OCEANSIDE — Joe Potocny has lived a full life that’s required him to manage both bipolar disease and alcoholism. This year he celebrated his 37th year of sobriety. But the challenge of living with Alzheimer’s disease has proven to be the most daunting of all.
Potocny met his wife, Lynn, in their native Chicago in 1978. They married the following year and traveled to Southern California to be closer to his father, settling in Oceanside where they raised four children.
Potocny was working in information technology for the city of Mission Viejo in 1995 when he became concerned with his inability to multitask.
“I knew something was wrong ‘upstairs,’” he said pointing to his head. “I could always do 10 tasks without writing everything down. Now I had to write everything down. I figured I was burning out.”
Potocny resigned, continuing as an independent contractor with the city while launching a successful computer consulting business. He was at the top of his game, with articles written about him in 35 magazines.
“I did pretty good for a one-man show,” he said. “Then one day someone said the wrong thing to me and I said ‘chuck it’ and walked out. That was in early 2000.”
Potocny made the decision to look for what he calls “more mindless work” and secured jobs with the Oceanside Post Office and later the Oceanside Unified School District doing custodial and security work.
When the job became physically exhausting, he began working as a playground supervisor.
“Late in 2002 one of the kids was talking to me, then another kid was talking, too,” he said. “I couldn’t differentiate if it was the kid in front of me or the one in my brain. I quit the job because I felt that it wasn’t a good place to be.”
Potocny began visiting doctors to determine what was wrong. In 2004, a psychologist whose father died of Alzheimer’s was the first to diagnose him with the disease.
“A psychiatrist I saw was on the fence because I could describe detail, but I am a detail-oriented person,” he said. “Finally in 2006, my family physician sent me for a PET scan. He discovered that my temporal lobes were blue, meaning they were withering away.”
That finding was confirmed by a neurologist in 2008.
“She said, ‘Go home and enjoy the time you have left,’” he said. “‘Don’t bother taking medication because it won’t help. The damage has been done.’”
When Lynn asked the doctor how much time he had left, she estimated eight years. Today, Joe Potocny says he doesn’t expect it to be that long.
“There were seven of us in the HBO documentary,” he said. “Now, there are now only three. Cliff died during filming. Josephine died in August 2009, Bessie in February of this year and Woody in March.”
Also in 2008, Potocny made the decision to stop driving after a scare.
“I turned left off Melrose Drive into oncoming traffic on North Santa Fe,” he said. “I was on Highway 76 when I realized what had happened. I walked in the house, threw my keys on the table and said that I wasn’t going to drive anymore. I thought ‘I’m going to kill someone.’”
Today, Potocny spends his time sitting on the couch or updating his blog at his computer.
“Mornings are good for him,” Lynn said. “He’s more in tune with the world until around 11 a.m. The downside is that after noon he sleeps.”
Potocny says he’s purchased a cremation package, and at some point will take his own life.
“I could wake up tomorrow and not know who I am,” he said. “I don’t want to be walking around drooling and wearing Depends.”
He is still bitter that Alzheimer’s organizations haven’t capitalized on the deaths of public figures such as former President Ronald Reagan who have suffered and died of the disease.
“See what I mean about being throwaways?” he said. “Nobody cares. This is what my blog has become — yelling because I want someone to hear that we exist and we are dying.”
For more information visit www.living-with-alzhiemers.blogspot.com. Potocny’s book, “Living with Alzhiemers’: A Conversation If You Will” can also be purchased on his blog.
After publication of the first article last week, Potocny was surprised to receive calls from friends from Alcoholics Anonymous he hadn’t seen in 10 years. “One man said his dad died of Alzheimer’s and he thanked me for being a voice for others,” Potocny said. “I didn’t recognize their names but I did their voices. Hearing from them made doing the story worth it.”
Editor’s Note: In last week’s article “Local man documents his battle with Alzheimer’s,” Joe Potocny made statements concerning the efforts of Maria Shriver on behalf on Alzheimer’s disease that were solely the beliefs of Mr. Potocny and not of The Coast News. Also, Mr. Potocny stated that there are no benefit walks held for Alzheimer’s disease, which is untrue. There are Memory Walks held nationwide including locally in Oceanside.
Lillian Cox and The Coast News apologize for the confusion.