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“Help, help!  It’s the wolf.”  It was the middle of the night and I leaped from my bed and ran into the bedroom of our little girls.  Snapping on the light to let Debbie, our six-year-old, know that I was there to chase away the fear and to hold her close so she would understand that everything was all right.   Patting her small back as she clung to me I couldn’t help but smile a guilty smile at my unwise decision to read “Little Red Riding Hood” as a bedtime story.  It was one of her favorites as was “The Three Little Pigs” who also had issues with a big bad wolf.  “Please, please,” she had coaxed handing me the tattered little book, “please read ‘Little Red Riding Hood.'”  So I relented and read the scary story before turning off the lights. 

Harmless fairy tales when the sun shines, but the wolf proved a bit more menacing in the darkness of her room.   A hug and a few kisses and reassurance that it was just a bad dream; that the story was only a fairy tale and there was no wolf in her room soothed my frightened little girl.  Finally, comforted and content she snuggled down in her bed and went back to sleep.  The worrisome wolf with the big teeth “the better to eat you with,” was gone.  Such is the stuff of which bad dreams are made when you are six.

For me, the villain of my first remembered childhood nightmare has vanished, but not the terror I recall as I struggled to free myself from the grip of that frightening dream.  My older sisters had been telling ghost stories to one another and I listened wide-eyed and trembling as an eight-year-old, not wanting to hear what they were saying, yet glued to the edge of the bed as they expanded the gory details of their tale, no doubt giggling inside at their gullible little sister.

Finally awakening from the horror, the real world didn’t feel any better than the nightmare.   Wide awake I was somewhat relieved, but in the blackness of my room, the misty experience lingered, and behind every shadow I imagined some lurking “thing” which could leap out and harm me — or worse.   I buried my head under the covers and closed my eyes ever so tightly, wanting to call out to my mother, but too frightened to make even a sound.  Somehow I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remembered the room was filled with sunlight washing away shadows and hidden ghosts — and the best part  — I was still alive.  Such is the stuff of which bad dreams are made when you are eight.

Everyone has bad dreams and nightmares for any number of reasons.  My last run of recalled mid-night unpleasantries came about because of a new prescription for high blood pressure.  They were, once again, nightmares with me as the intended victim of any number of horrible characters cloaked in black capes and hoods, demons and even an assassin where I ran and ran and ran with “it” or him close behind wielding a dagger to do the dastardly deed.  The attempt to escape from those dreams was nearly more difficult than escaping from my imagined tormentors.  The dreams finally stopped when the doctor changed the medication.   Such is the stuff of which bad dreams are made when you are a grown up.

But suppose there was a nightmare from which the victim could not awaken?   As Alzheimer’s continues to claim the mind of my husband, I often see him frightened and agitated, and I believe it’s partly fear which, at times, makes him disagreeable, uncooperative, angry, combative and downright mean.  When I see him drop into his agitative mood my heart sinks.  This particular mood, which seems a “must” occurs at least once a day, usually taking place anytime from late afternoon throughout the entire evening, and well into the night and even the wee small hours of the morning, or it can last a comparatively short period.

Introducing that mood, he seems to “mark time” barely lifting one foot then the other from the floor — kind of like a little boy who has to go to the bathroom.   This mood — this personality — this action —  this — whatever it is I dread the most.  Communication with him is at his choice, shutting out me and any of my efforts to reach him.  If he does speak to me his words are insulating or degrading.  Somewhere inside his body there appears to be a mountain of pent-up energy which requires dispersment.  At times he can be subdued with the aid of a tranquilizer* and two or three Tylenol PM tablets* in the evening.  Other times he overrides the medication and cannot be subdued.  I confine his agitation activity to the living/dining room, the hall, bathroom and our bedroom.  Every other room is off-limits to him:  locked.  I lock them not to be mean, but to keep some kind of order in the house and to make life a little easier for me.  He doesn’t need to ransack everything in every room.  During part of these moods he becomes obsessive-compulsive and spends that time rearranging whatever he touches with ritualistic exactness.   It does no good to correct him, to suggest anything to him, or to make an effort to direct his interest elsewhere.  For most of this time he remains alone  in his nightmare world obsessing and searching endlessly for his elusive home. 

I imagine him like a robot where the control panel is out of commission allowing any of the robot’s still-functioning electronics to misfire sending nothing but broken signals of confusion (much like Ken’s diseased brain).  With Ken, the misfiring sparks a jumble of emotions: love, hate, abandonment, suspicion, loss and fear, and it seems as if fear and loss are paramount.  It’s no wonder he’s frightened as he looks around in his own home where we have lived together for more than a half century and recognizes nothing.  And me?  Surrounded by confusion, he sees me as an enemy and is, understandably, even more fearful and defensive.  I am a stranger in his midst and although I am a woman — his wife — he is still afraid of me.  By watching him, I can tell when he feels threatened and as his anger peaks toward rage I know he can become combative.  Until he is able to calm himself I often walk away, locking our bedroom door, which leaves him totally alone until the agitation subsides and the anger dissolves.   It’s during these wild episodes when I think of him as experiencing the most terrible of bad dreams:  ones where no mother can give him comfort, no sun-drenched room chases away the ghosts, and no doctor can write a new prescription.  Ken’s life is held captive in a terrifying dream-like world with no way to escape and no way to wake up from this awful torment.  Such is the stuff of which nightmares are made when you are a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

*See Blog titled “This’ll either cure ya, or kill ya, or….

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