Ms. Polk is Charge Nurse, Shift Coordinator, Emergency Department, RMH Healthcare (a member of Sentara), Harrisonburg, Virginia.
The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.
This work is to honor my mother who was a dedicated wife and caregiver to my father. I admire her more than she’ll ever know. She is my hero. I also wrote this piece in honor and memory of my father who fought the beast called Alzheimer’s until he could fight no more. I will always love and miss you, Dad.
Address correspondence to Amanda Lynn Polk, RN, BSN, Shift Coordinator, Emergency Department, RMH Healthcare, 2010 Health Campus Drive, Harrisonburg, VA 22801; e-mail:
In July 2012, my father passed away due to pneumonia and sepsis related to “complications of Alzheimer’s disease.” In February of the same year, my mother and I had to make the agonizing decision to place him into nursing home care. He had become combative and incontinent, and my mother feared that he may hurt her due to the violent behavior caused by his disease.
The author and her father.
While in the nursing home, despite medication and patience, I watched as the staff struggled to provide his basic care needs. He fought them for incontinence care, bathing, and turning. I’ll never forget the look of fear in his eyes as these people he did not recognize tried to provide the most private of needs. My father was a physically and mentally strong, strong man. I watched in heartbreak as the man I knew fought his caregivers, and I could see and understand their frustration as they tried to provide quality care.
As a response to this, as well as a coping mechanism for myself, I wrote the following and posted it on the wall of his room. I explained to his caregivers that I wanted them to know the man I knew, not the frightened, combative, and lost person in front of them. Several of Dad’s caregivers cried when they read the following. Multiple staff thanked me for writing my posting and stated that sometimes they “needed a reminder” that the people who they were caring for were much more than their disease. These people have histories, careers, and legacies. They are parents, grandparents, friends, and heroes to others.
As an RN of 13 years, I agree that even after experiencing Alzheimer’s disease firsthand and on such a personal level, even I could occasionally use this type of reminder. Therefore, I am sharing my words as a reminder that those for whom we care are more than just what Alzheimer’s has left behind.
Before Alzheimer’s…This man you see who is unable to tie his shoes or dress himself could repair anything from an electric pencil sharpener to a tractor. He worked until retirement for the Virginia Department of Transportation and earned respect from those with whom he worked. Dad has a work ethic like no other. He taught me that you go to work, and you work as best you can while you are there. You do your best, and you give it your all. This work ethic spilled over to all other parts of his life, and now also to my life.
Before Alzheimer’s…This man who is now walking through the world in a lost fog could hike over the Great North Mountain and the George Washington National Forest, enjoying the outdoors without a map and without fear of getting lost. One of my father’s biggest loves is being outside. He spent many seasons hunting deer, but really, he would admit that he wanted to go hunting mostly for the peace of the forest. He hunted, fished, and spent so many hours with friends and family in nature. So many of our weekends were spent as a family on picnics, drives, and hikes. He taught his daughter that if you want to feel close to God, you take a quiet walk in the woods.
Before Alzheimer’s…This person babbling incomprehensibly before you could make a stand in any discussion. He knew what he thought about things and did not hesitate to share. He could see any situation with a clear perspective and without the cloudiness that emotion often brings. He taught his daughter to stand up for what she knows is right, despite the popular perspective or pressure from peers.
Before Alzheimer’s…The man with the stuffed dogs loved his pets. He grew up with dogs and had a dog until his last beloved pet, Duchess, was put to sleep during the beginning stages of his illness. It seemed that he could communicate with dogs. He could train them to do whatever he wanted. He would spend hours with his dogs. They were family.
Before Alzheimer’s…This man you see in front of you is a dedicated husband of 47 years and an amazing father of 32 years. The relationship my parents share is beautiful. Even though he no longer calls my mother by name, at times, I can still see from the look in his eyes that there is a connection between them that cannot be broken. When my husband and I were experiencing some bumpy roads a few years back, I credit partly the example that was set for me by my parents with helping us get through them successfully. They’re just that awesome. Despite his possible gruff first impression, the man who is fighting so hard now was one of the gentlest souls I’ve ever known. He walked me down the aisle at my wedding. It was the only time I ever saw him in a tux. And he did it for me.
Before Alzheimer’s…and after, my Dad is my hero. I will always remember who he is despite the fact that I think he no longer recognizes me. Now you know a little bit more about him, too. Thank you for taking good care of him. He’s pretty special.