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


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.

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

  1. Today I got to tell Dennis that the day was Fri. at least a dozen times. Rodger and Katy also told him several times. We have had to start taking shifts with him, to make sure he does not take his pills at the wrong time. I caught him giving himself his diabetes shot at the wrong time. I now get them ready and he is not allowed to get them out of the cupboard, one of us has to. We also have a check list so we know the others are on the same timeline. Katy gets up early and I stay up all night with him. There are about three hours when someone is not up to be with him. Rodger is working and so he takes his shifts during the weekend. Katy and I need a break once in a while.
    Tonight he took a nap and comes out and asked me if it was 9:00 in the morning. I had to tell him that it was night time. It was dark out and he didn’t even get that clue.

  2. Pam didn’t get that clue either, despite the fact that it was merely dusk when the confusion started and it GOT dark while we were discussing the matter. It’s good to hear Rodger’s working, though. We met up in Walmart on Thursday but when he said he was working I didn’t think to ask him at what. Also good that there are three of you to split the shifts. I’ve had that number calculated for years. Pam and I decided today that we’ll give our new Help Wanted ad one month and then, if it’s not producing, shell out the shekels to make it more visible, a display ad rather than a simple classified. Hopefully, IF we can round up a “right person”, the new employee and I can survive until Jennifer is ready to join us in 2017…and then we’ll have our three.

  3. He didn’t tell me that he saw you but Rodger is working at a place that does a lot of things, but landscaping is the thing they do the most. They do a lot of work for apartment buildings, landscaping and occasionally clearing out and washing down the walls of an apartment. He really likes it. It started out part time, but is working into more hours for him. They have discovered that he works and that is giving him more hours. Some of the people they had do not work there any more. He is working all over between Bisbee and Benson, out of Sierra Vista.
    Biggest problem is that they start at 6:00 am and he is a night person, like me. I stay up and have to just about drag him out of bed and get him going in the morning. He sleeps hard, like me.

  4. Ah. Zach is the same way. When he stayed with us in Montana for a while at age 18 and had a job at McDonald’s, we had to order a special alarm clock from the Internet in order to find one loud enough to roust him where he slept in the camp trailer. Glad Rodger likes it other than that, though; liking a job can make all the difference in the world.

  5. It must be so sad for both of you to see simple things getting stuck in the cobwebs. I can only imagine the frustration Pam feels over losing control. It’s a good idea to bring someone in to help you, Ghost. Have you thought of checking into a nursing service that has experience with Alzheimer’s patients and comes to the home?

  6. Thanks for commenting, Sha. We’ve not put much thought into a nursing service except to reject the concept categorically. We’ve never seen a nurse who wouldn’t cross swords with us sooner or later, thinking she was the pro and “knew best”. Also, having someone “come in” to our place feels like an invasion. We’d both be more likely to lock and load than to appreciate it. Plus, most “normal” vehicles can’t even cross the wash on Paloma Trail for two or three months out of the year; most people we know are not interested in meandering out here into the boonies. Frankly, it terrifies them. And most importantly, experience with Alzheimer’s patients is one thing, but experience with Pam per se is quite another…and that doesn’t even count experience with me.

  7. I am the lover of your stories;);) ALL of them!!! Am awaiting for you to finish up putting one up here;) You are a man if your word and i enjoyed the chapter so much! I completely understand your last comment!!! Had I known about the area where you are, we would be neighbors, seriously! I moved not off grid for the husband. I bought the place in Tonopah Az. And THAT was off grid to him!!! It got rid of him BUT I am here. Don’t get me wrong, I love my animals and have don’t mind my neighbors BUT prefer solitude. I could NEVER ever do a roommate! You all seem as if you have a great communication with the young lady coming from prison. I would need that. Also folks ‘coming in’ invariably get into your business more often than not! I have seen a horror story like this first hand!!! I was a waitress in Florida in the late 1990’s . I had many couples who would only permit me to wait on them. There was a great couple. He idolized her and they got along fabulously. I waited on these people for 7 years and saw his lovely wife become more and more lost in herself because of this damned disease. Her daughter, never visited but finally got the LAW involved because HE was older!!! The man had the mind of a young man, alas she was basically kidnapped AND declined so rapidly she was deceased by the time the LAW sided with the right side, the ONLY side!!! I saw this with my own eyes. It terrified me!!! I ambit saying this always happens BUT I am with you. Ghost;) Pam sounds great 😉 I love people BUT I love being alone too and am as set in my ways as an old mule;);) Always great to communicate!!! Now I am off to read more from my favorite site…. Yours;) A GREAT NEW YEAR!!

  8. Wow, Sandy–what a comment! Thanks!

    On the Alzheimers front, I can say that any relation we have, be it from my side of the family or Pam’s, knows better than to try getting the law involved in our situation, for a whole bunch of reasons… and I’ll leave it at that. (Though you can probably fill in the blanks, since you’re read so much of my fiction.)

  9. I started reading your posts about your house build this morning. One story led to another. This is not a regular day for me as I stayed home sick. I have been reading your posts and other people’s comments all day now. I’m hooked.

  10. I am not up to date on your character of a wife but do hope she is well and that you both still enjoy humor in the midst of struggles.

  11. Thanks, Melanie. I haven’t been adding episodes for some time, mostly because things have been wild, hectic, and sometimes more than a bit challenging…and too tough to discuss, even if I could find the time. Bottom line, yes, she is still hanging in there, though “well” could never be used to describe her accurately.

    Last October, pursuant to an extreme psychotic break and being treated with absolutely the wrong drugs in the first facility, she ended up in two hospitals with a Life Flight in between, was expected to die, and shipped off to hospice. That irritated her so effectively that she was out of the hospice and very much alive in 4 1/2 days (following 17 days of hardcore hospitalization, for a nearly 22 day total stay in the various facilities).

    One of her lungs was barely functioning, but she was out!

    We’ve since moved from southern Arizona back to my home state of Montana, specifically the town of Deer Lodge, back on grid, though she’s going to have to snowbird a bit and her only trustworthy doctor is in Arizona. As for humor? You bet; both of us still have that. Pam’s body continues to fail and her dementia is still there, but she can still sparkle. You ought to have seen her joy when she found out our local McDonald’s restaurant, which had been closed for remodeling, was back in business!

    Today’s struggle, though (humor and all), focused on the toilet in her bathroom. It was an elongated bowl version, and she needed a round bowl. So I drove down to our local home improvement store (less than a mile from the house, believe it or not) and got a new toilet. Everything went smoothly until it was time to lift the old bowl up off of the bolts, following which one thing led to another and a simple two hour job transmogrified into a two day odyssey. I will write about that IF I can find the time, once the final obstacle is conquered and she once again has a functioning potty!

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