Driving Miss Hazy
Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood
I am at the Transport Board. My vehicle, not me, is undergoing inspection. The inspector tells me to do this; I do this. The inspector tells me to do that; I do that. So far; so good.
The inspector tells me to put on the high beam. I put on the high beam. The inspector tells me again and again to put on the high beam because, apparently, I am not putting on the high beam at all. I am simply turning the headlights on and off. It suddenly hits me, unlike a high-beam of light, that I do not remember where to find the switch for the high beam; in my vehicle. The first thought that comes to my logical, scientific mind, I kid you not, is that they should do this part of the inspection, about lights and high beam, at night. Don’t you think so?
Memory loss can be an awful thing, especially since you may not remember that you cannot remember. And so here I am asking myself if I am one of the 35 million people in the world suffering from Alzheimer disease. Have I lost my memory, my cotton-picking, cane-cutting mind?
I remember that the disease got its name from the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, Alois Alzheimer, who first described the disease in1906. So my memory is good; great. But I had read about Alois Alzheimer over 30 years ago in medical school and in the early stages of Alzheimer the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. Ah! Surely I don’t have Alzheimer because I hardly use my high beam and most likely I have not used it in recent times. Or have I? Lord, let me see the light; the high beam.
Maybe I should call my mechanic. Or maybe I should just stay here and wait until nightfall. But changes in behavior and eccentric thinking do occur in Alzheimer.
At least it may be in the early stages. But what about the later stages when memory loss for long term events creeps in? Will I remember anything about the fight for reparations for slavery? And how will my family and friends cope with my confusion, irritability, aggression, difficulties with language and mood swings?
By that time I will not be legally allowed to drive and the instructor will not bother me, as I sit in my stationary vehicle, coming from my imaginary service station, driving all over the island, without high beam, music blasting, sailing away from family, friends and society. At least I will still have music, if I remember to turn on the real radio, instead of the blasting radio in my head.
Can it be that it is the instructor who has Alzheimer? Maybe I turned on the high beam and he forgot. After all, it may take a long time for Alzheimer to develop before it is recognized. And after diagnosis, the average life expectancy is about 7 years. Quick. I should exit the vehicle to warn the poor fellow.
How will I explain to him that the cause of this disease is not clear? He might think I just do not remember. Maybe he reads a lot and he knows that the main risk factor for Alzheimer is age and that the incidence of the disease doubles every 5 years after 65 years of age, even though Alzheimer is not necessarily the outcome of aging. He is probably in his late forties so I should advise him (if he will remember) that some cases of Alzheimer run in families and can occur earlier in life than the more common, non-familiar, sporadic type.
The mere mention of plaques and tangles in the brain in Alzheimer might sound odd to him. More confusing might be that the plaques are due to a normal protein in the brain that has folded into an abnormal shape. Worse, I will have to tell him that the enigma of Alzheimer is that the biological function of this normal protein is unknown. Almost like me not knowing about my high beam; in my vehicle.
I will also have to say that there are tangles in the brain because another protein is altered and it reacts with more protein to form tangles that can affect the brain’s function. Similar to the tangle in which I find myself over the high beam.
When I tell him that evidence suggests that Alzheimer may be delayed by a balanced diet, mental stimulation and exercise, he may recommend that I leave the vehicle, go for a walk, and call someone to show him the high beam.
So here I am walking on what I suspect is Factory Road, wondering as I wander why I am walking seemingly aimlessly on the road. And where is my vehicle?
I may not remember where my vehicle is located. I may not recall names, faces, or which political party to vote for, even if they take me to the polls. But there is one, single, solitary thing in my ambling, rambling solitude of which I am certain; as certain as night follows day; or is it the other way round? I am absolutely, dead certain, as cars pass cars and swerve to avoid me (or is it each other?), that wherever my vehicle is located, the high beam is unquestionably not on.