Ice Cream, Alzheimer’s and a Pandemic

It used to be easy … when I’d go to San Francisco to run an errand and I’d bring my mother with me, we’d stop by the world famous Ghirardelli for an ice cream.  Ghirardelli sits north of Fisherman’s Wharf near the Maritime Museum, Aquatic Park and the South End Rowing Club, where I spent a great deal of time swimming while i lived in San Francisco many years ago.  I moved out of San Francisco to Benicia CA when my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  The apartment in the City was too small to move her in so I could take care of her, so now we live in the ‘burbs in beautiful Benicia.
Even with Alzheimer’s she enjoys the ice cream.  She may forget it 5 minutes later, but in the moment she will be totally focused on the ice cream with occasional pauses to come up for air and exclaim, “This is delicious,” or “This is tasty.”  I get the “Marina” which is raspberry sherbet with the famous and delicious Ghirardelli hot fudge and whipped cream.  It comes with a square of Ghirardelli dark chocolate, which I eat myself.  I choose the Marina because it is the lowest in calories.  I’m conscious of my weight.  To reduce the calorie intake even more, I split the ice cream with my Mom.  OK, OK, the confession is out, it’s not really ice cream, it is sherbet, but the principle is the same.
Like I mentioned, it used to be easy.  We’d go to the City, usually across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Even though it is longer from Benicia, it is a nicer drive.  In addition to the sherbet, we’ll stop for a view or short walk here or there along the way.  Then, once across the bridge we make our way to Ghirardelli where we’d get our ice cream.  Often we’d brave the crowds an eat in the restaurant, but mostly, if it is nice out, we’d eat the ice cream outside looking at the beautiful view of the Bay.
Now, however, is the time of the pandemic!  While this adds a few challenges to the average person, when dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s the challenges are multiplied.  For the average person the rules are to wear a mask, keep social distance (six feet apart) and indoor dining is closed.  The only option is to eat outside and enjoy the view.
For my Mom, with Alzheimer’s, there are the additional challenges.  She will not wear a mask.  She does not understand it, so just winds up pulling it right off.  Also, as an elder, she is a part of the most vulnerable population to the virus, so I want to be extra careful not to expose her to it.  Bringing her inside a public space is out of the question.  The last time we tried the ice cream at Ghirardelli during the pandemic, I attempted to leave her outside within eyesight so I could keep an eye on her and make sure no one got near her and she did not touch anything, while I went in.  However she kept trying to follow me in.  With the line at the register it was going to take too way long for me to be in there.  I finally had to abandon the ice cream dream and go for a walk instead.  If it was a quick in, place order and out while waiting for the order, and then back in to pick up the order when it was ready, I could have pulled it off, but that wasn’t going to happen on that day.  It was too risky!  I did learn from that experience, and was determined to succeed this time!
As we drove passed Ghirardelli, I could see the line.  It looked longer because people are spaced out, six feet apart, all wearing masks.  Ghirardelli is still open during the pandemic because it is considered “essential,” as a food service, but really … ice cream?  I was not complaining.  While it was right there, with all the challenges, it seemed this might not work out.  Everything had to be perfect, to get ice cream while keeping mom safe.
My plan was to leave my Mom in the car.  The trick is to be able to park close so I can have her in sight the entire time and only be gone for a minute or two.   I’m equipped with a handicap placard so this increases my chances.  I was in luck!  There was an open handicap spot right across the street.  The next trick was the line … I had to be able to bypass the line.  I took out my handy smart phone, went to the Ghirardelli website to see if they had online ordering.  I was in luck!  I could order through Doordash.  Of course I had to sign up for an account and enter credit card information.  This took about 5 or 10 minutes in total.  At anytime I could have abandon the plan and no one would have cared.  I kept thinking to myself, “I must really want this ice cream to go through all this effort.”  In the long run and big picture it was not going to make a difference, but at this point, I was not going to quit that easily.
Finally I got to the last part of placing the order, “pickup or delivery,” hmm, could I have them bring it to the car?  No, I didn’t want to complicate things.  I was just across  the street and could be there and back in less than a minute.  The app said it would notify me when the order was ready.  Everything was perfect!  However within 10 seconds of placing the order, I got a notice that it was ready.  Really?  What, do they have Flash employed scooping up ice cream and oozing hot fudge all over it?  I was skeptical.  I assumed they were just saying to was ready because they did not want ice cream sitting around waiting for pickup and that they were really going to make it once I got there.  There goes my quick pick up!  I was going to have to stand there and wait for it while my Mom, without memory would suddenly finding herself in a strange car in a strange place not knowing how or why she was there.  Can you imagine what that might be like?  Whenever possible, even though I know she is safe, I do not like to leave her along very long just because of those moments of worry. Like the ice cream, she will forget the experience within a minute or two, but she still goes through the experience whether pleasant like eating ice cream, or unpleasant lie worrying about where she is and if she is safe.
Parked and ordered, I still wasn’t quite ready for the Ghirardelli dash.  There are still details.  Ideally I leave music on in the car for her to focus on.  In my truck, that is easy because the radio plays without the key.  However today I had my sister’s car.  It’s a much nicer ride than the truck, so I borrowed it from her instead of taking the truck.  No key = no music.  I’ve learned from experience, leaving the key in the car with her is not a good idea.  She likes to touch things an push button.  Can you imagine trying to explain, through a closed window, to someone with Alzheimer’s how to unlock a door that got accidently locked while I was away?  Again, in the truck that is not an issue.  Without power locks it is hard for her to manually lock the door on the driver’s side.  But somehow, with the power locks, she has managed to lock both doors in the past.  In the pandemic, I do not want to leave the window rolled down, as that may expose her to the possibility of some passerby with the virus.  So I’ll take the key with me.
These details seem endless that we might normally take for granted in going to get an ice cream, but now I really was ready to go.  “BRB,” I said to her.  There are only two abbreviations that she remembers, “BRB” for “be right back,” and “RBI,” for “runs batted in.”  Don’t ask me why.  “BRB,” I said, “don’t worry.”  If I’m fast enough, she will not forget those words by the time I get back.  However, I figured that was not going to be likely knowing they probably still haven’t made the ice cream.  My heart was racing as I put on my mask and darted across the street.
There was a pickup table outside the shop, so I didn’t even have to go in.  A woman was just exiting the table with her ice cream and big smile on her face.  The shop employee was still there after helping the pervious woman and was looking me in the eye as I approached.  Perfect, no waiting!  I glanced quickly and smugly at the line of people going into the shop and then back at the employee.  “I have a Doordash order for Jay,”  Without a word she turned back into the shop, grabbed the ice cream that was sitting on the counter (it was ready!), and brought it back to me …  in less than 10 second.  However, I had to send he back in, to bring me an extra spoon.  I may share the ice cream with my Mom, but not the spoon!  I darted back across the street (looking both ways, of course) back to my Mom who was sitting there as happy as could be.
No, my friend, the story is not over.  We still have to eat the ice cream.  While we could just sit there in the car and eat it, but that is no fun.  We are just a few hundred yards away from one of the world’s most beautiful views of the Bay.
While it was January in San Francisco, it was still a nice day.  There was a little chill in the air, but not too chilly for ice cream.  Mom was bundled in her jacket.  I grabbed her by the hand and the ice cream in the other and walked her across the street.  I could feel the warmth of my Mom’s hand on my left and the warmth of the hot fudge through the plastic cup in my right hand.  There were many people out.  I had to pause often and alter my path to keep mom away, more than six feet, from anyone.  I’m glad for all those years growing up that I played Frogger.  This was real life, Frogger.  Then, after we crossed the street and down a path, there it was… a perfect empty bench.  I say her down in the middle of it, where she could not touch the arm rests on either side.  I tucked the ice cream to my side with my elbow to free up both hands and applied sanitizer to both her’s and my hands.  Then the feasting began.  She was loving it.  All the effort felt justified.  I could barely get my spoon is as she held the ice cream tight shoveling it into her mouth.  “This is yummy,” she kept explaining.  On occasion she’d let me hold the cup for a while and I would dive my spoon in, particularly interested in the gobs of chocolate, which were was no longer “hot,” that were clinging to the sides of the cup.  In the end,  I think she had more than I, but I was satisfied.
Finally the last bit of the ice cream was removed from the cup.  She showed it to me that it was done.  “That’s that on that,” she said.  Not convinced, I took it from her and scraped the sides for just a little more chocolate.  I left her there on the bench for a moment as I deposited the much empty cup in the nearby garbage can.  Then back to the bench where we sanitized our hands again.  I held her, slightly cold hand from the cup as we walked back to the car.  Another game of Frogger ensued as we avoided others back to the safety of the car.  Job well done!

Leave a Reply