Daily Archives: May 5, 2014

Sandwich Life Missives: Good News/Bad News

This post is about how life as a member of the Sandwich Generation has its ups and downs.

I’ve been contemplating the nature of good news versus bad news. What constitutes “good news” and does its nature depend mainly on context? How relative is it; does bad news in one circumstance become good news in another?

Last week, and with mixed feelings, I traipsed off with my eighty-year-old mother to the Memory Disorders Clinic for a re-assessment (our third, at least). I waited until the morning of the appointment to tell her we were going because she gets anxious about such things and I didn’t want her to spend a sleepless night in useless worry. I also told her the appointment was to renew her prescription rather than to redo the memory testing. A small white lie. Very small. Very white.

As usual, the weather matched my feelings about going. That is, we drove there through a torrential downpour. Thankfully, the memory clinic is only thirty short kilometres from my house, through dense downtown traffic. I left an hour before the appointment and we made it on time.

A television in the waiting room was tuned into The Weather Network. These people must know my mother. It was a useful distraction because Dr. K, the memory doctor, was running half an hour late. Mum only glared at the clock and sighed six times. That’s a doctor’s office record for a half-hour wait. Yay, Weather Network.

The puddle of rainwater under my chair from my drenched coat had almost dried by the time Dr. K poked his head into the waiting room and called Mum’s name. After we got settled in his office chairs and before he started talking, I noticed the sound of the rainstorm outside. The listened to the wind howl around the old windows, like the ghost of all the memories his patients had ever lost as they swirled in mournful circles, trying to get back in.

And then the doctor started talking. He went through all the previous concerns and asked if we thought the medication had helped (who knows) and whether things had stabilized or grown worse (hard to say). And then he pulled out the sheets of paper and a pen for the actual memory testing. These are standardized sets of questions designed to test various aspects of memory and I’d heard them all before, in one form or another.

He asked her the date and she hemmed and hawed and then, miraculously, got it right. Day, month and year. He asked her to remember three words and repeat them back to him, and two minutes later he asked for the three words. She didn’t know he’d given her three words to remember, never mind what they were. On it went. Tests of short-term memory went horribly badly. But on tests of puzzle-related skills she seemed to do remarkably well.

After the test he said that, overall, she’d done significantly better than the time before. Nowhere near normal, but better. We decided to stay the course with the medication and he recommended I make an appointment with the secretary for a year from that date. No one ever knows what they’ll be doing in a year, so you just have to wing it and hope for the best.

Outside his office he stopped us and with furrowed brow asked my mother to walk for him, and then to lift her arm and do some other physical tests.

“Hm,” he said, a hand cupping his chin. “I see some signs of early Parkinson’s Disease.”

I was not shocked. Given her shuffling gait and the posture of her hands and body I’d thought of this before. But no professional had ever actually said it. It felt like a figurative blow to the solar plexus.

“If it gets worse,” he continued, “call the office and arrange to come back sooner.”

I assumed it would be obvious if something “gets worse.” There were no further specifics on the matter.

Dazed and with the ambivalence that comes only with the one-two punch of good news/bad news, I wandered toward the receptionist, mind whirring. The good news wasn’t particularly good and the bad news seemed pretty bad, but not astonishing. How would I process this? What would the fallout be? Do higher scores on the test mean that she’ll suddenly be able to make a sandwich or do her taxes? No. Does an observation of small, very early Parkinson’s symptoms mean she’ll be in a wheelchair tomorrow? No. Does either “revelation” mean anything at all? I don’t know.

I booked the appointment. The one for next year. One year from that date. Three-hundred and sixty-five days, twelve months, and four seasons away.

Again, as before, I was to be cast out for a year without direction, as if into the swirling winds of a spring rainstorm, the randomness of which I could not control.