Steve "Re" Birthday
Steve and I both grew up in the same vicinity of Cincinnati, Ohio, and have been together for 40 years, since I was a senior in high school and he was a college sophomore. We were married in 1972 and it has been a roller coaster ride like all marriages but with more ups than downs. The downs were mostly related to my career, very long hours during medical school and, ever since, too much time at the hospital in the evening and the night, disruptions to meals and sleep and family activities. I am a physician, a neonatologist caring for sick and premature babies. These tiny babies often deliver unexpectedly and at inconvenient times, resulting in an unsettling and unpredictable life for doctors like me and our families. I cannot tell you how many times we have just turned out the lights to go to sleep or sat down to eat, or worse yet, just put something into the oven, and I have had to drop everything to run to the hospital. It is a chaotic and stressful lifestyle, but looking back, after weighing the pros and cons, I would do it again, although I would look for a situation with fewer nights on call. The rewards of saving a new life and following that baby through to going home from the hospital with the parents far outweigh the inconveniences. I feel privileged to have had that calling in life.
After ten years of marriage, when we decided to have children, Steve suggested he stay home with them rather than sending them to day care. He was able to do his accounting work for my practice from home and provide the stability for them that I couldn’t. He volunteered in their elementary school clinic and eventually became the “clinic coordinator” and helped organize, and even invented and built games for, the annual “Pioneer Day” fundraiser. If someone didn’t show up at the clinic on a given day, he would run right over to help out. As an employee he was the same way. No matter what needed to be done, he would drop everything else and get it done. He was, and still is, very well-liked by everyone, cheerful and funny, kind and generous.
Not everyone likes their spouse as time goes on, but I have always liked Steve, even when we hit our rough patches. He gave up the opportunity to have a career outside of the home so that I could follow my dream of being a doctor, making it possible for me to have children, my other dream. He says taking care of our daughters was the best job he ever had. This is why I fight so hard for him now.
When he began to have “memory issues” in 2001-2002, our older daughter, Julie was in college and Joanna was in high school. She was an angry teenager and Steve became quite depressed, we thought, for this reason. Memory problems are often associated with depression and so we went with this theory of why this was happening for a couple of years. He would hang a sign on the end of a long piece of tape in the doorway to remind him about appointments and other things he needed to do. This seemed to help for while. When began to have trouble remembering if he had been to the bank and the post office, that did not seem normal to me.
In 2003, we decided, with mixed feelings, to move about an hour north to Spring Hill so that I could open a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in a semi-rural area. It was close enough to our previous home that our girls could continue in their respective schools, but far away from the politics of hospital mergers that was about to change my practice from a one hospital to a multi-hospital circus. Life was already stressful enough.
Within months of moving, it became very clear that Steve had a serious, progressive problem. Spring Hill is a small place with just a few major arteries, but he had great difficulty learning his way around as never before. He began to spend hours, sometimes all day, looking for “something” in the garage. Beyond a certain point, he couldn’t remember what he was looking for, but that didn’t stop him from looking. As someone who values every minute of day and would like to have more hours in the day, the number of hours he spent in his garage seemed like a terrible waste. I just didn’t get it. He was also having difficulty completing even the simplest of accounting tasks for my practice, which was considerably smaller now. He knew something was very wrong, and began to teach me how to use the accounting program, cut checks, pay bills, keep track of everything, and eventually the 941 quarterly reports and unemployment taxes.
I called the local Alzheimer’s Family Organization and they recommended a local respected neurologist who cared for many of their patients. He performed the usual battery of tests to rule out other causes and decided that he had dementia. He did not want to call it Alzheimer’s in the beginning – doctors want to see a steady worsening of the disease, which is the hallmark, before committing to such a dire diagnosis. After about a year, with continuing decline, he decided to start him on Aricept and a year later, added Namenda.
To be continued…