They say the start of any long journey begins with that first step... what they don't always tell you is how far down that first step might be. Mine became clearer on Monday 3 October 2011, in the office of my neurologist, Dr.Stephen Flitman, in downtown Phoenix.
My wife is very intuitive and she had come to notice some changes in my personality and behavior beginning around last Christmas. I was forgetting some things (who doesn't at this age?), had some moodiness, and some other indicators. As I was only 60, our family doctor did not suspect anything too serious, but my wife was insistent so he agreed to schedule me with Dr. Flitman.
During our first visit some weeks before, Dr. Flitman had taken me through some of the routine verbal tests. Counting back by 7s from 100... - I missed a few - but my backwards math has always been about as good as my forward math... not very good... which is why I was more of a beer and bullsh*t major. I scored pretty well on some of the other routine questions... the date, the street crossroads, my birthday... but when he asked me the name of the current Arizona governor... and while I could clearly see her face and name the previous 3 or 4 governors, I could not immediately spit her name out. When it finally came to me five minutes later and I blurted it out, he just smiled... and I knew I had failed that one. Ummmmn... maybe there is a problem here after all... after a couple of more miscues on my part, it was clear that further testing might be warranted. So... I was scheduled for a MRI and some other tests at St. Joesph's.
Now...if you are ever scheduled for an MRI, save time and take the Twilight Tour... I did not THINK I was claustrophobic until I got into that machine for the first time. But I am a big guy and it is a tight fit to begin with... I got through the first two 14 minute tests OK, but when the tech asked me if I was a "go" for the next two 20 minute tests, I knew I could not do it. The noise, the bright lights, the tightness... were just too much for me and I needed to get OUT... NOW... I found myself hyperventilating a few minutes later. Once out, the tech himself admitted he could not do one without some sedation as did several of my other friends to whom I described the experience. Anyway, a week or two later and I was back for a second attempt... this time, the drugs worked, though I was conscious the whole time. I also recommend covering your face with a wet or dry washcloth to help with the bright light. They'll give you earplugs for the loud noise. The second time I just put my mind on a beach somewhere and pretended there was just continuous loud construction in the background. No problem... so I thought.
When I had not heard from Dr. Flitman's office for a week or two, I figured I was home free. I was... wrong. I was quite surprised when he told us on our follow up visit that he could say with a 90% certainty that I had Early On Set AD. He called me around to his computer where he showed me the brain contrasts between a healthy patient and then mine. The best way I could describe it was... if you were looking down at a horizontal cross section of the brain, a normal brain has little narrow canals running through it. A person with AD has canals that are wider than normal. The wider they are, the more the disease has progressed...