“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” Albert Schweitzer
I took notes during my visit with Vernon this morning at the dialysis center. He was bright and present, and I knew if I didn’t write things down, I’d forget. (I’ve already forgotten the things I didn’t.) Fellow writers: here’s the lesson: always bring a notebook!
It started with his asking for water after I’d given him his calming drops. He always asks for chocolate and/or water after the horrible-to-him tasting medication. I suppose the fact that this has become a routine to him is a good thing: its happened so many times over the months that he’s created significant memory paths around it. Some may say its not so good as his asking for water can be problematic. I’ve been advised to only give him ice chips at the care home because of his coughing, but at dialysis, they mostly just want to make sure he stays happy…it makes everyone’s job so much easier. So when the nurse today heard him asking for water, she went off to find a cup. She asked if I’d prefer a big one today to the little dixie cups I have to refill every two seconds.
Once he got it, he said the size of cup was much better…”Because it’s bigger—it makes it easier to drink and lasts longer. And I can drink more over smaller amounts.”
When I commented on his coughing, he found an excuse, as usual: “It’s Stopping drinking that makes me cough. And that’s a fact!” (It must be so confusing to not be able to swallow properly, when it was always the most natural thing in his whole life before. Who remembers learning to swallow? No wonder he always blames something else.)
When he noticed my jotting these notes down, he said: “I love you. I want you to write that down. That’s the most important thing. Go ask Renee (he remembered the nurse’s name, which he’d asked for earlier) she knows it too!”
Renee had not only brought him a cup to drink from, but a chocolate bar she’d found. “I love Vernon,” she shrugged as she left it. He did tell her that she looked like a model earlier, despite her paper face mask—its no wonder she loves him! But then, for anyone who spends real time with him— to know him is to love him…even in his less-than-perfect state.
When Vernon saw the candy bar, he said: “I think I don’t like that kind of chocolate. Do I?”
“I don’t know, Vernon…I usually get you something nicer that will melt in your mouth, but do you want to try it?”
After he tried it: “I think I actually like it better!” (I never thought I’d hear those words from British Vernon’s mouth. But then we must remember he has a severe brain injury.)
He kept asking for water, of course. “You have to wait between cups, Vernon.”
“Can’t I wait later?”
He still struggles with my name.
We’ve been working on my name…nothing new there, but now I don’t allow him to call me anything but.
“No. Try again.”
“Annabelle? No. Where did that come from? It’s terrible that I can never remember your name because you never forget mine.”
“It’s okay, Vernon.”
“I have a new way of remembering: A is the same letter of your surname, Adams.” (I was amazed that he remembered that Adams is my surname, but then that happened post-accident, so maybe its stronger as a new memory.)
This is where my notes get fuzzy, so bear with me here. I asked him what it was like without his full memory. Did he think he was getting better? Did he remember being worse? I often ask these sorts of questions in moments of seeming clarity because I’m so curious what it’s like inside his head and I’m always hoping for a portal in. I don’t remember what he said before this, but I grabbed my pen and notebook when I heard him say, “My brain was captured.”
On asking him to further explain, he said; “It was captured—rather than malfunctioning. It was functioning in its own way.”
“Were things blurry?”
“Yes! I and couldn’t help it that other people thought it was bad. That frustrated me that they thought so. Then I started answering back and remembering your name. I think the water helped that.”
I laughed. Water again.
“Seriously, I do!” He insisted.
“The water helped me steadify things, but it also killed me off as well. I could not drink it the way I wanted to. So it was good and bad.”
“What do you think about getting better?”
“Getting better is moving to a good place and moving away from a bad place.”
And then he said…”Its also because you have changed. You are better about giving me water.” (Go figure!)
“It wasn’t really, really hard,” he continued. “But at the time it felt hard.”
Oh my, Vernon is still such a fascinating man. He was such a great mind before the accident. He always made people think differently than maybe they wanted to. It could be infuriating, but I admired him for it. Strangely, I STILL admire him in a similar way. He still has a way of seeing and saying things, doesn’t he? He is still very Vernon…just without the irony or the memory. There is also no real darkness to his comments: he seems to function in either odd confusion or pure light.
At some point I mentioned being tired and wishing I had a coffee. At that point, he stopped talking about water and turned to ice cream shakes or frappuccinos, which I’ve brought him before. Because one of the technician’s ears pricked at the word “Starbucks,” and because Vernon had been on such good behavior today, I was allowed to leave to get us all coffees. I brought one for the technician too, don’t worry!
(Just because Vernon’s not the only one who gets names wrong from time to time…)
I got back in time to read him a little more about Narnia and we spoke of other things as well. This one is getting long, so I’ll leave that conversation for another, but I was encouraged and lifted by his moments of memory. Shall we assume that more is coming? I can’t do that. But I sure enjoyed connecting with him today.
Glad I brought my notebook.
PS When I brought him his drink, he asked me to show him pictures from my trip. “What trip?”
“When you went away to get coffee?”
He knows me well. I always have pictures (at least I used to.) This is what I showed him:
Not all who wander are lost? Vernon doesn’t seem to think he’s been lost. Perhaps he’s just been wandering. Hope its a good place.