by Larry Peterson
Until about four years ago, Marty, was never sick a day in her life. That is when the Lymphoma was discovered and the chemo began. The cancer would come and go and so would the PeT Scans and continued chemo treatments. Truthfully, it was never much more than an inconvenience. She never got sick, lost weight or had any of those stereotypical cancer fears materialize.
What did unexpectedly occur were the ever more frequent cognitive disruptions. Memory lapses, asking the same question over and over and things like that. I spoke to her oncologist and he silently said with raised eyebrows, tightened lips and a shrug, ‘there might be a problem’.
Anesthesia administered during surgery for a severely broken ankle on August 1, dragged her deeply into the nether world which, up until then, had only been toying with her. Now it grabbed her and yanked her in. On September 24 a heart attack (A-Fib) resolved any uncertainty. Her “Fog” or CRCD (Cancer Related Cognitive Dysfunction) was diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease. Quicksand could not have been more efficient. Onward and downward.
The hospital and rehab stay after the ankle surgery had lasted 20 days and the days spent in the hospital and rehab after the A-Fib attack lasted 33 days. She thought I had moved her into a new apartment and was wondering why I would not stay there at night. Like a good “soldier” she would wait patiently, hour after hour after hour, until I returned the next day. Then, like a three year old who had been found by her daddy, her face would light up and she would say, “Oh thank God, you found me.” She knew she was “saved” and would hug me tight and not let go.
I freely admit that every damn day on the way home I cried thinking of how sad this was. My intelligent, independent, wife had become a lost child, the victim of an insidious demon inside her head who was erasing her brain. I had turned into a blubbering idiot. This Alzheimer’s thing was surely a despicable foe.
Marty returned home on October 26 with a bag full of new medications and a mind that was telling her that I had moved her into a ‘new’ house. She asked me if we “were married’, if we would sleep together in the same bed and if, in fact, her piano was new. After two weeks she had recovered some of (not all) her sense of belonging in “her home”. She was still not sure where things should go and kept moving items from here to there without me knowing. I have (so far) had to search hi and low for the shampoo, the toothpaste, parmigianna cheese, combs and hairbrush etc. So be it—together we plod forward with her doing whatever she will do and me learning to (at all times) expect the unexpected. This is a minute to minute journey, unplanned, without a destination and very spontaneous. But—there can be beautiful moments and yesterday one unexpectedly came along.
Marty has played piano since she was a child and is quite an accomplished pianist. A concern of mine while she was in rehab was that she might not remember how to play. I have been told she will actually forget how to. Yesterday, those concerns were put on hold.
I was in my cluttered, paper strewn office staring at the computer monitor when piano music began filling the house. I smiled to myself as I began to listen and then I realized this was something different. This was not the usual Marty, this was a transcendent Marty. I could not believe what I was hearing. She was playing the most beautiful music I had ever heard her play. “Stella by Starlight” filled the rooms followed by “Autumn Leaves” and then, my favorite, Chopin’s Major in E flat. I watched from the hallway and saw that she was lost within the music that she was bringing forth on that old piano.
Watching her play was like observing one of God’s magnificent flowers fully bloom. Realizing that these were now fleeting moments soon to be no more I had the good sense to record the entire hour that she played. I figured that when she does forget how to play and does not recognize the piano or maybe even me, that music will still be here. That is when I will play it for her. Maybe, just maybe, from whatever world she is in, she will take pause and smile. Maybe she will remember some of her music. Maybe, just maybe…