Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: A new “home”

10 Dec 2022 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

In her sixth instalment of ‘Midsummer madness,’ blogger Geraldine Durrant addresses the various ways her home changed as a result of her husband’s dementia diagnosis.

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

In the weeks after Patrick’s diagnosis the house not only started to look different, but it smelled different too…

I love lavender, so wherever possible I have always chosen lavender-scented washing powder, household cleaners and candles to use around the house.

All houses have their own distinctive smell, and to me that slightly astringent floral scent has always said “home.”

But not any more…

My eldest granddaughter, a medical student, arrived at the door, sniffed, and said “Nana – your house smells clean…”  which – given the amounts of Dettol I had been using to mop up what we must modestly refer to as  “accidents” – was scarcely surprising.

Still, there are worse things – much worse and smellier things – than a whiff of disinfectant, so I tried to be glad I was keeping up on the hygiene front at least.

Other changes were more visible than sniffable.

My bedroom, with its mahogany four-poster bed and pretty French bedlinen had always been a haven of comfort and calm.

Now it resembled a hospital ward.

The first time Patrick removed both his night nappy and indeed his catheter – ouch! – I realised the double duvet would have to go.

Like the padded quilt which usually lay atop it, it was too big for the washing machine and had to be hand-washed in the bath, where it would drain for 24 hours before being draped to dry for a further day over the heated towel rail.

But I no longer had the time or energy for such niceties, and so it was replaced with a single duvet and a couple of soft synthetic blankets which could be turned round in a couple of hours.

Our wide windowsill – formerly home to a Victorian swing mirror – was now stocked with a plethora of pills, cartons of adult nappies, wipes, a pee bottle and a spare set of bedding ready to hand for the dawn emergencies which were ever more frequent…

A mop, bucket and cleaning materials stood silently sentry in the bathroom and every time they were pressed into action – which was very often – I thanked God we had hard floors everywhere.

And extra ‘stuff’ seemed to arrive daily.

There was a non-slip mat and grab rails for the shower, a waterproof seat cover for Patrick’s armchair and a clock with large blue numbers to tell him indisputably when it was night time and I was not to be disturbed unless the house was on fire.

And maybe not even then…

I found soap-on-a-rope, a real seventies blast-from-the-past, as Patrick was no longer able to grasp a slippery bar and was in constant danger of toppling over in the shower if he bent to retrieve one…

While a cunning device helped him put on his socks, my arthritic fingers struggling to manage this, and Patrick – with his two artificial hips – unable to reach the end of his toes.

It all reminded me of the Sunday newspapers of my youth in which the back pages were filled with adverts for innovative inventions from trusses to x-ray glasses, and torture-like devices to straighten the back, or tuck in the tummy.

I had become a gadget junkie and could hardly wait for the next life-changing must-have to give me my fix.

Meanwhile I was increasingly concerned for Patrick’s hearing.

I was not sure if he was going deaf, or if he had merely got into the annoying habit of saying “what?” every time I opened my mouth, so I arranged to have his ears syringed.

This had previously required an annual pilgrimage to the surgery nurse but “due to Covid” I had to make an £80 appointment at a private clinic.

But as so often happened, ten minutes before we were due to go, Patrick announced he was “too ill” to leave the house – although the exact nature of this illness was, as ever, indicated by no more than a vague wave about his person.

Was it his head? His stomach? He wouldn’t say.

However I was not prepared to lose the booking fee on so slight a pretext as one of his imaginary ailments, so – not for the first time – the Riot Act was read.

“We are going to this appointment if I have to drag you there by the scruff of your neck, and we are going there NOW,” I declared, in a voice which brooked no argument.

But even as I bundled him like a balky toddler into the car, I couldn’t help but worry that one day – like the boy who cried “Wolf!” –  Patrick might indeed be ill and I simply wouldn’t believe him…

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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