Actually, let’s NOT be Frank, at
least not until we’re forced to. See,
Frank is my closest friend, and Frank is fighting Parkinson ’s disease. Frank is almost 85 now and is my latest
excuse for not working on my fifth novel.
A few months back I went to pick up
Frank for our weekly “lunch date” and found him on the kitchen floor, after his wife left for
Bible study. I called 911, and Frank has
been in the Memory Care Unit of NHC since then.
Parkinsonism is also called Shaking
Palsy. The shaking can often be lessened
or eliminated by medication, but the medication can lead to confusion and delusions. At Frank’s age it is hard to differentiate
between this disease and Dementia.
Frank is happily married but this
horrible affliction has stressed his wife and family to near breaking
points. She is here, but the rest of his
family is scattered. They have been real
troopers, but they all work.
His wife visits him once or twice a
day except when she’s sick. Another
close friend, Gale, goes by at least two or three times weekly. I live closest
to the facility, so I go by four or five days a week. We sit in the courtyard or walk in the
hallway (he uses a walker), or we take him out to lunch. Sometimes we have to help him with his food,
but only sometimes.
He sees people who aren’t there and
sometimes he talks to them. Occasionally
he thinks the nursing home is a cruise ship; it does have long corridors, a
cafeteria, good food, attentive caring staff, and lots of nice “cabins.” He worries it will sail without his
He is always happy to see us and really
likes it when we bring Blueberry Donut Holes, Yogurt-Coated Pretzels, or Rum
Raisin Ice Cream.
Sometimes, though, he asks me, “If the medicine isn’t making me
better, why do I have to stay here?”
Then I cannot take the easy way and
pretend I see “the
man in that tree” or someone long dead, when Frank does see them.
I say, “Frank, this is your home now. You are a big man, and you’re often confused. You see things. You’re starting to have accidents, and your
wife can no longer dress or clean you. This
is home, and it’s a nice one.”
He’ll give me a sad smile and say, “Oh.
Of course you’re right. Do you
see the man in that tree?”
If I say no, he’ll respond, “Sometimes I see things that aren’t
real. I have to touch them to tell. Last week I saw my father, but he’s been dead
a long time. I always shake your hand
when you visit to make sure it’s you.”
Tonight, Mary and I are meeting Frank
and his wife for dinner. We’ll have
great conversation about cruises we’ve done and watch him pick up an imaginary
glass, sip from it, put it down carefully and then dab his lip with his napkin.
And we’re going to keep fighting this
incurable nightmare with him, as long as we’re able. For now my fiction writing
will take a back seat to real-life drama.