Sunday, July 19, 2015

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer

Two weeks ago I paid good money to find out what I have suspected for awhile. I am no longer the sharpest knife in the drawer.

In the last few years I've been having increasing memory loss. I've talked to other women my age who say they have the same problem.  I think mine is worse.

It's like my brain is short circuiting. I can't find my keys, cell phone, cheaters, sunglasses, tennis shoes and slippers. People's names?  Forget about it.

Then there's that little piece of paper my husband told me he needs to keep.  I panic a week later when he can't find it and accuses me of throwing it away. I dig through the trash can in the garage and it's in a garbage bag amidst coffee grounds and egg shells.

And I misplace my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Which, by the way, is just one more reason not to go to Wal-Mart. I avoid it at all costs. It smells like cheap plastic toys and cardboard. I always end up spending $173 for the can of hairspray I come in for and which I forget to put in my cart. I feel sorry for the checkout clerks. Those poor souls get minimum wage and deal with crabby, rude people who see them as the last obstacle in their getting home.

Anyway. What was I saying?  I lost my train of thought. Which brings me to why I got tested for cognitive impairment.

I can attribute most of my forgetfulness to simple inattention. It happens. But losing what I am saying mid-sentence really bothers me. This happened some when I was younger. But eventually I'd remember, even if it was a few hours later. Not now. I've come to accept that my memory occasionally leaves the building like Elvis, never to return.

A few months back I read Still Alice which is the story of a woman who is a Harvard professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 52--my age exactly. It makes me wonder.

My friend, DeAnn, works for a place that helps people increase cognitive skills. She works with kids who have ADHD and learning or relational problems. She also helps adults like me whose memory has taken a hike and can't find its way home.

Awhile back when I joke with her about having early onset, she doesn't laugh.  She says if I am really concerned about it, she has a coupon I can use to get tested at her school. I wasn't too keen on the idea at first. 

But then something happened at my women's Bible study that prompted me to reconsider. We were having our discussion time, and I opened my mouth to share what I'm sure was some profound nugget of wisdom. I said, "I think..."  I stopped. I didn't have a clue as to what I was going to say.  Everyone looks at me quizzically and waits. Nervously I make a joke that this is what happens when you get old.

I call DeAnn to make an appointment to get my brain tortured. I go to the school, where her boss gives me the hour-long test. It's like taking your ACTs but involves playing games, doing puzzles and reciting a series of numbers backwards. It wasn't fun, and I began to whimper halfway through it.

At the end of the test, I get my scores. In high school I wasn't valedictorian or anything, but I think I was smarter than the average bear. That has changed.

The results are displayed on a percentile chart compared with people my age. There are nine categories which test, among other things, memory and processing speed.  I score highest on Logic and Reasoning. I am in the top 75% of something called Word Attack (I guess I have a good grasp on word pronunciation). I don't score great on any of the others. But I am disturbingly low on Working Memory. The bar is scraping the bottom of the chart. 

I try to be philosophical about my results. After all, somebody has to be last. I figure I'm taking one for the team, but I'm blinking back tears.

The woman doesn't make light of my scores. No sense of humor. Instead she explains how memory and retention can be improved through training. I ask if I'm getting Alzheimer's. She said she doesn't think so. She says it's normal to misplace keys. It only becomes problematic when you can no longer remember what to do with the keys.

She explains the program. The personal intensive training sessions are designed to work your brain to exhaustion so that it has to create new pathways of learning (or until it cries Uncle). She shares success stories of adults who have had remarkable improvement with their memory. Even people who are super smart can increase their cognitive ability. One of their students has an extremely high IQ but wants to have sharper skills as she goes through med school.

At this point, I'd be happy to be sharp enough to slice a piece of bread.  I ask to see prices. 

DeAnn is encouraging me to do the training. I'll be able to improve my memory and recall. But the price is steep, and I don't like torturing my brain. It hurts. 

Meanwhile, I've bought an industrial pack of Post-Its to leave myself notes around the house. I'm doing Sudoku. I'm also playing board games with my 78-year-old mother. So far I haven't beat her in Scrabble once. True, she has been playing her whole life while I've just started. But still.  She's 78 and I'm 52. No fair.

I also have made an appointment with my doctor to find out if there is some kind of underlying cause behind my memory loss. Like maybe my medications are slowly frying brain cells.  

Or, maybe I'll find out I'm just a normal 50+ woman who has a lot on her mind and sometimes misplaces her car keys. But when I don't remember what the keys are for, I'm calling DeAnn to sign me up.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Long & Winding Road. My Kinky Colonoscopy

The defining mark of turning half a century, my first colonoscopy. When my doctor said I needed to have one done, I was less than thrilled. But I was resigned. If colon cancer is caught early, it can be successfully treated and cured. And, the only way that is possible is to do a search-and-rescue up your behind.

I made my appointment for a Monday. I was to limit what I ate for the week, fasting the last day before the procedure. I was warned that if I wasn't completely cleaned out, I'd fail the test and have to come back to repeat it. Fearing being a failure, I did exactly as I was told.

By Sunday, I felt like I had been in the hunger games. I was dreaming about fajitas with guacamole on the side. At 6 o'clock that night I was to drink the first dose of the nuclear laxative aptly called MoviPrep. I read the directions and mixed two bags of powder--Bag A and Bag B--with a quart of lukewarm water.

Remember when grocery stores used to hand out suckers at the checkout line?  If you found a bunch of those suckers --the green lemon-lime ones--all stuck together in a clump under your car seat, peeled off the wrappers, placed them in a jug of warm water overnight and then stirred in a cup of salt in the morning, you'd have the equivalent to MoviPrep. Awful stuff. 

After an hour, I had finally gacked it all down.  I went downstairs, telling my husband and son that I was going on a private retreat and that under no circumstance were they to visit. I lit a few candles, placed several magazines strategically in the bathroom, then found a movie on Netflix. I watched "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead," which, ironically, is about the American diet and how it is killing us with diseases such as colon cancer. Colon cancer is rare in other countries where people have plant-based diets.

Thirty minutes into the movie, I finally felt the need to go. I can only describe what happened next as traumatic. I didn't want to think about what would have happened if I had eaten the fajitas.

By eleven, I was pretty sure that my colon was more than cleansed. It had been sterilized. I went to bed, fell asleep for five hours and then got up to the alarm to repeat the whole process. Since there was nothing left inside of me, I was pooping pee.

At this point, I was so hungry I felt like a wartime prisoner. My only comfort was that it would soon be over and I could eat again in a few hours.

When I arrived at my appointment, I was told to take off all my clothes and don the gown. I went to sit in a waiting room with strangers who were also butt-naked under their gowns. We all knew we were there for the same reason. No one looked each other in the eye.

I was given an IV. From here it gets a little fuzzy. I remember singing "The Long and Winding Road" by the Beatles. I caught a rather unflattering view of my derriere on the overhead screen before the lights went out.

The next thing I remember is opening my eyes and asking if I could have a cracker. The nurse said that, unfortunately, no, I would have to remain fasting. I had failed the test. They had run into a kink and couldn't finish. I was a fail? I had a kink? Yep. I would need to go for a scan that afternoon. I was given another jug to drink, this time filled with dye for the scan. Then they put me in a recovery room to wake up and pass gas along with everyone else I had seen in the waiting room earlier.

After three hours laying on my side in a dark room, it was time for the scan. I figured the scan couldn't be that bad. Just a picture, right? Oh no, the fun was just beginning. The tech said she was going to fill my intestines with air. She'd then insert a balloon to hold the air in while she took pictures. "Oh, and please don't emit any gas while we do this." She said this all with a straight face.

I had to get into several awkward positions, somehow holding the balloon and the air in while she took the pictures. Mercifully, she finished and told me I was free to go home. Dave pushed me in a wheelchair to the car. I wasn't feeling so hot. Halfway home, I got out of the car and got sick. There wasn't anything to throw up except my tonsils.

I continued to get sick the rest of the evening. Finally, it occurred to me that this may not be normal. Maybe they had punctured my colon, and I was being poisoned to death by toxic laxative and dye. I called the resident on call. She said it was probably an effect of the anesthesia. I think it was the combined result of all the atrocities done throughout the day.

Finally, it was over. I woke up the next morning surprisingly no worse for the wear except for sore tonsils. On the bright side, I must have lost like ten pounds. I hopped on the scale. Two.

Since I failed my colonoscopy, I was told I would need to come back in five years instead of ten. At first I said that I'd become a vegan before I'd have another colonoscopy. But I'll suck it up. There are worse things than a colonoscopy. Like having colon cancer and not knowing it until it's too late.  Thankfully, my test came back negative.

If you haven't had a colonoscopy, don't let my experience scare you. Really it isn't bad as long as they don't run into a kink in the road. Which probably wouldn't happen to anyone else except me.

Revised from post in Mama Drama blog: