For some reason, remembering the day of the week is the most obvious and consistently difficult task for J. Related difficulties are remembering what is happening that day and how long ago in the past an event happened.
This morning J has asked at least 14 times “What day is it?” She has also asked how long ago we got back from vacation – “Yesterday? The day before?” – when it was last week, which I have calmly told her three or four times, when she asked. And, talking to a friend on the phone just now she tells them we got back three days ago…..you have to hear it to believe it. It’s like a constant play of “Who’s on first?”, and continuous demonstration of broken circuits in the brain.
There are conversations that don’t show this brokenness, as in discussing more distant memories or events. When we sat with the relatives on the dock during vacation, talking about old times, things seemed almost normal much of the time. Or, when we sit reading the paper, she will look up and share some tidbit, we’ll laugh, or enjoy some common observation, and the conversation will feel so refreshing and normal. But then, “WHAT day is it, now?”…
It’s like the circuitry or the chemistry of the very short term memory system is loose or malfunctioning a lot of the time. Not every time, but a lot of the time. J is aware that there is a problem, and will say that her short term memory is shot, but she is very upset by this, of course. When she remembers. Which makes for this complicated dance where I would like to discuss how she wants me to handle a particular lapse, but to bring it up means reminding her of the problem, which is painful for her, and half the time she doesn’t remember what I am talking about, so it seems especially cruel to try to clarify/press the point.
For example, on the phone with a friend or relative – she calls them to ask about a particular date, but forgets during the phone call to ask about it. Do I wave my arms before she hangs up, and remind her to ask, or talk to her after she hangs up, or pretend I wasn’t listening, or call the person later and ask….?? Or, I overhear bits of the conversation and realize something has been shared that is fairly important, but when she hangs up and I ask “How’re things with so-and-so?”, she doesn’t remember anything particular. I have taken to staying in earshot of phone calls so that I can judge whether to make further inquiries of her, or of the person she called. This became important some months ago when I realized she had made plans with friends but didn’t remember or write down the date and time – unless the person on the other end says “Now, write this down”, there is a fair chance it will be forgotten entirely.
So, since I can’t discuss it openly with J, I have taken to letting closer friends and family know that this is what happens with phone calls and to please email me any plans that get made, as a back up. Sheesh. It feels so weird to “go behind her back” in this way, but it is neither effective nor kind to tackle the problem directly, with J herself. She would remember neither the problem or the solution, or even the conversation about it. What would linger would be the feeling of “not doing something right”. It’s a continuous effort to watch where the memory loss might affect something important, and to find ways to compensate which don’t make J feel bad.
Fortunately, changes in memory function are happening slowly so I have a chance to adapt to the current state of affairs. Perhaps I should say “we” have a chance, but there is less and less sense that we are in this together – unlike with a physical illness or injury, where we would be planning and discussing how to run things effectively, the element of J feeling embarrassed or humiliated by her condition stands firmly in the way of direct and open discussion. I wish with all my heart that this wasn’t so.
“Uh, what day is it…..?”