Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: In which it turned out that, for once, it was all about me…

19 Jun 2024 | Written by Marina O'Shea

Retired journalist and full-time carer for her husband, Geraldine Durrant, shares another story of twists and turns regarding her life as a carer…You can find the previous installments of Geraldine’s column here.

A year after Patrick had been diagnosed with dementia I had lost count of the very many appointments we had had with doctors, district nurses, specialists and the accident and emergency unit at the not-very-local hospital.

But while I was entirely sympathetic to Patrick’s plight, I had found myself increasingly irritated that these appointments were always entirely about him.

It had become routinely apparent that if you tell a medical professional you are haggard with exhaustion because your husband has been roaming around the house for the past several nights, they will uniformly remark “Oh! How awful for him…”

Or say that his regular, unplacatable and undistractable, sundowning has been enough to tip you over the edge of your own sanity they will merely note that he “must be feeling distressed…”.

Which of course he was…

But even my plea for Patrick to be prescribed sleeping pills in order that I might occasionally get some uninterrupted rest had merely provoked a lecture from our GP about the “ethics of drugging dementia patients…”.

Fortunately my riposte, that he might also like to consider ethics of me putting a pillow over my poor husband’s face one night and subsequently doing a ten stretch in Holloway, convinced him that perhaps pills were indeed the lesser of two evils.

But all the while I realised that the unacknowledged knot inside me was turning tighter and tighter…and I feared one day it was going to snap.

So when our GP suggested that I should have a home health check “for carers” I welcomed the offer with relieved alacrity.

I will admit the cynic in me wondered if this was real concern for my welfare, or if the NHS just wanted to establish how much more I could take before I broke.

But I nevertheless agreed to the visit which I was warned would take two hours.

Two hours? The same time Patrick’s’ dementia test had taken.

I made a mental note to mug up on world rulers, and counting backwards from 100 in sevens just in case my own exhausted marbles were to come under scrutiny.

But in the event it all turned out to be very unalarming.

The nurse was a motherly older woman with an endearing twinkle in her eye, and so small, that short as I am, she would have tucked comfortably under my chin.

We talked. A lot.

I cried. A lot.

She made notes and nodded kindly…

And I felt for the first time in a very long time that someone was actually listening to me.

We worked slowly through her long and thorough check list and she finally came to the question of whether I would like counselling.

I did not…

I didn’t need someone to talk to, I told her – I had kind friends and a supportive family for that.

What I needed was someone who would come and hose my husband down in the early hours when he had pooed himself for the third time in a night…

But we both knew that wasn’t going to happen…

Besides, I told her, I had a blog (yes, this very blog you are reading right now) which helped me get stuff off my chest.

Her ears pricked up.

May I have the link? she asked slightly shyly.

I may be a care support nurse but I am also a carer myself and I think I would enjoy reading it…

It had been a very pleasant visit and we parted friends.

But the news was not all good.

My earnest hope that I might keel over some day really quite soon had come to nothing…

I was, it seemed, in robust health – and good for several thousand miles more on the caring clock…

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