Confabulation and Cataracts



Etymology: L, con + fabulari, to speak

The fabrication of experiences or situations, often recounted in a detailed and plausible way to fill in and cover up cognitive impairment or memory loss, which may be caused by alcoholism, especially in people with Korsakoff’s psychosis; head injuries; dementia; or lead poisoning. Also called fabrication.

Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier.

I was up late into the night the night Daddy died. My sister lives in England and there were travel arrangements to be made. I needed to pack for my trip the next morning, and the few family members we had left needed to be contacted. My fathers best friends made the calls to his tribes.

My brother Phil lived not far from Mommy and went out to check on her that night with the intention of spending the night. Mommy wanted him to leave. She wanted to be alone.

The night is mostly a blur; I remember saying over and over to God, “Please let Daddy come back, Please let Daddy come back…” while my husband held me.

I was on a plane early the next morning. On the flight I resolved to keep the promises I made to Daddy the day he died; I would get Mommy to a doctor and I would take her to Mexico. I called the doctor the moment my plane landed to reschedule the appointment my father had made the day before.

I called the doctor and let him know that Daddy was dead and that Mommy seemed to be in shock. We talked for some time before the appointment. I detailed what my fathers concerns had been. It was vague stuff: Mommy not being able to make a grocery list, getting lost on the way home, weird stories about why she left her job, or let the feral cats in the house.

Daddy could not put his finger on it. He told me, “She has always been strange but, honey, this is something else. I am seriously thinking of moving into the apartment in the basement. It is so strange being with her.”

That did not give me much to go on, but it was a start.

I drove Mommy to the doctor the day after I arrived. She was silent in the car and did seem far more distant than usual. Mommy not talking was the norm, it was hard to tell what was going on in her head.

Dr. Taggart is a gentle man. He tried to draw Mommy out, to get her to talk, but it was a waste of time. He did a complete physical and everything seemed normal until he asked Mommy how she was feeling after her recent cataract surgeries.

My mother became oddly animated and seemed insulted.

“I did not have cataract surgery. What are you talking about?”

The Doctor and I just looked at one another. Mommy had had cataracts in both eyes and had gone through the surgeries within the last few months.

Dr. Taggart asked me to check in my mothers wallet. I found two cards that served to alert a paramedic that my mother had indeed had the surgeries.

I showed them to Mommy.

“Your Father had those surgeries done, not me and you know that is the truth. He fought me for years and finally I convinced him to have the surgeries. Finally he could see. I don’t have any idea why my name is on those cards. It must be a simple clerical error.”

I was stunned. The night before, going through the things on my fathers desk I found the last bills for both surgeries. I remembered offering to fly out to help if Daddy needed me to be there. I remember the calls from the Dr.’s office the days the surgeries were done giving the thumbs up. The surgeries had gone well.

Daddy thought that the troubles Mommy was having were because she could not see.

Dr. Taggart explained to Mommy that he remembered her having the surgeries and that they had both been successful.

My mother got out of her chair, put on her coat, throwing the cards in the trash as she walked out of the examing room, saying as she left, “Your father had those surgeries and I know because I was the one who made the appointments for him and I drove him the day of the procedures.”

Dr. Taggart and I were both stunned. I started to cry and Dr. Taggart sat down near me.

“Your mother is in shock. This is to be expected. Really, everything will be fine in time.”

I wanted to believe him, I really did. I knew things would not be fine in time. Daddy had been right to be concerned. I knew somehow that this was just the beginning of a very hard road.

This was my first face to face experience with confabulation brought on by my mothers long time alcoholism. I did not know it at the time, but quickly came to understand that anything my mother told me could be a lie. The truly sad thing was that she did not know that what she was saying was complete fiction.

Welcome to the world of Wernicke – Korsakoff.

~ by Step On a Crack on October 3, 2011.

5 Responses to “Confabulation and Cataracts”

  1. Jen, i feel totally confused … i think i’ve officially entered the world of Wernicke-Korsakoff and the crazy/sad confusing difficulty of connecting with someone whose “got it”. It takes ‘hold and holds on … and is getting worse. My heart goes out to you, my sweetie! What is shocking is that your mum had such conviction in her recollection of false facts …

    I can see the pain in this … there is no way for her to reconcile the abuse she lavished you with “lavished” … pelted you with.

    I remember you as ALWAYS being the mom in your family. You always worried about your parents and your sisters. You have had great burdens in your life that you do not deserve. I hope you can retire from the jobs you were never hired for … and not to be snide … you are and always have been loving and giving and caretaking … and that is always part of you.

    With that mish-mash of ramblings … i better get my arse-heiny to work! K love you, my survivor friend! Mel


  2. I’ve been learning from your story. I pray for you daily. Thank you for letting all of your readers have a chance to see your pain and the terrible results of your mom not coming to terms with this fatal illness, alcoholism.


    • Thank you again and again! On this journey I have found Zero information about how this presents in daily life for caretakers. I hope this will reach other people like me AND alcoholics in recovery AND drunks who have not come to terms with the terrible impact of their drinking. I have had two friends who have watched my moms decline quit drinking. It is shocking how few drinks it takes, over a short period of time for alcohol to begin destroying brain cells. I will post the figures very soon. Shocking.
      Alcoholism kills. It kills brain cells and leaves a wake of destruction. I am hoping that my families struggle can help other families who struggle. You can’t do this alone and it is a Beast.
      Writing has led me to a path of forgiveness. I am grateful for that. As I write the next posts that journey will become harder. Words are healing. Community is key. Thank you my friend. Truly!


    • Me again.

      I am SO grateful I gave up drinking a LONG time ago. So grateful! Watching my mother live through this Hell is awful.

      Other family members and friends have died due to other alcoholism and addiction related ills: suicide, seizures, accidents. This list is a long one. I am grateful for my recovery. Very, very grateful.


    • Thank you! I do Really want people to know what the end result can be. Alcoholism is insidious and destructive. Alcoholics dementia is SO under diagnosed. Dementia drugs do NOT work; nothing does beyond a certain point. IF families catch it early enough, intense Thiamine therapy can help. First people need to know this dementia exists. Thank you SO much for your support! It keeps me going! Peace, Jen


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