surprise waking up from alzheimer'sI’ve always believed there is nothing harder to stop than someone who wants to believe a miracle.

Jets in the Superbowl? Miracle.

A really expensive dress you wore once ten years ago is back in style and still fits? Miracle.

Finding a parking space for your brand new car in front of the hottest restaurant in Manhattan… under a light…far from striking distance of any other vehicle? Miracle.

At least according to my husband. Some of us demand more stringent requirements for an event to qualify for exalted miracle status. This is a story for those who raise the bar a bit higher as well as for those who truly feel there has never been definitive proof that miracles exist.

Joe and Rita, my friend Arthur’s parents, moved from Brooklyn to Florida 27 years ago. After a lifetime of hard work, plumbing and bookkeeping, they were one of the lucky couples whose compatibility and friendship grew richer with the 62 years of their marriage. Now that Joe was home all the time, there was no need for Rita to ever drive again. Life in Florida was gentler and the next few decades were fueled by rich memories and the comforts of habit.

Then five years ago Rita started showing the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It was as if her brain went to sleep before its time, removing from her awareness all the precious things it took a lifetime to acquire.

If the ability to panic left her, it overwhelmed her family. Joe never let her out of his sight, checking on her every ten minutes if they were in different rooms, sitting next to her in the beauty parlor, erasing the crossword puzzles she still enjoyed so that she could tackle them once more. Although she couldn’t tell you what happened ten minutes ago, she continued to look beautiful, taking pains with her appearance and managed to greet the people she encountered so warmly that if you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell.

Last month, about 1:30 in the afternoon, Joe collapsed on the living room floor. Rita immediately dialed 911. Within minutes EMS arrived and carried a still unconscious Joe out into the ambulance. When Rita attempted to climb in with him, a young man explained that only a parent is allowed in an ambulance with a child, that as a spouse she would have to meet him at the hospital. Rita wore no Medic Alert bracelet… the EMS driver had no clue she had Alzheimer’s. Then they sped off to the hospital.

A worried neighbor phoned my friend. “I don’t know if your mother called you but your father was just rushed to the hospital.”

“Is she in the house by herself? Can you just go in and stay with her until I get there?” Arthur asked.

There was a long silence. Then the woman said, “I don’t know how to tell you this… she just pulled the car out of the driveway.”

I won’t pretend I have the words to describe how he felt at that moment, his father unconscious, its cause probably stemming from taking such good care of his mother… and his mother who hadn’t been behind the wheel in 27 years, on the road with a sleeping brain.

He called the police and explained the situation. They suggested he check after his father and they would start searching for his mother.

Arthur made his way to the hospital, a huge sprawling three building complex off the main road. The first building he went into was the wrong one. The receptionist in the lobby of the second building directed him to the emergency room in the back of the third building. He charged into the cubicle where his father lay still unconscious… to find Rita holding his hand between the two of hers.

“Ma, how did you get here?”

“I drove,” she answered with a smile.

“But how did you find the hospital?”

“Oh Arthur, I drive around here all the time.

It took two hours to find the car when they left the hospital late that night.

When Joe regained consciousness three days later, she was still at her post, holding his hand. As his eyes opened, she calmly leaned forward over the tangle of tubes and whispered, “I love you Joe.”  “I love you too,” her husband answered, giving their two children the gift of that memory.

Enormous good fortune? Evidence of the wonders of the astonishing, intricate, multigeared machine that is the mind? I prefer to go along with the miracle theory myself.






Surprise: Snapping Out of Alzheimer’s? was last modified: by

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