In the elevator, after leaving the neurologist’s office on Wilshire Boulevard, I look at the papers he has given her. She has an order for a brain scan and medication to be filled. The scrip says: Aricept. For cognitive impairment.
“We’re going to stop by the pharmacy,” I tell my mother, who stands next to me in the crowded box.
“Okay,” Pat says. “I’ve got to have a cigarette. Do you have one?”
“No,” I remind her. “I don’t really smoke cigarettes. Check your bag.”
The elevator doors open to the lobby. My mother asks, “when are we seeing the doctor?”
I’m starting to learn that it’s futile and upsetting to to try to correct her sense of time, place, or reality. Presenting what was isn’t helpful. It all passes anyway.
“We’re going to see him soon,” I say. “Very soon.”
She sat with her dancer’s legs dangling off the examining table. Where the hell are we?
What doctor is this?
One that comes recommended.
My mother always perked up, by that I mean she sat up straight, whenever a doctor entered the room. This was no exception. Her body straightened and her smile grew. That theatrical voice she’d developed at the High School of Performing Arts in the late 1940s, welcomed him.
Elizabeth? The doctor read from the chart.
That’s her baptismal name, I explained. Her name is Pat.
I’m yes, I’m Patricia, she confirmed.
The neurologist wore dark brown shoes and a lab coat, but what was most obvious about him was the slightly off-kilter toupee, which blanketed his forehead like an old school dust mop. He nodded his head often, but the toupee stayed in place.
So, what brings you here? he asked Pat, while writing on his clipboard.
My mother looked at me, the reluctant gatekeeper. The boss.
She’s gotten lost in the neighborhood a few times and she’s a bit confused about few things, I explained.
It’s a new place for me.
The doctor saw his opening.
So, where are we now?
Here. in the doctor’s office, my mother said with a laugh.
Good. But I meant where in the country?
My mother paused. It was a deadly pause that would only become more pronounced, more deadly as the years passed.
California! she belted, as the doctor scribbled. We’re in California.
Very good, the doctor said. Do you know your address?
This was not a good question.
Are you married? Widowed?
This made her pause, searching…
Yes, for 46 years to Jack. Right, mom?
She nodded. Yes, my Jack. I was married. We married in New York.
The doctor grinned. I want you to remember these three things: a yellow pencil, a brown dog, a red balloon. Okay?
What year were you born?
Good, the doctor said. So, who is the president?
The president… It’s…that guy
The guy you voted for, mom.
Very good, the doctor said. Can you remember the things I asked you to remember?
My mother smiled and looked at me. This was the big test. She always hated tests.
Three things, the doctor prompted her. A dog…?
What color doggy?
My mother shook her head. He’s… or…
A brown dog. Okay, what else?
She looked at me for the answer.
Was there a balloon?
Yes, she nodded, balloon.
Okay, the doctor said, writing in her chart.
Can you count backwards from 24…by 2
No. Can you? She laughed nervously.
The doctor smiled. Are you feeling strong, anything bothering you, Patricia?
No, not really. I get dizzy when I get up too fast.
Okay, well, take it easy then.
This was my time to jump in. I had to say something about why we were there.
She got lost the other day for three hours on her way home from the store.
I was walking and the streets all look the same.
So you got a little confused? That’s understandable.
Is it? she asked.
My mother was starting to grow tired of the questioning.
Did you find your way home eventually? the doctor asked.
No, I interrupted, she didn’t. We had to pick her up on a street corner and take her
home. She called us from a stranger’s cellphone.
That was smart, the doctor said. You thought about calling your daughter.
My mother grinned. Yeah, well, she said, that’s what you have to do.