Did you ever play Memory as a kid? I always loved it when I could remember where that one matching card was, especially that damn red apple. If I played with other people, I, of course, would want to win and would just hate it if someone beat me. And then, as an adult, I played with my little boy. All I wanted was for him to win, to feel good about himself. I never “let” him win, though. I would try to send him telepathic messages, telling him where the fish was or the beach ball, but rarely did that work.
Last week, I took my mother to the neurologist, to play a new kind of memory game. I again found myself willing someone else to “win,” telepathically sending her words that began with the letter “F” and giving her numbers to count backwards with.
It was extremely difficult to watch. With each question, Mom was getting more and more frustrated and very tired. She would cover her eyes with one hand then rub her forehead and let out a big sigh.
My siblings and I know that sigh VERY well. It’s her “I am so sick and tired of you and what we’re doing and the best thing to do is for you to leave the room” sigh. And that’s what I wanted to do. I kept looking at the door. Maybe pretend I had to use the bathroom? I wanted to run away from that room and tiptoe back to it an hour later. That’s what I used to do as a kid and my “fight or flight” response was screaming at me to just leave.
But I couldn’t.
So I stayed. I silently mouthed to the doctor that Mom was getting frustrated. The doctor nodded and she started to ask Mom questions about her children and grandchildren instead. Just a conversation. It worked…for a few minutes. Then the doctor slipped in a few other memory questions but Mom caught on after a bit, stopped talking and just stared at the doctor. It was so unbelievably uncomfortable. The neurologist was getting “the eye” from my mother! I’m sure that woman would have burst into flames if my mother had anything to say about it.
Thankfully the testing finally ended, or rather the doctor stopped trying. She wasn’t getting anywhere with Mom, so she did a short physical exam instead. Funnily enough, Mom relaxed at this point. This was something she was used to, something she was familiar with.
Unfortunately, my poor mother not only has a hurting brain, but her body is a mess, too. She smokes and this doctor, the very first ever, told Mom that her lungs sounded horrible. I was almost happy she said it, although it’s not going to make any fucking difference now. She’s 69 years old and she’s going to smoke a pack a day. Period. Diabetes is also corroding her body–her feet, her legs–I had no idea things were so bad. I should have, though.
Once the entire exam was over, the neurologist recommended a few physical tests (MRI, EEG) that will need to be done in the next week or two. We won’t go back to see this doctor until April, but will hopefully have more answers before then. She did toss terms at us like frontotemporal dementia and transient global amnesia due to mild strokes that might explain some of the strange behaviors my mother has exhibited. But nothing is really known right now, except there are serious gaps in my mother’s memory and in her ability to understand or follow instructions.
I don’t really know what will happen now. I’m relieved that we’ll have some answers to why Mom acts the way she does. Sometimes all this guessing we’ve been doing gets exhausting and honestly, it’s just foolish. My family and I can look at our grandmother and our aunts and get a very good idea of what’s happening, but still not have any concrete answers or facts. With these tests, science can at least tell us why she can’t remember where she put her teeth and possibly, how much worse her memory will get. Although I suppose we all know that answer.
You know, I have so many wishes swirling around in my heart right now. Wishing I would have made my mother see a neurologist four years ago when things started going wacky. Wishing I would have told Mom’s doctor about her feet when I got a glimpse of them last summer. Wishing that Mom didn’t need me as much as she does. Wishing that I could tell her how scary it is being her parent and that I’m afraid something is going to happen and it will be my fault.
And wishing, always wishing, Mom was my mom again.