At 9 years old, I was very excited to be going to New York with my grandmother. The trip included an excursion to a “mental hospital” where one of her cousins was doing some research for a year before he returned to Germany.
It was a long drive through the city. It was dark; the cousin could only see us in the evening.
When we arrived, we had to pass through locked gates where a uniformed man checked his list to make sure we were expected. The gate clanged shut after the car passed through.
I remember feeling very apprehensive, and my grandmother kept giving me reassuring looks.
The structure we pulled up to was Gothic in appearance. Looking back, it could have been the setting for any “B” horror movie.
The cousin was very nice, serving us cookies and tea. I was able to pick up from their conversation that he was studying people who had been normal — but as they aged, something changed requiring them to be institutionalized.
Fast forward to my 30s, a time before the word Alzheimer’s was in everyone’s vocabulary. I was working with a client, a nursing home, on some radio ads to attract new residents. My contract was to effectively introduce a new service they were offering. They had opened an Alzheimer’s floor — the first such facility in the area. This was a time when only those with personal experience with the disease even knew the name of it.
With tremendous pride in her voice, the administrator asked if I wanted to see the floor. Of course, I said yes. We entered the elevator wherein she had to use a key instead of just pushing the button.
As the door opened, I was filled with horror. Around the nursing station, tied into wheelchairs, were the Alzheimer's patients in various states of consciousness. They appeared drugged and looked to have been totally ignored.
Thank goodness the level of understanding and progress made in the treatment of this disease — effecting more than 5 million people and projected to effect 10 million by the year 2050 — has greatly improved. But this does not alleviate the devastation caused by having a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s.
In my column two weeks ago, I thoughtlessly made a flippant reference to the disease, and for that I am sorry. I have written often about the fact that words do matter. Having my poor judgement in the usage of them pointed out to me is truly humbling.
Politically, to this very point, Monday began the hearings on the Russian connection to the Trump campaign and the veracity of several tweets written by the president. I’m hopeful President Donald Trump has learned the lesson of which I needed to be reminded.
Whether a parent, a teacher, a columnist or the president of the United States, words do matter.
I apologize, once again, for my misuse of them.