominous then a tumble off a bike.

“Were you hit by a car?” My heart was pounding.

Head shake, “no.”

Before I could continue, he got into his side of the bed, turned his back to me, and pulled the covers over his head.

“Honey,” I said, loud enough to penetrate his shield. “You have to take a break from bike riding until that bruise heals.” I meant forever. “If you want exercise, how about walking around the park? Once around is half a mile.”

This day, when Tommy returned from the park and triumphantly acted out his lasso routine, I breathed easier. After all, how much trouble can a fat-free former runner, banned bicyclist, and current walker get into as he strides four times around?

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