Bill Lyon: Still lessons to learn while fighting Alzheimer's

Inquirer sports columnist emeritus Bill Lyon, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, tests out his new cane outside his Broomall home.

One in an occasional series.

I have a new companion.

A cane.

Or, as known in High Society, A Walking Stick.

He's supposed to go everywhere with me.

The pairing was ordered up by one of those gentlemen in the white lab coats who come around once in a while to peer under my hood and see how goes my scrum with Alzheimer's.

I've decided to call my cane Slim, in honor of his profile being that of a foreboding stiletto. He's not much for conversation, but I figure he will make a good sparring partner for Al, my Alzheimer's nemesis, that runty little rat bastard who's afraid to come out and fight. Good. Now Al has someone to pester him.

I tried striking a few poses, certain they lent me a debonair, man-about-town look. My wife failed miserably at stifling a smirk and mentioned something about a praying mantis. Or was it Ichabod Crane?

The doctor advised me to employ a cane whenever I'm upright so as to avoid kissing ol' Mother Earth. Yes, there are times when I struggle with balance, my gait slightly unsteady, like a sailor's first few steps after shore leave.

So a cane is rather like having a third leg, serving as a counterbalance. And from afar the whole operation looks deceptively simple. Visualize a bird having lunch.

You peck along.

One step.

Now peck.


One step.

Now peck . . .

Except I overcompensated at the start and wound up in a tangle with a weary voice intoning: "Clean up in Aisle 3."

Slim looked embarrassed. Al chortled. I vowed redemption.

A Change of Heart

A confession: The cane cast an ominous shadow of dread over me - I saw it as a symbol of impending doom, a fate hopelessly sealed.

There is, after all, a progression of descent, isn't there? Isn't this the cycle of decline?

First a cane.

Then a walker.

Then a wheelchair.

Then . . .

But not me. No sir, no damn way. I had made a silent vow when the Alzheimer's first hit, a vow of defiance. You'll not be getting me off my legs. I'll stand 'til the very end.

So I threw away Slim.

Isn't it amazing how someone who is supposed to be halfway intelligent is capable of monumental acts of idiocy?

My older son was the first to spot the folly of my ways.

"Pop, isn't that exactly what Al wants you do?" asked Jim. "You're helping tip the odds in his favor, that you'll trip or fall, right?"

When you're right, you're right. I had let ego get in my way.

So I pulled Slim out of the junk pile, much to Al's whining (good), and I promised to learn the peck-peck bird step.

And as for my shamefully uneducated and cavalier attitude regarding walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, and other methods of transport, I repent. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I have it on good authority, the users themselves, that wheels can be godsends.

So there. I count it a good day when I have learned that I can still learn.


I have found that my cane is a veritable Swiss army knife, and to my delight one of those uses can be as a golf club. Simply turn Slim upside down. The crook makes a meaty target and hitting surface.

Confession: I love golf. Have ever since I first took a mighty swipe and ricocheted that little dimpled ball into the forest and yelled a word I didn't know I knew.

It is the most addictive, most maddening, most unconquerable of all our games because it is you against you. And after all, aren't we all our own worst enemy?

Golf was invented by Scottish shepherds, swatting small rocks with their upside-down canes. It is said that to make up for the anguish afflicted upon them by golf, they were permitted to invent Scotch whisky.

Circle of Life

There he stands before me, my namesake, a little man, my great-grandson just turned 3, laboring in the throes of potty training, dispatched by an adult with these stern instructions: "Tell Pop-Pop not to pick you up, you have poop in your pants."

My Little Man, the very picture of angelic innocence, looks up at me and in a voice oh-so-solemn, announces gravely: "I have poop in my pants, Pop-Pop."

I ponder this from my 79 years and say: "I know the feeling, Liam, I know the feeling."

Editor's Note: The Great Home Hunt is over.

Pretty much.

We are scheduled to move in next month.

Liam to help.

Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer sports columnist and author of "Deadlines and Overtimes: Collected Writings on Sports and Life." Email him at