The colorless walls burned bright against the black chairs where Lucy and her son sat. Colin was not familiar with the smells as she was; the aroma of disinfectant and sickness was something she was immune to, having worked in it for so long. Nursing was something she had always enjoyed, but these days the only thing associated with the hospital was her sick mother.
Last week Lucy’s mother forgot they were celebrating Colin’s birthday. Today, she forgot his name. Once in a while it would come back to her, in ten minutes she’d ask him how school was three or four times. As a ten-year-old he was not prepared for this, nor could he understand the situation, and he wasn’t alone. At one point Lucy decided he shouldn’t come. It was almost too much for her so she couldn’t imagine the toll it would take on him.
It was hard to grasp when the doctor explained it was Alzheimer’s that had gradually developed for more than a decade now. The doctor explained it could happen at a young age, sometimes gradual, other times suddenly.
She knew she should get tested; however, she put it off. How often she would explain to patients the more they knew, the more she could help them. Now she understood why so many refused to do it. One word, one diagnosis could change an entire life.
Her mother got worse. Lucy would show up and her mom would ask her why she was late, only to repeat herself again and again. Eventually, she didn’t know why she was there, so every visit Lucy would have to explain. Other times she’d ask where Lucy’s father was.
“He passed away, remember? Three years ago.”
This seemed to break her own heart more than her mother’s. Maybe forgetting was best because maybe the pain of the memories was forgotten too.
One evening as Lucy drove home from the hospital, distracted by her mother’s condition and the details along with it, she barely stopped in time to see in her rearview mirror a body lying in the road beneath the blinking red stoplight.
As a nurse, her instant reaction wasn’t shock but service. The concern was the man’s head. His eyes were open wide and displayed fear as he fought for life.
His body was heavily bruised. She tried to make a head wrap out of her jacket and dialed 9-1-1. The only sounds were the pounding of her heart, the operator, and his gradual decrease of breath. She tried to ask what had happened; the only thing he could do was barely lift his finger pointing in her direction.
She had looked behind her assuming whoever did this had gone that way. By the time the ambulance arrived his hand had fallen lifeless to the ground.
The police thanked her for her help and told her to come in tomorrow for questioning. For anyone else, this might have been a tragic occurrence, but this was her job. Unfortunately, this was a part of it she hated.
The next day she was unsure why she found herself in the police department as if she was a suspect. She remembered trying to save the man.
The officer stood tall and lean, a thin manila folder in hand.
“I just need you to answer a few questions,” he said.
Lucy nodded, upset she was missing time with her mother for a pointless interview. Last night was all a blur, like most things these days.
“Where were you going when you saw the body?”
Silence stifled the room.
Finally, she remembered where she was. She was distracted, thinking about her mother, how she should be with her.
He gave a confused look before repeating the question.
“I was on my way home from the hospital. It was twenty to six.”
“Did you see any witnesses?”
She paused, trying to recall if she had.
“No, just me,”
“Did he say anything to you before he died?”
“He died?” Lucy asked.
The officer gave another puzzled look. He went on to explain that she was there when they arrived where he was pronounced dead.
“Oh, yes,” she said.
He asked her to answer the question, his tone stern and suspicious. She asked him to repeat it and then answered with a simple “no.”
She then asked to leave, her mother needed her. Lucy’s face was the only one still familiar to her.
That night as she drove home not remembering where she was–it was a routine she knew well–she passed the street where everything had happened the night before. The place looked familiar, and the image of the dead body sprang into her mind. Frightened, she swerved, losing control, running the light, colliding with the car in front of her.
The airbag inflated, leaving her bruised. The windshield was shattered and her head pounded. She panicked, not knowing where she was. When her eyes finally adjusted, the blinking red light glared at her. Her mind rewound to the night before. She watched as if an outsider to her own body.
She was driving home from work, it was almost six, she was running behind. She sped up as a shape moved across the road. Slamming her brakes, she barely missed the raccoon. She sped up again, now farther behind. Her reaction time not as quick when a taller, larger shape walked under the blinking red light.
She watched the body hit and tumble to the ground. She remembered the man’s eyes, wide and frightened.
His finger pointing at her.
“Of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, an estimated 5.2 million people are age 65 and older, and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 (younger-onset Alzheimer’s).” (http://www.alz.org/facts/#quickFacts)