Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: Sleeping pills and a brief reprieve

21 Jan 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Blogger Geraldine Durrant discusses the brief reprieve she got from a simple sleeping pill prescription, followed swiftly by another “incident”…

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

The sleeping pills I now gave James every night offered, if not a miracle cure, at least a much-needed reprieve, and for the first time in weeks I managed to sleep through the night.

Not every night, but often enough to make me feel less like a zombie…

However this respite came at a price. 

When he slept, Patrick lay on his back as stiff and motionless as a marble effigy on a tomb.

And I had become so unused to a night’s undisturbed slumber that I always woke to the heart-stopping thought he had died in the night.

One morning I hovered by his bed trying to detect any slight breath.


An experimental poke failed to elicit any response, so I pulled back his covers to investigate further. 

Still no response… 

I felt sick…this time he definitely was dead

Then his eyes popped open and he asked cheerfully if I had slept well.

“I did,“ I replied, hastily rearranging my emotions from grief to relief.

“Well that would be,” he responded sagely, with no hint of self-reproach or responsibility, “because no-one woke you up.”

The incident reminded me of one Christmas night when Grandpa’s legs had suddenly given way.

He had sunk to the ground unhurt, was entirely lucid – and sober! – and judging from the many occasions it had happened before, would recover after a good night’s rest.

There was no hope of getting him upstairs on jelly legs, so I settled him comfortably in an armchair with a large padded footstool and decided to sleep on a nearby sofa to keep an overnight eye on him.

After everyone else had gone to bed, I crept around the house on an adrenalin high trying to restore some sort of order before we started all over again on Boxing Day. 

I loaded the dishwasher, cleaned the cloakroom, sorted the fridge, put on laundry and gathered up discarded wrapping paper…

By 1am all was quiet, and I thought that perhaps I ought to creep in and check that Grandpa was both fast asleep and still alive.

But even as this kind thought entered my head, a second was quick on its tail, as I realised that what I craved above all right at that moment was a quiet cup of coffee.

What to do?

Well, I reasoned, if Grandpa was indeed dead, I would have to rouse the household, call an ambulance and deal with the fall out.

On the other hand, if I left it another ten minutes, Grandpa would still be dead – but at least I would have had the coffee…

Sometimes even I find myself disappointing…

But if our nights were more settled, our days were becoming more difficult.

Patrick was ever more reluctant to leave the house and so, on a sunny Sunday I found myself going alone to visit our eldest son for a bbq.

Why Patrick would rather sit by himself at home than see his family was an unfathomable mystery, but I had learnt that with dementia you have to pick your battles – and I knew this was one I would not win.

So I headed off knowing I was only going to be a couple of minutes away and that the moment I had shut the front door any supposed “illness” on his part would miraculously disappear.

I left Patrick watching football with a beer and sandwiches, and enjoyed a happy couple of hours being cooked for in the company of my two grown-up granddaughters. 

Halfway through lunch I rang home to check all was well and to my surprise Patrick actually answered.

It had become increasingly obvious in the preceding weeks that he regarded phone calls as an unwelcome intrusion, and would usually ignore a call. 

“Everything okay?” I asked cheerfully.

“Yes, on the whole,” he replied, before mumbling something about “an incident.”

The nature and seriousness of this incident he refused to enlarge on, merely saying I could sort things out when I got back.

So I finished lunch and returned happily home – where it took a mere millisecond to sniff out the nature of the mystery event. 

It appeared Patrick had had a sudden bout of diarrhoea and had not quite made it to the loo in time, either upstairs or down.

In consequence he had trodden poo throughout the house and was sitting enthroned in soiled trousers.

A quick survey established it was everywhere…in both bathrooms, all over the floors and all over Patrick.

I stripped him off in the shower cubicle to contain the mess, washed him, and put him into clean pyjamas and into bed – the only poo-free place I could park him while I cleaned the bathrooms and mopped the floors throughout the house.

Not for the first time did I thank God for hard floors, Dettol and floor-to-ceiling tiles in the bathrooms.

But 90 minutes later, when I sat drinking a large glass of wine in a house which reeked of disinfectant, I couldn’t help but feel the gloss had rather been taken off a very pleasant afternoon…

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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