During the years that I was a single mom, I worked at many jobs. Most were fairly unpleasant because I lacked the confidence and credentials to apply for better ones.
The job of shortest duration was at a nursery in Western North Carolina. I was required to work with bare hands in a white, powdered pesticide which was stored in a huge vat. The owner did not issue gloves or masks to me and the other woman who was also a new employee. We placed handfuls of the powder in potted plants and mixed it into the soil with our hands.
I love plants so I had thought that working in a greenhouse would be pleasant.
Several hours into the day, as I began to feel nauseous and dizzy, my co-worker complained of the same symptoms and then collapsed. Neither of us could speak coherently.
I went to tell the supervisor that the other woman was lying on the floor and that I wasn't feeling well, either. He thought we were slackers, and told me that we should stop complaining and get back to work.
I hauled the other woman to her feet and told her that we were leaving. She was in no condition to argue, so I loaded her into my car and drove us both to the local hospital.
We were both confused and unintelligible by this time. The hospital staff immediately placed us in isolation, took away all our clothes, even my brand-new sneakers, and gave us decontamination showers.
After several hours of monitoring, we were discharged. I must have driven myself home, but don't remember it. I never saw the other woman again.
Later, I learned that the nursery was using a pesticide which had been banned in the U.S. They were able to purchase it very cheaply for that reason. I am still outraged to think that they had so little regard for the lives of their employees.
They later reimbursed us for the cost of our clothing, including my brand-new sneakers, which had to be destroyed. Ironically, I come from a family of lawyers, yet I never sued them. I didn't have the means to hire one, and besides, I wasn't thinking clearly for a long time.
For many years, I suffered from the effects of this incident. It was as if some of the circuits of my brain had been burned out, and I would begin a sentence and then lose the thread of my thought. I was brain-damaged, although most people probably didn't realize it because I was able to compensate: If the word I wanted eluded me, I could substitute another, and nobody was the wiser.
I don't know when it happened, but at some point, it seems as if the holes that had been chemically burned in my brain fused themselves together again. I no longer have the feeling that my synapses are damaged because my thoughts now flow as they were intended. (As far as I know.)
This morning, I woke up thinking about this incident and wondering how it might relate to Alzheimer's Dementia. My husband, Flip, was diagnosed with AD several years ago at such a young age that for a long time, doctors were unsure of their diagnosis. Sadly, both MRI and PET-scan confirm it, so it seems as if in this area, as in so many others, he is precocious.
So far, his abilities are impaired only with regard to short-term memory and losing things. Flip is a musician and artist, and his creativity seems unaffected. He is a lucid participant in conversations which, however, he may not remember afterward. He has begun to struggle for words on occasion, yet his quick wit is still intact. He remains in every way the delightful, charming, kind and positive man he has always been. He is the most generous person I have ever known. In fact, Flip is pretty nearly the perfect man.
There is no way to tell what the future will bring.
In his words, "It's a small price to pay for being here."
I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't affect our relationship. I have more control than my fair share now, and handle our financial affairs, make appointments, and sometimes speak for him when he is unable to express his thoughts to others.
I get very angry with myself for not always being as patient as I should be, and as he deserves. I am so aware that it will get worse that it is ruining what we could have now. And I know that someday, when it IS worse, I will kick myself for not fully enjoying his company while he still knows who I am.
Alzheimer's is the best argument I know for living in the here-and-now.
Still, remembering my own brain damage and how it apparently healed itself makes me wonder if somehow, Alzheimer's-afflicted brains could do the same. I am not a scientist, nor am I a believer in religious miracles, although I think that I would take him to Lourdes if I could, just in case there's anything to it.
I wonder if neurologists could determine anything from my experience that would be useful in treating this ghastly disease that robs people of themselves, a bit at a time. There must be a link that has not been discovered, something in our brains that could be accessed to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
As every child knows, even earthworms, cut in half, will wriggle away in two pieces, smaller but still complete. Surely we would not exist if we did not also have the ability to repair ourselves.
Somewhere in this large mass of grey matter that we carry is the key. We badly need to find it. Now that the Baby Boomer generation has come into middle age, Alzheimer's is occurring in younger people all the time.
The pressing need for Viagra has been resolved, and hopefully, scientists will now have some free time, energy and research dollars to dedicate to curing this cruel disease. After all, even Viagra won't be of much use to someone who can't remember what it's for.