Alzheimer’s Anecdotes, Chapter 1: Thunderstorm and Light Switch

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My wife has Alzheimer’s Disease. The light switch came on during this evening’s Arizona thunderstorm. A book of anecdotes detailing the experiences made possible by the progression of the disease might be worth writing. It could possibly help other people in the future, especially those just realizing this memory thief has come to call in their own family circles.

This is the first chapter of that book.

We live off grid in southern Cochise County, one mile from the Mexican border. It’s a peaceful existence for the most part; the closest neighbor lives a quarter mile away and almost no one shows up at our door unannounced. That’s just the way we like it.

Early this evening, around seven-something p.m., I arose from a nap to take care of the end-of-day chores. Pam was sound asleep in her room, though the overhead light and TV were both still on. That was fine; I would need the light when I got around to counting out her meds for tomorrow’s morning and afternoon doses. I took a small rechargeable flashlight with me as I stepped outside. We use flashlights a lot around here. I usually carry mine in my mouth, a holdover from my days as a water hauler in western Colorado’s gas field drilling boom before retiring in 2009.

It was deep dusk, with a promising storm wall looming to the north, flashing multiple lightning strikes and sheet lightning galore.

The storm front.  Minutes after this photo was taken, rain and lightning were coming down and darkness was complete.

The storm front. Minutes after this photo was taken, rain and lightning were coming down and darkness was complete.

I could still see the ground well enough to avoid stepping on anything venomous, but no more than that. The thermometer under the storage trailer announced the outside temperature at 77 degrees, cool enough to shut down the big generator that runs the air conditioning unit for Pam’s room. The portable solar generator showed the battery bank holding at 24.7 volts, however. That’s borderline; it will handle my computer and office light through the night, as well as a small fan for Pam’s room, but by morning the batteries would be discharged just a bit more than we like to see. The afternoon had been overcast; the battery bank was not truly topped off.

Well, then. Might as well fire up the thrifty little Yamaha generator to power the house for the night. Give the solar system a rest.

So I did that, but by the time the Yamaha EF2000is was purring away and the extension cords were being switched over from the solar gennie to the gasoline powered unit, the first drops of the oncoming storm were beginning to pelt my back. I dashed for the truck, retrieved the rain jacket that always rides in the back seat when not in use, and went back to work.

Beautiful. Done, and no more than a bitsy bit of rain upon me. Into the house we go–HEY!

The place was pitch dark, the bottom of the well, the depths of the mine shaft. This was not good. I called out to Pam, “We’ve lost power! Generator must have shut down, low oil maybe!” Striding back out into the rain–which by now was pouring buckets and washtubs down upon the land–I picked my way through what was now full night, through the surging vegetation that must be negotiated with care, both to avoid stepping on a possible snake and to minimize contact with the plants themselves. When the humidity is high enough, as it is for several months every summer, there are chiggers to be considered.

Huh. The Yamaha was running just fine. Green light was on, too, meaning it was producing power.

Could a close lightning strike have tripped the breaker? I didn’t know, but after unplugging all four heavy duty cords, I discovered a printed legend on the side of the generator case.

    To reset, restart generator.

Interesting. We’ve used this model of generator for nearly six years now. Never noticed that before. Of course, we never had to worry about resetting one before, either.

Well, okay. Switch off, power down. Switch on. Pull cord. Pull cord again, power up. Reconnect extension cords.

Stepping around to see Pam’s bedroom window–no, still dark. What the–??

By now, my legs were pretty well soaked. The Columbia jacket had kept the rest of me dry thus far, but it wouldn’t be long…the heck with it. Might was well just shut the Yamaha back down, plug the cords back into the solar generator, and head back inside. Maybe the solar would work. Not every power source on the homestead could be compromised.

The solar generator did not work. The entire house, including Pam’s room, was still dark as dark could be. I gave up. Got back inside, shucked the jacket and hung it on a nail in the porch to dry. Stepped on into the kitchen, aimed for Pam’s room, told her, “Power’s down for the entire house. Don’t know what could have–”

She interrupted. “I turned off my bedroom light because of the storm.”

“You wha–”

“TV got knocked out.” She meant it had lost signal, which happens any time a truly serious hunk of wet cloud cover unloads on us.

“You shut off your light.” I walked over, flipped it on. Light!

“Yes.”

“With me out there in the storm with nothing but a flashlight in my mouth.”

“Yes.”

“Pam, that’s how I judge whether I’ve gotten the power right, switching back and forth. Do you realize I must have confused that poor little Yamaha no end? Power on! Power off! Power on! Power off! And my computer, I never got around to turning it off; must have crashed it at least four different times.” Which is no big deal; my computer is used to it. “You always worry when I’m outside in a thunderstorm, yet you slammed down the only light in the house, plunged the whole place–”

We started laughing. There’s nothing funny about Alzheimer’s, but we found the humor in the situation anyway. “Honey, five years ago, you never would have done that.” Frankly, she wouldn’t have done that one year ago. “Well–your heart’s in the right place.” Which mine is not; a bull riding accident slammed my heart a full inch from its original position in 1970.