Two Steves

Near midnight after a mixed day, half irritating, half enjoyable.  The irritations involved dealing with caregiver relief scheduling difficulties and insurance reimbursement issues.  Spent my morning dealing with both.  I felt for a while as though I were again the college administrator I once was, sitting at my desk, fielding problems as they arose.  I am good at that kind of work, but do not want to do it now.  The pleasure was my Tuesday afternoon lunch, which provided lively conversation on topics both trivial and important.

Late as it is, I want to work on this post.  I wrote it as a draft some time ago, and think now would be a good time to publish it.

The most difficult then vs. now tug of war in Carol’s mind for me is the one where she prefers her memory of me to the actual, present-day me.  On more than one occasion, she has consistently demanded to see her husband when I have been sitting right next to her, even holding her hand.

At those moments, I suppose, if she recognizes me at all, I am her caregiver, the guy who attends to her needs.  I can insist, as I have done, that the Steve she is remembering is the same Steve talking to her at that moment, but she is not moved.  She looks at me as though I have been talking in a foreign language, or if not, have been saying something so palpably false that she need not give my assertion a moment’s thought.

What this tells me is that her long-term memory is far more vivid than any present reality.  She seems to have, in fact, a tenuous grip on what I’ve been calling the here and now.  Why this is so, is perhaps because her brain simply does not retain much memory of the immediate past by which I mean minutes before the present moment.  It’s as if every moment in the present is a new dawn with no antecedent to provide context.

This might be a bit of an exaggeration but not much.  She does seem to retain memories of things that have bothered or annoyed her.  For example, at meal times, which she continues to take while still on the couch, I generally get her into something like an upright sitting position.  I do this by first swinging her legs over the side of the couch, and then gathering her in my arms and lifting her until she is at least mostly upright.  We repeat this procedure two or three times a day. And apparently it has left something of an impression in her brain, a newly minted memory, for she will react by saying, depending upon her mood, either a simple “OK,” or “not again.”  In either case, she recalls what we are about to do.

But this is the exception.  More generally is the rule that a minute or two after any incident, snippet of conversation, or activity, it is as though it never happened.

So, I can understand why she denies that I am who I am, preferring to dwell on her stored memory of who I was.

But understanding it does not make it any easier to deal with, especially when she is in some sort of distress.  There was an incident involving the physical and occupational therapist combining to work with her to see if putting a weighted vest on her would enable her to resist the rising panic caused by getting on to her feet, and in so doing they met significant resistance.  She became very angry and fearful at the same time, and insisted that she wanted her husband.

That I was standing right in front of her did not satisfy her.  I was not the husband she remembered.  I was this other guy.  On occasion, she acknowledges that there are two Steves, giving me the small victory of my name.

But she so clearly prefers the other Steve, the one she remembers.  I try to close the gap between the two by citing the facts of our lives together, where we met, when and where we married, where our daughter is now living in Minnesota, and so forth.  She easily accepts that all of that information is correct, even offers a bit of a smile as her mind fastens on to this or that detail.  Nonetheless, she does not connect any of it to me.  All of it belongs to that other Steve, and there it will remain.

It is all so understandable.

And, at the same time, maddening.

A thought occurs to me.  I see it but don’t want to deal with it.  Still, it will come back.  It must.

There will be a time when there are no Steves.


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