4/18/17

BEE'S BLUE JUMPSUIT





As her Alzheimers progressed my mother "Bee" liked to wear an electric blue jumpsuit with matching crash helmet, goggles and boots.

This was the costume she wore when practicing what had become her all consuming routine. She enjoyed being twirled around in a wheelbarrow. 


This became her enjoyment of life and she was very good at it. Somehow this was liberating for her. Bee was able to put this costume on by herself. The outcome was somewhat disheveled-but she looked cute. Like someone out of a Sunday cartoon-Penelope Pitstop, or a Hot Wheels crew member.
I understood and thought it was adorable. My sister was appalled, my brother indifferent. The person who objected the most would’ve been my father, but he had surprisingly passed away a month prior. This event, my father's death, somehow inspired my mother’s eccentric freedom. She would insist on wearing this-Evil Knievel crossed with The Golden Girls-jumpsuit on her daily wheelbarrow spin.


Every morning at 9am on the dot Bee would greet me at the door raring to go. I would walk with her to the nearby park.  Along the way she would do her tricks. Pop little wheelies, and spin around for hours without getting dizzy. Bee simply adored this ritual. She wouldn’t necessarily laugh out loud, but there would be a slight smile on her face. 
A smile of compleate contentment.
 Bee showed no fear, no hesitation as she would go for her next spin. Nobody understood this. I thought it was great therapy. It kept her active and ambulatory. Her heart rate was good and it made her happy. Isn’t that what senior life was all about? 

On one particular day I went to meet Bee at her rest home, she was especially enthusiastic. Her crash helmet was on, her goggles fastened and her gloves pulled tight. 
I had these made for her as a present. Matching electric blue leather gloves with canary yellow lighting bolts. She loved them.
 Bee sat in her wheel barrel device and began spinning. I walked down the street by her side as she spun around in circles. Happy as a lark.


I hadn’t seen Bee this happy since about 10 years before when my brother and his then wife were living in Utah. 
Well into their eighties my father would drive to visit them often. Sometimes once a month! Of course my mother would accompany him. 
Not surprisingly I was the only person in the family that thought this was a bad idea.
Besides the concern for my mother's health & safety, I admit there was jealousy on my part.

I’ve lived at the same residence in East Hollywood  for 17 years. During that entire 17 years my father has come to visit me twice. 
I live 20 minutes away from them, but somehow this was too far? 
“No place to park. Too much traffic in your area,” was the excuse. 
My dad could travel 700 miles thru snow & sleet to visit my brother on a monthly basis, but couldn’t deal with parking in East Hollywood. 
As Bee's dementia worsened, they finally stopped driving to Utah and would now fly. 
On one particular trip everybody was ready to go, bags packed. The shuttle arrived. 
Bee refused to go. 
The more my father and brother tried to coerce her into going, the more agitated she got. She simply did not want to go. 
Out of desperation my sister called and asked if I would stay with Bee, as all the tickets had been purchased, the trip was fully organized , etc.

Of course I said yes. I was happy to do so. If I had said no, there would’ve been hell to pay I can guarantee. I was already the “black sheep" in the family, the heavy.
 Let’s put it this way- I was not the favorite son. 
My brother was the type that always got what he wanted. All the friends, all the presents, the girl, the extravagant wedding, the house, the best job, the highest pension.
 Whatever it was he got it.
 I have to admit it gave me a slight feeling of contentment to know he’d lost $$ on the airline ticket, but knowing my brother, he charmed someone into giving him a refund. 
At the very least a voucher. 

When I say I was the “heavy" I will explain with this story-
about 15 years ago I began to notice my mother was off. Bee was always sharp as a tack, but lately asked the same question over and over. She seemed dazed and confused. 
In group conversations she didn’t know what was going on. I was so concerned that I asked Bee if I could accompany her to her next Doctor’s appointment. 
“why do you want to do that?” Bee was alarmed and didn’t like the invasion of her privacy. 
“ I just have a few questions I would like to ask him.” I replied with a no-big-deal-attitude.
The first date Bee gave me was completely wrong. I knew she did this on purpose. 
So now I insisted I wanted to go with her the next time. I would not take no for an answer. 
The morning of Bee’s doctor’s appointment it was raining heavily. I called and told her I was on my way. In fact I called her three times to remind her. On the third call my father answered, so I knew something was up. “Ok,” was all he said.
When I got to my parents house, (BTW-the same house I grew up in) my father came outside with an umbrella. It was still pouring rain.

“Where’s Bee?” I asked.
 “I already dropped her off. It was raining so I took her early. Let’s you and I have breakfast and you can ask her whatever questions you wanted to know when she gets back,” my dad replied.
 “No dad, I said, the idea is that I want to ask her doctor these questions, not Bee.”
“Well, she’s gone so you can’t,” my dad wanted to end the conversation.
 “What is the address of Bee’s doctor’s office?” I asked.
“I don’t know it,” my dad was a bad liar. “Yes you do," I was determined. 
“Look, says my dad, you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. Let’s just you and I go have a nice breakfast and then we’ll sort everything out when she comes back.”
I exploded, “You need to start listening to me, because believe it or not I know what I’m talking about. Tell me the address to her doctor’s office. NOW!”
My dad told me the address and retreated back into the house murmuring, 
“you’re making way too big a deal about this.”

When I got to Bee’s doctor’s office lobby I was soaking wet. Bee was surprised to see me to say the least. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. 
“I told you I wanted to ask your doctor some questions," I responded dryly. 
I was in no mood to play anymore games. It was clear that her and my dad were trying to stonewall my visit.
We sat in uncomfortable silence. We were both not happy.
When the doctor called for her, I quickly stood up and boldly stated, “Dr Abend may I talk with you privately before you have the check up with my mother?”
 We had never met, but I knew who he was. 
My opinion of Dr Abend wasn’t as high as my parents.
We sat in his office. “What is it you would like to ask me?” said Dr. Abend.
I hesitated and then went full on. “For the last few months I’ve noticed my mother is not acting her usual self. She constantly repeats herself and is often befuddled. She hesitates when responding and her response time is slow. I asked my sister about this and she agreed. You’ve been her doctor for years, so you must have notice this yourself?” 
Doctor Abend’s response. “Well, if she can remember to pay my bill, she’s fine.”
I didn’t laugh. He could see I wasn't laughing and meant business. 
“Ok I’ll do a test with her right now and tell you what I think."
“Thank you,” I said, relieved. 

It seemed like they were in the office for hours, but it was only 20 minutes.
 Dr. Abend opened the door and asked me to step in.
Without missing a beat Dr Abend said, “she failed the verbal test so I am writing a prescription for Aricept. It is currently the only medication on the market for Alzheimers. 
It’s not a cure, but taken early on it may prolong the onset.”
I was stunned. I didn’t expect it to be confirmed. So final. 
I was in shock and looked over to Bee who didn’t register what was happening.
“Dr. Abend, I said, I don’t think my mother is comprehending what you’re saying.”
Dr. Abend turned to my mother and directly addressed her, “Mrs Castro I just gave you a verbal test for Alzheimers disease. Out of 40 questions you failed 30, therefore I am prescribing Aricept which is the only medication on the market for now. This will not cure your disease, but may prolong the onset of full blown Alzheimers. This is not a guarantee, because the studies are so new. If we’re lucky it will prolong the symptoms long enough that another drug will appear that may lead to a cure, but we’re years away from that. 
Bee didn’t say anything. Neither did I.

I thanked Dr. Abend and walked Bee to my car. The rain had stopped. 
We sat in the car in silence. Finally I broke the silence. “I’m so sorry Bee," I said sheepishly.
“I don’t know what he was saying, “ Bee was still stunned.
I hesitated, “ Dr. Abend said you have early Alzheimers and wrote you a prescription for a drug that may prolong the onset.
Bee turned to me like a deer in headlights. “ He only said that to appease you. He only said that because you came in and demanded some answers.”
“Bee, I said, I wish  had the power to command people to do what I want, but I don’t. 
I’m not a doctor. I can't diagnose you. Dr Abend confirmed you have Alzheimers disease."

 Bee was silent. I was silent. She looked up at me and asked, “what will become of me?”
I said, “you’ve always taken care of me since I was a little boy.
 Would you allow me to take care of you?” Bee nodded.
“Do you want to get something to eat or a cuppa tea?" I asked. 
“No said Bee, I just want to go home." We drove home in silence.
It was devastating.

A week later I received a handwritten letter from my mother.
 There were many misspellings and grammatical errors. The letter basically said,
 “who are you to tell me what to do with my life, when yours is in such disarray. 
I immediately threw it away.

But I digress…. so the family took off to Utah and I moved in with Bee for about 4 days.
 During this time my dad or brother would call on a regular basis to check up.
 Sometimes every four hours. 
“Hey Rick, let me speak to your mother” my dad on the phone for the umpteenth time. “Hold on”, I wearily replied. When I went to get Bee she simply replied,
 “I don’t want to talk. Tell him I’m busy.” 
My dad feelings were hurt. We chalked it up to her disease. 

For that entire four days Bee was lucid and talking with me the way she used to before Alzheimers stole her life. I made her meals, we laughed, chatted about stuff and watched TV together. She was not confused or stressed the entire time.
 At night she would kiss me on the forehead and wish me,”pleasant dreams, toddle-doodle doo”. This was a cute little phrase Bee used to say to me when I was a kid. 
When my dad came back, everything went back to how it always was and we all assumed our roles in the patriarchal family hierarchy. 

 That was the last four days I remember Bee being happy and lucid. 
Besides her experience wearing an electric blue jumpsuit, twirling in a wheelbarrow device. 
Of course one of these memories was only a dream I had. 

written by Rick Castro- April 11th, 2017-copyright


1 comment:

  1. Ricky, I pray for Bee, I love her, nothing has happened to your parents, right? The first half is you dream, interlaced with your anxieties about potentially loosing your parents, right!?

    ReplyDelete