Adventures in Alzheimer’s – microwaves on fire edition

by Julie Frayn on May 25, 2015 in  Adventures in Alzheimer's,Mama Bird,Writing

Baby girl and the boy who sleeps with her took Mom her meds one morning and discovered the microwave in the bathtub.

Turns out, it lit on fire. So Mom’s fix was to pour water into it. Then she wrangled it to the bathroom and dumped it in the tub, then filled the tub with water.

It’s a miracle (if you believe in that sort of thing – which I don’t) that she didn’t electrocute herself.

She told them that she walked by the microwave oven, the door was flapping open like the jaws of a robotic dog from hell, and fire was spewing out. Okay, she didn’t say anything about robotic dogs, but their retelling of the incident, complete with a demonstration with the door of my own microwave, brought that vision to mind. Either way, uh, nope. Didn’t happen.

Baby girl and the boy who is joined at her hip surmised that Mom had put a metal pot in the oven and sparks were flying. It wasn’t the first time we found the normally white insides of her microwave charred black.

Luckily, my systir’s old microwave (still viable and only a little dusty) was in Mom’s basement. Baby girl retrieved it and installed it where the now-drowned one used to be, then brought the drowned oven home to be properly disposed of. They did give Mom a lesson in microwave etiquette (no metal!), and how to use the new, tiny, barely readable buttons.


She called my systir, Carolyn, and later, me. There was another microwave fire and we all had to be told. We surmised that the label on a Nutella bottle was to blame. You see, Mom keeps her Nutella in the freezer. She keeps most everything in the freezer. Then she has to nuke the Nutella so she can pour it into her coffee mug, add water and lemonade and coffee, so she can drink it. Really. She does that.

Sigh. Big, heaving, breathy, goddamned sigh.

We ran over, unplugged the oven, and took it back to the basement.

I read her the Nutella jar. Do not refrigerate or microwave. It says that, right there on the label. I wrote it on the lid in blue Sharpie and put it away in her cupboard. Then we went and bought her a new microwave. An easy one with big buttons and readable numbers. We brought it home to her, taped post-it-notes over the buttons with simple usage instructions. Open. Cook. Start. She promptly wrote that out on a paper towel and affixed it to the microwave.

open cook start

Of course, she puts in her food, closes the door, then reads the instructions. First thing, open.


More notes warn of no metal, no Nutella, etc, etc… So far so good. She’s two months in with no microwave fires.



{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Ey Wade May 25, 2015 at 6:16 pm

Oh, my God. I’m stuck between laughing and being horrified.


Julie Frayn May 26, 2015 at 5:50 am

Laughing works for me :)

Carolyn Frayn May 25, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Jaws of a robotic dog from hell! Lol… I ran over a couple of times when she said it was burning, but I thought it was sparking. Little J helped us figure out the nutella label was burning and that it wasn’t a pot the second time… Burning, sparking, argh… we have such smart kids. Thankful for the microwave you got mom, with those lovely big buttons. I don’t know how many times we all explained the small ones. And ew, nutella and lemon coffee. :)


Julie Frayn May 26, 2015 at 5:51 am

She couldn’t read the little ones. Frankly, neither could I. It’s now a habit, open the microwave and check for charring. So far so good! And it mostly works, except when it doesn’t. That’s usually when she’s unplugged it, and everything else.

Carolyn May 26, 2015 at 11:26 am

Yah. I kept trying to turn her tv on yesterday, Little J said, Mom, it’s unplugged. Duh.

Claire May 25, 2015 at 11:59 pm

Nutella-lemon-coffee is certainly original. Um… Lots of vitamin C? I laughed a lot, but then I felt guilty.

You are so gentle and patient with you mom – kudos!


Julie Frayn May 26, 2015 at 5:52 am

Oh, never feel guilty of finding the humour. It I felt guilty for that, I’d go crazy.

Mary Smith May 26, 2015 at 3:27 am

I like Nutella and I like coffee and was just thinking mmmh, that sounds like an interesting mix – until I realised lemonade was included in it. Hope the new big-button microwave continues to be a success. A fried whose mum has Alzheimer didn’t have that problem but had to remove the stove top cooker knobs to stop her turning it on and forgetting she’d done it.


Julie Frayn May 26, 2015 at 5:53 am

That’s a worry too, but she rarely uses her stove top anymore. That is why we removed her gas stove though, she wouldn’t stop playing with the buttons and was obsessed with the gas. Figured she’d blow herself up!

Yvonne Hertzberger May 26, 2015 at 7:26 am

As someone who lost her mother to Alzheimers this is only too familiar. Your devotion is admirable.


Julie Frayn May 26, 2015 at 8:02 am

Thanks, Yvonne. It’s a family team effort. Some days are more effort than others. It wasn’t that long ago I would go 2 weeks (mired as I get in my own life) and not hear from or need to visit my mother. Now it is a daily thing. How quickly it changes…

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