My First Diagnosis

…and it’s not what you think.

The memory of that day has haunted me ever since.

My grandma called on a Sunday afternoon, which used to be fairly normal. I talked to her for a few minutes, then handed the phone off to dad, since that was who grandma wanted to talk to on Sundays when she called. (I was still in high school, so yes, I lived at home.)

Once dad took the phone, I turned to mom. “Grandma has Alzheimer’s,” I said.

Mom looked at me, startled. “What did you just say?”

I told her about the conversation. In the few minutes I had been on the phone, Grandma had asked me several questions and each one she repeated multiple times, even after repeating my answer back to me.

My Grandpa had Parkinson’s, and later developed Alzheimer’s. Grandma was a retired RN, and took care of him in the home they lived in for ~50 years. He never spent a single day in a nursing home or hospital. I was quite familiar with what these issues looked like. During those few minutes on the phone with my Grandma, I knew. My blood ran cold and my stomach churned. A few years later, an actual doctor diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s (presumptively of course, since plaques and tangles can’t be confirmed until autopsy, if one is performed). We lost her tragically on Thanksgiving during my first year of grad school.

This week we’ve started our final new course, Clinical Neuroscience, and we started the week with neuropathology. Learning more about cognitive disorders has kinda freaked me out this week, and awoken some memories I guess I had repressed. I think what scares me most is wondering. I have no idea if maybe I carry the ApoE4 gene… And I do not want to know.

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