Alzheimer’s Anecdotes, Chapter 3: Where’s Fred?


That’s right. Not Where’s Waldo? Where’s Fred? My wife’s Alzheimer’s Disease remained hidden from most observers pretty darned well for a long, long time–more than a decade–before casual acquaintances were able to pick up on it a bit. In the home, however, Pam brought up a problem topic a year or two ago. During the day, she often found herself unable to remember where I’d said I was going, whether it was across the property to fire up the well pump to fill our off grid water storage tank or into town for groceries.

This scared her, not knowing where I was.

Additionally, she had no idea when I might have gone to bed (usually after midnight but sometimes close to sunrise), whether there was enough juice in our solar generator’s battery bank to allow her to safely fire up her bedroom light, TV, and computer, or what the outside temperature was when I retired for the night.

Okay. No Problem. For many months, we used a crude system. Each night (well, early morning, really) I used a heavy black marker to print a note on a piece of copy paper which was propped up in the seat of her recliner. When she got up, all she had to do was read the data. If I needed to get up early for some reason, such as chasing to Sierra Vista to pick up one or another of her med refills or being ready to receive an important phone call or whatever, I’d add the time for which I’d set my alarm clock, and that information would also calm her.

After she told me about needing help figuring out where she was in the mornings, and why (see Chapter 2: Panties Halfway Down), I got to thinking. That old paper-in-the-chair habit was…getting old. We needed to upgrade.

So I went to Walmart, bought an erasable white board and some markers, and mounted the white board on her bedroom door. Curiously enough, the board came with a pair of multicolored round magnets. We had no idea what they were originally intended to do–hold an occasional Post-it note in place, maybe–but it was pretty obvious how they were going to be used at our house. At the top of the board, I printed the legend, “WHERE’S FRED?” Below that, a rough self portrait sketch, using the colorful magnets as eyeballs. That much stays in place, day after day.

Less permanent status reports on my whereabouts are posted regularly. Here’s a look at what Pam saw this morning when she first got up for the day.

Alzheimer's aid:  Status reports on my whereabouts are kept current.  Pam doesn't have to wonder where the heck I am.

Alzheimer’s aid: Status reports on my whereabouts are kept current. Pam doesn’t have to wonder where the heck I am.

The new white board system is working well…as long as I remember to update the board every time I take off on a new heading. When I forget, the results are sometimes–well, here’s what happened today. The Where’s Fred? board said I was HOME AND AWAKE…but around 4:15 p.m., I let Pam know I needed to make a quick run over to Bisbee and back. The federal judicial system had been kind enough to send me a FEDERAL JURY SUMMONS–RESPONSE REQUIRED. The enclosed questionnaire had to be filled out in #2 pencil and nothing else, and believe it or not, we had a dozen pens in the house (or more) but could not locate a single pencil. Except for one red pencil, go figure, but the court wasn’t going to go for that.

That’s right. I had to make a 30 mile round trip to buy a freaking pencil. Are we having fun yet?

Pam wished me well, waved me out the door, and promptly forgot where I’d gone or even that I’d told her I was going. It didn’t hit her for a while, thankfully, and my total time away from home was no more than 45 minutes max, but a few minutes before I got back home, she began to wonder where I was. I’d forgotten to update the Where’s Fred board before I left, and my Pammie paid the price. Unable to locate me–the board still said HOME AND AWAKE–she called her daughter in Utah to find out where I was.

“Mom,” Amy said, “how would I know where Fred is?”

She was still on the phone with Amy when I walked in the door.

With luck–and something tells me I’ll need it–the guilt factor will help me remember to update the Where’s Fred? status appropriately from now on. Otherwise, she may end up calling her brother in Oregon to find out where I might be.

11 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s Anecdotes, Chapter 3: Where’s Fred?

  1. When you were working over here, I received several ‘Where’s Fred” calls. I just told her where you were and we chatted a bit. If she called me now, we would just chat a bit to calm her down.
    Dennis got one of those while you were here one time. He got mad because I did not answer him when he called. I had to point out to him that I could not just sit there and wait for him to wake up and call me. Remember when he jerked the front door open and yelled at me? That was the time. They have told him he does not have Alzheimers, but he shows all of the signs
    He does not go anyplace without someone now, because he can’t find his way around and gets lost. Someone always goes with him. He has gotten lost in Wal-mart. He has gotten lost in the house and went down the wrong hall to get to our bedroom. We have to keep a close eye on him. Even the dogs keep an eye on him. He asks them if they are ready to go lay down and watches to see which way they go before he starts out.

  2. In my not so humble opinion, most doctors are idiots. I would agree with you that Dennis (from what you describe) certainly has all the signs. But even with Pam, we’re still not sure her family M.D. believes she has the disease. Her psychiatrist (who is a very sharp lady) gets it 100%, but the local M.D.? Just hard to figure what that dude really believes at times.

    I’m not sure why, but a lot of the doctors we’ve encountered are really super-gunshy about making any diagnosis that requires any sort of intestinal fortitude. Back in early 1999, Pam’s M.D. in South Dakota had entered in his notes (which we confiscated) that she “showed the classic presentation for fibromyalgia” (which was one of the first major problems we knew she had; we’d self-diagnosed it a year earlier)…but he would not out and out say she had it.

    I knew Pam had made a number of those “Where’s Fred?” calls to you and/or Dennis while I was working there. It’s gone beyond that, too. She mentioned today her belief that I was “over there every day” for the 3 months it took me to get your home squared away (would have been a good bit more than that except for Rodger’s help, thank you Rodger). Never mind that the average time I spent on your place (including Home Depot runs, but away from the Border Fort) averaged more like 2 days per week until that last little burst to finish the ramp, and at least 3 different times I skipped a week entirely. I try to convince her of the objective reality, but have little confidence I’m succeeding very often.

    Dennis’s trick with the dogs, letting them point the way to the bedroom…that’s just awesome. I’ll have to remember to share that one with Pam in the morning.

  3. It’s almost ironic that you forgot to update the Where’s Fred? board. Guess you need to program that into your automatic pilot. It’ll certainly save on long distance phone bills and ease Pam’s mind. Not to mention keep you out of the dog house!

  4. Heck, it IS ironic, skip the “almost”! I’m working on reprogramming myself, but it’s a slow process. I’m so used to gliding from one task directly to the next that inserting the “Stop and Post!” is…I guess if I started thinking of it like double clutching an 18 wheeler between gears, that might help.

  5. you might try hooking up a CB radio or geting those handy dandy walkie talkies that work really good for a mile or two or for when you’re out and about working around the place. They work really good especially in flat country. I use them on every job and took them shopping at the mall; one for the wife and one for me. I went to the sections I like and she looked at clothes on sale to her hearts content.

  6. Those are both good, workable suggestions. Or would have been; Pam and I no longer live under the same roof. We had to move her up to northern Utah to live with her daughter’s family as of early January, 2015, to get better medical care. Idiot M.D. down here cut her pain meds by nearly 20% in November. Took her “over the edge” to the point that she couldn’t keep her weight up to her “danger point” of 90 pounds. She weighed 83 pounds when we got her to her new primary care practitioner (who happens to be the daughter’s employer). Two weeks later, she was up to 94.6 pounds and still cramming in the food with a target set at 105 pounds. Which will be awesome; I’ve not seen her as high as 100 pounds in years.

    When we’re in stores (mall or whatever) in different sections, we rely on our cell phones.

  7. Well; I don’t know if the move was good or bad for ya but it seems to have benefited your Wife. This is another situation where our worlds are parallel. One of my wives has a terminal health condition. I knew when we married but; it didn’t matter to me. I was neck deep in Oil field equipment manufacturing, college and starting a commercial diving business and she was very ill.

    We parted ways but not from scrapping or discord. Our life had just become too complex for HER! Sometimes business obligations just can’t be simply walked away from when there are contracts involved.

    We stayed friends and stayed in contact for a good long while. My offshore diving and niche for high risk and saturation diving was again too much. So the communications dribbled down to none. She succumb to her illness without me there or even knowing about it for over a year. That was sad.

  8. Any move that benefits my wife is a good one for me.

    My 2nd ex (and a dear friend) passed last summer, terminal cancer. I did get to hear about it a few weeks before she went, but she’d been diagnosed with inoperative cancer nearly 18 months earlier. I’ve seen her once in the dream state since; she was looking good and beaming good will at me. 🙂

  9. It’s good you were able to close that chapter in such a positive way. That’s how I see life; in chapters of a book or like a divers log book every note worthy event is accounted for in it’s pages.

  10. Seeing life as a series of chapters does make sense…if you can spot where one chapter ends and the next one begins, which isn’t all that easy for me at times.

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