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The Alien Medical World of an Alzheimer's Victim

Medical staff

I recently visited the University of Minnesota’s medical clinics. I was in search of a second opinion concerning my now active prostate cancer and a newly discovered kidney cancer.

I could not help but be impressed by the huge and awesome medical facilities found at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The complex also included the University, Hospital, University Medical Clinics and a related medical equipment empire.

However, it can also be a very lonely place and a somewhat intimidating setting when visiting the facilities alone and in need of treatment. While my GPS got me into the general vicinity, beyond that the GPS was out of it's league. Getting to the right place at the right time required asking a lot of questions and getting a lot of directions. Everyone was a stranger. Some were friendly and others while not hostile were less then friendly. It also involved much sitting around and waiting...twice (out of my four hour stay) I sat alone for an hour at a time in a room waiting on Doctors and staff members. Being a teaching establishment, often I was sitting listening to the doctor discuss my condition with the ever present intern. They alternated in my examination .

I thought about June and how her life and journey through Alzheimer’s had parallels - but of course many times magnified. While I  could help myself, June could not. I wondered if God was trying to provide me with an insight and a perspective into June’s life with Alzheimer's. Perhaps this was just a brief glimpse into one of the reasons that late stage Alzheimer's victims often sit with their eyes closed much of the time. For the Alzheimer’s victim, it is an alien and unfamiliar world, populated by medically dressed strangers, some friendly and some not so friendly. It is their way of shutting out a frightening and unfamiliar world. The sense of isolation and loneliness must poison what little remains of the mind! These thoughts of June and her suffering through Alzheimer’s left me emotional and sad.

While I could be with June during her journey in the late stages, she did not and could not recognize me as family or friend. I know how much I missed having the June of old with me now during this critical point in my life. I missed her comfort, her care and her love.

When I also think and consider that in addition, "Fear" is a constant companion of the Alzheimer's victim, it makes me ashamed to think that I may have felt sorry for myself. The daily journey of the Alzheimer's victim through a maze of fear and strangers and lonliness is almost beyond understanding when related to our own daily world of daily challenges and  problems. My problems suddenly appear so minor in comparison!. 

Fast Forward to 2 February 2012: I am now sitting in the new Fridley Cancer Center Building and in the Minnesota Oncology department of the Fridley Clinic attached to Unity Hospital. It is an impressive new modern building but again I do not know any of the doctors or the staff and am waiting once again for a second opinion of my future treatment of my Prostate Cancer. I have/had been receiving treatments in the form of 3 separate 6 month injections of the hormone Eligard. Since August of 2010 I have also had a laparoscopic left kidney cryo-ablation for a cancer tumor. I am at the point of determining the course and direction of my future Prostate cancer treatments.

As I sit waiting to see the doctor of Oncology for his recommendations, I cannot help but think once again of June and how she felt sitting among medical staff members while deep in Alzheimer’s. To her they were always new faces that she did not know and all the while could not even understand what was taking place. How lonely and fearful it must have been.

I also miss June’s ever present love and support for me in the days before Alzheimer’s took over her life. I could not help but think of the time I had Hepatitis that the regular GP said that I simply had the flu. June knew it was more than a simple flu and aggressively sought another medical opinion  that disclosed the true nature of my illness and got me started on the road to recovery. How great it would have been to have had the June of old by my side as I listened to another new but a doctor unknown to me, describe for me what I could expect for longevity timing under the various treatment options. All the while I knew that although he wished me the best, most of his interest in me was merely an academic doctor patient relationship with a stranger he did not know!   At times like these, I am missing you so much June..!


(Photo below by Jim Gehrz was taken at the Benedictine Health Center in late 2007, shows June sitting with eyes closed as she did most of the time in her late stages.)

June Berg late 2007