Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: Mealtimes, stair gates and damage control

28 Jan 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Blogger Geraldine Durrant ponders on what her life as a carer for her husband might look like from the outside (absurd, at times) whilst sharing details about morning routines, mealtimes and stair gates…

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

There are moments in your life when you wonder whether what you are up to would stand the weight of public scrutiny if witnessed by a wider audience.

So I realised one morning, with Patrick spread-eagled across the bed, as I played a hair dryer around his groin, that our new morning routine might have required some explanation if unexpectedly observed by a surprised onlooker.

As it happened, Patrick was not suffering from an over-abundance of pubic hair, or some niche proclivity best kept from the neighbours, but an incipient nappy rash.

He had steadily lost weight in the previous couple of years and the now wrinkled and folded skin in his groin needed to be kept absolutely dry, a task made more difficult by the catheter which was permanently plumbed in and strapped to his leg.

So blasting him dry was now part of our new daily routine – followed by a dusting of the same baby talc which, 50 years previously, I had sprinkled on the cherubic botty cheeks of our infant sons.

His loss of appetite had grown more marked over the previous year and the man who had once been the family curry king now refused to touch anything he suspected of having spices in.

I am a keen cook and this lack of an appreciative audience for my culinary efforts was discouraging.

So one evening, after three sleepless nights in a row, I remember scanning the fridge for something – anything – I could whip into a meal with little effort, knowing that – in any case – Patrick’s half of whatever I prepared would be mostly thrown away. 

As I said.


My tired search turned up some cold roast beef from the previous day’s joint, a few left-over potatoes and the remains of a broccoli cheese, so I set about preparing a somewhat second-hand dinner. 

Patrick, I told myself, would not notice and I was too tired to care: but ten minutes later, with the meat minced and reheated in gravy with finely chopped shallots and garlic, the potatoes sliced and fried and the broccoli warmed over in the microwave, it didn’t look too bad at all.

I put Patrick’s plate in front of him and said he really must try to eat his dinner tonight.

“But how will we know if I have or not?” he asked.

“We will check in your bowl and if it is all gone at the end we will know you have eaten it,” I replied, not unreasonably. 

He took a spoonful and peered hopefully at his plate. 

“Like this?” he asked.

“Just like that,” I replied.

It was tasty, if undemanding, and Patrick set about it with an enthusiasm I had not seen for a long while, spooning his dinner down and then showing me his bowl after each mouthful to make sure the modest portion was indeed diminishing.

“Can you check?” he asked.  And I did, praising the growing area of white plate now clearly visible through the gravy.

Eventually he scraped the last vestiges of mince into his mouth and held up the bowl for a final inspection.

“Well done,” I said, and he beamed with delight.

Then, surveying his empty plate one final time, he announced as happily as a man who had just checked the week’s lottery tickets,

“Look – I’ve won.” 

Less winning, however, were Patrick’s still frequent nightly incursions into my bedroom.

Sometimes he wanted to know where his glasses were.

Sometimes he wanted his quilt tucked more firmly around him.

And sometimes he just wanted to check that his watch and the large digital clock next to his bed, were indeed co-ordinated and correct.

So in a bid to remind him that the hours of darkness were for sleeping I pinned a notice on the inside of his bedroom door which urged him in large letters to Go To Bed; a companion piece on the outside of my own door warned sternly Do Not Disturb.

Patrick regarded my handiwork with annoyance as I stuck them in place, declaring them to be “utterly ridiculous”.

That, of course was a matter of opinion.

What was beyond dispute however was that they were utterly ineffectual.

So I put out an SOS among my friends asking if any of them had a redundant stair gate they would let me have before a wobbly Patrick took a death dive down the stairs one night and, within five minutes, a kind neighbour was on the doorstep with one.

Patrick was incensed but, like the stair gate, I was immoveable.

In my work as a journalist I had attended enough inquests to know how embarrassing it would be if he fell and broke his neck one night, and I had to explain to the coroner that I had known of the danger and had done nothing about it.

It was not just Patrick I had to think about. 

It was my reputation.

And I did not relish the thought of a headline in the local paper reading “Idle Gran in death plunge drama.”

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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