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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prince Charming

Tommy is on bended knee before me holding a Capezio ballet slipper in one hand. We are both laughing. The scene reminds me of Prince Charming when he finds his Cinderella and the perfect foot to fit the glass slipper.

Our mirth doesn’t exactly match the fairytale, but instead is my husband attempting to figure out where to put the elastic strap that crosses the instep on the shoes I use as house slippers.

“No, Honey, my foot goes under the strap and into the shoe,” I tell him as I put a hand on his shoulder to steady myself. But Tommy insists on putting the band on my heel.

I am unfazed; we have several days left to practice. I’m readying Tommy to help me when I return from hip replacement surgery and am not allowed to bend over to put on my own shoes. He is eager to show me he can come through for me.

Earlier that day at lunch, I deliberately dropped a napkin on the floor. “Honey,” I said, “this is a rehearsal. Can you pick up the napkin for me?” He did, with a grin. He was enjoying this gallant role.

My tests continued throughout the day. “Give me your elbow, please,” I said. Actually, this trial needn’t wait until post-surgery because I’m already a hobbler with my arthritic hip. “And walk slower, Honey, I can’t move this fast.” He complied, and like an escort leading an elderly patron to the opera, he moved one foot at a time.

At home, it was this request: “Keep your eyes on me as I walk up the stairs. Just in case I topple backwards.” Instead of viewing my assent from his spot on the couch, my Prince Charming rose and stood at the base of the stairs. He watched as I slowly practiced the step-to-step instructions in my pre-surgery pamphlet.

When I reached the top of the stairs, Tommy returned to the couch and his TV program. That was fine with me; he had completed enough tests to assure me he’d be a competent caregiver. And if I needed further evidence of his empathy for the ill, all I’d have to do is to recall an incident with an ailing uncle that convinced me Tommy would be a good mate.

My Uncle Nate was in a residential facility suffering from Parkinson’s and dementia. It was no longer safe for him to be at home. Tommy and I weren’t married at the time, just mature sweethearts when he accompanied me for a visit. As soon as they were introduced, Tommy said to my uncle, “Would you like to take a walk?” Then, he hooked an elbow and slowly ambled along the hallway with Uncle Nate.

As I watched the two men -- one a treasured figure in my childhood, the other a second-husband prospect -- I realized how important this trait would be in my life. Tommy would be someone I could count on, to care for me when the need would arise.

As it turned out, Tommy beat me to it. I’ve been the one wearing the caregiver’s cap. But I know, that if the situation were reversed, if I was the one suffering a variety of losses, my husband would not leave my side, nor protest his new responsibility.

So, we’re about to have a real-life test, albeit a temporary one. I’ll be in the hospital for two days (prayerfully), then home to rehab for three to six weeks.  Friends, relatives, and neighbors will be around to assist us both.

But there will be times during my return to physical health that it will be just my husband and I. While Tommy is silent in his requests, mine will be loud and insistent: “Honey, I want my cane,” I can hear myself saying. Or, “please put a load in the laundry so it doesn’t pile up.” Perhaps, “Can you start dinner? Make salads? Set the table?” All new language of need from yours truly.

I’ve been fortunate, in the years we’ve been together I’ve been a healthy woman -- no previous hospitalizations and no memorable cold or flu that required Tommy’s attentiveness. If there were, he evidently brought me the requested medicine, bucket, or broth, or I would have remembered his lapse. Wouldn’t I have?

I am certain that in this upcoming episode in our lives, Tommy will turn out to be caregiver extraordinaire, and soon enough he will figure out the Capezio's. Tending to his Cinderella will soon be old hat for my Prince Charming.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tommy Untucked

“Are you sure you want me to buy these?” I asked Tommy as we stood in the candy aisle at Target. In one hand, I was holding a 10.5 ounce bag of mini Three Musketeers, Milky Ways, Trix, and Snickers;  and in the other, a 12 ounce mini Hershey’s with nuggets.

As I waited for my husband’s response, my eyes landed on his tummy, which lately, has plumped and oozed over his belt.

Ignoring my stare, Tommy answered with two thumbs up.

I persisted. “Honey,” I said. “These candies are making you gain weight.” I shook each bag for emphasis. “You’re eating too many of them.”

He continued his affirmative thumb raise.

“Okay,” I said, as I tossed the bags into the cart and rolled on.

My 77-year-old husband is dealing with a serious medical condition that has robbed him of speech and dimmed his reasoning.  How could I deny him sweets? Also, he is stubborn and likely wouldn’t listen to any lectures on wise food choices.

But, as I pushed the cart through the aisles, and Tommy headed up the escalator to savor golf equipment, I thought of the man I married 14 years ago. He was a proud 145 pounds with nary an ounce of pinch-able fat. His biceps were solid as Major League baseballs, his calf muscles impressively sloped upward, and his stomach enviously flat.

This physique was hard-won. “I was a smoker and overweight,” he had confessed in the dawning days of our romance. “My cholesterol was high and I was in lousy shape. When the doctor told me I had to change my lifestyle or I’d die, I did what he said.”

So, Tommy joined the local YMCA and became a regular. He stopped smoking, started running and bike riding, and within time, dropped weight, and lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol measures.

On top of that, four years into our marriage, he became a vegetarian and has remained meat-, chicken-, and fish-free since then. He’s judicious on portions and appears to stop when full. But, he can’t seem to resist those mini chocolates.

Throughout the day, I will see him rise from his prone position on the couch, or upon returning from a bike ride or park walk, and head for the kitchen. I’ll hear the familiar gasp of the opened freezer door, the crinkle of a plastic bag, then the slap of the sealed door. Next, the pop of the garbage can lid, the rip of foil, and the sugary symphony’s final note as the lid slams shut.

The other day, I decided if I couldn’t stop Tommy from gorging on the minis, I could do something to improve his appearance and ease.

He was on the couch flipping the remote, and as always, his t-shirt was tucked into his size 36 cargo shorts, and a black leather belt was looped and clasped in the waist band. His paunch loomed over the belt, which didn’t disguise the freed first button.

“Why not remove the belt and untuck your shirt.” I said. “You’ll be much more comfortable.”

I didn’t wait for his answer. I unhooked the belt from its notch and wrenched it out like a whip. Then, I wrestled his Japanese Free Spirit t-shirt out of his shorts and draped it over his stomach.

“Now, stand up, Honey,” I said. “Isn’t that better?”

He rose, gave a deep breath, put two thumbs up, and did a little shimmy shake which I took as two degrees above the thumb raise.

 “You look nicer, too,” I said. “Slimmer.”

He grinned and did one more dance before returning to the couch and MeTV.

Now that he’s untucked, and his belly is hard to spot, I ignore his jaunts to the freezer.  Let him enjoy. There’s always 38’s, elastic waist bands, sweat pants, and other wardrobe fixes that will allow my husband to expand. 

At his next exam, when his cholesterol and blood pressure are checked, it will be up to his doctor to learn if the levels rose, and perhaps issue a warning. But since she knows Tommy’s diagnosis, and is aware of his losses and day-to-day struggles, I suspect her prescription will be similar to mine: “Enjoy,” she’ll say.

And, he will.