Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: Disaster planning pays off

20 May 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Geraldine Durrant dwells on the need for a plan B and steals herself away for a well-earned few hours on interrupted sleep…

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

One morning I found myself, in words I had never anticipated using, awaiting a call from a social worker…

In my job as a journalist I had had dealings with probation officers, policemen, social workers and other ‘authorities’ but I had always assumed in a middle-class sort of way, I would never need to trouble any one of them on my own account…

But Patrick’s worsening condition – particularly his increasingly frequent episodes of sunset syndrome – had made me realise we needed to be on an official list somewhere and to have a proper Plan B.

For the moment I was coping – just – as long as I could get an occasional night’s sleep.

But the problem of what would happen to Patrick if I were to fall ill or suddenly become unable to manage for any reason was one which haunted me.

Our sons and their wives were kind and supportive but they all worked. Caring for Patrick was, frankly, a 24/7 operation and how anyone of them would cope with no sleep, a family to care for and a job to do was beyond me.

But despite my misgivings, our chat on the phone pointed me in the direction of several useful contacts, including an emergency social work number.

If we came to some sort of crisis any hour of the day or – more importantly, the night – there was a team who would swoop in and make sure Patrick was taken care of for a couple of days while longer term plans were put in hand.

There was also, I discovered, a dementia care club close by where – if only Patrick could be persuaded to leave the house – I could place him safely for a few hours while I did something else.

And I had already planned what that something else would be.

I would be taking the phone off the hook and retiring for a few hours’ uninterrupted sleep – something I had not enjoyed in months, and the prospect of which filled me with blissful anticipation.

And I knew Patrick would approve.

Only the previous night, as I had tucked him into bed, he had said cheerfully “Well I hope you sleep well tonight” as though it were a troubled conscience, and not him, which kept me awake.

And finally, a survey to see if there were any digital tricks to help us manage more easily was the precursor to a visit from Sam.

A round, cheerful lad, Sam lost no time in putting us to rights.

A monitor in the shape of a watch meant we could summon instant help if Patrick fell over, which he was doing more frequently now: and a key safe installed by the front door meant anyone with the code could get in and rescue him if I happened to be out when disaster struck.

A new ipad-sized digital device would take all the worrying out of wondering which day it was: dustbin day, the highlight of Patrick’s weekly calendar, was sadly not listed, but the time, date and part of the day were all clearly – and more importantly unarguably – displayed in large bright type.

And finally there was a bleeper which attached to his bedroom door, so that I would be alerted if – or more realistically when – he opened it at night.

If I caught him before he was fully loose around the house he was both easier to usher back to bed and less likely to fall down stairs and break his neck –  benefits I tried hard to convince myself of when he set the alarm off twice on the first night we tried this new system out.

So all-in-all a positive experience.

But now we had a social worker, surely an ASBO couldn’t be far behind?

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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