Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: Nocturnal tantrums

15 Apr 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

In this week’s instalment of Midsummer madness, Geraldine recalls a frustrating evening spent trying to soothe her husband as dementia takes a hold of his mind…

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

One night saw me summoned to Patrick’s bedside at 3am.

I swept an experienced eye over his room and concluded that all was well.

He lay, as he always lay, flat on his back like a Mediaeval knight on a tomb, neatly tucked in and with his exterior plumbing all present and correct.

“Why have you called me,” I asked, puzzled, only to receive the honest-but-maddening reply, “Well I was awake so I thought you should be too…”

I explained, as I had explained so many times before, that it was dark, and I was not ‘on duty’ except for emergencies…

Half an hour later I was back, going through the same routine.

And half an hour after that I was back for a third time.

“PLEASE go to sleep,” I begged, “I am absolutely exhausted…”

“Exhausted?” Patrick replied with sudden contempt.

“I see no reason why you should be exhausted. You’ve done nothing all day you lazy fucking bitch…”

Now it is only fair to say at this point that Patrick has been the kindest and best of husbands, and one who has always been very proud of me.

Sometimes, even, irritatingly proud of me…

He has never sworn at me, or indeed at anyone else, and I have always absolutely known that he would never deliberately do anything to hurt me.

So this shocking and unprecedented outburst of anger was like being slapped in the face by a stranger.

“It’s not Patrick, it’s the illness,” I told myself firmly, but a sick dread in my stomach left me wondering if this was to be the way of things from then on.

So with as much patience as I would muster I told Patrick he was safe, cosy and there was nothing more I could do for him, that I was going back to bed, and would return with his breakfast when the alarm had gone off.

But as I climbed wearily between the covers, the shouting started again.

“Come back here you lazy fucking bastard…

“You are supposed to be getting me washed and dressed you selfish bitch…”

On and on it went, in an unstoppable torrent of abuse from the unrecognisable madman who now occupied our marital bed.

In vain I repeated over the baby monitor that it was night, and that he must stop shouting and go back to sleep, but my words only served to provoke further fury.

So after 15 minutes I decided that like a controlled crying experiment with a baby, I would simply leave him to shout it out until he was tired enough to go back to sleep by himself…

In the event it took more than an hour, by which time I was at screaming pitch myself.

But eventually the shouting subsided into Gollum-like mutterings as Patrick debated with himself whether to keep it up for a bit longer, before deciding that perhaps he would settle down and go back to sleep after all.

Like any parent of a newborn I listened to the snuffling and shuffling with bated breath, hoping – praying – that this time he really meant it.

And eventually I heard a steady snore which told me I too could let go and drop off.

But not before I had turned off the alarm, because I thought, all things considered, I deserved a bit of a lie in…

When I did take in breakfast, the events of the night were apparently forgotten.

Patrick merely popped his head above the covers and looked at me in puzzlement.

“I know this is a silly question,” he said hesitantly “but who are you exactly?”

“I’m Geraldine,” I told him and he nodded.

“Right,” he said. “You must be my wife…

“So who is the other woman who helps me to get washed and dressed in the mornings?”

Sad to say, that would be me too – but somewhere in Patrick’s confused mind there lurked the odd conviction that there were now two of us… his wife of 52 years and a similar-but-not-identical-member-of-staff.

And he was also confused about where we lived, convinced that the home we had shared for the past 40 years was somehow not the real deal, but a carefully cloned and constructed duplicate – although even he thought this was an odd idea.

“I mean why would anyone go to all the trouble of copying all our stuff?” he would ask, waving an airy hand at the pictures of our grandchildren adorning the walls and the familiar furniture around the room.

Why indeed… but even as he recognised the utter unlikelihood of the scenario he had conjured up, he could not let go of the idea that we really lived somewhere else and not in a clever carbon copy…

“Does anyone know we are here?” he wondered.

“Do we even have keys?

“And what are we going to say when someone finds out we are living here?”

And while Patrick still remembered our address, he had begun to call where we live an emotionally neutral ‘house’ which he would not be tricked into thinking was actually our ‘home’.

So when I asked for a second glass of wine over dinner one night he was adamant that it would be unwise you give me one “because you have to drive us home later on…”

Which was a pity – because frankly, if there really were two of us, I didn’t see why we couldn’t have a glass each…

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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