“Good morning, Mama. How are you feeling today?” I asked, expecting the same answer as every other time over the last several months that I’ve visited her at the Flats, a superlative dementia-friendly residence just outside of Bristol.
“Mama? Young man, just because I am old, doesn’t mean that I’m somebody’s mother…or grandmother. You know…I do have a name,” she said, bothered.
“Exactly the same reaction as yesterday…and the day before,” I sighed to myself.
“What was that, fata? Speak up.” She called me fata…kid or lad. Often times she’d switch between English and Arabic, but thankfully she hadn’t heard my inaudible whisper.
“I know you have a name, but you’ve always said it was rude to call your mother by her first name.”
“It is. It’s a good thing I’m not your mother. You can just call me…” she hesitated with a furled brow. My mother swung her frail legs off her mattress, stepped into her slippers, and shuffled over to the end of her hospital bed. She picked up the doctor’s daily medical orders, and squinting, she retrieved her spectacles from one of her robe pockets. She stood next to me and looked me straight in the eye as she expressed her frustration, “You can call me Madam Rashad,”
“Fine,” I resigned. “How are you this morning, Madam Rashad?”
She let the doctor’s orders dangle from a short cord at the foot of the bed and trundled over to her rocking chair by the window. She carefully sat herself down and peered out the glass at a pair of turtle doves cavorting in a bird bath in the garden commons.
She didn’t answer my question, so I rolled the doctor’s chair over and sat down across from the low table between us to wait. Occasionally she’d reply with the same word I’d just used: fine. I hated that word, and was sorry that I’d actually spoken it. My mother was far from fine. If it was possible for her to answer my question truthfully, she’d say something like, ‘How do you think I feel? If I could keep track of time, I’d know that every morning, I wake up wondering who I am and who these people are in my bedroom. I spend every afternoon talking to strangers, trying to get accustomed to my curious situation, but at the end of each day I fall asleep only to repeat the same ritual the next morning. Unfortunately, I cannot keep track of time. I don’t know the word yesterday because I can never recall what happened twenty-four hours ago. My days don’t even blend together, because I have no idea that this is actually a recurring nightmare. I am living in one, long, endless, incessant, interminable day!’
I stopped my discouraging imagining. She still hadn’t answered, and was content to watch her avian friends frolic. Most days it was like this; she rarely held a conversation, and even when she did, they were disjointed fragments of her former acumen. She’d been on a new experimental injected medication that was supposed to do two things. Its primary purpose was to mediate the dementia-associated structural lesions and cerebral atrophy that exacerbate over time, but it was also designed to combat insulin resistance in the brain tissue and halt any further deterioration. ‘What was the drug’s name?’ I wondered, so I rolled my chair over within reach of the doctor’s orders.
I picked up the tablet and tried to decipher the scrawled writing. All I could make out was that she’d been administered her twentieth day of Ps7711-Series2. I looked back over to my mother who remained unmoved. The doctor had told us that this drug was quite effective in treating the early stages of dementia, and it had been enhanced in a long-shot attempt to address late stage Alzheimer’s disease. No, he hadn’t used the word Alzheimer’s; he’d said Diabetes Mellitus type three.
I set down the medical records and recalled something else. Almost three weeks ago, on June first, when my mother had first begun the treatments, her doctor, who is an Orthodox Jew, had prayed with us. My family is Muslim, although I am more secular than my mother in my religiosity. At the time, I thought this was quite peculiar, but for some reason, his short prayer was embedded in my mind. He’d prayed, ‘Oh Yahweh, Allah to my friends, please be with this patient and her only son as she embarks on a path to healing made possible by the Christian researcher that designed and named the drug that she will soon be given. Let our science be guided by your hand. Amen and Aameen.’
I rolled back over to my mama, reconciled to sit in silence rather than engage in another incoherent dialogue. The doctor had noted that he expected if the drug treatments were successful, she’d begin to remember things in a week or two. If not, they’d continue the treatments for an additional week but after that he would have to stop the trial. Tomorrow was day twenty-one, and my mother had not improved.
For a time, we communed with nature and watched the birds. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a calico cat creeping toward the bird bath. Luckily, before he could pounce, the doves frantically flapped their wings and vacated their vacation pool. My mother frowned, “Aw, naughty tabby,” she said to the water droplets running down the window.
I tried to console her, “I’m sorry; he chased away your doves.”
“Yes…I so love to watch them interact during mating season,” she smiled.
“Mating season? You know it’s June?” I was on the edge of the doctor’s stool, at risk of falling.
“Of course I do. I hope they return tomorrow…they weren’t here yesterday.”
“Yesterday? You can remember yesterday, Madam Rashad?” I found myself asking her in the formal way in which she’d instructed me to address her for so many months.
“Madam Rashad? You know better than to address your mother like that, Hadi!”
She’d used my first name! I sprung out of the wheeled chair and it clattered across the linoleum floor. I raised my hands and shouted to the sky, “Allah be praised! Doctor! Doctor! Come quick! The Ps7711 worked! Allah be praised! Yahweh be praised! Abba be praised!”
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. The longest day of the year is June 20th, and during the summer solstice, people came together to fight the darkness of dementia in many unique ways. To bring awareness, this is mine.