Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: Staying one step ahead of disaster

14 Jan 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Blogger Geraldine Durrant stresses the importance of preparing for the worst in her latest instalment of Midsummer madness…

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

The fragility of our new lives was brought home to me one morning, when I woke up in unexpected agony.

I had done nothing particularly strenuous the previous day but my lower back had locked into a painful knot overnight.

I was too stiff to stand straight, and too sore to do more than shuffle along, half-doubled over.

I knew from past experience that the only way to fix my back would be with heavy duty painkillers, rest and hot pads, but then – as I lay miserably on the bed almost unable to move – I started throwing up.

I didn’t know if it was the pain, my near-terminal tiredness or simply something I had eaten, but Patrick remained utterly oblivious to my plight.

As I hurled my heart up in the lavatory, he stood next to me in the shower asking endless questions about how he might get himself clean.

“Shall I wash this arm?” he asked. “And this leg?”

“Shall I dry myself?”

“Which towel shall I use?”

And I realised our new lives were going to be lived on a knife-edge of uncertainty.

As long as I stuck to our well rehearsed-routines, I could get us through another day.

But, in a moment of appalled clarity, I understood I could never be ill again.

So it was in the spirit of trying to ward off any unseen disasters that I found myself reinstating my “mummy bag,” after four decades. 

When our three boys were small even the shortest excursions meant checking everyone had their coats and their shoes on the right feet and had wee-ed before leaving the house.

Whilst the littlest of the tribe always had his own luggage in the form of a baby bag packed with drinks, snacks, wipes, nappies and a change of clothing.

The three years we had spent in the eternal sunshine of California had seen a welcome change in this routine. The boys were seldom dressed in more than shorts and a t-shirt – and often a great deal less. So if they looked a bit grubby before the off it took only a moment to hose them down in the garden and dry them off in the sun before they were hot to trot.

But with Patrick as unpredictable as any small boy, a mummy bag became part of our new regime. 

Whenever we went out I took a spare day bag for his catheter, a pee bottle, wipes, tissues, rubber gloves, a spare nappy or two, a plastic rubbish bag and a change of clothes all in the name of our new motto “Just in case…”

But my biggest problem in those early days was simply lack of sleep; I would fall exhausted into bed only to dream restlessly about how tired I was.

And almost every night – sometimes several times a night – Patrick would appear, clutching his night bag and insisting it wasn’t “working.”

Its bulging sides bore witness to the fact that his kidneys, if not his brain, were in fine fettle.

But when he could not be persuaded to let me have even an hour’s uninterrupted sleep I realised I simply could not go on and rang our GP.

I explained that I was almost suicidal, and needed something which would knock Patrick out for the night as the present arrangements were unsustainable.

“I MUST GET SOME SLEEP,” I begged down the phone, speaking the words loudly and slowly as though addressing someone with a limited knowledge of English.

But while he made sympathetic noises, he also was anxious to impress on me the ethics of prescribing sleeping draughts to the elderly.

“It can add to their confusion…” he began, but I cut him off.

“I’m afraid the ship marked ‘confusion’ has long since sailed doctor,” I said, “and before you make any decision you might like to consider the ethics of the alternative – me putting a pillow over my husband’s head in the small hours and doing a ten stretch in Holloway…”

There was a pause while he considered this unexplored aspect of the situation and then he conceded dryly “I take your point…”

And two pink pills, administered at bedtime and backed up by a most fervent prayer that they will indeed work the necessary magic, were enough to ensure that both Patrick and I got our first decent night’s sleep in weeks.

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.

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