GETTING TO KNOW – Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus had visited his mother, Amy, who had Alzheimer’s, for 75 consecutive days at The Wesley Community when COVID-19 was labeled a pandemic and nursing homes had to shut their doors to visitors.
The experience of not seeing his mother in person for 363 days while trying to help her along her Alzheimer’s journey and continuing his work providing information to businesses in order to help them operate during an unprecedented moment in history is the theme of Shimkus’ book, “I’m Not Ready For This.”
Shimkus said he relied on the lesson of resilience and that “when you face a traumatic situation, a threat, you are always better off collaborating, cooperating and being with other people that you love and trust” to tell the story of what he learned about Alzheimer’s and COVID, being a caretaker and a community leader who was part of the Saratoga Crew with other locals who pushed to provide as much information as possible to people during the shutdown.
Shimkus talked with The Gazette about the book, which is set for release on Wednesday.
Q: At what point did you realize you wanted to write a book?
A: It was September 2020. It was a little bit out of frustration at the time because the governor had this ridiculous rule relative to outdoor visits at nursing homes that precluded me from seeing my mom that entire summer when it shouldn’t have been the case. It was also clear we weren’t over with this, that the pandemic was going to continue. There was a second wave that started and so many people contacted me over the spring and summer over all sorts of things.
It is unbelievable the calls and text messages and emails I got from people and so many of them said you should write a book. I decided in September 2020 they were right. I was seeing this pandemic and this miserable virus and this miserable disease from a completely different perspective than most people.
Q: What did you do during the pandemic to care for your mom while you were apart?
A: The first thing I did was I brought her a favorite thing we used to do every day, especially if it was the morning. I bought her a black coffee with two Splenda and a chocolate chip cookie or a blueberry muffin and we’d hang out and enjoy that.
One of the things that she told me years ago when I asked her about how to define your quality of life she said she wanted to take walks with her dog. She had this dog, a little Bichon whose name was Ribbie. When she moved into The Wesley my sister Trisha bought her a stuffed animal that looked just like the real Ribbie. She carried that dog everywhere but by March 11 that stuffed animal dog was beginning to look a little rough around the edges, so I brought her a new Ribbie so at least she could have her dog with her since we couldn’t be there. The Wesley was great, by the next week they had set up virtual visits. As soon as they opened up to window visits which I believe was in July I started doing window visits.
Q: How did you cope with not being able to see your mom in person for so long?
A: I wrote a book. That was a piece of it. The other piece was, thankfully, for me was I had a very demanding job that I loved. I had something to occupy my time so I didn’t necessarily think all day about the fact that we were separated. I was making phone calls and then publicly on Twitter quite a bit, urging the governor to change some of what I thought were ridiculous, onerous, stupid rules that were separating us — so I advocated.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing the book?
A: In my case because of the subject matter, writing about my mom and her demise from a miserable disease, every time I read back through it or edited it I had to remember perhaps her worst time. I think the only solace I got out of that was the more I thought about it every day, when I was able to visit her, that was the best time of her day and that made me feel at least a little better.
Q: What do you hope people take away from reading the book?
A: On the Alzheimer’s story, hopefully, this helps caregivers who are on a similar journey. I learned a lot from the Alzheimer’s Association, the heroes of The Wesley that took care of her and I really wanted to capture those stories, those things that they taught me to do that made her life easier, so that’s part one.
Part two is, “I’m not ready for this” is the first thing my mom said to me at The Wesley when she had a moment of clarity and she understood what I was doing with her. However, the other part of that is March 6, 2020, Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo had a tweet — it’s in the book — it was ‘don’t believe the hype, there’s far more people in the hospital with flu than COVID, essentially we’re ready.’ A week later we found out we were not ready. The other part of this story, “I’m Not Ready For This,” is we were not ready for the pandemic and when I say we I mean, the world, the nation, the state, the county, the local community.
Q: If your mom were here today what do you think she’d say about the book?
A: My sister’s husband is a doctor so when she was in Virginia they put her in a trial in Georgetown for some medication [called Nilotinib]. She knew it wasn’t going to help her, but she thought maybe it would help somebody else. I think what my mom would say is hopefully this book helps caregivers in particular.
Shimkus will be doing an author’s event with Northshire Bookstore on March 16 at 6 p.m. All proceeds from book sales will go to Amy’s Army team and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.