“Hello, Mr. Johnson,” the nurse chirped in her baby-talk voice. “Are we doing okay this morning?”
“Hi, Tammy,” I replied. “Whatever it is I’m doing, I seem to be doing it here at the moment.”
Her smile became less forced, her tone closer to — but not quite — adult-to-adult. “Oh, good. Looks like you’re having a good day, then! Do you know what year it is?”
“I’ve told you twenty-‘leven times, it’s twenty-‘leven.” The retro styling was supposed to help us Alzheimer’s patients by giving us comfortable surroundings, but it can confuse things. It didn’t help that they assumed we all liked Glenn Miller and that other big band crap — give me good old 50’s rock and roll.
Tammy laughed. “Good! Are you up to eating, then?”
“Yeah. Breakfast would be good. And some crosswords, maybe. I’d like to call the kids, if they’re around.” I paused. “How long was I gone?”
She gave me a sad look. “Three days. And you were pretty foggy the day before.”
So I’m lucid about a third of the time now. “I hope I didn’t cause trouble.”
“No. We know you weren’t yourself.” Tammy’s expression changed enough to tell me I’d been trouble. She brightened. “I’ll send your breakfast in. Anything else you need?”
A Viagra pill and you out of that uniform, I thought but did not say. Her job was hard enough. “Nope. Not unless you have a cure for this damned Alzheimer’s!”
She laughed. “If we find one, I’ll make sure you’re first in line!” She breezed out of my room, off to her next patient. God, she had a nice ass — broad and round. Not a conventional looker, but I had a few of those in my time back before I settled down. They were lousy in the sack. Hell, I might not even need a Viagra with Tammy. Never needed one with Martha, God rest her soul. I’ll see her again soon enough.
I breezed through the two easy-level crosswords, and did pretty good with the middle level. For however long it lasted, I was all the way back. The shrink’s intern came by with the usual battery of exam questions, then said, “Well, I’ve asked you my twenty questions. You have any for me?”
“Yeah. Where the hell does my mind go when it goes away? I’d like to follow the son of a bitch and drag it back here where it belongs.” I tapped my hairless skull.
He gave a nervous laugh. “That’s a question… I don’t know how to answer. Maybe that’s more metaphysical, or even spiritual, than psychological. Some medical researchers would say your mind just… shuts off.”
“But wouldn’t that kill the rest of me?”
“Not necessarily. Your conscious mind resides in the cerebral cortex, the uppermost layer of your brain. If that upper layer stops — or freezes up — the lower layers continue to do their functions. Your phrase, ‘mind goes away,’ is half-right: only your conscious mind goes away. The involuntary functions like heartbeat, respiration and digestion continue to do their work. Reflexes, too. If someone pokes your arm, you’ll move it.”
“Yeah. So what’s happening in here when I vacate the premises? I guess I wasn’t much fun to be around this last time.”
“Good question. Can you remember what you were thinking last time?”
“Kind of. I could feel it coming on, and I was furious about it. I hated what was happening to me. Still do.”
“Ah. So that anger came through — or stayed behind, rather — during that last episode. You were belligerent. The staff had to restrain you for two days.”
I rubbed my forehead. “I’m so sorry.”
“Blame the disorder, not yourself, okay?” The intern smiled. “Maybe next time you feel an episode coming on, try to calm yourself instead of letting the anger have its way. You might not be with us, but perhaps you can ‘program’ your limbic system to be less aggressive before you leave.”
“Worth a try.”
I woke up this morning in a fog. “Here we go again,” I said, but it took me a while to figure out what that meant. Worse luck, it was Tammy’s day off. The Chinese guy — Song, that’s his name, like music — stayed with me as I collected my fading wits and battled with an easy crossword.
I grew frustrated, angry, at my inability to concentrate. But I remembered what the intern said, and I focused on calming myself. Don’t be a jerk, I told myself. There was something else — something important — I needed to remember. I tried to think of what it was as I used the bathroom — one less diaper for the music guy to change — then laid down.
I hate when my mind goes away… aha. Where is it going? Can I follow it and bring it back to my brain? Why I can’t remember where I go when I’m gone?
Follow it. I reach out, take hold of my mind. You’re not going without me this time, I tell it. I feel a moment of clarity as I take hold. Together we go, into the unknown.