I was still very young when I first decided to pursue a career in medicine. My early experiences helped me grasp the importance of what I might accomplish if I could succeed at practicing medicine with compassion. I can still recall, at the age of nine, with sleepy eyes, taking my post for the night. It was my turn to sleep on the floor at the door to Great Grams’ room and to sound the alarm if she should try to escape. Great Grams had made several previous escapes, once making it down the hill to the corner, flagging down a truck, and climbing inside, convinced that her family was trying to kill her.
That night, years of memories danced in my dreams, most of them good, but Great Grams had no good memories to sustain her. The last thing in the world I wanted was to have her sent to a nursing home; we had promised that would never happen. It wasn’t her forgetfulness, but rather her insurmountable paranoia that affected every fiber of our lives. Certainly, it was understandable. If you can’t remember moving an item, then, someone else must have moved it. If you can’t remember what your husband looked like, then perhaps he is that man that someone has snatched away. If you can’t remember money in the bank, then all you are left with in life are the few dollars in your purse, and Great Grams held on to that purse day and night.
When I was a young child, my great grandmother had been my best friend. Almost ninety years my senior, she and I played together like brother and sister, sharing toys, and even vying for parental affection. We shared an unusual relationship, each feeling responsible for the other. Afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, sometimes Great Grams was an adult. At those times, she advised me, protected me, and expressed concern for me. At other times, I was the adult, watching her as we crossed the street, even “bubbie sitting” for her when my parents had to go out. I grew up embracing these responsibilities. As Great Grams became more child-like, I became a caregiver.