Thursday, April 28, 2005


I spent the night at my grandparents' house last night on Long Island. I try to do that as often as I can, since they only live about an hour or so drive from me. My grandmother is in the beginning to mid stages of Alzheimer's Disease, which is something we've been studying a bit this semester. Last night my grandfather told me she was taking Aricept, which I recognized to be a medication developed specifically to address the effects of Alzheimer's. As we were sitting at the kitchen table, snacking on Entemann's donuts (a trademark of Grandma and Grandpa's house), he told her, "You still have to take your Aricept before you go to bed."
Later on, I asked her, "Grandma, did you take your medicine?"
She yelled in to my Grandfather, who was in the bathroom, getting ready for bed, "Did I take those pills?"
My grandfather yelled back that she still needed to take the Aricept. Shortly thereafter, we all went to bed. I don't know if she ever took them.

But this morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table with the latest Reader's Digest when my grandmother emerged from her room.
"Laura?" she said, surprised, as she pulled her bathrobe tighter around her nightgown. "What are you doing here, honey?"
Laura is one of my younger cousins; I thought maybe Grandma couldn't see very well from her bedroom door, so I just said "Good morning!" and waited for her to come into the kitchen.
"When did you get here, dear?"
"Last night, Grandma. I spent the night upstairs. Did I wake you?"
"No, no! Don't be silly. I'm so confused. Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, I did. I was very comfortable."
"Well that's good. Sometimes it's cold up there because we keep the doors closed and the heat doesn't go up," now Grandma is looking at me quizzically, "...You remind me, I'm trying to think look so much like...Erin... no... I'm trying to think of Eddie's...."
At this point, I realize that she still really thinks I'm Laura. But before I say anything, she continues, "I'm so confused. Where did you come from last night?"
"From Connecticut, Grandma," I hope she'll be able to figure it out soon.
"Connecticut? What were you doing there?"
"I'm going to school there, Grandma."(Laura is a junior in high school)
"Going to school... I'm so confused. Where's Mom and Dad?"
"They're in Colorado, Grandma. My mom and dad are Eddie and Donna. I'm Shannon. I just came from Connecticut last night because I'm going to school there."
"Oh... ! You're Shannon. And I called you Laura! Oh, dear. Look at me, dear. I'm so out of it..."
We talked for a bit, repeated a few things, established the fact that Grandma had seen me last night when I arrived. I felt so bad for her. There was no way I could ease her frustration. Even though she handled it admirably, I could see she was a bit distressed that she could not recall what I was telling her. I reminded her that she had just woken up, and that usually, there isn't anyone sitting in her kitchen when she walks out in the morning. So the surprise was understandable. She told me there was a resemblance between me and Laura. I told her that was a compliment to me; but I didn't know what else to say.
When Grandpa woke up, I knew, because Grandma came back into the kitchen and reported, "Grandpa remembers that you came last night," as if to verify my report.
He was wonderful. When Grandma kept mentioning the fact that she had called me the wrong name, Grandpa said, "Well, that's alright, Mommy. I heard her say she wanted to be named 'Laura' anyway." And he even continued to call me Laura for the rest of the morning, making Grandma laugh every time!

I thought about the Aricept then. I wonder if she took it last night. I wonder whether that matters. How scary to be in her situation! Thank God she has Grandpa. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to know that there are things you should be able to remember, but you just can't. What a cross.

I love my grandparents so much. I am so blessed to live so close to them for these few years. I just can't get over the helplessness I felt this morning, not knowing how to completely reassure and comfort my grandmother. I understand that it is not her fault; my understanding of her condition, though, only makes me realize how distressing it must be to experience the disease's progression firsthand.
Saint Dymphna, patronness of those with mental disorders ... Pray for us.

Alone in the Dark

I'm not afraid of the dark anymore. I used to be, but now I kind of like it; there's a certain stillness that accompanies darkness. It can be a great help in re-centering and entering into peacefulness.

But there's still a scary side to the dark. I can still work myself into a panic where I need all the lights in the house on--particularly when my roommate, Jess, isn't home. That's when every creak, every move of the man downstairs or the couple next door, sounds like someone breaking in or someone wandering around inside my apartment. I can't say I look forward to being alone all night long.

So I understand why Sharon asked me to spend this next week with her; Frank left today with his dad to take care of some business in Italy (the poor men). I wouldn't want to be alone in the house, either. And plus, Sharon is now about 5 months pregnant; somehow, that makes the idea of being alone even less attractive. "I would appreciate it... and Frank would appreciate it..." she said. Well, hey, you don't have to twist this arm! I love staying here! In fact, I look forward to spending most of June here before leaving for Kentucky!

One of my classmates, Hope, met Frank and Sharon briefly right before I left for California. She stood inside their house for about five minutes, but raved about them afterward.
"They just seem so at home--with each other, in their house,--they seem like such lovely people: the picture of a happy married couple."
It's so true. They live their vocation with their whole hearts. Just being around them has given me a model to look up to. They give a whole new meaning to the command of Our Lord to "strive for perfection."

Even if it weren't such a treat for me to have "sleepovers" in the home of my dear friends, I don't think there is any request they could make that I could turn down. They are such giving people; I feel as though I could never possibly give as much to them as they give to me. So the giving continues. And so does the friendship.

And so here we are, Sharon in her room, and I in "mine," as we've all started to term the guestroom! And both of us feel strange that Frank isn't around, but both of us also feel safer and happier, knowing the other is under the same roof. Tonight neither of us will be alone in the dark.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Vent session...
Depression and sadness aren't the same thing.
Just because someone has Alzheimer's Disease does not mean they are also automatically depressed.
If someone is sad because of a loss, the answer is NOT to put them on anti-depressants.

For our clinical activity a few weeks ago, we had to go to facilities where older adults with cognitive deficits were in long-term care. We interviewed them, and posted some of our experiences on an open discussion board for our class. So many people commented that "maybe this person couldn't answer the questions because he was depressed," or "maybe her sense of humor was really just a mask for depression." Good grief! Age doesn't mean depression--Alzheimer's doesn't mean their humor is fake! By the way, how can you "fake" not being depressed? Wouldn't that just be "good coping skills," in which case clinical depression would not be the diagnosis?

As my ABD in School Psychology friend says frequently, "As the confessionals empty out, the psychiatrists' offices fill up."
She's really got a point. We've come to a place where we think anything can be fixed with a pill, and everyone is expected to be on something. If a widower with Alzheimer's disease isn't taking medication for depression, let's suspect he's masking it with a sense of humor.


Andrew's curls, Megan's fashion sense!

Mom warned me I would laugh out loud when I saw this picture. But I forgot. I decided to check my email during a "slow point" in class. My friend Katie, who was sitting next to me, and I both had to muffle our sudden nasal air-releases when Bethie popped up on my screen. oops!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Off Topic

As we're settling in for the big exam today, our professor, Michelle, picks up a large zip-lock bag from the front table.
"Are these somebody's brownies?"

Questioning murmurs and a few hesitant "Shannon's?" are heard before I give the final, "Yes--those are everybody's. Help yourself. I hear they're delicious."

"Oooh! Are they 'special' brownies?" says my Classmate Who Never Will Pass my Mother Test ("would you allow him to treat your mother?")

When questions like this are put to me, I pretend I have no clue what's being referenced. I don't know why. Maybe because, for much of my life, I didn't know what people were talking about. Even though I have vague ideas now, it's still simpler to stick with the "innocent and clueless" ploy. Maybe I pretend because I don't find humor in people suggesting the presence of sedatives or hallucinogens in my best friend's yummy chocolate desserts. For whatever reason, I answered (quite honestly, in fact):
"Yes! They're very special brownies! They're Pope brownies!"

"Huh? Did you say Pope brownies? What the ..."

"My friend Sharon baked them for the Pope party we had last night. Do you know we have a new Pope? These are in honor of him."

"Umm, did you study last night?" that came from someone who would pass the Mother Test.

"No; but you know, I don't think we're going to have a new pope very many times in my lifetime. It's just so exciting. I had to celebrate with everyone at the rectory."

These people look at me funny, but they still associate with me. They even call me "friend." Marvelous, isn't it, that we can have so many different levels of "friends?" These are my friends I study with, that I play softball with, that I go bar-hopping with, that understand when I get excited about innovative treatment strategies. I pray for them, I do what I can--say what I can--to show my concern for their eternal salvation. But it's not reciprocal; that's not their primary concern for me. Even though they are aware of my concern, they're not fully aware--how could they be, unless they're already looking beyond this world?

And so they aren't my "true friends." And unless I live near some of those "true friends," I'm a pretty lonely girl.
So far I've been blessed. I've never been far from "true friends."
I draw my strength from them. I find myself more fearless in daily conversation, defending the Church, asserting moral boundaries, disapproving sinful situations. And to my surprise, my "school friends" don't run away. They may not all conform to the Truth, but they are not repulsed by it. I think a few of them actually respect the "strong opinions" I stand for; others think I'm too innocent to think anything different. Either way, I find myself "off topic" from everyone else much of the time.
Like today. Exam? Study? Well, I was at a wedding (one of the happiest days in the life of my good friend) and then our new Pope got elected yesterday (a momentous historical occasion for the Church, the Bride of Christ). What's an exam in light of all this?
I know we speak the same language. We're just talking about different things.

Monday, April 18, 2005

"I'm gong to be blunt"

The most prevalent phrase I heard this weekend was, "what are you up to these days?"--which is not surprising, since that's what people ask old friends whom they haven't seen in several months.

But another phrase that characterized this weekend was the announcement of forthcoming bluntness. The fact that it happened twice in two days makes it a prominent feature of my whirlwind weekend. And it makes me stop and consider what I think about it. Thus an entry for faithful reader one and faithful reader two (or should I call them "faithful check-ers," since I hardly ever give them something new to read? how about, "for the Erins in my life"):

Ahem. Back to blunt.
The older (and wiser?) I get, the more I appreciate bluntness. If you need to say something, just get it out. Chances are, it's not that big of a deal. Frustration comes when something needs to be addressed, the speaker doesn't want to be blunt, and the listener spends most of his energy trying to figure out exactly what's being said.

As if to prove my point, both instances I experienced turned out not to be a big deal. If it were not for the bluntness, though, they might have turned into a big deal. Especially the second announcement of forthcoming bluntness I experienced, made in the car on the way to the airport, with plenty of miles to go! Yikes--dangerous closed environment from which there is no escape! Of course, it was my fault:
Lounging in the passenger seat, chatting away, watching the traffic and the darkening California sky, I suddenly realize my driver hasn't said much. Not too concerned, but wanting to draw out some dimension of fascinating personality I know is hidden within my good friend, I ask, "What are you thinking about?"
"Uuuum," startled smile, side glance, "well, ok. I'm going to be kinda blunt now, ok?"

By the way, what does "kinda blunt" mean? I think it means, "If you don't want me to be blunt, you can still object, and I'll tone it down without too much effort." Maybe it just means, "this is blunt, but it's not scary." Whatever it means, I give permission, because the conversation can be finished more quickly.

And as a matter of fact, the conversation was resolved in less than 5 minutes, and I moved on to the next thing I wanted to discuss with my friend. Which thing was a line I read recently in a beautiful book entitle A Right to be Merry:

"The highest use of something is the sacrifice of it."

Like my driver pointed out (the blunt comment off his mind, he was a little less reserved), it's not that profound until you realize how much truth you have to already understand. In commenting on my little "favorite," he actually coined another profundity:

"You have to realize, not only that this world is not the only thing, it's also not the important thing."

Yes, yes, this is all quite obvious. But take these two sentences and meditate on them in front of the Blessed Sacrament. You will find that suddenly you're not kneeling in a little chapel anymore.

Suddenly, you are hovering on the edge of creation, wondering why God so loved.

You're realizing how generously He gives His little children things to sacrifice back to Him--like a father who gives his child a dollar to purchase a candy bar for a Father's Day gift.

Suddenly, every little doubt, every tiny worry about what may or may not happen, becomes silliness and irrelevance.

And then you wonder why you ever worried.

Another comforting thought, credited to Father Check (the best spiritual father I've ever had):
It is in God's own interest to let us know what His will is. Doesn't He want us to do His will? In any romance, there is a certain hide and seek that goes on, which makes it beautiful. But ultimately, the Lover wants His beloved to discover Him and to discover His desires.

And you wonder why you ever worried.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

wear a helmet

I just returned from a clinical rotation at an amazing rehabilitation center. I saw a 17 year-old girl who was in a really bad car accident in February. She's actually "getting better;" amazing perspective, given the fact that she has to work really hard to speak because of weakness in her muscles, cannot maintain an upright position in tall kneeling unless there's someone guarding her, and cannot yet keep focused on a task. (Rancho Level V/VI, in case anyone cares)
What was she like beforehand, I wonder?

I'll probably be seeing a lot this summer, including more brain injuries. My clinical rotation will be in a Kentucky hospital. It is an "inpatient acute neurorehab" affiliation

"inpatient" means the you treat the patients while they're in the hospital

"acute" means their condition has just recently happened, so it's usually pretty severe stuff (vs. "subacute," which means their condition is probably a little less severe)

"neurorehab" is short for neurorehabilitation, which literally means therapy for problems with the nervous system--brain injuries, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and a lot of other diseases and conditions we've been studying this semester.

It's fascinating, but very, very sad.

Wear a helmet.