She was on the run. Traveling as fast as she could, she had taken a job on the other side of the country. Two weeks from now (at forty-seven years old) she would start her new position as the VP of Science at a Biotech start up and planned to be busy forgetting everyone she used to know. Not that she had much choice. Six months earlier she had diagnosed herself with frontotemporal dementia. Dr. Claudette Deering was on the run from herself.
Two years ago she had started to notice changes in her mood. At first it seemed a euphoric second youth had taken her. Everything was more intense. Food had more flavor. Music moved her like a school girl. Even colors had more depth – like poetry. However, the science part of her had started to calculate the changes and was busy translating the behavior in to symptoms – symptoms that were familiar to her as a doctor. A small part of her brain had quietly started documenting her behavior flagging them for her conscience mind. She started keeping a journal of her days, her interactions, and behaviors.
When she felt she had enough evidence, she had her suspicions confirmed by a colleague under the pretense of seeking advice for a patient. FTD, her friend, colleague, and fellow neurologist had confirmed. “The last item you shared confirmed it for me. I would have to see the patient for myself to make a formal diagnosis, but this clearly shows the patient’s lack of empathy and loss of interpersonal skills.” The last item had also confirmed it for Claudette. It was the recounting of a moment she had experienced with an employee of hers. She had been talking to the employee and while they were speaking she had picked up a picture on the employees desk to examine it and then had started to poke holes in the faces with a pin she had freed the photograph from that had kept the picture attached to the employees pin board.
Later that day, while she was updating her journal, she had recalled the incident. While she was not upset by her behavior, she did understand that this was proof she had been looking for.
There was no use seeking a second opinion formally and having herself subjected to a battery of tests. The doctor was sure to revoke her license immediately and start the process towards putting her on long term disability. She would then be pressured to give power of attorney to her closest relative – in this case her daughter. Her life as she knew it would be over. As a neurologist she was well aware of the changes she was going to face and the loss of freedom that would come with them. She was determined to make the most of the small time she had to still be her.
She had found a new job in a field unrelated to her expertise and had promptly moved across the country. No one would be able to track her decline. No one would be able to call her out on loss of knowledge. No one would be able to observe a dramatic change in behavior; because… no one would know her.
Tonight she was still free. She sat under the starry sky on the tailgate of her Chevrolet Suburban watching the fire she had made at her camp near Bodega Bay in California. The beach was about 20 miles from Santa Rosa – the city of her new job. Her condo didn’t close escrow until a week from now and her new career would start a week after. For seven days she would enjoy the anonymousness of being a suburban beach gypsy. For the first time in her life, she was unconcerned about what would happen next. She did not have a daughter to raise, she did not have patients to attend to, she did not have a board to answer to. Ironically, with everything going for her, she didn’t have much of a future. She was living in the moment. She spun around in glorious abandonment.
“Nice moves”, she heard from a voice in the dark. A young man entered the perimeter of her light with a banjo in hand. “There is a drum circle tonight at the beach in celebration of Mistress Luna”, he said pointing at the full moon gracing the sky. “Care to join me?”
Claudette briefly wondered how much of the night cover had disguised her age. But she felt young, impulsive, and carefree – all symptoms of her disease her mind amusedly reminded her. “I would love to” she replied.