In her ninth instalment of ‘Midsummer madness’ – and the first of 2023 – blogger Geraldine Durrant recounts the infeasibility of rest or “me time” as a full-time carer…
You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.
They say if you want to make God laugh, you should tell Him your plans. So I suspect, that on the August bank holiday weekend last year, the Deity enjoyed a long chuckle at my expense.
We had had an exhausting two weeks at home with workmen and guests but, with the house finally to ourselves, I had promised myself a well-deserved kaftan Sunday doing absolutely nothing…
So when Patrick woke me on the dot of 7.00am to say his bed was sodden my degree of Dissatisfaction with Life would have been hard to describe – or overestimate.
A quick inspection revealed his day bag had become detached and his catheter was draining freely down his leg.
His bed is swathed in more layers of protection than Fort Knox, but instead of a lazy start to the day – full English anyone? – I found myself doing a comprehensive clean up of what I could only call Ground Zero.
I hustled Patrick into the shower, stripped the bed, mopped the floor and put a load into the washing machine.
But hey, I comforted myself, it’s not even 8.00am, the worst is over and at least we are clean and ready for the day…
Which would have been fine except that by 10.00am the day bag was once again leaking and Patrick was back in the shower.
I put on a second batch of laundry and jammed a new day bag in place as firmly as my arthritic fingers would allow – but by noon we were back to square one.
I had no idea why the bag wouldn’t stop leaking – but who do you call on a bank holiday Sunday to ask?
I recalled two help numbers printed on the back of Patrick’s hospital discharge notes so I rang the first and eventually – and I emphasise eventually – a recorded message informed me it was a bank holiday weekend and advised me to ring back.
Aware that by Tuesday I would almost certainly have topped myself, I rang the urology ward. Surely someone would be on duty and could offer me advice?
Well they may have been on duty but they certainly weren’t answering the phone: Patrick was already in his third sodden outfit of the day and the washing machine was sulkily wishing it had been bought by a less-demanding owner.
Our GP was closed except for emergencies – and in any case wet trousers were scarcely that…
Then I had a brainwave.
District nurses. I had never had to call one before but people don’t stop dying just because it’s a long weekend, so surely one of them would be on duty?
A secretary answered, asked my problem and checked her computer.
She had no record of my husband; I would have to go back to the hospital.
I went back to the hospital, waited for another 15 long minutes and still no-one answered.
So I went back to the secretary and cried down the phone.
I told her the hospital had lost Patrick’s notes when he was discharged a month earlier, so perhaps that is why they had failed to notify the nurses he was back at home with a catheter.
Then I asked – very humbly – that, as no-one else had bothered to register him, perhaps I could do it right THEN and get the help I needed.
Ten minutes later a kind girl, young enough to be my granddaughter, appeared on my doorstep like the answer to a prayer.
Catheters, she explained, are the bane of district nurses’ lives: but moments later, with a faulty valve replaced, we were suddenly home and – more importantly – dry…
However the faulty valve proved to be the least of my problems.
Patrick’s diagnosis had turned him into a perfectionist.
He had never been a man to fret himself about details but as he did less and less himself, he became a more intolerant observer of anything I got up to – and it seemed that I was doing everything wrong.
My arthritic fingers failed to ease his socks into quite the right position; his pillows were never plumped entirely to his satisfaction; I closed doors too loudly and didn’t empty his night bag with the necessary promptitude.
The TV programmes I chose for us to watch were all rubbish – and in any case he had seen them all before…
And if I sat down for a cup of tea he would remind me that the dishwasher needed loading or the bins needed taking out.
I tried not to mind.
If I was suddenly an unappreciated Cinderella, dementia was proving to be a very demanding Ugly Sister…
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 Geraldine’s writing resonates with you in some way, please do leave a comment to let her know.