Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Adolescence for the elderly

Theo Veldman and his
Great Grandpa

Marie and Mark, my daughter and son-in-law, ended a Fort Myers adventure yesterday, arriving home a couple of hours after I had gone to bed. They headed for work early this morning. It was a different adventure for me, because they had left me in a cheerful home with lots of electronic things (sometimes called stuff) and a freezer, a microwave and friendly next-door neighbors. 

We had a light snowfall here, but the sidewalk was cleared quickly. I pushed my rollator to the curbside mailbox, then across the driveway to pick up the N.Y. Times and Wall Street Journal in their waterproof wrappers.

It took longer to get ready to go outside than it took to go outside. I pulled my L.L. Bean padded coat, extra long, off the rack in the closet. The coat used to get a little heavier every few years, but now it feels as though somebody’s adding lead every few days. Multiple system trophy (MSA) never takes a day off, but a day takes an a off. The a key on my computer usually ignores taps from the little finger of my left hand. It is not unusual to replace a dozen a’s when I proofread my emails.  Fingers do not weaken alone, and MSA is fair. It follows flabbiness in fingers with flabbiness in eyesight. Letters printed on paper frequently squiggle or submerge or simply vanish. Reading the body type of The N.Y. Times is no longer an option.

There’s never anybody there, but I can feel it, as though someone has whacked the back of my neck with a 2x4 stick. Headaches are different from that, part of a dizziness that lasts while shifting in intensity. Anybody who reads the emails traded privately by MSA patients will see that MSA is noted for simple, miscellaneous pains. They come and go, with and without lurches, tripping and falls.

This morning I read that a one-time neighbor celebrated her 88th birthday yesterday. Because my 94th birthday approaches I decided to email her a greeting that might have been funny in 1925. I had to find out how many days she was celebrating. I reached for a scratch pad so I could quickly multiply 365 by 88. It was the kind of thing most of us have done thousands of times, although I expect that it is the kind of thing my grandchildren pull out of cosmic intelligence without  effort, like baseball statistics. But I was stunned to discover I had forgotten how to multiply. I went at it with my venerable fountain pen, a nosy Parker, but had to give up and get my computer to do it in an instant.

The longer a person lives with multiple system atrophy the more a person has to struggle against the crash of memory, sometimes the loss of just a word or a name, but sometimes an entire procedure, such as how to tune a musical instrument or drive a car.
There are kinds of memories to keep active. I hope I’ll never forget the love of family, the amazing support of children for a father drifting through mysterious obsolescence, also known as adolescence for the elderly.

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