What Happened to the Laundry?

A few days ago, I was doing our laundry in the basement of our small apartment building. After washing one load, I put it in the dryer, filled the washer with a second load, and went back to our apartment.

I came down an hour later, expecting to find both washer and dryer cycles finished. Instead, I found them still going. The LED on the washer indicated that there were still forty-seven minutes remaining in its cycle. I interrupted the dryer cycle and found that the clothes were still very damp.

What was going on?

My first thought was that I'd forgotten to turn both the dryer and the washer on after loading. I had previously done so occasionally, on one machine or the other, but never both at the same time. Since both machines were now running, of course, there was no logic to my thinking, but it took a while for that to sink in.

It took me a bit to realize I should open the washer to see what was in there. I was surprised and a little confused to find clothes belonging to someone else.

How did they get there? Then I noticed a basketful of our dry laundry on top of the washer. Where did that come from? Had I forgotten even to put the clothes into the washer? Had I forgotten to turn the washer on, which encouraged another person to empty our dirty laundry from the machine and start washing his?

The best way to figure that out, I thought, was to check the dry clothes in the basket to see if they were clean or dirty. It wasn't obvious to me. These were the dark clothes and I couldn't remember whether I'd put the light clothes or the dark clothes into the washer first, so that didn't help me figure out whether they were clean or dirty. I then reasoned that the clothes in the basket should be warm if they'd just come out of the dryer, but they were only slightly warm in the middle of the basket, so what did that mean?

I see now that, as I tried to make sense of the situation, I somehow couldn't keep these few bits of information simultaneously in my mind.

  • I'd waited an hour, but both machines are on.
  • The washing machine indicates forth-seven minutes left in the cycle.
  • The clothes in the dryer are still damp.
  • A basket full of our dry clothes sits on top of the washer.

I stood there going back and forth in my mind, checking the dry clothes, trying to figure it out.

Slowly, bit-by-bit, I realized: Someone else had come down, taken my dry clothes from the dryer and put them into my empty laundry basket, then put my wet clothes from the washer into the dryer and finally started washing his clothes.

Even after I thought of that possibility, however, I wasn't sure; it seemed a little complicated. I left the dryer going to finish its cycle and took the dry clothes to our apartment, but the uncertainty cleared only slowly.

I had been confused, of course. In previous episodes of confusion, however, I'd realized I was confused during the confusion. This time I became aware only gradually after it was clearing.

In reflecting on this, I notice how episodic my confusion is.

I'm lucid the overwhelming majority of the time: Over the weekend, I gave a short talk without notes and led a discussion for an hour and a half without trouble; I can usually figure out computer complication or keep our finances in order. At our church yearly budget meeting, I was helpful in clarifying some complications. I haven't had much trouble writing this post and explaining (in a hopefully unconfused way) the state of my confusion.

As a general rule, I'm not confused at all, and then suddenly something like this happens.

As usual, my laundry-room episode didn't bother me emotionally. Things like this are still more fascinating than troubling, and I've learned to let them go. In addition, episodes of obvious impairment resolve those fragments of uncertainty that still bother me after all the tests that were normal.

I'm having these episodes more often, though: putting the cabinets together  with my son Kai, confusion on the train , and now this.

It's nothing dramatic like getting lost  and it's a very slow and uneven process, but the impairment does seem to be worsening.

An author and former physician, Dr. David Hilfiker was diagnosed in 2012 with a progressive mild cognitive impairment. His doctor thought it was Alzheimer's but additional testing proved this initial diagnosis to be wrong. Now David must learn how to come to terms with the reality of worsening cognitive issues that appear to have no cause.

Visit: Watching the Lights Go Out

View full profile

You May Also Like See all guides >

Veterans' Benefits

Find federal benefits available to your family.

Home Care

How to find, hire and manage home care.

Caregivers' Survival

Everything you need to care for an elderly family member.

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!