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ALZHEIMER'S PATIENTS TRAPPED IN THE PRESENT

June 22, 2000 (This is the first page of a yearlong diary): As blessed as our lives have been, we are past the autumn of our days and face a future which promises unprecedented problems. My beloved wife has Alzheimer's.

While much effort is being expended to eliminate this dread disease, no immediate cure is in sight. Its victims are destined to mental regression as neurons in the brain tangle until no mental functions exist.

At present, my wife has lost the ability to make memories. Immediate things make no permanent impression on her mind, and therefore, cannot be recalled. It is different from forgetting: No memory is formed, therefore, there is nothing to forget.

She cannot read a book or follow a TV drama, because these require the ability to memorize a plot. She is great with immediate TV programs like game shows or weather reports, where the action is now. In fact, she lives in now, the immediate, the moment, the present. Herein lies the tragedy, the utter sadness and hopelessness of the Alzheimer's victim.

Alzheimer's patients' now exists in this very narrow time-space between what they can remember and what they can anticipate. The sad fact is that this space keeps shrinking and shrinking until it disappears.

Imagine that you cannot recall anything of the past, or anticipate anything in the future. You are trapped in this little empty box with no past and no future, and consequently, no appreciative now. What a horrible, hopeless, claustrophobic hell! This is the destiny of my poor beloved.

All that she has is this ever-shrinking now, so precious and so fragile. I weep at the horrid thought and dedicate my remaining days to brightening her now with every tool available.

June 19, 2001 (This is the final entry): It's a beautiful day and one of my wife's good days after many bad ones. She slept late. We took a ride in the country, which she enjoyed. On our way home, we had to pull over to allow an ambulance to pass, its sirens screaming frantically for us to give it room. My wife remarked, "I hate that; someone is always hurting."

That evening we went to bed early. But instead of going to sleep as usual, my wife wanted to talk. We talked about many things: our family, our home, our love. She struggled with her tangled thoughts, striving to distinguish fact from fantasy, and she finally dozed off about 11 o'clock.

At 4 a.m., she suddenly jumped out of bed screaming, "Oh, Skip, I'm having a heart attack." Before I could reach her, she fell heavily to the floor and, though still breathing, could not respond to my frantic pleas. I called 911, and the volunteers from South Line Fire Company responded swiftly and worked valiantly for several minutes trying to revive her slight pulse before taking her to the hospital.

I rode in the ambulance as its sirens wailed through each intersection. I couldn't help but recall her remark, "Someone is always hurting." She was so right. I hoped against hope that the hospital could do something. It was devastating, but no surprise when the doctor came into the waiting room and said kindly, "Your wife is in heaven."

I urge your support for the current endeavors to conquer this devastating disease. Hundreds of thousands are its victims and many more shall certainly follow. Please help support the Alzheimer's Foundation.

HUBERT COLBY lives in Cheektowaga.
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