My father – who turned 94 last week – has been diagnosed with MCI, which in his case stands for mild cognitive impairment. That precipitated his recent move to assisted living. He also took a bad fall in the garage of his retirement facility on Christmas Eve, which necessitated a call for an ambulance. Looking at the chart the residential nurses provided, one of the paramedics looked at that diagnosis and said, “He’s had a heart attack?”
The attendant was confusing mild cognitive impairment with myocardial infarction. In a medical context, by the way, MCI also could have referred to mandibular cortical index, muscle contraction interference, or myocardial contrast intensity. Clearly, the attendant had a right to be confused.
My father’s confusion, of course, is a little more advanced. In periodic spurts, he transposes the surnames of his grandchildren. He remembers their spouses’ names, but not theirs. He thinks he’s in Las Vegas. He thinks he has to have new medication picked up in San Francisco. Talking to him is occasionally a down-the-rabbit-hole adventure.
Then, a minute later, he’ll be back to his old self, sounding completely lucid but also completely aggravating as he frets about why his kids don’t get along with each other.
A lot of people advise me to be patient with these communication lapses, but the fact is, he’s never been a great communicator. When I was in college, he gave me directions to a restaurant by saying, “You get off the freeway and then you wiggle around and you’re there.” (A more enlightening description would have been “get off the freeway and make three right turns.”) It’s a wonder I chose a profession that relies on the highly precise use of words.
This is just the graduate-level class in Trying To Understanding Dad. All this might be even slightly humorous if it weren’t so clear that we all have these issues – me, the ambulance attendant, and probably you too.
For a party last year, my father-in-law – a florist by trade – made a beautiful arrangement for the buffet table. I admired it and said, “Isn’t that a lovely centerfold?” Now, whenever anybody in the family can’t remember a word, they just say “centerfold.”
Not only that, it’s taking me longer for my random access memory to randomly access words. This is a problem for someone who’s a writer by vocation and a crossword puzzle fan by avocation. Last month I couldn’t remember the word “simian.” Last week, it took me five minutes to come up with “gratuitous.” I’m trying to deal with it.
I figure that there’s still a big difference between my father and me. I may confuse centerfold and centerpiece, but when the time comes that I can’t remember that the latter goes in the middle of the table, then I’m in trouble.