April 18, 2010

April 18, 2010 by
Filed under: Dementia and my father. 

My brother, Chuck, was first to raise the alarm. During a visit to Nanaimo, where Chuck lives, in early October, Dad did not make it from the arena, where my nephew was playing hockey, to Chuck’s house after the game. When he didn’t show up, Chuck called his cell, determined his location, and drove to a shopping center parking lot nearby where Dad was sitting behind the wheel of his car. He was confused and disoriented. He could not remember how to get to Chuck’s place and was leafing through an address book as if searching for a phone number or an address to jog his memory.

         When I heard the story, it sounded like the symptoms of a concussion or a stroke. He’d had a prostate operation in September and we wondered if there was a connection. We were puzzled and concerned but we reasoned that if there were no more episodes, we would chalk it up to advancing age. He was eighty, after all.

            Conversations with him over the weeks after the Nanaimo incident, made us all a bit uncomfortable. His memory seemed poor but he denied that anything was wrong. In November, during a phone conversation, I told Dad that my son, Andrew, had found a new job after being unemployed for six weeks. He was surprised, and didn’t know that Andrew had been laid off. I was surprised that he didn’t know but questioned myself. Maybe I hadn’t told him.

            In late November, Dad came to Langley for a visit. He planned to catch the 11:00 AM ferry from Swartz Bay but ended up on the 1:00 PM. It seemed odd that he missed the earlier boat but stuff happens, I supposed. At 3:30 I began to anticipate his arrival but at 4:00 he had still not appeared. The phone rang. It was Canadian Tire in Langley. The young person on the other end handed my father the phone. “I can’t remember how to get to your house,” he said. His voice was small, almost plaintive.

            I tried to give him directions but he didn’t sound capable of comprehending where he was or how to get from there to our house, even though we’ve lived in the same place for over twenty years.

            “Can you come and get me?” he asked.

            I told him to wait there and, since I was in the middle of preparing a family supper, I told him that Karie, my daughter would help. I hung up and called her. She and her fiance’ were coming for dinner and I caught them enroute. They changed course to the Canadian Tire gas bar and, with Karie in the passenger seat, she directed him to our house. While I waited for them to arrive, I thought, This will do it. Now he can’t deny that there is something wrong. But he seemed to be in good spirits and just a bit embarrassed. He explained that traffic was heavy, it was raining, and getting dark. Nothing looked familiar on 200th Street, that’s all. Nothing to worry about.

            I did worry, though. How was he going to get home on Sunday? The next day, I offered to drive his car to the ferry but he was offended and insisted that he would drive himself. In the end, I gave in, and he made it home without any further incidents that I’m aware of.

            Through early December, my brothers and I frequently compared experiences and observations and it was clear that something was going on with our Dad’s brain. Bruce spoke to Dad’s doctor who ruled out a stroke but scheduled an appointment at the geriatric clinic for a full assessment.

            Dad planned to spend Christmas in Kamloops with Bruce but booked a flight to Kelowna instead, in order to visit with Elizabeth, my mother’s never-married sister. Bruce and his wife, Mila, would drive down for Christmas dinner. At first, he was excited about the trip but a few days before his departure date, he cancelled the trip and said that he would stay home for the holidays.

            My brothers and I conferred and it was decided that Chuck would get Dad and take him to Nanaimo for Christmas day and then bring him to Langley on Boxing day. Bruce and Mila wanted to come down, as well, and we’d have another family celebration. At supper on Saturday, Dad was lucid and happy.

            On Sunday, the 27th of December, we drove out to Chilliwack to watch Chuck’s son, Dade, play hockey. Dad and I were alone in my truck. It was a beautiful, clear day as we headed east on Highway 1 from Langley. Approaching Abbotsford, we admired Mount Baker. The snow-covered, dormant volcano just over the border in Washington State, gleamed in the sun. Dad looked at it for a few minutes and then turned to me with a quizzical expression and asked, “Is that Mount Selassy?”

            I was stunned into silence. Until that moment, I still questioned the seriousness of his condition. The previous night at dinner, he was happy and lucid, basking in the holiday cheer exuded by his sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. He exhibited few signs of memory loss or confusion and I had begun to doubt our grave prognosis.

            “That’s Mount Baker, Dad,” I finally responded. It didn’t seem to register in his brain and a few minutes later he asked to same question. I could not believe what I was hearing. Mount Baker is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Fraser Valley and northwestern Washington State. My father had lived in B.C. his entire life and now that knowledge was beyond his grasp. It was inconceivable and the reality hit me like nothing else he’d said or done in the past weeks. My dad was going to a dark place and I had no choice except to follow him.


Tell me what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!