In her fourth instalment of ‘Midsummer madness,’ blogger Geraldine Durrant takes us through the ‘litany of questions’ she answers for her husband during his morning routine…
You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.
EVENTUALLY – inevitably – life went on…
Patrick took the news of his diagnosis better than I had imagined he might – mainly because five minutes after being told he had been diagnosed with dementia, he had forgotten about it.
He was in his fifties when his mother, who had suffered 30 years of declining mental health died, but he had no recollection of her illness either.
“How could I remember?” he asked indignantly. “I was only two when she died…”
But if his head was filled with a jumble of scattered thoughts and inexplicable fears, I realised I needed to get a grip of mine.
So I started a diary.
A journalist all my working life, writing is as natural to me as breathing and in a world suddenly upended I felt the need to pin down my thoughts and make some sense of what was happening to us.
I had written very many ‘tots’ – ‘triumph over tragedy’ human-interest stories over the course of my career.
But this was different.
This story was about us and whatever our uncertain future was to hold. I already knew there was not going to be any happy ending – no IVF triplets for a barren mother, no American benefactor stepping in to pay for a life-saving operation, no way out…
And even a mere month after Patrick’s diagnosis I was saddened to record how quickly he had begun to decline.
His catheter was a source of utmost astonishment every time he caught a glimpse of the apparatus now permanently strapped to his leg – and there was no hope that he could manage it himself.
I often found his warm and bulging night bag hauled into bed as an improvised hot water bottle when I woke him in the morning; while google assured me his regular night-time escapades were typical of his condition and I was just going to have to live with them.
There was also a new urgency in him to be up and doing in the morning, the legacy perhaps of a well-ordered working life in the RAF and civil aviation.
But he was unable to wash and dress himself without supervision, so if he was up, I was too – no matter how early it was and how tired I felt.
Our morning routine was now broken down into a myriad of oft-repeated questions, and as often as I would say “take off your pyjamas and your vest” before he stepped into the shower, he would ask anxiously: “These pyjamas?”
Or “which laundry basket shall I put them in?
“This one?” – as though we had a multiplicity to choose from.
It was like being stoned to death with peanuts and I could feel a scream knotting in my throat as I answered the daily litany of questions to which the answer was always “yes.”
And once in the shower I had to yell instructions over the noise of the cascading water and Patrick’s indignant protests that he was “getting wet”.
“Use the soap…”
“Wash your head and your botty…” reverting to the baby talk I had once used on our three little sons half a century earlier.
Then I watched Patrick shuffle back into our bedroom where he took an eternity to dry and dress himself in the clean clothes I had laid out ready.
“Do I do up this button?”
“And this one?
It would have been quicker and less nerve-shredding to dress him myself, but I realised even then that ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it,’ so it was important he did what he could for himself
While he could.
However aggravating that might be…
But there was one advantage to being his new Lady of the Bedchamber.
He was much smarter.
For many months previously Patrick had dressed himself from a very narrow selection of somewhat scruffy clothes, which he would have to be persuaded out of before I could launder them.
Now I was in charge, I liberated new pairs of trousers, their labels still intact, hanging in his wardrobe; smart sweaters he had received for Christmas or birthdays but never worn; snazzy socks…
And I surveyed my handiwork with some satisfaction, not least because I had felt his more recent sartorial limitations had reflected rather badly on me.
Anyone looking at him would surely have thought less that he was a rather scruffy fellow, than that I had failed in my wifely duty to see him properly turned out.
Now his weekly beard trim and fresh wardrobe made him look more like the ‘retired officer and gentleman’ that he was, and rather less like a ‘gentleman of the road’…
And that, at least, was good for morale…
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.