Laying Down the Law

Being a more or less full-time caregiver doesn’t mean you know how to entertain your caregivee more or less full-time. One of the questions that’s often bandied about on the Alzheimer spouse message board I frequent is: Why do they doze in chairs so much?

Part of the answer is that it’s tiring to live with a semi-functional brain. Navigating the world with only a half or so of a full deck is a surefire battery depleter, so chair-dozing is a pretty normal response. But there’s another theory, and it’s one with which I strongly concur—It’s boring when you can’t do anything. Dozing might often be a simple symptom of not knowing what else to do.

In the litany of losses we see in our stricken spouses, a fading of ambition seems to come early. Nevertheless, it is a classic trick of the Alzheimer mind to sporadically pulse with short bursts of what we figured was gone forever. What happened with Jeff is that about a month or so ago, he latched onto the notion that he would go to law school.

I am not aware that Jeff ever entertained thoughts of law during his functional life, so it’s been a funny thing to come upon us during system failure. But there it was, and he brought it up when we had lunch with his sister one day. What did she think, Jeff wanted to know. Would he make a good lawyer? 

There is hardly anyone with a greater gift for equanimity than Jeff’s sister, and she gently expressed her doubts about whether he would enjoy the shark-like thinking that the study of law (as she understood it) aimed to instill. This put it to rest, but only for that meal. Because for inexplicable reasons, the notion of going to law school had latched onto one of the few neurons in his brain that could retain something. So he kept bringing it up.

“Today,” I would say, as I threaded him into his coat, “we’re going to go to the bank, get lunch, then buy cat food.”

“Then,” said Jeff, with a purposeful look, “law school.” 

More than a few times, I had to stuff my thoughts under the nearest pillow and sit on them, because what was the point? As caregivers, we aim to make life pleasant, not be the reality check-point. How could it help for me to say “Yo…you can’t read, you can’t drive, you can’t follow a movie plot, and you can’t put your pants on straight…how are you going to go to law school?”

No, reality was out, and so was just plain “no.” Just plain “no,” would make me the bad guy. There had to be something other than “no.” There was, as it turns out. There was the LSAT. For all his deficits, Jeff is still capable of understanding (once I pointed it out,) that there is a first hurdle, and it’s the standardized test. So, last week, we made a field trip to Barnes & Noble, and bought the Princeton Review’s strategy guide for the LSAT.

It seems to have been a $24.37 investment that paid off. He could make no sense of the book on his own, as I knew he could not. After a couple days of staring at it, he asked for help. Tests were not a problem he insisted. He had, after all, taken the SAT about two-dozen times over the past fifty years. (Don’t ask me where this idea came from, as we all know that no one wants to take the SAT more than twice, and kissing it goodbye at 17 is always a relief.)

So, we sat down together and cracked the book. I cut to the chase and read the first logic question. A veterinarian wishes to transport animals in four cages, each of which has one upper and one lower berth. There are three male animals. Female animals will occupy the top berths of cages #1 and #2. No cage can contain two males. Therefore, which of the following arrangements (A,B,C,D, or E,) is untenable? Being me, I sketched out my little cage diagram and circled a response. But Jeff selected choice F: Throw the LSAT book on the floor. 

“Do you want to stomp on it now?” I asked. He chuckled. “No, I’m going to celebrate. Because I never have to take the LSAT.” 

Then I helped him find the bathroom, which was located, as always, right across the hall (where it’s been for the past 25 years.) That’s the last I’ve heard of law school.