Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The scariest moment of my life


This is going to be a rather odd intro, but I promise I'm going somewhere with this little story...

When I was in the hospital after my jaw surgeries, I was moved to a private room where I finally got some sleep. Jerry was there next to the bed, watching TV, and I fell into a deep sleep. About an hour later, I woke up, and I knew NOTHING about what was going on. I didn't know where I was, why I was there, who Jerry was, or even who I was.

Pre-surgery. This was me trying to smile.

It was the scariest moment of my life, and that is not an exaggeration. I have many fears, but the fear of losing my memory again is at the top of the list.
The memory loss only lasted about 30 seconds, but it was terrifying enough to have a lasting effect on me. It made me think about my grandmother (my mom's mom, who we called Gobby).

Gobby developed Alzheimer's disease when I was a teenager, and at the time, I didn't know much (if anything) about it. All I knew was that it caused her to call me "Sue" (my mom's name) and that she used to ask when "D" (her husband, who we referred to as Pippi) was coming home (he'd passed away decades earlier).

Gobby and me on my 14th birthday
Telling a woman that the love of her life is dead is sad enough; but to have to do it over and over again is heartbreaking. Eventually, my mom and her siblings stopped telling Gobby that Pippi had died, and they just said he’d be home "soon". My grandma didn't know any better, and she would soon forget their responses anyway.

Until I had that brief amnesia in the hospital, it never occurred to me that Gobby must have been scared like that sometimes when she was very confused. As a teenager, I used to get kind of annoyed that she always asked the same questions over and over; now, I feel terrible for not being more sympathetic. She was scared, and she wanted to know what was going on.

Gobby lived with the disease for several years. Pippi had died when Gobby was just 55, but he had a good life insurance policy to take care of Gobby for the rest of her life, so money was not a problem.

My mom and Pippi, not too long before he died.
It was because of his careful planning that Gobby was able to spend the last years of her life at home, rather than placed in a nursing home. My mom and her siblings made a schedule to have one of them with her around the clock. I didn't think about it when I was an immature teenager, but being a caretaker is challenging and time consuming. I give my aunts and uncles a lot of credit for what they did. Gobby lived into her 80’s before passing away peacefully in her own bed, with her children next to her.

Ever since that scary moment in the hospital when I forgot everything, I have lived with a fear that has settled down in my gut--a fear that I will get Alzheimer's one day as well. Alzheimer's disease has a genetic component to it, and there is even a test that I could take that will tell me if I have the gene marker. I haven't decided whether I will get the test yet, but it's something to think about.

There is also a good chance that my mom could get the disease, and I will end up being her caretaker.
Last year, when I wrote a blog post for Prudential about planning for the unexpected, Jerry and I finally got around to writing a living will, which sparked some discussions about health and finances. Since we're in our mid-30's, it's so easy to think that we'll just be healthy forever; but we realized that we actually have to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. If I should get Alzheimer's, I really don't want to be a burden on Jerry. I've seen firsthand what a toll it can take on loved ones, and I want to do anything that I can to ease that burden. (Interestingly, on this infographic by Prudential, "Not being a burden to loved ones" is one of the top financial goals for women.)

I think planning for the future just takes the same sort of time and thought. For example, I know that the more Jerry and I earn, the more we spend; and the less we earn, the less we spend. We adapt to what we’re given. So, in planning for a long-term illness, we just need to be prepared to adapt for it.

Of course, we're still going to hope for the best (that we'll live healthy lives into our 90's); but it never hurts to be prepared if life doesn't go as planned. (If you are interested in planning with a financial advisor, Prudential has a locator tool here to help find one.) Have any of you experienced Alzheimer's (or other chronic illness) first hand with a loved one? I hope by planning ahead, I'll be prepared to accept if it happens!

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10 comments:

  1. Such an important message! I was just diagnosed with breast cancer and that made me start thinking about my life insurance, etc. Nobody wants to face their own mortality but it's a lot easier on those that remain to have those things taken care of instead of being in a position at a difficult and challenging time to guess what their loved one wanted for care or end of life matters.

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    1. I'm so sorry about your recent diagnosis--that must be so scary. It's so hard to imagine those kinds of things happening that when they do, it throws us for a loop. Best wishes as you move forward with your treatment!

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  2. Thank you for sharing such a personal story! My first job off my family's farm was working as a receptionist at a nursing home that specialized in care for dementia and Alzheimer's patients. It had a big imapct on me, and was especially hard to see residents whose families only came to see them once or twice a year (and they lived in the same town!). My grandfather developed dementia and eventually depression from being scared and confused. He passed away peacefully just days before his 95th birthday. I have the utmost respect for anyone acting as a caregiver after these experiences. I also hope medical research will find a cause and cure for Alzheimer's and dementia.

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    1. I'm so sorry about your grandfather. I wasn't joking when I said Alzheimer's or dementia is my biggest fear. It must be so scary for people who have it, and it's sad (but totally understandable) that your grandfather developed depression due to the dementia. I'm glad he passed peacefully! And I agree, I have so much respect for the caregivers.

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  3. My husband and I are watching From Fat to Finish Line right now and you mentioned your blog. My grandmother had Alzheimers also. It is a big fear of mine! That and losing my eye sight as both grandmothers had mascular degeneration. I've always worried about the things that could plague me in old age. And then a year ago...my best friend was diagnosed with Appendix Cancer. She was younger than me and I'm only 32. What a shock! I made a lot of diet changes from that shock and I'm half way through my 100 pound weight loss goal. My friend recently passed due to her cancer and again that made me make more changes to my life, specifically more family time and beginning to work out. I'm in week 3 of the couch to 5k program. In her sickness I found health and in her death I found life. I think I'm going to like your blog! Thank you for sharing your journey!

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    1. Oh, wow, I am SO sorry about your friend. What a tragic story! I think it's awesome that you took that shock you felt and turned it into something awesome--making healthy changes in your own life. I've been spending more time with my family, lately, too. I realized just how fast my kids are growing, and I don't want to miss it! :) Thank you for checking out my blog, and I hope you enjoyed the film!

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  4. I'm currently in the process of ferreting out what my health issue is -- and Sunday I spent most of my morning at urgent care to address it. I turned 30 this year, but know that some serious health stuff runs in my family.

    I had a great uncle with Lou Gehrig's Disease -- and watching him wasting away both physically and mentally was tough for everyone around. It's scary to think that it could happen to someone else I love...

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    1. I'm not very familiar with Lou Gehrig's disease, but from what I've heard, it's terrible to watch someone go through. I'm sorry you had to witness your uncle go through that! xo

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  5. Thank God--I have not had to experience Alzheimers afflicting a loved one. I think that has to be the worst. I'm sure the fear of developing it yourself is very real, very valid and very very scary. Still, for me anyhow, it would be a tough test to take--but with new drugs I suppose the sooner they diagnose it, the better off you are, as they say some of the new drugs can prevent the Alzheimers from advancing so quickly. But I'd almost rather NOT know.
    I used to call my Grandma (dad's mom) Gommie, and she called me Susie. She didn't have dementia or anything, but she had wanted my parents to name me Susie and when they didn't (I'm Pam), she decided to call me that anyway.
    When I think about all my great memories of my grandparents, I only pray that my grandchildren remember me so fondly. I think sometimes we under-estimate how important grandparents are in a kid's life.

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    1. That's such a cute story about how your grandma called you Susie! So funny. And Pam, I am SURE that your grandkids will have some amazing memories of you. From what I've seen, you spend a ton of quality time with them!

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