Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: Catheters and late-night wanderings

19 Nov 2022 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

In her third instalment of ‘Midsummer madness,’ blogger Geraldine Durrant celebrates the arrival of her husband’s catheter equipment and despairs at his late night antics…

You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.

I NEVER imagined I would be thrilled to receive a box containing a supply of catheter equipment, but if dementia does nothing else, it teaches you what is Really Important in Life.

So when I returned from yet another trip to the hospital to find a large and discreetly anonymous box waiting on the doorstep I was delighted.

A passing opportunist thief might have felt less grateful for this bounty had they liberated it in my absence, but for me it was Christmas come early and, as I unpacked the night bags, the day bags, the straps and the wipes, the night stand and the disposal bags I found myself smiling.

Which made a change…

You will have to believe me when I say I am usually calm, and sensible, good in emergencies and not given to unseemly displays of public emotion.

Yet ever since Patrick’s diagnosis with dementia I had done nothing but burst into tears.

Crying myself to sleep on that first night was of course forgivable, but thereafter I found myself weeping at the slightest provocation…

If I had to hang on to get hold of someone on the phone I could feel the tears start to my eyes.

If I had to explain to a receptionist that I really did have to accompany my husband to his appointment my voice would start to thicken and choke as I tried to get the words out.

And if anyone was the least bit kind to me they would be rewarded with sobs.

And then I would cry because it was so sad to be crying…

I felt pathetic – but I also felt raw as though a layer of skin between me and the world had been removed leaving me exposed and vulnerable.

In my old life in journalism I had interviewed film stars, princes and politicians; I had listened to often harrowing stories from ordinary people coping with extraordinary events, and I had never once broken down – or at least not until I had reached the privacy of my car.

But suddenly I found myself walking round Waitrose praying I wouldn’t meet anyone I hadn’t seen in a while in case they asked me how I was…

Because the only honest answer, if I had been able to articulate it in those early days, would have been “a complete mess”… 

Eventually I realised I was just going to have to play the cards Life had dealt us, and remembering what the nuns at convent school had always said about the importance of “backbone”, I dried my eyes and set about establishing a new daily routine.

Throughout our marriage Patrick had always brought me breakfast in bed, giving me a chance to peruse the papers before the start of my day.

Now he was too wobbly to trust with a laden tea tray and I was the one “up betimes,” my previous idle start to the day a mere memory.

Like a well-trained butler I drew back the curtains daily, emptied his bulging night bag and enquired how my charge had passed the hours of darkness.

This last inquiry was mostly redundant as I was usually all too aware of what he had been up to – but still it seemed only polite to ask.

“I slept badly,” was his invariable and rather grumpy reply.

But never as badly as I had slept.

Because even on those nights when he wasn’t actually roaming the corridors, Patrick still kept me awake.

Like the parent of a new baby I could never ‘let go’ but dozed with one ear open awaiting his nightly visitations and endless litany of demands – would I replace a quilt which had dropped off the bed, plump a pillow, replenish a drink…

No job too small to wake me up for. No plea for some respite acknowledged. Or, which was saddest, even understood…

Every creak of a floorboard, every rattle of a pipe had me tensing as I waited for the next bomb to go off and blast me from my warm bed.

While the adrenalin rush which followed every summons saw me lying awake for an hour afterwards, desperately counting down how many minutes I still had left until the morning alarm was due to sound off.

Part of the trouble, I realised, was Patrick’s catheter.  

Without having to get up to pee several times a night, he didn’t doze as much in the day, so by 8pm he was exhausted and ready to settle for the night.

But if he fell asleep so early, he would have seven hours of sleep by 3am and would consequently be ready to party.

Which he did…

But as often as I raised the bedroom blind to reveal the inky night outside, he would only shout: “Are you mad? It’s lunchtime and I should have been dressed hours ago!”

I confess I was middle-class enough to wonder if our neighbours could hear this near-nightly lunacy, and if so what they made of it…

But mostly I recalled the small pleasures I had never really appreciated in our old life, and wondered if I would ever have a decent night’s sleep, a lie-in or a cup of tea in bed, again…

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 his carer. We have the privilege of publishing Geraldine’s incredibly personal story on our blog every Saturday, so keep your eye out for more on this series next Saturday.

If what Geraldine’s writing resonates with you in some way, please do leave a comment to let her know.

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