Tommy can bench press his own weight. He’s been a member of the Lakeview YMCA for 40 years -- showing up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. At first, he was in the 6:00 p.m. crowd, then after retiring, 9:00 in the morning. I credit my 76-year-old husband’s great physical shape to this dedication.
On one recent morning, I was leading the way through the kitchen to the garage to drive Tommy to the Y. He was following behind, zipping his coat, donning his knit cap with the Bears logo, and hoisting a gym bag to his shoulder. As I passed the counter where he stows his eyeglasses and cellphone, I noticed something was missing.
“Honey,” I said, turning to catch my husband’s attention. “Where’s the medical ID band I bought for you?”
Tommy has Primary Progressive Aphasia, a condition that affects the brain’s language center. It has left him barely able to speak. The band’s metal plate is engraved with my husband’s name, his illness, and my cell phone number.
He was diagnosed in 2009, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago his illness caused a panic: Tommy got lost on a trip downtown. I was able to rescue him because he handed his cellphone to someone who told me where he was. I realized then, to keep my husband safe, he’d need to wear a medical ID bracelet.
I wanted Tommy to wear the band everywhere, including the Y. Although he has been a regular for so many years, there’s no guarantee he’d be known. Employees leave, members drop out, and his speech problems make it unlikely he’s met new people. My worst scenario: Tommy injured, unable to say his name or mine. A crowd coming to his rescue. “I think his name is Bill,” someone says. “But I have no idea his last name.”
Now the band with his name, the diagnosis, and my phone number, was missing. I didn’t see it on his wrist. It was not on the counter where his other accessories awaited him.
“Where’s the band?” I asked again.
Tommy pointed to the front hallway. I reversed directions and headed for the straw basket that sits under the table. That’s where we toss advertising flyers and unwanted mail.
“Did you throw it out?” I asked.
Another “no.” He opened one of the table’s drawers and pointed to the medical ID band stuffed inside.
“Honey,” I said, “you have to wear this.” I retrieved the band from where it mingled with extra keys, a rack-like tool we use to groom the dog, tubes of Chapstick, abandoned sunglasses, and other detritus.
I handed the band to Tommy and we continued our exit to the door. Once seated in the car, I turned to him in the passenger seat. “Is it uncomfortable?” I asked. “Is that why you don’t want to wear it?” He nodded “yes.”
“Well, only wear it when you leave the house,” I said.
The next morning, Tommy’s reading glasses and cellphone were in their usual place, but no medical ID band. He hadn’t worn it to bed. It wasn’t on his bedside table, nor in the bathroom. I searched the hallway table drawer. I searched the kitchen. I found the band on the counter, hidden behind a giant-sized jar of dog vitamins.
I didn’t ask Tommy why he refuses to wear the band to the Y. I think I’ve figured it out. The gym is his sanctuary, free of a hovering wife. It is the place where he doesn’t have to talk, where he is proud of his three times a week attendance, and routine of 33 minutes on the elliptical, then 20 minutes of weight lifting. At the Y, he is a strongman, not someone needing a medical ID bracelet.
Later that day I called the executive director of the Y. I told her Tommy’s diagnosis. I gave her my cellphone number. “Thank you so much,” she said. “I’ll put the information in Tom’s file and make sure the staff knows who he is, and his condition. I really appreciate your sharing this.”
Tommy is strong; I’m shaping up.