Marja continues to be less convinced of the diagnosis, so I emailed my doctor detailing all the events over the past month that seemed relevant. I wanted to know how certain he was. In reply he said that after hearing these further symptoms and having examined me, his “gut feeling” is that this is Alzheimer’s. The only way to diagnose it with certainty is through a brain biopsy, which is obviously too dangerous. There are tests on the spinal fluid that can make the diagnosis more reliable, but he recommends against such an invasive test when it’s not really going to affect treatment. Another examination, a PET scan of the brain, would, if positive, be “very supportive” bit of evidence that could help me with decisions about whom to tell and when.
I gave the email to Marja. Although I’d have been telling her all along that the doctor was pretty sure I’m suffering with Alzheimer’s, she seemed upset by the email. She still hadn’t been sure of the diagnosis and wanted to wait until other symptoms developed. But the words “gut feeling” got to her like a punch in the stomach. It was the visceral nature of the expression, she said.
Regarding the PET scan, Marja and I have always avoided “unnecessary” medical costs. Since the PET scan is very expensive and wouldn’t change treatment, it seems unnecessary. Medicare would pay for the costs, but still we’d be taking part in the general overuse of medical resources that is sinking Medicare. I expect I won’t take the test unless it would be fairly conclusive either way.
The diagnosis seems to have taken over my daily consciousness. On the one hand, that makes sense: it’s a major event in my life. On the other hand, I don’t want to stop living because of the diagnosis. What complicates the picture is that I sense this disease as an opportunity to move into deeper spiritual relationships. The plan I made last summer with my spiritual director had been to “fast” from analytic thinking, and Alzheimer’s will certainly force me into that. But accelerating that fast now may give me a peek at the results of such a spiritual practice before I can no longer appreciate them.
I am finding myself much less interested in the presidential or vice-presidential debates, surely a marker of something, perhaps the forced fast from analytic thinking, more likely this apathy that has intermittently materialized. I watched the first half hour of the first presidential debate. With all the pettiness and lack of substance, I felt almost physically ill and left the room. Perhaps that would have happened without the Alzheimer’s, but it certainly hasn’t happened before. Am I becoming more emotionally sensitive to unpleasant things?