A different kind of love story (Part 1)

The summer of 2003 was different for our family.

I was working at the Jackson County Public Library. Since I worked every other Saturday, I liked to make plans ahead of time for us to visit my parents in Indianapolis. When I called, my mother didn’t want to see us. Her granddaughter was almost 7 years old, and she didn’t want to see her.

My mother indicated that doctors had ordered a lot of medical tests for her. She even was being tested for cancer. Prior to this, my mother had been relatively healthy with the exception of getting rheumatic fever twice — once as a young child and the second time as a high school student.

Rheumatic fever causes inflammation of the heart, blood vessels and joints. My mother had to recover at home, and when she returned to school, she was not allowed to participate in physical education classes.

In late September 2003, my mother called and invited us to meet for lunch. Instead of eating at Mom and Dad’s, we met at a cafeteria-style restaurant. My mother had been an excellent cook all of her life. Suppers were great. Holiday dinners were ones to remember.

It was there at the cafeteria that my mother had told us that a neurologist had diagnosed her with Parkinson’s disease. I did not know much of the condition.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain illness. The brain starts to degenerate due to a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. A patient with Parkinson’s disease notices increasingly stiff joints. He or she will feel unsteady on his or her feet. The patient will also notice trembling in his or her left or right hand.

Prior to this, my mother had been a very independent woman. She would cut the grass when she wanted to. If she felt like painting the interior or exterior of the house, she would do so without help.

Now, with this diagnosis, I wasn’t sure about her being able to continue being independent the rest of her life. My mother would prepare lunches and suppers for my father. She would pour coffee or milk for him. Mom was the caregiver of the house.

Before my mother received her diagnosis, my father had retired. My father had done remarkable things as an electronic engineer over a 44-year time span.

He started his career designing color television cameras to be used in television studios. He went on to designing test sets for telephones for Western Electric/AT and T.

Shortly after we had moved to Indianapolis, my father had brought home something exploratory in what looked like the case for my mother’s sewing machine. It turned out that this was a prototype of what Bell Labs called the picture phone.

It was marketed to be used for conference calls in the northeastern part of the United States. My father also helped a medical doctor design equipment to help parents of newborn babies.

The first project was designed to wake a baby up and alert parents of the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome. The second project was designed to test infant hearing right after birth.

After retiring, my father did not have a lot of things to do on his bucket list. He did want to travel back to where he grew up near the Fort Wayne area.

My mother had exercised by walking around the block in her neighborhood. When my father was in his 50s, he started joining her in the oval walks. Because my mother had walked so much, she was in better shape to face the onset of Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Unfortunately, being unsteady on her feet and not being able to trust what she saw started limiting her walks around the block.

On one of our visits to Mom and Dad, I remember looking at the pamphlets that came with my mother’s prescription medication. For Zyprexa, I read that one of the side effects of taking it was experiencing hallucinations and delusions.

My mother was taking a drug that could produce the same side effects that her neurologist was trying to prevent. Learning of this was hard to swallow.

When we visited my mother in her early stages of Parkinson’s disease, she would like to sit by the open front door and look out the screen door. One time, as I was sitting next to her, mother very matter of factly told me that my father was having an affair with a realtor.

Knowing this to not be the case, I asked my mother how she knew of this. Mom told me that she had seen the realtor in their house. This was an example of a delusion and a hallucination. I learned later that I should not have questioned my mother.

During this same visit, my husband, Dean, agreed to stay with my mother so my father and I could walk around the block and talk. About halfway around the block, my father expressed concern that my mother was starting to get dementia.

Knowing that my mother had always had an excellent memory, I blamed her prescription medication for her loss of memory. Later, a longtime family friend had called me to ask why my mother had stopped writing letters and sending cards. I told her of the Parkinson’s diagnosis. My mother had lost her beautiful handwriting ability, as well.

My mother called me one afternoon to tell me that she had renewed her driver’s license. I didn’t quite know what to say. In the back of my mind, I thought at least she had updated identification to vote. I talked with my father, and he reassured me that he had hidden the car keys from Mom. Another freedom lost.

Family celebrations, like Christmas and Easter, were different now. Mom and Dad had asked some friends who did catering to prepare our holiday meals. These meals were good; however, they were not as delicious as my mother’s home cooking.

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