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If you're new to this blog and want some context for it, read this post from the day I announced my Alzheimer's disease and this post about the day I announced I had lost it. For more info, visit my website with my autobiography and all blog entries in chronological order for easier reading to catch up. There's also a sermon on the spiritual lessons I've learned through this journey through my damaged mind.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Written: Wednesday, August 27
Amtrak, somewhere in Iowa

Where am I?  What’s throwing me around so roughly?  Which way is up? 

It’s pitch black.  Noise as if the world is ending surrounds me.  I’m completely disoriented.  What’s happening?  More than my worst nightmare, primal terror fills my consciousness.  Where am I?

Oh, yes.  Laurel’s house, sleeping with Marja on the pull-out futon in their den.  Of course … an earthquake.  We need to get under a door frame.  I try to stand up.  What’s this stuff on the floor blocking my path?  I have to crawl toward the door over whatever it is on the floor.  My terror begins to subside but the adrenaline rush keeps me shaking.  Marja has woken: “Where are we?”  She sounds less terrified that irritated by the interruption to her sleep.  I reach the door; the light switch doesn’t work.   I move out into the hallway and finally my son-in-law’s flashlight pierces the darkness.

My daughter Laurel and her family live in Napa, about 6 miles from the epicenter of Monday’s 6.0 earthquake, the most powerful in northern California since 1989.  It struck at 3:20 am.  I had fallen asleep only an hour earlier, and the shuddering earth woke me abruptly from deep sleep.  No wonder I was so disoriented.  I can still find no words to describe the terror.

The house suffered no structural damage.  The worst was the mess: fallen pictures, toppled shelves, computer monitors, all thrown to the floor.  Glass shards lay everywhere: from wine glasses on shelves (this is the Napa Valley, after all), from Mason jars stored above the cabinets, and from the glass protecting pictures.  In our room, which Laurel normally uses for her small Internet business, two computer screens and all sorts of supplies spilled across the room.  Near the door had been five fairly heavy wooden boxes stacked loosely one on top of the other, unattached to a wall.  The crashing and banging that had awakened me was the whole stack’s toppling and spilling its contents over the room.  Fortunately, our bed wasn’t in its path.

Given the power of the earthquake, the Napa area also got off relatively lightly.   Three people were critically injured but none killed, gas and water lines broke causing some fires, some buildings were damaged as were some roads.  More immediately for us, no trains would be moving until railroad inspectors approved the tracks, bridges and tunnels within a hundred-mile radius.  We rescheduled our trip home for the next day.

My thoughts keep returning to that initial minute of terror.  The terror had no object, nothing I could identify as dangerous.  It was just a moment of sheer chaos, disruption, and unknowing unlike any I’d ever known.  For the past several days, I’ve searched for words to describe the feeling but have found nothing remotely up to the task.

I wonder if some people, upon learning their diagnosis Alzheimer’s or other dementia, experience a similar terror, a nameless dread.  Perhaps long after the diagnosis, some still wake in the middle of the night to that visceral panic even beyond the rational fear of the disease.  Words of comfort cannot sooth the terror, much less dispel it. 

It’s painful for the rest of us to remain physically and emotionally present to the terror of another.  We, too, are afraid of the helplessness and may pull away, unable to bear it when our ministrations are ineffective or, worse, rebuffed.  At such moments we can only share in the agony of the one we love ... and remain present. 


  1. So glad you guys are okay and that the physical damage, given the power of this quake, was so light overall. And I can't believe you were able to write about terror like this so soon! Here's to not having to be all alone with our terror, to having others who can remain present with us and to being able to remain present with them.

    1. Anonymous9/01/2014

      C'est vrai. Es Verdad! So true--what a relief to get THIS story instead of others that might have happened! Peace.

  2. Glad you are all okay. I've only been in one earthquake (In Denver) and I remember walking down the hallway like a drunk, staggering from one side of the hallway to the other, back and forth. It was really strange.

    I think any health scare causes that nameless dread. When I had my embolism, I wasn't scared at all. But in the days and weeks afterward, I would wake up anxious, fearing that I couldn't breathe deep, or having chest pains, or slightly dizzy. I went to the ER four times in four months. Because I'd worry about chest pains and soon I would have chest pains. My anxiety caused all kinds of symptoms of embolism. I finally started seeing a therapist, and after seeing him for six months, we're ready to end the therapy. We spend more time now laughing and talking off topic than we do any constructive therapy. So I think I'm ready. And I rationalized it in the past six months as I think if I had a choice, falling over dead with an embolism is far preferable to Alzheimers or cancer. So I guess I'll just take whatever comes.


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