Recently I sat down with a very high functioning dementia patient who just moved into my dementia care facility. He has an extensive resume, has traveled the world and is a man of uncensored wisdom. For over two hours he explained in great detail about missiles, missile launchers and rocket engines. He had served for many years in the US Army and explained more to me than I wanted to know about how missiles work. He explained to me things about the Cold War that I never knew, describing Russia’s code of ethics, in his no-nonsense opinions. He then elaborated for another half hour about the Navaho Code Talkers, and who he believed to be doing what to who, during that timeline. He told me what went wrong during the Truman years, what really happened in the Battle of Hue, and who he believed shot both JR and JFK. Uncensored, unfiltered and pretty much on point.
“If you read much, you will see the Battle at Hue was both vicious and bloody. I was there. I know what happened. We had to belly crawl over half a mile…….” he continued on describing events that is just too much information for me to process. I listened to over 30 stories, mostly war based, learning about guns, planes and the accuracy of Hollywood movies……….as he talked, I began thinking about the disease process and how slowly, it would rob Jim of his story telling, fact producing,, informational spouting ability.
Dementia does not discriminate. It would just as soon rob the memory of a science teacher as that of the rocket scientist. Dementia erodes the cognitive skills of the person just as the tidal waves slowly rob from the shoreline……slowly but surely. I could hear Jim’s voice still talking about bazooka’s and gun powder…..but suddenly my heart grew very sad, knowing that one day, Jim would lose the ability to tell me anything at all about the Battle of Hue….JR,….JFK….gun powder….or even what he had for lunch…..
“Hey, are you listening? Hello? Your lights are on but nobody’s home. Are you daydreaming Jessi?” He asked as he poked my knee with his cane.
“Oh yes Jim, I am just trying to visualize what you are saying…..”
Jim read my face like a book. He leaned over to me and made the most profound statement, which I will never forget.
“Look Jessi, I can see it in your face. You are thinking what the hell is going to happen to this old war dog when his brain flies the coop? He is going to go loonier than a loon. Listen, those old women that sit at my lunch table, they talk like they are living in yesterdays world. They ramble on like they stuck in their past. If I am lucky enough to get stuck in my past, I will be happy. I will be that war dog again, chasing enemies, pepper spraying my machine gun and launching some kick butt missiles. So listen, if my future is my past, that’s great for me, but will be bad for you and your staff. Ya’ll will just have to be careful when I am out there in my happy place, careful to not become a POW. Hell, I like the idea of losing my present mind, and going back to my yester-years. Those were happy memories for me.”
Wow. I sat there, lost for words,quickly excusing myself from the conversation to take phone calls. I had visualized the creation of missile launchers, seen the blood shed in the providence of Hue during the Vietnam Conflict and had memory flashes of JFK being shot that dreadful day in November 1966, but I could not visualize this brilliant minded man fading away, lost to dementia. I just could not.
After a series of phone calls, my thoughts returned to Jim. Maybe he was right. Maybe if his dementia reverses his timeline of life and he becomes as war dog solider, fighting the bad guys……..we will fight the fight with him. We will fight as courageously as he does…..our fight will be against dementia…..but for Jim, he will be in a happy place, a comfortable place, one that will be his foxhole as his war rages. We will be that safe harbour where he can hunker down and wait it out…….