In this first instalment of our new series, ‘Midsummer madness,’ blogger Geraldine Durrant relays the story of how her husband came to be diagnosed with dementia…
Two years ago, on my 70th birthday, I paused as one does on landmark occasions, to take stock and concluded Life had been kind to me.
I had been happily married to my husband Patrick for 50 years, we have three sons who are commendably fond of us, and five grandchildren who are a constant source of fun and pride.
We were comfortably off, and in good physical health – our two replacement joints apiece had been quickly forgotten and we were both enjoying a pain-free new lease of life.
So far, so very good – and yet…
There was a small cloud over my happiness, an as yet indefinable niggle which hovered on the edge of my consciousness.
It was still too slight a nag to be named but I was aware that over the previous two years Patrick had shown signs of growing anxiety, which mainly manifested itself in an increasing reluctance to go out.
The theatre trips we had always enjoyed became fewer – and there were times, maddening times, when ten minutes before we were due to go out somewhere, he would dig in his heels and refuse to leave the house for no reason I could readily discern.
Some hint of unwellness, a vague wave of the hand about his head, or his abdomen, was all the clue he could give, and I began to lose count of the times a friend would be hastily drafted in to use a spare ticket.
This apart, Patrick seemed well.
He is seven years older than I, and I ascribed his behaviour to ageing and tiredness, pushing my uneasiness to the back of my mind while still keeping a watchful eye on him.
And then, two months after my birthday, lockdown happened.
For someone so reluctant to go out, government-mandated staying-indoors was, if anything, a godsend and we settled into a calm daily routine, resolving to make the best of it.
We enjoyed our garden, went for daily walks in local parks and made a date night of the National Theatre productions generously aired free each Thursday night.
Family quizzes, Zoom calls, home deliveries and distanced chats with the neighbours saw us through the ensuing weeks pleasantly enough, and freed of any demands to mingle or exert himself, Patrick enjoyed a “good” lockdown.
But our retreat from real life could not last and as the world started to wake up, it became increasingly obvious he could not deal with it.
The undemanding months at home had eaten away at his confidence, and with his memory also now failing I took him to the GP.
And two days after that we were in Casualty.
It had become suddenly apparent that Patrick couldn’t pee voluntarily, his bladder only voiding its contents when it was too full to hold any more and then he fell over in the front garden banging his head.
Catheterised, and after a battery of tests including a brain scan, he was admitted to a ward and I made my way home alone.
The following day I picked him up at the hospital entrance, any access to the ward – and to the medical staff who had cared for him overnight – being denied “because of Covid.”
A dauntingly large bag of plastic pipework for his catheter was thrust into my hands – “there’s a leaflet” being all the advice I was offered as to its use – and I loaded my exhausted husband and his luggage into the car.
“So what is wrong, did they tell you,” I asked him anxiously as we drove away, but he just shook his head.
“I don’t know, I can’t remember,” he said. “I just want to go home…”
Only later, after I had settled him into bed and started to unpack his things did I find, tucked between his dirty laundry and his wash bag, the diagnosis which has shattered our lives.
The printout was so faded I had to hold it to the light to decipher the pale type: Patrick, it said bluntly, had “quite marked cerebral atrophy”.
I didn’t need to Google what it meant – I had seen what the same diagnosis had done to my younger brother who had Multiple Sclerosis.
It was evidence of inevitable dementia and meant Patrick, my Patrick, would never really come home again.
So on Midsummer’s Day, the longest day of the year – the longest day of my life – I went to bed and wept.
For both of us.
Geraldine Durrant is a retired journalist, feature writer and children’s author who – since her husband was diagnosed with dementia a year ago – has kept a diary about her experiences as a carer for her husband. We will have the privilege of publishing Geraldine’s incredibly personal writing on the blog every Saturday, so keep your eye out for more on this series.
If what Geraldine has written here resonates with you in some way, please do leave a comment to let her know.