I have had a terrible cold, and of course my mother can't remember I'm not feeling well. I've been wearing a surgical mask when I'm in her apartment and this helps her remember to be kind to me, but last night I went into her room after she had gotten into bed. At night her apartment glows softly with three night lights (my compulsive way of assuring that if one bulb goes out, she will still be able to find her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night). The light wasn't sufficient for her to see my mask, however, and so without that cue she mistook my laryngitis for a refusal to answer her greeting. I went about my business, emptying her trashcans and setting out fresh boxes of Kleenex, when suddenly she erupted with an unearthly, horror-movie-worthy yell, someplace between the sound a zombie makes as it emerges from its earthen grave and the beastly vibrato of a mother cow calling her calf. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and goosebumps erupted on my arms as I croaked, "Mom!! Are you all right?"
Her only reply was to repeat her yell, "ahhHHHHHHHhhhhhh!!!"
I fell back against the doorframe with my hand on my heart, and laryngitis gave way to adrenalin: "Mama! Speak to me! ARE YOU OK?"
Again she called, "aaaaHHHHHHHHHhhhhhh!"
I ran to the apartment door calling for my husband, wadded tissues drifting behind me from the open garbage bag still clutched in my hand. He reached the door just as the sound erupted once more.
"What IS that?" he asked, eyes wide.
"It's Mom," I replied.
Encouraged my my husband's presence I ran back to Mom's bedroom doorway, but she shrieked once more and I lost courage. John bravely strode around me right into the room, and stood at the foot of her bed.
"What seems to be the problem?" he asked
Mom immediately answered him in her normal voice, "I'm trying to drive your wife crazy because she wouldn't speak to me," she replied.
Mom has lived with us ten years, and never in that time has John spoken in a grouchy tone to her, not even once. But this time a bit of impatience crept into his voice as he chastised her, "Now Anna Ruth, Linda and I are both sick, and we're doing the best we can to take care of you. No more of that yelling, please. It is upsetting to us."
"Whatever you say," said Mom pleasantly.
John went back to his T.V., and I walked to Mom's bedside. "I love you Mama, and I'm praying for you, and I'm sorry you felt upset," I said.
I bent to pick up the trashcan that sits next to her bed, which placed my right ear about 12 inches from where Mom's head rested on her pillow.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" she replied.
I reeled away gasping, and fled.
Because of her Alzheimer's, Mom often does not fully understand what is going on in her environment. When she receives cues that tell her someone is being rude, it doesn't occur to her that her perceptions might be inaccurate. However, my mother is intelligent and spunky, still able to even the playing field when her daughter the caregiver steps out of line.
I fervently hope this new weapon in Mom's arsenal does not become one she uses often. I'm not sure my nerves can withstand the strain!