The Sidecar

I’ve just returned from a week-long trip with Jeff and my mom, and that was slated to be the subject of this post: Traveling with one’s AD spouse. But the topic will have to wait in the Amtrak lounge until next time. Due to complications directly connected to the tornadoes in the south, we got home from our sojourn at 4:30 a.m. EST and, frankly, I’m too tired to write about it.

On the other interesting hand, when I chatted, sleepily, with my 75 year old mother the day after we’d each gotten about 2.5 hours of shut-eye, I ascertained that she was actually doing a bit better than I was, and was even sticking to her plans to go to a symphony concert that evening with her sister. Why then was I, with what would seem to be an advantage of 26 years, still not back to normal even two days later?

I’m going to call it The Motorcycle Sidecar, or Why a Caregiver Can’t be Relentlessly Upbeat.

I like to present the “keep your sunnyside up” view of Alzheimer’s caregiving. If I serve a platter of foibles with a side of humor, and focus on the not-negative, I myself am better able to relish the tasty bits of the buffet and repress the fact that it all comes with a heaping helping of cod liver oil.

Because, if you are an Alzheimer spouse, you know it does. And it would be dishonest of me to pretend that it’s even possible to never get stuck in the doldrums. Which brings me back to the motorcycle and its sidecar.

Let’s say you’re a Harley-Davidson, tootling along Route 66 at 60mph. (It is possible that Harleys don’t “tootle.” You can probably tell that I am not a biker. You can be a Honda if you want to instead.) Anyway, you’re cruising…maximum fuel efficiency, freedom of the road, all that. Okay…let’s take your 75 horsepower and bolt a sidecar to your frame. It’s a hefty sidecar, and it’s loaded with a passenger who weighs in at about 160 lbs. This is going to reduce your fuel efficiency quite a bit. Not just fuel efficiency, but wind-drag. Oh, and electrical accessories too. Don’t forget that you also have to power the brake lights and iPod audio access for that sidecar.

Now, follow me here: You are not the rider of that motorcycle, you are the motorcycle. While that sidecar passenger may be providing scintillating companionship and conversation for the motorcyclist, the sidecar is doing nothing for you, the motorcycle. You’re rarely going to maintain the speeds achieved by your sidecar free buddies, and you’re probably going to have to stop for fuel more often.

And that’s just how it is, when you’re an Alzheimer spouse. You are, essentially, operating two bodies with one engine and one tank of gas. The extra one can do little or nothing to help, requires resources, and really—having dimmed to a spark of his/her former self, as people with neuro-degenerating brains inevitably do—no longer bolsters you up, or provides much in the way of that ethereal fuel of mutual companionship.

So it’s not as easy to be you as it used to be, no matter how much you try to look at the bright side.

You know, I probably should have used a train engine pulling cars analogy, seeing as how the trip from which I’m trying to bounce back was by Amtrak. But never mind. Bikes it is. And bouncing back I am. Three days later I’m feeling almost normal. True, if I had a gang, they’d be half-way across the continent by now, having left me in the shop for some body work, but I will be ready, soon enough, for more adventures, sidecar and all.

Yesterday morning, (that is the day after her night at the symphony,) I got an email from my mother reminding me that she was about to drive herself to Virginia for a grandson-at-college visit. I, meanwhile, was about regenerated enough to take Jeff grocery shopping. My mom knows what it’s like. She too was a caregiver until my dad’s death from Parkinson’s disease in 2009. Now she has a heart that will never quite be the same, but her fuel-efficiency has staged a come-back.

I surmise from this that there’s probably nothing “wrong” with me. I probably still have the potential to operate with the energy level of a normal human also. I will not always be appended to a sidecar, and let’s not be disingenuous or circumlocutious—we know what that means, as much as we might like finding big words to avoid saying it.

For now, let me check that my sidecar is bolted on safely. We’ve got some errands to do.