I was caretaker for my former wife's aunt for 5 years. We both had fun “driving Miss Crazy” eventually we had to make a place for her in our home and then as she would wander away we found a nearby nursing home. By that time my marriage had fallen apart. Then, I had moved to a nearby city to pursue my art and ecological design career. All this time, I still visited her almost every day as nobody else would or could. It is hard to be with an Alzheimer or dementia person…hard to see someone fade away. One day the nurse called me to tell me Gerrie was dying, I arrived as her last breath left her body, a long slow decent was over, she looked so peaceful.
Then it was my turn. I had been living in my studio in an old mill building in Lawrence Massachusetts when someone sealed the basement floor with a product containing the solvent Xylene. That was a Tuesday by Thursday I was waking up in a hospital completely out of my head. I did smell the Xylene and opened my windows, that pulled up the fumes and later I would learn that one’s sense of smell is the first to go. The only clue I had something was wrong was a NPR interview the person sounded so brilliant and when the announcer said his name was George Bush…I began to worry.
The next year and a half was hell as I had no memory and Alzheimer’s like symptoms my business, relationships and life fell apart. The neurologist had said that I had the brain of an 80 year-old man, maybe older…I was resigned to a half-life fading in and out. I was fortunate a friend of mine is a Mayan Shaman who when I arrived at the Cotton Tree Lodge in Southern Belize took one look at me and said, “Mr. Terry someone evil has poisoned you”. I had no idea who he was, yet like a child I followed him into the jungle when he said, “come with me”. I caught up with him as he was talking to a vine then he cut it into pieces for a tea. I drank that tea and the clouds went away from my mind…I still remember the first memory I had of our children making us breakfast in bed. Eggs burned yet runny with bits of shell, toast dropped butter side down with most of the cat hairs picked off and almost a swallow of orange juice left in the glass. The best breakfast I had ever had! I stood there in tears thinking I am coming back.
The next decade I spent most of the winters in the jungle behind Santiago’s camping, learning and healing then jetting back to Boston to see family and friends and make enough money to return to what I would call the real world. Eventually I became whole and decided to do something about the toxins in our environment. I had invented a living machine that digested petrochemicals and pesticides and yes Xylene safely and effectively. I had decided to launch a manufacturing company SLURPITS.COM. I had found a partner who was both brilliant and fun she had been vice president of international communications for Fitch Ratings and more impressively ridden an ostrich… something I had wanted to do since I was eight.
Then it was Kris’s turn. I had first noticed she was having trouble with the credit card machine and didn’t seem so brilliant anymore. She was having trouble with escalators and her doctor didn’t seem to think it was serious. When she went to see her daughter in London that fall, I got a message “what has happened to my brilliant mom” I realized something was seriously wrong and after almost daily tests and doctor appointments she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s
I grew up in New York City, in Riverdale, a little spot on the Hudson where Manhattan kisses the Bronx. I had no idea that slowly this disease was growing in my head.
I studied at Bronx Science, a milestone in my life, and majored in English and Economics at Albany for college. One of my first ‘real world’ jobs was at Telerate’s newsroom, in a way a precursor to Bloomberg, which come to think, of it, blossomed into a career of’ news of one sort or another. A marriage move landed me a gig writing an arts column at The London Times and eventually senior vice president corporate communications for one of the big three global financial rating agencies. My responsibilities was the UK, Europe, and points east and south communicating financial analysis that made sense in each country, stress went with the job.
I had no idea my brain was in trouble. Well, mother nature took care of that! Adding divorce, moving several times in a short time and other roadblocks in my life that my regular doctor diagnosed as depression and anxiety. Eventually I chose to return Stateside, I was in Florida working on an environmental startup with my partner but the disease made that too hard, now back in Salem.
It’s the now that is my takeaway for this “About Me”. It’s for you.
Alzheimer’s is an insidious onslaught; you know something is wrong, you just can’t place it. Nor could my regular doctor even take a guess. My signs included trouble with escalators, as I lost ability to access spatial awareness and it became frightening in the London subway when I managed to visit with my daughter. It was heart breaking to know she was asking what happened to my “brilliant” Mom? We both hit the wall with a lack of knowing. Gee, could the timing have been much worse? (More about signs and working with your doctors in future blogs). The good news is I now have two superstar, proactive neurologists who have saved my life, of that I am sure.
I was 59 now 62. Early Onset. Don’t know why. I’ve had a life of adventure And there’s still more to come! I’ve done everything I can to get where I am and best of all is when my fabulous daughter told me that I sound much, much better than last year. I felt that I have a chance for another 10-20 years. Counting down
from 59, I’ll take the odds.