My mother’s deterioration had gone without a name. What, then, to do about my own unhinging? Preliminary research confirmed what Peter and I had learned anecdotally: Although medications might slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, they could not stave off the inevitable decline that catches up with even the most diligently monitored and medicated patient. Moreover, we were afraid that the quest for diagnosis could trap us in what writer and physician Atul Gawande once described as “the seemingly unstoppable momentum of medical treatment.” Still, we are both the kind of people who want to know, always drawn like moths toward enlightenment. Also, confirmation of our suspicions might help us prepare. If the unnamable loomed ahead, we could plan for expensive care, diminished quality of life, and a way to end my life at the right time.
We can’t merely dismiss these as violations of sanctified spaces or lapses of judgment. Atget photographed crime scenes. War correspondents catch images of people being blown to bits. Many of us have taken pictures of homeless people, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, an electric chair, the hole left by the World Trade Center. I photographed the second tower falling. The new twist of the selfie is that we’re in these pictures. (I didn’t include myself in that one.) Many are in bad taste, and some indulge in shock value for shock value’s sake, but they are, nevertheless, reactions to death, fear, confusion, terror, annihilation.