Heart-breaking is the only word I can use to describe Manuel, who was a patient at the same time I was a patient at the VA hospital in 2005. At the time, I knew nothing about dementia...that awful disease that takes away the mind, and leaves the person in the dark, etc.
For two weeks, that Manuel was in our ward, I got the opportunity to see (up close and personal), what this dreadful disease is all about, and I can report...it's not good...it's not good at all. Manuel was in the ward temporarily until he was transferred to another institution. Alzheimer's disease and dementia are similar, so I'll provide the definition of both, so as to understand both better.
* Alzeimer's disease: (def) a progressive form of presenile dementia that is similar to senile dementia, except that it usually starts in the 40's or 50's; first symptoms are impaired memory, which is followed by impaired thought and speech and finally complete helplessness.
* Dementia: (def) deterioration of intellectual faculties such as memory, concentration, and judgment...sometimes personalty changes. Dementia is caused by organic damage to the brain (as in Alzheimer's disease), head trauma; metabolic disorders; or the presence of a tumor.
As you can see, the pair are quite similar. There have been people like Manuel who have been dealt an awful hand in life...and in death too! I consider what happened to me, to be a blessing, because I saw for myself (up close and personal), what this awful disease can do! At the time, I knew nothing about dementia, and the nurse told me, that Manuel was 48 years old and had the mind of a two or three year old! What a sad...sad story!
Manual spent most of his day in a lounge chair, that was placed in front of the nurse's station, so he could be watched by the medical staff more closly. He was hand-fed; he could not talk; he was dressed and bathed; and he screamed and cried part of the day! On occasion, he would have a temper-tantrum, just like a child would do. Everytime I would walk by the nurse's station, he would look at me, with that "blank look" that he had, as if he was not at home at all. He looked all around as if he was in a daze! It was so sad, to see another human being suffering so much, that had no idea where he was! After about two weeks, he was moved to another institution, where he would spend the rest of his life!
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In the early 1960's, my grandmother probably died of Alzheimer's disease, but back then, they probably didn't know what it was. She would go to the store, and couldn't find her way back. She would be found in another neighborhood or near the railroad tracks and brought back home by the police. She was placed in a mental institution, where she died!
In the year 2006, I'm 61 years young...and old age worries me! But, as shown in the Manuel story, a person doesn't have to be old to be afflicted with one of these two horrible diseases! I worry about being forgetful, as I have had a couple of incidents recently. For example:
* One day, I paid for gas...didn't put it in the car, and just drove off! A couple of blocks later, I realized what I had done, and I made a quick u-turn and came back and put the gas in the car.
* Have you ever left something on the stove burning? I was boiling some eggs, and I went on with what I was doing. All of a sudden from the bathroom where I was, I heard a POP coming from the kitchen! PANIC! I didn't know eggs exploded...but, that's what happened, as there were a bunch of egg shells all over the kitchen floor!
* After work, I usually stop and check the mail at the boxes at the apartments where I live. I leave the car running and jump out of the car and check the mail. On this day, I jumped out of the car...checked the mail...and walked home...leaving the car behind...running until it ran out of gas! I was lucky somebody didn't steal it. A couple of hours later, I realized what I had done, and I went back to get the car. "Am I losing my mind?" I thought to myself!
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Leaving politics aside, I think one of our great Presidents was Ronald Reagan, as it was he who lead the way to eliminating the dangerous Cold War, which could have been the end for all of us. At the age of 70, when most people are retired, he was elected to the Presidency and governed for eight years, which is amazing in itself. And, we all remember the sad story about what happened to President Reagan, as he battled Alzhmeir's disease for so many years! Another sad ending!
Remembering Manuel...I'll always try to remember him. I do that, by having the title of this story and a short summary, framed and hanging on my wall in my home office. There isn't a day that goes by, that I don't glance at that frame...with the story...as a reminder to myself as to how bad life COULD be!