Monday, April 18, 2016

Still Jeanne

This year's Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop yielded a huge epiphany for me: I don't have Alzheimer's. (At least, not yet.)

A couple of weeks ago was my third time attending this great conference, The first time was back in 2006, a year after winning the local division of the Erma Bombeck writing contest. My essay, entitled "A Mistake in Identity," told the story of running into my old high school drama teacher at a local theater and gave him a big, exuberant hug, only to realize he was not, in fact, Mr. Scott, but a former co-worker.

What does that have to do with my non-Alzheimer's diagnosis?

Here's the deal: Over the past few months, I've had two separate occasions where I failed to recognize someone at work. These people are not strangers--they're co-workers I've interacted with occasionally for years. The first one occurred when I quoted someone in a meeting, "Well, Janet Schmitt says...." And a middle-aged blonde woman at the table said, "Wait. I'm Janet Schmitt and I never said that."

That one was fairly straightforward. Somewhere along the line I got another woman (young, brunette, apparently prone to false statements) attached to the name Janet Schmitt.

It could happen to anyone.

The second time was a little scarier. This time, I waltzed into a meeting, saw a woman I didn't recognize and thrust out my hand, "Hi. I'm Jeanne. I don't think we've met."

She stared at me, bemused. "I'm Angie," she said. "We work together all the time." While our work together is mostly via email, I had met her face-to-face a few times.

It totally freaked me out.

I came straight home and Googled "impaired facial recognition" and discovered an aggressive though rare form of Alzheimer's that presents with this symptom. Both of my grandmothers spent the last 10 or 15 years of their very long lives (they lived to 97 and 99, respectively) in nursing homes, wearing diapers and not recognizing anyone. Alzheimer's is my greatest fear. I'll take cancer, heart disease or a bad car wreck any day over that bad boy.

The article linked to a Famous Faces test on which I scored 85%. That would have reassured me, but at least one article indicated a score of 85% was iffy (although another said it's only when you score below 50% that you have a problem).

So now I was even more concerned. I talked about it with Old Dog who, thank God, is accustomed to my freakouts. He talked me down. We agreed I'd mention it to the doctor the next time I saw her.

On Friday night at the Workshop, I sat next to a young woman who asked about my ancient contest win. I told her my story of hugging my startled ex-co-worker in front of his equally surprised wife and daughter. And that was when it hit me: I don't have Alzheimer's.

I just suck at recognizing people.


  1. I think we are all allowed Brain Farts from time to time:)

  2. Jeanne, your comic insight overpowers the discussion of embarrassment, perhaps it's a religious attempt at testifying. But, your soul is doomed and we all lower our heads, briefly, as we have no recollection of what for.

    Writer's thrive to enhance their craft but few are as strong as you to broadcast your side effects. Bless you.

    Renee H
    ps - texting this note keeps me safe from falling prey to face blindness. Phew


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