There was a wildly popular YouTube video that went viral a couple years back. To date “David After Dentist” has been viewed by almost 106 million people. It’s an exchange between a father and his seven-year-old son who had just had a tooth pulled and was still pretty woozy due to the anaesthesia. It’s pretty funny.
Earlier this month I had my own funny experience at the dentist. It had the same father/son touch and reminded me of “David After Dentist.” I didn’t capture it on video, it won’t be going viral. But being that it’s Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, I figured it’s worth sharing in some way.
If you are a regular reader of this column, you know my dad is one of the estimated 500,000 people in Canada that suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. It’s been a heartbreaking journey which I’ve written about in this very space on more than one occasion.
Our family is currently at the stage where my dad has been forced into complex care. He currently lives at Mountain Lake Seniors Community in Fairview where the staff is tremendous and he’s receiving the proper care he requires.
Earlier this month my dad was still living at Castleview Care Centre in Castlegar. I received a call that one of his molars was loose and I needed to get him into a dentist. Trying to balance work, kids and life while attempting to provide support for a parent a half-hour down Highway 3A is somewhat tricky. But I was pleased to get an opportunity to spend a little extra time with my dad.
Now that he’s closer to home, I get to see my dad every second day. During the three months he spent in Castlegar the visits were not as frequent.
I arrived to Castleview to find my dad waiting in the front lobby. The staff had helped him get his coat and boots so he was ready to roll. The sight of me made him excited and he exclaimed “My son!” His voice boomed through the hallways of the facility. There were other residents in the area and he couldn’t wait to tell them: “My son runs the newspaper!” It’s pretty much the exact same thing he told everybody within earshot on the previous six visits and though it’s not fully accurate, I smiled at all those who were now staring at me.
Alzheimer’s robs people of many things over time, so I relish the pride my dad still has for his kid. I’m not sure how long that’s going to last, so I easily forgive the repetitiveness of his boasting.
The threshold of what’s appropriate is lost for folks like my dad. One of his favourite things to do is tell women of all ages how good looking they are. Whether it’s middle aged nurses at the hospital or young waitresses in the restaurant, it’s the same comment every time: “Hey good lookin’!” It elicits a variety of responses, from red cheeks to giggles to looks of annoyance. Over the last five years, he’s tested those waters plenty.
The dentist’s office had plenty of females on shift that day and dad didn’t hesitate to tell every one of them how good looking they were. Once in the chair, the dentist finally stopped by and for the first time in my dad’s life he was being looked at by a female dentist. Would he do it? There was never a doubt.
“Hey good looking!” he shouted.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” she said with a big smile. “How are those teeth?”
“You’re a good looking chick!” he continued, obviously stricken by the mask covering her mouth and the big dentist head contraption with mirrors sticking out all over the place.
For some reason it seemed a little less appropriate than the previous 1,000 times my dad used the line, but to her credit the dentist was undeterred.
Once the check-up was over, we walked out of the office to mostly smiling faces. My dad is hardly quiet, so patients and other staff clearly heard the exchange. For the most part it seemed like my dad helped brighten the day of at least a few people.
On the way back to Castleview we stopped by Tim Hortons for a cup of coffee and a doughnut. The woman taking our order had red hair and I immediately braced for what was coming.
“Hey good lookin’,” he began. “My wife’s a redhead… how come you redheads are so beautiful!”
The woman’s cheeks quickly matched the colour of her hair as everyone else in line now gazed upon us.
“Luck I guess,” she said with a smile.
When we sat down to have our coffee, the conversation was slow. My dad’s ability to create small talk has faded considerably over the years and it becomes difficult to maintain the chatter. After he throws out the list of 10 things he says every single time we see each other, the banter dries up.
This time he threw out something unexpected, something he has never said to me before.
“Do I embarrass you?” he blurted.
Wow, didn’t see that coming. At that moment many thoughts and emotions came pouring into my brain. Am I angry that I’m watching this great man who I admire slowly fade before my eyes? Yes. Am I sad that my parents have been robbed of joy in their golden years by this disease? Absolutely. Am I scared about what lies ahead? Yup. Am I embarrassed from my dad’s antics?
“No dad… you crack me up,” I finally said.
Of all the smiles I had seen that day, the one on my dad’s face felt a million times better than all of them.
The next night we were over at a friend’s for dinner. Their late father had Alzheimer’s and I’m always grateful for their wisdom. This night one thing surprised me. They told me there’s a stigma around Alzheimer’s. Engaged in dealing with the reality of the disease for a few years, it’s something I had never pondered. But I suppose it’s true.
To those who don’t know what my dad’s going through, that day in Castlegar could have simply been me leading around a strange old man with very little self control. Though most people took it pretty well, for others it can be a little unnerving.
Like most ailments of the mind, Alzheimer’s is hard to grasp for those not acquainted. Those who suffer from it may seem perfectly fine on the outside, but inside the brain something is seriously wrong.
When you are living through it, there’s no time for stigma around Alzheimer’s. Whatever expected and unpredictable words that come out of my dad’s mouth are ones I cherish. I know there will be a time when he won’t recognize me, so for now I’ll take every embarrassing moment he can dish out.
Even though he’s not the man I knew when I grew up, he continues to teach me valuable lessons about life. For that I will be forever grateful.
The Investors Group Walk for Memories for the Alzheimer Society of BC goes this Sunday at the Nelson and District Community Complex. Registration starts at 1 p.m. and the walk starts at 2 p.m. Everyone is invited.
Bob Hall is the editor of the Nelson Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyHall10