Dementia patient receives help from Season of Sharing

Sherill Bradley watches TV but cannot remember what she saw. She listens to books but cannot remember what she heard. She meets new people but, a few minutes later, doesn’t remember who she met.

“Nice to meet you,” she said to a newspaper reporter whom she met a few minutes earlier but didn’t recall meeting.

Sherill Bradley and her husband, Nolan, live inside a mobile home in Calistoga. They live inside because Nolan Bradley cannot really go outside. He cannot leave his wife alone for more than a few moments. That’s how it is when your wife of three decades is diagnosed with dementia.

It struck suddenly, one morning in early March. Sherrill woke up and something, Nolan said, was different. His wife did not know where she was. She couldn’t focus. She couldn’t read. She couldn’t carry on a conversation of more than pleasantries. All she wanted to do was go back to sleep. The doctors said it could be a mild stroke. They weren’t sure. But they said it probably would not get better.

Nolan, a gourmet chef at a series of Napa Valley restaurants, realized he could no longer go to work and leave Sherill alone. Once, when he tried to, Sherill decided to go for a walk, and quickly forgot where she was. A cop found her wandering on a nearby highway and took her to the hospital. The doc told her to sit in the waiting room. Instead, Sherill called a cab. When the cabbie found out she had no money, he took her to an ATM. But she could not remember her PIN. So the cabbie took her back to the hospital and deposited her back in the waiting room. After a few frantic hours, Nolan finally figured out where she was and picked her up and that’s when he decided he wouldn’t be going to work anymore.

He stays home. A dash to the supermarket every now and then is all the time he has to himself.

He tried a fishing outing, only once, to a nearby reservoir. He couldn’t think about the fish. All he could think about was Sherill. He came home without catching anything.

Met at Napa restaurant

Nolan and Sherill fell in love 36 years ago. Nolan was a cook and Sherill was a waitress at a fancy Napa restaurant. They moved from restaurant to restaurant, as Nolan was promoted from the kind of cook who wears an apron to the kind of chef who wears a toque. Things looked good, and the food at home was great.

After her dementia hit, Sherill, 67, decided that just about the only food she wanted to eat was frozen waffles. So Nolan, 59, fixes her frozen waffles.

No, said Nolan, his wife is not going to move to a facility, home, hospital, nursing home or memory center. She is staying in Mobile Home Space 5. It’s part of the for-better-or-for-worse arrangement that he signed up for, way back when.

Once, in the middle of the night, Sherill woke up and forgot that Nolan had decided to grow a beard. She didn’t recognize him. She called the cops and said she’d been kidnapped. An officer knocked on the door in the middle of the night to make sure everything was OK and Nolan decided it would be a good idea to shave the beard.

On a typical day he reads aloud children’s fairy tales to her; they play with their kitten, Knee High; and together they watch old movies on a video player. Because Sherill does not remember the movies after she sees them, they have watched the same movies over and over. The Indiana Jones pictures are favorites. But she has also seen the memory-loss comedy “50 First Dates” a dozen times or so. That’s not ironic, Nolan said, it’s just a good movie.

Money problems

As the weeks turned into months, and their savings dwindled, Nolan realized the two of them were in another kind of fix as well. He didn’t qualify for unemployment because he’d left his chef’s job voluntarily and because he is not in a position to look for another job.

He tapped relatives for loans, until that well dried up, too. And even though mobile home rent doesn’t cost much, it does cost something. Before long, Nolan couldn’t cover it. After Nolan fell two months in arrears, the landlord slipped a three-day notice under the door. Pay up or get out.

In desperation, Nolan turned to the Season of Sharing Fund, sponsored by The Chronicle. Can you help, he said.

That’s what the Season of Sharing Fund does.

His request was approved and the two months of back rent was paid. And a social worker showed Nolan how he could qualify as Sherill’s official state-sponsored caregiver and earn $84 a day. Those funds, and some additional belt-tightening, are just enough to keep them in Space 5.

If it weren’t for the Season of Sharing, Nolan said, he’s not sure what he and his wife would have done, how they would have coped or where they would be living.

“I didn’t think this would happen to me,” Nolan said. “But it did happen to me. And it could happen to anyone.”

 

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. You can e-mail him at srubenstein@sfchronicle.com.

The original article can be found here.