ALZ Study, Fifth visit

This is the big one, the PET scan, the one that tells me if I have plaques and tangles in my brain. I am anxious. They can’t tell me much but this is the door. If I step through, I will have a better idea about my odds of getting Alzheimers. The more plaques they find, the more likely it will happen.

I’m not sure I’m ready.

I’m sitting in a recliner in a quiet room. It’s cold so they have bundled me in blankets. It’s quite comfortable. In thirty minutes they are going to inject a drug into me that will bond with plaques. Then I will sit around some more to let my body do the work of pushing the drug to my brain.

Not only does this drug latch onto plaque but it is radioactive. I’m seriously doubting my resolve to help find out if the mystery pill will delay or prevent the onset of this terrible disease. They tell me it will be no later than forty-eight hours before I am no longer radioactive. They also encouraged me that the drug will not promote new plaques.

As a storyteller, the first thing I think of is a story where the research accidentally causes the disease in otherwise healthy people. This would be the saddest walking dead story in history.

Sigh. My mother, her mother and both her sister’s all got Alzheimers. I don’t know about her cousins. My mother is the only one still alive. She is ninety-two, in a wheelchair, totally helpless, cared for by a hospice nurse in a nursing home. She recently had a stroke but is in no pain and, aside from some minor paralysis, her body continues to betray her by stubbornly remaining robustly healthy. Only her brain has died. She would have hated this.

My mother isn’t suffering. Those of us who love her suffer for her. When her favorite sister died, my sister and I went to her funeral. We cried and cried. We hadn’t seen Ruth in years so we were a bit surprised by our reaction, then it hit me.

This is Mom’s funeral too. We were crying for our mother.

Mom has outlived all her friends. The younger ones drifted away when she could no longer communicate with them…

I had to stop writing, probably for the best. The technician came in to inject the radioactive tracer. After that I had to sit quietly. I don’t know why but I was not allowed to talk on the phone or to write. Evidently those activities were not quiet enough. I was allowed to read so time passed.

A PET scan is kind of like a CAT scan—same white tube but no jackhammer noise—just a soft hum. I have come to realize that I would do really badly in one of those floating isolation tanks. The sensory deprivation of a PET scan is maddening. The tech told me it would be twenty minutes and he could hear me if I had a problem. After what seemed like three hours, I asked, “How much longer?” No answer. I guess he went out for coffee.

About the time that I was ready to crawl out under my own steam, the scan was over.

At my next meeting, I will see the doctor running this segment of the study and he will tell me more than I want to know about my brain.