Ralph started the Ritalin study through Emory last week and I’m waiting to see some spurt of energy. He still lies down to “rest my eyes” at 5:30, resting them so deeply that I have to work to rouse him at 6:30 to eat dinner, after which he has his cigarette and goes back to sleep between 7:30 and 8. So my guess is that he’s been given the placebo.
Which is actually okay with me. As I acknowledged when our practitioner first said Ralph might qualify for this study, I have mixed feelings. (The future good that participation may do for others is a given but not really part of my equation.) I do not want to deprive Ralph of the chance for a more normal life or any chance to enjoy life more, and it is possible according to the nurses and social workers that Ritalin really will create a new zest for life.
But what if he ends up with more energy and zest than I have? That would be a cruel irony, wouldn’t it? Because my energy is certainly depleted. I am not sure how much I can get away blaming my mental and physical exhaustion on caregiving. Laziness and fear of challenge play their parts in drying up, or avoiding, my creative ambitions. But 15 years–10 as daughter/caretaker segueing, with a year or so of overlap, into five as spouse/caretaker–is a long time in what has never been a natural role for me.
No matter, my competitive nature has turned this worry into a positive goad. To avoid being left in the dust, I am now revving up my energy with a new diet, more regular exercise, and visits to my therapist, whom I stopped seeing shortly before Ralph’s diagnosis when our relationship and my own sense of self finally seemed healthy.
Which brings me to my second worry, what if Ralph on Ritalin reverts back to the Ralph my therapist has reminded me he used to be: autocratic, critical, competitive, jealous. He wasn’t that bad, I laughed, but then bad memories began to surface. I could go on and on with a list of the examples of his faults and bad behavior I’ve begun to remember, and I would except just now I was interrupted by a phone call that’s thrown me completely off course….
The caller, JG, was starting out as a real estate agent when he met Ralph, then in his entrepreneurial prime. The two hit it off. , Over the years, I would hear Ralph talking to JG on the phone, explaining how to analyze values and bottom lines, offering professional advice but also yaking about fishing, another passion they shared. JG was younger and we never socialized much. But he did bring his wife and kids out to the farm for several visits shortly before they moved to north Florida. His wife turned out to be lovely—we had immediate rapport. His son, who was six or seven on that first visit, was obsessed with tractors, so he was in heaven when Ralph took him on the riding mower. (I don’t remember if they played on the tractor too.). The next visit, the boy was old enough to ride the mower himself, with a lot of supervision.
JG still comes to Atlanta regularly for business. Since we closed our business and turned the one rental property we still own over to his management company, JG has known, in vague terms, that Ralph was having some kind of problem and no longer actively involved in decision making, but he has never asked for details and I didn’t offer. He hasn’t seen or talked to Ralph for ages. The last time I talked to JG was a few years ago about a business issue. We were friendly but careful with each other.
He called today over another small business matter,. When he asked how Ralph was, I told him Ralph’s memory was holding stable.
“What’s wrong exactly. I never asked but is it Alzheimer’s.”
“On the continuum but still early stages,” I explained. “You might not even notice any change at first.”
“So he still fishes?” “No.”
“Oh, he can’t fish?” “No, he has no interest.”
JG’s shocked silence was deafening. Here was someone who only knows Ralph as a man avid about the activities he loves. I took back what I’d said about JG noticing—he would definitely register the changes I’ve begun to take for granted.
JG began asking the questions he’d never asked. WeI had a long, serious discussion.
“I didn’t want to invade your privacy.” That made sense because I’d been vague about Ralph’s situation early on, not sure how much to share. (These days I share everything ad nauseum.)
“It is hard to imagine Ralph unengaged. He was so interested and involved. He was …” I could tell how upset, really upset, he was. “He was like an uncle… …”
I invited him visit, with his son who is now a 6’3” teenager but still loves to farm work. JG said he’s been waiting for the invitation and will make sure to come soon.
I hung up in a different state of mind from the one that set me writing this morning. I am feeling tender toward Ralph now, of course. And toward myself, realizing how tenuous my emotional memory of Ralph and who we were together, the good and the bad, has become.