Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: The kindness of strangers

29 Apr 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Geraldine Durrant, full-time carer for her husband, Patrick, who has dementia, goes head-to-head with a GP receptionist in a bid to maintain both her sanity and her husband’s health…

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

I found myself in our GP’s surgery one morning and realised in a moment of insightful clarity that I was in no mood to take prisoners.

I no longer had the energy to spare for fuckwittery and the particular hostage I had in my sights that day, “up with which I would not put”, was the receptionist.

Now I know these good women – and they are almost universally women – have a bit of a reputation: the words Here Be Dragons could quite fairly be emblazoned above their heads in many instances.

But I also understand that dealing with patients – many of them anxious and irritable – is stressful work.

And in the olden days – when I was still a nice person – I am sure I would have made allowances.

But that particular day Patrick was ill and in the favourite phrase of a one-time neighbour, I could not be doing with it… 

Any of it…

Patrick had been unwell overnight – hot, more than usually confused, and more than usually unsteady on his feet: his abdomen was tense and he was bleeding from his catheter. 

So after I had sponged him down and given him paracetamol I had spent a watchful night hoping what was very obviously another bladder infection wouldn’t turn to sepsis.

And by opening time I was at the surgery armed with a urine sample – a urine sample being easier to transport than a wobbly old man.

“Can I get this tested,” I asked the unfeasibly young person behind the desk. “My husband has dementia and a catheter, and I am pretty sure he has another UTI.”

But instead of taking the proffered bottle, the u.y.p, said dismissively, “You can’t just bring samples in uninvited…

“You need the permission of a doctor.”

I was tired, I was worried and I had left Patrick at home on his own, confused and ill.

And while I had begged him to stay in bed there was every chance he would have tried to get up – and if he had, he would almost certainly have fallen over and I would have been unable get him up again on my own.

“Well in that case,” I said, feeling the steel enter my soul as I waved an expansive hand around the surgery, “find me a doctor.

Any doctorand I will ask for permission…”

I was icily polite, but I was aware there was a warning edge to my voice.

“Alternatively,” I proffered, fishing in my handbag for my phone, “I can stand here and ring the surgery number, and hold on until you answer me.

“But what I will NOT do is go home, wait for you to ring me, and then leave my demented husband on his own for a second time while I bring this sample back again.”

I said these last words very slowly, and loudly enough for the other waiting patients to hear.

And we all tensed for what seemed like an eternity before the necessary form was slipped scratchily across the desk to me, with a plastic bag in which to deposit my sample.

An hour later the doctor rang to confirm Patrick did indeed have a urinary infection, so I hurried out again to pick up his prescription at Waitrose’s pharmacy – only to discover it was closed for lunch.

I fretted for 15 weary minutes waiting for it to reopen, and then waited some more while the pharmacist found and made up my order.

The beds were still unmade, the breakfast dishes unwashed and I knew Patrick would be anxious at my prolonged absence.

Suddenly overwhelmed with tiredness, I felt fat tears start down my cheeks – and then an arm round me as a kind cashier gave me a hug.

“Are you okay?” she asked, and I shook my head, too overcome to explain that I was just exhausted by the sheer bloody effort of getting us both through another day.

So she just sat with me until she had made us both laugh, and then, just as I was about to leave, she rushed up and gave me a bunch of tulips.

Red and yellow, they were irresistibly cheerful and I hurried home to Patrick buoyed up by the kindness of strangers.

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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