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Medical Spotlight - September 2023

The Lost Treasure—A Short Story

This story was first published on AKMG souvenir on July 2023.

Reena Kavilaveettil, MD

This short story is dedicated to all my patients and colleagues suffering from dementia and also to their families.

Who was that person who approached me at the park and asked me all those prying, impertinent questions? I am not sure if it was a he or a she, but doubtless a very ill-bred, insolent person to have taken the liberty of asking me such personal questions! That too, not even an acquaintance, but a total stranger, who claims to have been a patient of mine! The idea that I would not remember one of my own patients. The person was obviously lying. But why? A scammer perhaps? Nowadays there is no scarcity of that breed. I did not understand Peter’s reaction to my account of the incident. He did not believe me! I swore I had never seen this person before in my life, but he insists that it must have been a patient of mine. Why would he believe a stranger over his own wife? He had always believed me.

Sara’s mind was in turmoil. She felt wretched. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore.

These days, Peter has become a bit controlling, always disputing with me and dictating everything from my shower time to my outfit for the day. This has never been an issue before. In fact, he had always complimented my fashion sense. On one occasion he had told me “Sara, you will look fabulous, even in potato sack cloth, just like…an actress.” What was the name of that actress he had mentioned? I can’t remember her name. I didn’t want to wear that green and red sari. It took forever to put on. And why had Peter forcefully wrapped it around me? I have never needed help dressing myself. I had repeatedly told him that it did not look good on me, but he kept insisting that it was my favorite saree! I have no idea where he got that notion.

He has forbidden me from going to work. He took away my keys and shouted at me when I demanded them back. He is always reprimanding me nowadays. His face is always stern and grave, and his manner is impatient. Where was the charming, cheerful, affable Peter who I had fallen in love with during our undergraduate years? Where was the compassionate husband, the doting father of our four kids? Why is he so estranged from me? He has become reticent, not confiding in me anymore. Why? What did I do to deserve this? He comes and goes now without telling me. Could he be seeing someone else? That would explain his strange behavior.

Sara felt she had lost Peter. She felt betrayed. An overwhelming sense of desolation and bereavement engulfed her.

At least I have my kids. Where was Sol, my favorite child, who was always thought to be a male version of me? Why is the house so quiet?

She got up and called Sol. She called several times. There was no answer. There was no one in the house except her. She felt lonely.

Where had they gone without me? Once Peter had remarked to his friend Nova “We are not taking Sara with us. She would find it too stressful.” Oh! How mortifying to realize that your husband no longer wants you to accompany him when he goes to friends’ houses! What did he mean about it being too stressful for me? I have always enjoyed social gatherings. Peter knows this. But Peter was trying to exclude me, using some excuse. My friends are no longer calling me. Had Peter said something about me to alienate me from my friends?

A flurry of disturbing questions whirled around in her head.

I need to get to the bottom of whatever is going on. I am weary of not having my questions answered. I shall not meekly submit to this indignity anymore. I am losing my mind. Losing my mind?!

A sudden sense of dread crept over Sarah, but she resolutely brushed it aside.

Nonsense! I have to go to work, be at my office, and see my patients. My work has always been my respite. I can’t find my keys. They might be in my work bag, my little neurology bag. Where is it? Peter hid it somewhere. Peter? Peter? Where are you, and where is my bag? I have to go to work; I am late for my clinic.”

Here comes another strange lady. She might know where my keys are. “Can you find my keys?” “No!”

Sarah felt bitter and resentful.

“Ms. Sara, I don't know where your keys are, but it is time for lunch. You didn't eat your breakfast. Let us try your favorite chicken salad sandwich.”

“My favorite chicken salad sandwich? How do you know? Who are you?” Sara interrogated.

“I am Nicole, and I take care of you.”

“You take care of me? For what? I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself!” Sara could feel her temper rising. Her cheeks flushed.

“I have been taking care of you for the last two weeks,” replied Nicole nonchalantly.

“Two weeks?! I have never seen you before.” Sara said in blank amazement. Nicole’s patronizing manner was making her uneasy. She could not bear this anymore. “I need to get out. Help me find my keys, would you please?”

“Sara, you are not allowed to drive my dear.” Nicole replied.

“I am not allowed to drive?” Sara turned on in fury. A strange woman issuing me orders?

Sara’s attention shifted to Peter who was walking towards her.

Peter looks haggard and distracted. Why is he not taking care of himself? Sara felt a pang of compassion. “Peter, why do you look so wretched and where have you been? Tell me darling! I am concerned. What ails you?”

Peter stood at some distance and remained mute. This infuriated Sara. She felt ignored and slighted.

He never answers my questions nowadays and if he did, his answers were always evasive. This is no longer to be condoned!

“I can't find my keys; I can't find my bag! You have imprisoned me, not letting me talk to anybody and preventing me from going outside. I lost my job, my friends. You are hiding our children from me, having strangers live at our house. Is this your idea of love?” she burst out.

“I love you so much. I left my parents for you, and this is what you do to me? I cannot even think clearly.” he explained.

She was seized by a sudden fit of rage. Sara closed her eyes and pressed her palms against her throbbing temples. Suddenly fleeting glimpses of a bygone past flashed across her mind. She saw a beautiful young woman in a green chiffon saree, dancing in the rain with four little children. The little girl was swirling her colorful umbrella and splashing water on the young man watching them from the veranda. The man kept playfully dodging the sprouts of water that threatened to drench him. Who are these happy people? Isn't it a treasure to have such a wonderful family? For a while, Sara seemed to be lost in a reverie- phantoms of a happy past, a happiness never to be regained. A forever lost treasure flitted across her disintegrating mind in puzzling fragments.

Peter stood there immovable and mute. His initial reaction to hearing the diagnosis had been one of stunned disbelief. Sara had advanced dementia, progressing inexorably and she didn’t qualify for the new treatment. Any glimmer of hope was extinguished after her last visit with the neurologist. Then, the agonizing realization had dawned on him that their life had changed forever. With bitterness and guilt, he remembered the times he had upbraided her for the frequent fender benders, her silly decisions, her permissiveness, and numerous little things that had annoyed him.

He had attributed it to carelessness. He remembered the reproachful look she had given him, and his heart smote him. He didn’t know then what he knew now. Had he lost valuable time? Had he missed a window of opportunity? At what point had this villain of a disease irrevocably annihilated their happiness? Was there ever a time when timely intervention could have halted the progress, at least delayed the inevitable?

The questions tormented him, and feelings of remorse, anguish, and despair assailed and overwhelmingly drained him. The inevitability of the lone, enduring journey with an infantilized version of Sara made him feel dreadful and disconsolate. The future looked bleak. Ghosts of past bliss haunted him, his mind seeing images with vivid clarity, and he felt a painful yearning for those priceless memories, now forever lost.

Suddenly Sara started sobbing like a child. She covered her face with her hands. Peter came and sat next to her. He gently placed his left arm around her and his right hand on her thigh, his head bowed down with inconsolable grief.

To Nicole, they looked like an ancient sculpture, an image of forlornness, portraying the lost treasures of an untroubled past. She observed quietly at a distance, as tears welled up in Peter’s eyes and flowed in rivulets down his cheeks.

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