LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Be careful of what you wish for

Eugenia Thornton is pictured with her husband Don. (Submitted photo)

Eugenia Thornton is pictured with her husband Don. (Submitted photo)

When I was young and stupid, being part of a “power couple” in the U.S. Army wasn’t enough for me.

I am thinking of a time when we had been married about a dozen years. I was a major commanding a Regional Personnel Center and my husband, Lt. Col. Don Jagger, was commanding an infantry battalion. We lived in post housing on a small kaserne in Bavaria.

We had it all — exciting jobs, good looks, health, physicality, prosperity and popularity.

Don was a near perfect husband. He loved me dearly and often told me so. He didn’t play sports. He washed dishes, did laundry, and the only televised show he absolutely had to watch was the Army-Navy Game. He was a whiz at math, names, and directions. Having graduated in the top of the class at West Point, he was a whiz at most things.

But I was young and stupid. I wished for a man who was home more. I wished Don would be interested in my hobbies. I wished he would be content to cuddle on the sofa with the dog and me, watching TV instead of studying military history books or balancing our family checkbook. I wished Don wouldn’t begin to stride just a tiny bit ahead of me at the seventh mile of a ten-mile-run.

My darling Don was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Degeneration two years ago. We celebrated our 40th anniversary last week and it occurred to me that I had gotten exactly what I wished for.

My husband is home all the time now. He must be watched 24/7 for his own protection. He has no interests. He is no longer capable of coloring, doing easy puzzles or constructing Lincoln Logs. He follows me around the house (immediately behind me, I must step around him while cooking or cleaning), or nods off in a chair while I pound on a keyboard, or lies in bed fully dressed with his eyes open. For a while, all he did was watch TV, but now he can no longer understand the dialogue, so he paces.

He loves to walk — and he’s road march fast. If he gets away from the house, and a neighbor doesn’t see him within five minutes, he’s gone. Bayhealth has admitted him twice as a critical patient, but when doctors there discover that nothing is wrong with him besides brain loss, insurance won’t pay.

This morning we attempted the fitness trail at Killens State Park, the puppy scampering on a long line beside us. Halfway along, she was cowering between my legs and I was trembling in fear: Don had become disoriented, confused, frightened, and then angry in the wooded conditions. He began shouting, then muttering over and over, “You G__ D__ f___ b___” as he pounded his fist into his hand while glaring at me with cold, hard Infantryman eyes.

When I was young and stupid, I wished that the private moments with my husband would be as exciting as our public military life. And now, thanks to FTD, all my wishes have come true.

Oct. 4-11 is World Frontotemporal Dementia Awareness Week. According to the Association of Frontotemporal Degeneration, FTD is the most common cause of dementia for people under age 60 — affecting more than 50,000 Americans.

This neurodegenerative disease strikes earlier in life — when dementia doesn’t even seem like a possibility — and accurate diagnosis can take years. Families lose active parents and breadwinners without knowing what’s stealing away the person they love. And when a diagnosis is made, there are no effective treatments.

Eugenia Thornton

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previously scheduled Sunday benefit for FTD at Cowboy Up has been canceled. For more information, email Ms. Thornton at genethornton@comcast.net.

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