When a writer begins to forget words, she worries it may be more serious than just having “Senior Moments”
It started just after my brother in law died. I didn’t seem to be communicating well with my sister. Maybe I was too insensitive to her needs.
We would undertake the two-hour journey to visit my mom who lived close to my sister with a certain amount of dread. My sister would sometimes welcome us with open arms and embrace my Canadian husband with gusto, but as time went on, it seemed it was too much trouble to receive us so we stayed in local hotels.
I was a little resentful about this as hotels in a ‘7on7/365’ tourist spot were not cheap. My mom was in a care home because she had fallen some time back and could no longer hobble out to her kitchen to feed herself.
If we did get to stay and I offered to help with the cooking, that was a problem. My nephew would take over and we all got the dishes done but could see that our ‘helpful’ presence was resented.
When she did cook a lunch, she seemed to be drinking more than usual and got giggly or vague. There were senior moments when we would arrive and she would open the door and say in a very haughty voice, “Am I expecting you?” I would reply, “Don’t be so silly. Of course you are.”
My mother would confide that my sister had blown her top this week again and the carers in the home would say, “Well, if she ever applies to come here, we will not accept her.” I tried to tell my sister that she was having senior moments but she wouldn’t have it. People were conspiring against her and now she was going to keep a diary so that she could prove the conspiracy. And so it went on.
Eventually, my sister had a stroke and finally went to the doctor. The odd lapses stopped and she became more amenable but still would not admit that anything that had gone before was in any way connected to this stroke.
The previous events are called Transient Ischemia – small bleeding in the brain (brain haemorrhage) — but if not treated early they can lead to a massive stroke such as my brother had had a few years before. He lost the power to speak and read. He could watch television and understand what we said but, in a conversation, we had to give him alternate answers to choose from so he could say just “Yes” or “No”.
I recently started to notice that I was losing word power. I thought it was just ‘senior moments’ like my mother’s. Mom was famous for conversations that were almost re-runs of the Laurel and Hardy skit, “Who’s on third base?” but went…
“I saw Mrs So and So the other day,” Mom would say.
I would say, “Who?”
“Mrs So and So. You know, the woman whose cousin is in the City Hall.”
“Sorry, Mom. I don’t know who you mean.”
“Yes you do,” she’d reply, very rattled. “Mrs So and So, who was wearing the red hat at Mary’s wedding”, and so it would go on until I had narrowed it down to be able to identify the person whose name she couldn’t remember.
I first really noticed that I couldn’t remember the words corn on the cob and I couldn’t remember the word for this object in French nor English. We now call it yellow stuff you like — and green stuff you like is sometimes used for spinach but I am having to search for words. I have a huge mental block with the word for alice in French and English but as you see I remember the Italian. (I have just remembered 24 hours later – it’s anchovies). I have taken up the Times crossword everyday to keep my mind playing with words but it is sometimes very hard work.
I didn’t realise that this was a serious problem until I went to the doctor’s for a prescription renewal. It wasn’t the usual doctor and he told me I had high blood pressure. I started to protest because normally my blood pressure was slightly on the low side. He advised me to come back the following day to see my regular doctor. I did and was immediately subjected to a barrage of tests and put on medication to control the blood-flow around my body etc. The doctor asked me why I hadn’t come sooner – as soon as I had noticed the vertigo and loss of words. I had thought this was a natural part of old age – senior moments.
I thought the slight vertigo was because I had drunk too much. Then I remembered two incidents which had not marked me before.
I was teaching English to a class of French Juniors of 7-9 years old. During the course of the morning, my right leg started to hurt. I didn’t get a chance to check it till I got home in the afternoon and then I saw it was covered in very dark bruises. In fact, it looked as if I had zebra stripes all the way up my leg and it looked as if I had fallen up or down stairs. I went to the staircase and sure enough there were traces of wine on the wall – so I had been too drunk to remember that I had fallen heavily on the staircase and bruised my leg. I had also spilt red wine down the front of my pyjamas. So a drunken bum am I!
The other incident was the arrival of three Irish jockey types at my front door who were adamant that they had reserved a room with dinner for the night as they were going to the Deauville horse sales the next day. I had the rooms but no dinner and nothing I could offer so they were obliged to go out and find a restaurant at nearly 9pm in La France Profonde (the depths of the countryside). They were particularly irate because they had taken the trouble to confirm the night before and I had no memory of that.
Obviously I had missed the signs of cerebral haemorrhage because they were very slight. I then remembered all those times when I had had problems with my sister who was obviously (now I think about it) having a series of mild strokes. I have been on a variety of medication for a few years now but the problem has re-occurred. Last year, I booked twice on the same train (on the internet — so couldn’t get my money back) and twice at a hotel at London airport. I just thought it was an expensive Senior Moment until last week when I had a threatening letter from an insurance company claiming I had signed a contract with them and threatening to take me to court if I didn’t pay up. I remember the guy coming. I don’t remember signing.
Sometime in the next six weeks I shall have a brain scan and they will probably find holes in the brain mass which will mean that, at best, I have to take aspirin or rat poison for the rest of my life or at worst, who knows?
I just know that I don’t wish to sit nodding and winking in my wheel chair, doubly incontinent, unable to read or speak my mind. Words are so important to me.
“Lost for Words” Artist Unknown
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