Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blue Hydrangeas by Marianne Sciucco           

There are no other diseases that steal the essence of who someone truly is the way Alzheimer’s does and this point is made beautifully, tragically and poignantly in Blue Hydrangeas. 

Marianne Sciucco blog says that she is “Not a nurse who writes. But a writer who happens to nurse.” I have medical friends and a family member who is a paramedic. Although I believe that anyone who enters into the field of healing and caring for others, does so because they have incredibly big hearts, but few are able to write as compassionately but accurately as Marianne has in this story.

Blue Hydrangeas is delicately and intricately woven, going between Jack and Sara’s life from the time of diagnosis to the present day nine years later.  When Sara, on the verge of going into a care facility, has a good day it prompts Jack and Sara to ‘run away’ as they enjoy shared memories that Jack had thought were lost permanently. They leave behind an angry and frustrated son. A man who has his own family and career and is struggling with his parents choices, a man who has to come to his own place of acceptance.
As many of you will already know, Alzheimer’s does not have happy endings.  But there can be good endings and this beautifully written story allows us to see that without ever being trite or diminishing the insidious cruelty of this disease. 

After reading this book I did a little research and what I found alarmed me. The following is a quote from Rep Ed Markey whose mother died from Alzheimer’s.

“The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends $3 billion a year on research of AIDS, which affects around 1 million people in the U.S. Nearly 5.5 million Americans are believed to have Alzheimer’s, yet it receives just under $500 million a year. The government funds more nutrition research than it does Alzheimer’s research.”

Here are the excerpts from my chat with the author.

Are you a caregiver to elderly parents? No. My father passed away from cardiac arrest at the age of 45. My mom, now 87, is strong and healthy, plays Bingo almost daily, attends mass every day, and loves to read. I have three aunts who succumbed to Alzheimer's and watching their decline was heartbreaking and scary.

How long did it take you to write this book? It took 18 months to write Blue Hydrangeas. I finished in 2004, tried to interest an agent, failed, put the book to rest, tinkered with it over the years, and then self-published in 2013.

How much if any research did you do? i.e. visits to nursing homes etc. Most of my research was done hands-on during my work with Alzheimer's' patients and their families in the hospital and nursing homes. I also did library research, and read journals, self-help guides, how-to books, memoirs, and novels on the subject. I watched movies (Iris is a favorite.) Although I had a good grasp of the disease, I fact-checked everything, especially after ten years had passed between writing and publishing and many things had changed in the science and care of those with Alzheimer's.

Do you agree that we should be tested for mental health if the tests exists? I currently work in college health where mental health is a priority. The status of mental health services in this country is inadequate to meet the needs of the population. Early detection and diagnosis are important so treatment plans and life planning can be set in motion to assist in providing a productive, stable lifestyle. So yes, I do think that if a test for Alzheimer's or other mental illness is available people at risk of these diseases should investigate if it would be suitable for them and insurance companies should cover the costs.

Do pick up a copy of this book – you may well cry – but you will not regret reading it.

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