Alzheimer’s Anecdotes, Chapter 10: Who Are You?

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The “Who Are You?” anecdote happened today, but wait. We need a bit of backstory.

Alzheimer’s or no Alzheimer’s, Pam had been vibrant and busy ever since Tuesday when she accompanied me to town to interview a potential live-in companion (who was not the right fit) while grabbing a late lunch at iHop. After the lunch meeting, we hit the Big Lots store where a beautiful, brand new Simmons recliner jumped out at us and screamed, “Buy me!”

So we did. The price was right, the mossy oak camouflage pattern was awesome, and most of all, she needed a new chair.

Never mind that I wound up having to saw the old blue recliner in half to get it out of the house. The beast was heavy, but most of all, it was tall. I’d lugged it into her bedroom with a bit of a boost from Pam so it could be set down straight without the fabric brushing the floor, but we’d not yet cluttered up the house with things like, you know, kitchen cabinets and tables, a front porch, and all that. The new chair is actually a bit wider than the old one but also has a shorter back and weighs probably thirty pounds less. I was able to carry it in without resorting to a chainsaw or anything.

It was a good thing we got rid of the old one. Turned out that was what was triggering her allergies so badly. Cat hair, lint, plain old dirt, and a number of nasty smells (according to her nose, not mine), all of that went out with the blue beast. Of course, we cleaned that part of the floor, too.

Happy Days!

Naturally, she’d dinged her neck, turning around to watch it rock (it’s a rocking chair, too) all the way home in the back of the truck, 17 miles from store door to our door, the final two miles made up of dirt, rocks, and ruts. But it was it was up and ready to use for her 63rd birthday on September 10th.

Pam's new chair.

Pam’s new chair.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014. Pam’s birthday, and a fine birthday it turned out to be. Her eldest daughter had sent a stunning snow globe music box with silvery decorations and a heart inscribed with a quote:

All that I am
I owe to my mother.
____George Washington

She worried all day about that showing up on time, but sure enough, it was waiting at the Post Office when we got there. Before that, we’d hit the dump–technically the refuse transfer station–to get rid of the pieces of her old chair and a bunch of other bagged trash that didn’t qualify for the burn barrel. After emptying out the truck, it was time for lunch at Denny’s (late again) and then I dropped her off at a strip mall to shop while I went to Walmart. I’ve long since blacklisted her from Walmart; she gets in there and I can’t get her out, usually for hours and even then under duress at that. She’s come to terms with that, though, and appreciated being left to shop alone, first at Cato’s–where the staff ticked her off, so she left–and then at Ross’s, where she met a wonderful six foot tall blonde lady (Pam is five feet even) who had five kids with her but still took time out to befriend my redhead.

Wait. There’s more.

In the evening, her son Zach and daughter in law Stephy came out to our place to visit. While they were here, they promised to show up a lot. They feel they need to “help Mom” and volunteered to be here “every day” to take care of her, starting with helping her de-clutter her bedroom.

Well, yay rah for that!

And now…the anecdote.

Thursday, September 11, 2014. Today was the third day in a row she planned to be out and about. That’s a lot of stress even if it’s all “good stress”. I did not realize that she was telling me she was leaving to go help Zach and his wife find a vacuum cleaner; I thought she was saying they were coming here to start helping with the bedroom clutter. Not that she had my full attention; there were business matters I needed to attend to on the phone.

It wasn’t until she was nearly ready to go that I realized she was “cleaning up” to go out in public. Doing a great job of it, too, until I suddenly heard her squawking repeatedly. I jumped up from my desk, darted the few yards to the utility room–and found her with her curling iron on high and the iron stuck in her hair, refusing to come out! How she’d managed that, I’m not sure; it’s not like she has a lot of hair to get tangled. Besides, I was barely focused on the problem by the time she got it out by herself.

Later, though, after she’d left for the afternoon, I happened to check the curling iron. Fortunately, it’s a “cool” iron, brush type, not just metal–but she’d left it turned on. On the HIGH setting. With the barrel lying on a towel on top of our cluttered little table full of Q-Tips, boxes of Band Aids, etc.

Which explained the burned hair aroma I’d been picking up for a minute or so.

Person with Alzheimer's under stress:  Rushing to get ready to help her son go shopping for a vacuum cleaner, Pam left her curling ironed turned on HIGH with the barrel resting on a towel.

Person with Alzheimer’s under stress: Rushing to get ready to help her son go shopping for a vacuum cleaner, Pam left her curling ironed turned on HIGH with the barrel resting on a towel.

Wait. That’s not the punch line. That’s just the backstory, or most of it. There is one more detail; she’d lost her keys again. I had to get out the spare Subaru key for her; she found the keys in her purse some time later.

Okay, now that’s the backstory, the setup if you will, all pointing to the key: She was on her third day of running hard (for her), unquestionably stressed, frazzled mightily despite loving every minute of it.

When she got home around 7:00 p.m., she shared the punch line. At one point during the day, she’d been unable to remember her son’s name.

“I’m your son, Zach,” he told her, which was exactly the right way to handle it. “Do you remember now, Mom?”

“I knew who you were,” she replied, meaning she knew he was her son, “but I just couldn’t remember your name.”

In other words, “Who are you?” was the right question. As soon as they got it squared away between them, Pam encouraged Zach to laugh about it. “We might as well laugh now,” she told him, “while I can still see the humor of it. It’s funny to me!”

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