I’m in the audience of a medical conference on Frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) and Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), little-known illnesses to most, sadly familiar to me. The auditorium is filled with caregivers, and members of the healthcare field.
Every since my husband was diagnosed in 2009, I’ve become well-versed on the PPA version of the condition. But I figure there’s always more to learn, so here I sit hoping to catch news of some miracle cure.
I listen to speaker after speaker. Yes, awareness is building. Yes, research continues. But, no, no hope yet for reversal of Tommy’s loss of speech. I slump in my seat, discouraged.
A speaker steps on stage to introduce the topic of bvFTD. My attention sharpens; this version is new to me. I learn that the “bv” that precedes FTD stands for “behavior variant.” Those burdened with those added initials, “can experience excessive spending with a lack of awareness of its implications,” she says.
Then, hands are raised in the audience, microphones are passed, and the horror stories begin -- of loved ones’ shoplifting, impulsive buying, and falling prey to Internet swindlers.
“I came home and there was a boat in my driveway,” says one caregiver who has risen to her feet.
The microphone goes to a man who volunteers, “She bought a new car, never discussed it with me.”
I overhear a woman seated in my row who says to someone on her right, “My husband sent money to Nigerian scammers, and when I stopped it, they started harassing me.”
And there was more: sweepstakes, mail orders, contests, door-to-door salespeople, lotteries; all spilled out as examples of bvFTD misery.
“My God,” I say too loudly. To myself, I think, even if my husband could still talk, or use computers, he’d never get bvFTD because he’s a tightwad.
As I lean back in the cushioned seat, I recall a scene that supports my logic.
“I like it,” Tommy had said as he stared at the new Timex I fastened on his wrist.
“You do?” I said. I stood back, hands on hips, and studied him as he twisted it upright so its white face was easily visible.
I was pleased at my husband’s reaction because this watch, which I had purchased at Nordstrom’s for $65, replaced the Pulsar he had worn for 40 years.
Throughout our marriage, I tried to get Tommy to give up that elderly timepiece. But, he always insisted on new batteries or fresh bands to keep it alive.
“Nope, this is dead,” was the last repairer’s diagnosis.
“Please let me buy you another,” I had said to Tommy. “I promise not to spend a lot.”
The Pulsar wasn’t the only long-held possession I’ve attempted to pry from my husband’s hands, and replace with a newer version. I’m still unsuccessful with his balding brown leather wallet.
“Look, Honey,” I say whenever we pass a display of billfolds. “This looks just like your old one. It’s not expensive. How about it?”
He’ll shake his head “no,” put a hand on his pants’ leg to verify I haven’t pick-pocketed it, and pull my elbow to move me along.
Naturally, our differing views on spending money showed up early in our marriage. Although Tommy and I both grew up in households with little cash, my father was careless with money. I caught that gene and in my marriage to my first husband, a doctor, my lineage had a field day.
As for Tommy, paychecks were parceled out for necessities. He skipped college, and went into the Air Force to help support his widowed mother. After the military, he worked to pay rent, utilities, his YMCA membership, and to build up a small savings account. No car, no credit cards, no up-to-the-minute fashions, no travels.
When we wed, I tried to spoil him with a joint checking account, credit card, and a few doodads that I was happy to bestow on my penny-pinching husband. And while Tommy enjoyed these gifts, he never became infected with my loose-spending ways.
Now, as I sit in the auditorium, riveted by tales of depleted savings, unwanted merchandise, and giant credit card bills, I feel sympathy for those who cope with the wreckage left in bvFTD’s wake.
For myself, I admit to new gratitude. True, no miracle cure awaits my husband, But his frugality, thus far, has kept us both from drowning.