Losing It

When his mind starts to wear thin, Tate usually goes back to the railroad. Nearly an hour into one of our conversations, I ask him if the disease ever scares him. "No reason to be scared," he says. "I never paid any attention to it. Because when you are working on the railroad, you don't keep up with anything else. It's a one-shot job, more or less."

"Is it hard to remember what I'm saying?" I ask.

"Sure it is. You've got three or four diesel engines. You're pulling 200 cars, keeping them in line all over the track."

Occasionally when he's lost, something will shock him back to the present. When I ask whether he has any grandchildren, he says, "No." No grandchildren? I repeat. "Wait a minute. What am I talking about? My boy has got a son and my daughter has got a girl. A lot of that stuff, you just get a glimpse of it and then you don't see it anymore. And I don't know what causes that. I don't know." It is the first and only time I see him angry.

But the mood abruptly lifts. "Sometimes I think I am just as sharp as I was a few years back. Because I used to--hell, when I was a kid and I wanted to go to college, I wanted to be a civil engineer. Couldn't do it now, because, well, just like when I try to write, I can get out about one word, maybe two words. Then it gets worse and worse."

Because of the Alzheimer's?

"Yeah. You have to be tougher than it is. If the doctors can't handle it in 10 years, I'll get rid of it. I won't let it get me off. We'll go in and cut the old germs out, or whatever it is they've got. When they started this prednisone study, that's why I did it," he says, referring to a clinical study of anti-inflammatory medications in which he's enrolled. "I only have a few minutes to go; why tie up some young guy for a few months, or years? Give it to an old guy and see what happens. And if they found out what is causing this Alzheimer's in the head, or if they don't find out, all they've lost is just what little of the life I've got left. Or whoever is studying it, I've been through enough of this. I've lived a lifetime, maybe two or three or four or five. I have no regrets." CP

Mary Ellen Egan and Rebecca Harrison contributed to research for this story.

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