Alzheimer’s Anecdotes, Chapter 9: The Gas Gauge and the Time of Day

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Pam didn’t waste any time producing an Alzheimer’s anecdote today. “The gas gauge in the Subaru is almost on the F ,” she warned me. “I was afraid it wouldn’t make it to the wash and back yesterday.”


Let’s back up a moment. Yesterday afternoon, it rained hard here, an inch and a half of precipitation hitting the ground in a single massive cloudburst. I was in town at the time, gathering groceries and two colors of paint with which to redecorate her bedroom. In town, it didn’t rain at all. Petrified I wouldn’t be able to make it back across the wash on Paloma Trail, she climbed into our Subaru Outback after the rain settled down, ran the seat forward to accommodate her five foot body, and skated through the mud, sliding skillfully along our street and then up Paloma Trail. She parked on the side of the road on the south side of the wash and began talking with a neighbor who told her I’d get stuck if I tried to cross.

All doubts fled immediately when she heard that. Her husband’s reputation had been challenged. “No he won’t,” she averred with complete certainty.

No more than ten minutes later, the GMC truck and I arrived. I paused partway down the north bank of the wash to survey the situation. The wash was running. Not dramatically, ten to twelve feet in width where I needed to cross, but the hidden danger in such a situation was the possibility that the rushing, muddy water had carved out a tire-swallowing, axle-breaking pothole.

Careful scrutiny of the rapids told me that wasn’t likely the case, though, so off we went, down, through, over, up, and out.

The neighbors needed a lift to haul all their groceries over the wash from their car to their ATV, though, so the husband jumped in the back. They’ve got a four wheel drive truck but the four wheel drive is busted. So off we went, through the wash, loaded up the goods, trekked back across the wash–three times crossing in total–to their house, unloaded, and finally made it back to the Border Fort just as full darkness was taking hold.

All that time, Pam had been sweating the fuel situation in the Subaru. “The gauge was near the F,” she informed me. “I was afraid it was going to run out of gas.”

This morning, when she brought that up, it took me several minutes to get through to her with the concept that “F” stands for “FULL“. And when I did, when she finally got it, she burst out crying. Which I understood. This is a woman who performed as a master diagnostician when she and her former husband moonlighted as shade tree mechanics in their spare time, supplementing his wages as a top flight auto technician (“mechanic” in the old days). She was a race car driver par excellence, driving a VW bug with a V-8 engine in the drags, a wizard with a stick shift.

And now she’s having episodes where “F” means “EMPTY“. Yeah. I’m pretty sure I’d cry, too.

The dirt on the gauge doesn’t bother her. After all, the Subie has more than 200,000 miles on it and we live in the desert, in the dirt. No, she wasn’t upset about that. She was upset about the departure of her brain.

Because the gas gauge was near the "F", Pam's Alzheimer's Disease convinced her the Subaru was about to run out of gas.

Because the gas gauge was near the “F”, Pam’s Alzheimer’s Disease convinced her the Subaru was about to run out of gas.

There were things that needed doing today, but by 4:30 p.m., I hit an okay break point. All right! Nap time!

Pam decided she would coordinate with me. As I went to my room to crash for a couple of hours, she did likewise in her room. This is her latest approach to Alzheimer’s survival. She knows I need my late night alone time, working on the computer or playing a few games of Hearts, to survive as her caretaker. On the other hand, she feels safer when I’m awake any time she’s up and around. She’s thinking right, too. Just today, our ad came out in the Sierra Vista Herald, seeking a live-in companion for her. How long it will take to find the right somebody, who knows? We’re on it, though. We’re definitely on it.

In the meantime, back at the Border Fort, we napped. We got up at the same time, too, right around 6:30 p.m. I was in the bathroom, already seated and studying a crossword puzzle, when I heard her stumble-crash into her own bathroom on the other side of the wall, verbalizing some sort of mild misery, her usual routine on awaking.

“I’m on the toilet!” I called through the wall. That wall is not insulated, just OSB strand boards on either side of 2″ x 4″ studs with air space in the middle. We can hear each other pretty well that way.

“Okay, good!” She replied. We were in tune, our biorhythms synchronized. Looking good…

…until, after I got off the john and looped around to see how she was doing, it became clear that she believed it was 6:30 in the morning.

“Where are my pills?” She asked. “You forgot to put my pills in the bottles!”

After our naps, Pam got up convinced it was 6:30 a.m. rather than 6:30 p.m. ....

After our naps, Pam got up convinced it was 6:30 a.m. rather than 6:30 p.m. ….

Every evening after taking care of a few other end-of-day chores, I parcel out the proper doses of half a dozen prescription medications plus a number of nutritional supplements, some in the MORNING bottle, some in the AFTERNOON bottle. The scrips are kept in a safe to which I, and only I, know the combination. Her Alzheimer’s Disease makes this necessary. She won’t overdose deliberately, but she’s all too capable of forgetting entirely that she took a dose and then….

We’ve all had that experience, waking in the evening and thinking it was morning or vice versa, but not like this. Convincing her that it was really 6:30 p.m. and not 6:30 a.m. wasn’t easy…but that was the worst of it. I’d get it through to her…and minutes later, or sometimes even seconds later, she’d be off to the races again, sharing her certainty that it would assuredly “rain this afternoon”.

“You mean tomorrow afternoon,” I’d remind her, and she’d look at me blankly.

We went through this cycle at least seven times–probably closer to ten, but I specifically counted seven–before she “got it” strongly enough that she didn’t “relapse” any more. The frustration for her was considerable, naturally…but then, around 9:30 p.m. (she went to bed at 10:30), she told me, “This could be funny, except it’s hard on you.”

“The Alzheimer’s?”

She nodded. I grinned at her, “Oh, I get the humor of it, all right.”

All in all, the day ended on a good note. With Alzheimer’s in the house, it doesn’t get any better than that.