My dad has now been in the nursing home for one month and five days. It has been up and down. Or more accurately, rotten and less rotten, depending on the day. But now, another introduction:
Dad had a room-mate, Marvin, for the first couple of weeks. But Dad's incredibly high number of trips to the bathroom during the night kept Marvin from getting any sleep. The social worker at Shiny Meadows wanted to move my dad to another room, and we resisted (having this bit of news sprung on us out of the blue), asking her to give his new bladder medication a chance to kick in. Just a day or two. We thought he had had enough upheaval, and it seemed important to at least let him stay put, no more newness for awhile.
The next day, Marvin was moved down the hall into the room of a man with fewer bladder woes. This was, I'm sure, a relief for Marvin, a sweet old guy who just wanted to sleep at night.
One day, when he was still sharing a room with Dad, he asked me,
"Does your dad have Alzheimers?"
"Yes," I said. "He does."
Marvin, in his slow, stumbling speech said "I'm just gettin' started on it m-myself."
What a tiny, unadorned sentence to carry such a mushroom cloud.
Sweaters are important to Marvin. Each day he carefully dresses, puts on wool slacks, dressy shoes, a collared shirt (not a lot of that going on at Shiny Meadows...sweats are the clothing of choice) and a wool cardigan. He has a few. Getting dressed takes him about 45 minutes. We could hear the process on the other side of the divider curtain.
The shocking thing about Marvin: he's only 72. Approximately 15 years younger than anyone else at Shiny Meadows. He looks way older. It sets my mind onto the path of "It is genetics? Could he have done anything to hang on to his health longer?" And in the middle of that I realize that somewhere along the line, my constant inner narration inserted the phrase "only 72." When my dad was 72 he was walking three miles a day on his treadmill and doing push-ups and sit-ups every night before bedtime.
I know people of all ages get sick and die. And even people in their 40s get Alzheimers. There was a PBS documentary called "The Forgetting" about the disease. One family had five siblings, all of them in their 50s and 60s, and three of the five were already developing Alzheimers. The other two were trying hard to live normal lives. It was a chilling story, watching the "last two" try to deal with the looming prognosis. Like walking around trying to do mundane everyday chores, dishes, getting dinner, while wearing a necklace of grenades, each one with a shaky pin.
Marvin says he is trying to help his brain by going down to the activity room to play Bingo twice a week. It is a kinder version of Bingo than in the outside world: Once the first person "bingos" the letter-caller keeps going to let as many people win as possible. Each winner gets a little prize, a snack to take back to their rooms. When Marvin was still rooming with Dad, he'd come back from Bingo carrying the treat he always chooses: 2 packets of cheese and crackers.
"Good job, Marvin!" I'd say. "You won again!"
He would point at his head and say "Gotta keep that brain goin'."