Today is the 26th of January 2019.
Today I turned 63 years old. An auspicious age, for our father-son relationship. You were retrenched from your role as Regional Manager of NOSA (National Occupational Safety Association) in your 62nd year. When your 63rd birthday rolled around your lifelong formal employment had ended. Your retrenchment came at a time of great restructuring at NOSA, when the Managing Director, Bunny Matthiessen, retired. Blind to the circling vultures, organisationally and within your brain, you had hoped to take over Bunny’s position. Despite your overt denial, at a deep level you knew that you were not coping with the corporate cut and thrust and that your working life had ended when you turned 62. Surprisingly you did go on to do some consultancy work in the industrial safety arena for a while. This was based on your reputation and lifelong contacts you had built up at NOSA. You were known as the Godfather in the safety industry. Through your cigarette stained nostrils, you would sniff out a safety hazard which no one else had even thought about. Unfortunately, the confident, authoritative Godfather was reserved for work and his fishing boat. He seldom made an appearance at home –Waterkloof, Pretoria, on the western edge of the Magaliesberg mountain range. I digress.
In your 62nd year you were no longer able to drive yourself to work. You got lost on the simple route you had been driving for 25 years. Mom had to drive you into Sunnyside where the new NOSA building was located. Each morning in the car you would “smoke like a trooper” (Mom’s phrase) to try to calm your ragged nerves and hide your profuse sweating. The effects of the disorientation from the pressured and demanding job, combined with the strangling Alzheimer’s plaques and tangles in your brain, was horrendous.
At the age of 63 you came to Cape Town to do some consultancy work. You booked into the Blue Peter hotel in the little bay on Bloubergstrand. Your first-floor window had the best view in the world. The small “spier wit” beach down below – the classic spot for a photograph. There is a picture of me as a child standing alone, and one of uncle Bun and me, in that exact spot. In the background loomed the magnificent Table Bay with the old father, Table Mountain, beckoning on the horizon. The Cape of Storms and the Cape Good Hope. You could not see that iconic South African view. You often had two cigarettes on the go. Your bed was strewn with piles of “highly important” papers for the consultation. A few vital pieces were missing - always. Your finger nails were stained tobacco yellow. The sweat smelt of terror hung over you like the table cloth over Table Mountain. A permanent state of “being in a wrought” had you by the throat.
My link with you today is that I was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s Disease a year ago. There I said it. Alzheimer’s’ Disease! Dementia. Neurocognitive disease. I had a genetic test which indicated that I had the APOE3 and APOE4 allenes. In common parlance I have both the early, and the late, onset Alzheimer’s Disease gene. Although apparently blind to the signs yourself, you showed clear symptoms of dementia in your 50s, so you must have had the APOE3 gene and probably the APO4 for good measure. This is my inheritance as divined by the oracles of modern medicine. I feel no blame or anger. Paradoxically it links me more strongly to you. A father-son bond. Unbreakable. I have a difficult and dangerous part of you inside my genetic program – including many other good, bad and indifferent genes from you. Contrary to my expectations, genetics indicate that I inherited none of the Tromp genes for coronary artery disease or strokes. Ironic that I spent 20 years worrying and researching about developing heart disease which killed Mom and Ouma (grandmother). When I was at EXEFIT, the state-of-the-art executive gym on the 15th floor of the Sandton Tower. I was well into doing a doctorate on the effects of stress, diet and exercise on coronary artery heart disease. Thanks to the poor fiscal management by Charl Theron, the owner and developer, EXEFIT and academic arm - the Institute of Preventive Medicine and Human Performance – imploded and closed its doors. I headed off back to Rhodes University to do my PhD in psychotherapy. An interesting fork in my career path.
Miranda and I lived together in our first joint house on the Northshore of Auckland. You always forgot Miranda’s name. You called her Lady-Lady because you always remembered her elegance, style and warmth. One day, when I was alone in the house, the uncanny made an appearance. Something took hold of me from within. I sprinted up the stairs shouting “kiep, kiep, kiep, kiep”. What was that? It was your hunting call, used to urge the kurper, carp and barbel on Roodeplat and Hartebeespoort dams to bite on your homemade fishing lures. I dismissed the thought that I had a part of you inside me. Rather, I felt that I was you, that you were me. Joined. The Alzheimer’s connection later cemented this bond.
Eight years ago, Miranda and I bought a cute, wooden, cosy, two-story home. A Lockwood styled house. The entire inside of the house, walls and roof, is made of beautiful interlocking wood. The rustic atmosphere of the house reminds me of the Banket street house in Waterkloof– where you and Mom lived for 35 years. One day, shortly after starting on the Alzheimer’s programme, I found myself alone in the house. The defensive fog of my chaotic treadmill life lifted, and my mind began to contemplate my relationship with Alzheimer’s. A menacing demon rose up from the primordial darkness and grabbed my soul. Like a wounded lion I let out a terrible bellow of grief and collapsed onto the floor. Sobbing, I crawled onto the blue couch. I lay there roaring with tormented agony. I had Alzheimer’s Disease!
The oracle had spoken. There was nothing I could do except depressively watch the juggernaut of destruction roll through my life and my family. The inevitable, slow, voracious growth of the wild octopus of plaques and tangles filling my head and cutting off the neural networks. Gradually it would throttle my short-term memories making daily life increasingly difficult. Inexorably, as it won each major battle, Alzheimer’s would steal even my most cherished memories of the past. My basic sense of self would slowly evaporate – ‘totally eviscerated’ is a more apt phrase. Tragically, I would not recognize Jethro, Courtney or Miranda.
I am grateful, that right until your death you always knew who I was. The last time Miranda, Courtney, Jethro and I visited you at Althorp retirement village (an appropriate name for your final abode) you lay in your bed with your eyes closed – apparently unaware of our presence. Then for a few minutes, you opened your eyes, turned your head and looked straight at us. You gave us a long expressive look - your final farewell. Your eyelids shut and I never saw those blue eyes again.
We left Althorp at 8pm that evening. The sun was setting in a brilliant blaze over the Kamai hills. A fitting tribute to your life and role as a father and grandfather. Although you drifted into the Alzheimer’s fog for a few years, I was grateful that I had a large piece of time of being close to you. We could never have had that father-son time when Mom was around. She tended to pull me too close and push you away. The bright jagged colours of the unresolved Oedipal triangle.
In the early 70s you, Mom and I went to a movie in Hatfield, Oedipus Rex. Mom dragged the two of us along mumbling something about “getting some culture”. Perhaps she intuitively knew the importance of resolving this blinding relational dynamic.
Oedipus Rex was written by a Greek fellow, Sophocles. The originator of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, was fascinated by this myth and made it into one of the cornerstones of psychoanalysis. It remains one of the most contentious ideas in psychoanalysis.
My understanding is that the oracle of Apollo at Delphi (the one in Central Greece, where Mom, you and I visited in 1970) prophesied that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. The parents, opposing the will of the Gods, tried to circumvent such an unthinkable tragedy. Laius (sounds suspiciously like Lewis) bound the feet of Oedipus tightly together (Oedipus means swollen feet) but did not have the courage to sacrifice his son. The task of infanticide passed to Jocasta, who being equally unsuited, passed the task onto a servant. Finally, the servant avoided the murder by placing Oedipus in a basket on a mountain side (shades of Moses).
Oedipus, ironically, supposedly out of conscious awareness, spends his life fulfilling the Oracle’s prophesy. He unwittingly kills his father at the crossroads to Thebes. He solves the riddle of the Sphinx thereby winning the hand of the widowed queen of Thebes, Jocasta, his mother, with whom he has four children.
Years later, at the denouement of the play, Jocasta realizes that she has married both her own son and her husband’s murderer. She hangs herself at the scene of the crime - the palace bedroom. When Oedipus realizes and acknowledges his crimes of patricide and incest he collapses with remorse and guilt. In a defensive rage he searches for his mother to cut out her womb with his sword. He finds her cold body and cuts her down. To avoid seeing his heinous crimes, Oedipus removes the long gold pins which held his mother/wife’s dress together and gouges out his eyes in despair. Visually castrated, he finishes life literally as blind as he figuratively was throughout his life having been unable to see the warning signs about the path he was travelling. In Sophocles’ later plays, Oedipus’ two sons murder each other, and his daughter commits suicide. Some say this Greek myth is a warning from the Gods that attempting to avoid the oracle’s prophesy is the very thing which brings about the tragedy.
According to Freud, the male Oedipus complex (the female version is sometimes called the Electra complex) is resolved when the son identifies with the father, develops a mature adult sexual and work identify, leaves his mother, finds his own woman and proactively lives his own life. Healthy love, work and play. The apposite question is how much does the son internalize the father’s values, characteristic and genetic code? Can he pick and choose, take the good and leave the bad?
The tragic and inspiring part of this story is that since you died from pneumonia in 2007, exacerbated by 65 years of smoking and which your addled brain could not repair, there have been amazing advances in the understanding, prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. For the past year, I have been on the best programme in the world. One Professor Dale Bredesen, American, has combined years of his research in the laboratory with ancient Indian knowledge and newly emerging cutting-edge research, to develop an Alzheimer’s prevention and reversal program.
Supported by my local general practitioner, Dr Robin Kelly, I had 49 different blood tests (some hardly heard of by my local laboratory blood clinic – I call them the vampires), an MRI brain scan (gracefully paid for by my medical aid), tests for heavy metal toxicity (62 years of poisons from living a Western life – mercury from tooth fillings, pollution etc.) the levels of minerals in my system, a DNA genetic test, cognitive memory tests, a visual sensitive test (tests whether the rotting brain has interfered with visual processing), copious diaries of daily activities with particular emphasis on what I ate and levels of concentration and mood, and a long family history of heart disease (maternal grandmother, maternal uncle, Bun/Adrian, and Mom), Parkinson’s disease (maternal grandfather and now maternal uncle, Alf), and Alzheimer’s itself (grandfather, Alf and you). We had precious little to do with your sisters (except for occasional visits to Ellen and Pam) and I never knew your mother or heard stories about her, and only met your father a few times. This means that I know next to nothing of the familial cardiac and brain history of 50% of my genetic inheritance. We are now onto the third round of these tests (excluding the MRI, genetics and family history) to see what is working and to fine tune the programme.
My suspicious thoughts about incubating this horrific plague started years ago. As a primary school child, I watched Oupa Felix (maternal side) develop and slide into Parkinson’s disease. His discussions with ‘invisible’ things and people seemed quite natural to me and helped me understand and talk with psychotic people years later. When I read that Prof Bredesen considers Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s closely linked etiologically and symptomatically, I knew why Oupa both ‘saw things’ and walked with a restricted shuffle. I knew that Parkinson’s was genetically passed on and vaguely expected to develop it in my 70s.
When you started showing signs of dementing in your early 50s my diagnostic radar began to focus on my moods, orientation and memory. However, most of the time, the horror did not allow me to think clear thoughts. I read enough of the medical literature to know that the favoured Alzheimer’s drug of the moment had no effect besides suppressing the symptoms. Sometimes the ‘wonder drugs’ even accelerated the slide into oblivion. For 10 years I was on various forms of statins to reduce my high cholesterol and, following my general practitioner, Dr John Gemming’s advice, to slow down the possibility of having a heart attack and developing Alzheimer’s. I eventually threw the statins in the bin as they were severely affecting my mood and sleep. I once said to Miranda “I will rather die ten years earlier than feel so miserable all the time”. Research is appearing that postulates that statins are one of the ‘causes’ of Alzheimer’s and even coronary artery events. There are many anecdotal sorties of psychotherapy client’s recovering suddenly and markedly from depression when they stopped taking their statins.
While I was looking after you for all those years in Tauranga, I tried to remain blind to my own dementing indicators. That time was a perfect storm of stress in my life. Daily I visited you on the way to work, at lunch time and on the way home. I made all your meals, showered you (always a big fight), cut your nails and hair and raced around town when you went missing. You were not bad enough to go into a funded rest home, nor were you able to look after yourself. You had scared Courtney and Jethro so you could not stay in the family home. The nasty edge of the divorce from Liz was starting to bite and I refused to see that she had been cheating on me with James for a long time. I felt I was losing Courtney and Jethro and we all struggled with the shared custody arrangement. Finances were a problem. Work was terrible. Our larger hospital was taken over by a smaller one and every manager in our hospital was fired or “retrenched” in the purge. I hung onto the position of senior managing psychologist for a few years longer than expected but the writing was on the wall. Obviously, it did not help that I was not firing on all cylinders.
During those difficult years I met Miranda at a psychotherapy conference - who says conferences are a waste of time? We lived in different towns for five years, even for a year after we were married. Each weekend one of us would drive the three hours so that we could spend the weekend together. It was confusing and disorienting living in two homes, and I had six new children to get to know. In case the lines between the hereafter and the living were not working, all of Miranda’s children came to your funeral in Tauranga and helped throw your ashes from Memory Rock on Great Barrier island. The interaction at the weekly handovers of Jethro and Courtney was filled with unresolved nastiness. For two years Liz hid in the house and refused to look at Miranda, despite Miranda arriving on the scene a year after the separation from Liz. Miranda’s love, care and patience with me, combined with my deep love for her was the saving grace.
After a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat I was convinced that I had Alzheimer’s Disease. Miranda has the view that Vipassana brings out the “unthought known”, to use Christopher Bollas’ phrase.
Our denial evaporated in October 2017. I was typing something on this very computer. Miranda said, “I want’ to try something with you”. Her tentative and anxious voice helped me stifle my oppositional tendency. “Put this blindfold over your eyes and don’t take it off until I tell you to do so” Miranda ordered seriously.
“Close your right nostril. Tell me if you can smell anything”.
“What can you smell now” Miranda almost pleaded.
“Nothing” I replied with my dread going through the roof.
“Ok, close your left nostril.”
“What can you smell?”
“Can you smell anything now?
“Aha. Peanut butter” – almost my staple diet for years.
I removed my blindfold. Miranda was in tears.
She had conducted a smell test, commonly called the Peanut Butter Test. Miranda had read that it had a 90% accuracy of spotting a rotting brain. With Alzheimer’s the brain shuts down many unnecessary functions to cope with the onslaught. One of the first to go is smell, particularly in the left nostril – the right hemisphere. I could smell nothing at 20, 10 or 5 centimetres with my left nostril, and only registered the peanut butter aroma at 5 centimetres from my right nostril. I quickly looked up on Google Scholar to confirm the reliability of the rest. Yes, I had it. After a more thorough academic search I found that the left-right nostril ratio was not always accurate. However, smell atrophy is pathognomonic of dementia and many other horrible processes.
Miranda then ordered me some Vital Reds. A product by Steven Gundry, world renown heart surgeon, turned food guru, for increasing energy levels. It made a big difference to my levels of fatigue. I ordered his book The Plant Paradox and devoured it in two days. The book revolutionised my understanding and eating habits. Stunning. There were excellent sections on dementia demanding a stricter regime than simply wanting to be healthier or loose weight. Our knowledge snowballed. I found a YouTube blog with an hour-long discussion on the cutting-edge treatments for Alzheimer’s between Dr Gundry and Professor Bredesen. Bredesen spoke of having trained 1,000 doctors around the world to institute his programme. The same day we emailed Bredesen asking for a person close to us. Miranda found a YouTube by Dr Dave Jenkins, a New Zealand based Bredesen doctor. I bought my bible; Bredesen’s 2017 book The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Programe to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline. We were off to a flying start.
The Bredesen ReCODE Programme is touted as the first programme to successfully prevent, and reverse, the relentless march of Alzheimer’s Disease. ReCODE is based on research which shows 36 different, scientifically identifiable causes, Bredesen calls them ‘holes in the roof’, or perturbations (the medico-scientific jargon). Having gathered all the information Dr Dave Jenkins, in collaboration with Prof Bredeson, categorises the type of Alzheimer’s disease. Currently there are six types; inflamatory/infectious, glycotoxic, atrophic, toxic, vascular and traumatic. My ‘choice of poison’ is atrophic Alzheimer’s. This subtype, also called cold Alzheimer’s, does not have the markers of inflammation as with the more common inflammatory and glycotoxic types. Supposedly my system is low on trophic support (low insulin production – which is trophic for neuronal and synapse formation), low hormones, low vitamin D, low tumour necrosis factor (TNF) alpha and interleukin 6. Other metabolic abnormalities are often present. ‘Burn out’ is a common finding as is atrophy of the hippocampus (luckily the MRI showed no evidence of this – good thing we caught it early). Dr Dave then sent me a long comprehensive report followed up by a video consultation from Bali. Although Dave moves between New Zealand and Australia, the Bali connection is auspicious for Miranda and I who are about to spend our tenth adventure on the Island of the Gods this year. Dave’s summary lists the holes in my head and specific treatments for each.
Our life has changed dramatically to accommodate to this intensive and demanding programme. The short version is: exercise (heavy weights 2x/week, yoga 1x/w, Zumba dance 1x/w), infra-red sauna 1-2/week (taken with niacin and activated charcoal to get rid of heavy metals), specialised supplements (around 20 different tablets at different times of the day), specific healthy diet (no lectins, sugar, dairy, wheat, bad oils, deadly nightshades), avoiding the ‘deadly disruptors’ (antibiotics, headache tablets, cleaning products – the list is endless - basically most convenience products of Western capitalism), fasting between 16 and 20 hours each day (no breakfast and eating 4 hours before sleep), 20 minutes of sun for vitamin D (problematic on long winter New Zealnd work days), daily online brain training (Brain HQ), music and specific brain entraining sounds (bi-neural beats), eight hours sleep a night, and then, the most important of all, after squeezing the above into a busy work day - “RELAX and enjoy life”! Oxymornic.
When I find the courage, I will write a psychological paper on my journey, perhaps; Recovery from Alzheimer’s Disease: An autoethnographic psychoanalytic account. If I continue to improve on the Bredeson programme, I will write a book - Journey out of Dementia. Everything I have read thus far chronicles the descent into the heart of Alzheimer’s darkness – nothing has been about the personal experience of reversal. I think that a detailed and insightful description of improvement will shine some light on the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease on the sense of self and ways of relating to others and the world. Bredesen, Jenkins and a few others published a state of the art medical/scientific paper last year on the treatment and improvement of 100 patients. I am in the publication, one of those 100 who have made major changes out of the suffocating vice-like grip of Alzheimer’s Disease.
This 63rd year of my life is a watershed – hopefully. I am still working, in two places. At a moderately high academic level of teaching and supervising at university and running a private practice. I don’t publish as much is expected which may lead to the powers that be getting rid sending me out to pasture sooner than later. I don’t feel that bad about the possibility. Moving into full time academia at the tender age of 52, was far too late to teach this old dog new tricks. I refuse to work too far beyond the call of my paltry academic salary. I also frequently think of leaving the malevolent, backstabbing, red taped, academic life. But, I love the contact with students and feel that I am still able to make a useful contribution to their emotional lives and the lives of their future clients. I also spend two days a week in a private practice, relatively close to home, which Miranda and her business partner, Jacqui, started. My practice is full enough and I see a mixture of short- and long-term patients. I see a large proportion of male patients, particularly businessmen, something that I find stimulating and satisfying. The balance between teaching and practice fits well with my passions and talents. Too much university politics drives me crazy (as it did when I was Head of Psychology for six years) and too many psychotherapy patients stresses me out. Excessive sitting, and listening is bad for my body and soul, let alone my poor brain.
At this moment in time I am doing well. My Brain HQ (a 30-minute computer programme I do five times a week to stimulate my brain) score is 80, meaning that I am better than 80 percent of other 63-year-olds. My energy levels are good, my mood is moderate, and I don’t experience as many episodes of “getting into a wrought” as I did a few years ago. My weight is ideal. I am as strong, supple and, except for poor lung capacity, as fit as I was in my mid 30s.
The million-dollar question, which I try not thinking too much about, is; will I continue to improve over the years or at least keep to this satisfactory level? Will the invigorated Alzheimer’s furies come rebounding out of the darkness and implode in my brain?
Sophocles would question if this fierce opposition, to the prophesy of the genetic oracles and mainstream medicine, will incur the wrath of the Gods. Will the Alzheimer’s Oedipus cause the tragic problem he is so valiantly trying to avoid? Is he blind to the obvious signs?
Is there a middle path? Can I learn to acknowledge and respect the Gods, whilst following the Bredesen protocol at the same time? Can I proceed with full vision of AOP3/4 and any new medical developments while resisting the temptation to gauge out my eyes to deny the terrible sights and feelings? Can I allow myself to inherit my father’s strength so that I can clearly view the basic genetic fault? Perhaps I could become a mad knight and follow my other heroic father figure, Don Quixote de la Mancha, and sing at the top of my voice…
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the un-right able wrong
To be better far than you are
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To be willing to give when there's no more to give
To be willing to die so that honour and justice may live
And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest
All my love,