Sunday, November 16, 2014

ten minutes

Elizabeth is waiting for us in the conservatory. A tall, powerfully-built woman in her seventies, she has the worn, slightly bewildered demeanour of an athlete who threw a javelin so hard it never came back to earth.
‘David’s in the bathroom,’ she says, pushing the silvery strands of her hair back and showing us inside. ‘He didn’t fall with a terrible clatter or anything, but he’s rather unsteady on his feet and a little reluctant to bend in the middle. I tried to get him up myself, but I’m afraid I couldn’t quite manage it. He’s had problems with his back for years. The other thing is a touch of dementia, but we rub along, you know? So sorry to call you out like this.’
The house is tastefully decorated, landscape watercolours on the walls, silver photoframes on highly-polished furniture, the whole place as neat and perfect as an illustration in a country catalogue. A chair lift snakes round the balustrade up to a sunlit landing and the mosaic-tiled wet room where David is lying on his back, surrounded by cushions. He’s as olympian as his wife, except his health has taken more of a battering. His eyes are a pearlescent gray, and his hands shake when they reach out to us, flailing around without focus when we manipulate him into a better position.
We use our inflatable cushion to get David up from the floor. He can weight bear, but paddles his feet in a dangerously unstable way. We fetch a chair for him to sit on, and stand close in to keep him there whilst we consider our options.
‘Is this shaking new?’
‘No. They think it’s benign, though. Not Parkinson’s. Look – before you say anything – I just want you to know that hospital’s not an option. We’ve had a rotten time of it these last few months. David simply cannot go back there. I hope you understand. It may take some time to get him down the corridor and back to bed, but if you wouldn’t mind bearing with us I’d be terribly grateful.’
In the end we have to wheel him there on a commode. Even alongside the bed, David doesn’t seem able to make the transition. We help him to stand as positively and simply as we can, but at the last minute he loses confidence, relaxes his knees, and we have to sit him back down again. He’s easily distracted, and struggles to understand our instructions.
‘Come on darling,’ says Elizabeth, stroking his silver hair flat and kissing the top of his head. ‘There’s a good boy. We’ll get you to bed. You’ll be comfortable there. You can watch Countryfile. You know how much you enjoyed that last time.’
When she looks up at us she starts to cry.
‘He wasn’t always like this,’ she says. ‘He could do the Times crossword in ten minutes flat. Couldn’t you, darling? Ten minutes?’
She kisses his head again. He turns his head from side to side, like he’s struggling to pinpoint something he can hear in the distance.
‘Not the quick crossword. The cryptic one, you know? The difficult one.’ Then ‘Come on, David. You can do it. You’ve got to do it. One last try.’


Anonymous said...

So beautiful, so touching.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much Kim.

It was so difficult for both of them. Such a painful situation - but at least they had each other, a lovely family & home.

Cheers for the comment! :)

Sabine said...

At work, I sometimes have to check the statistics on dementia/Alz. and is look at my age group and that of my man and I have to stop myself from considering the possibilities.

I can still do the crossowrd, though.

jacksofbuxton said...

Lovely couple Spence.Such a shame.

Spence Kennedy said...

Sabine - It's a chastening thing to see how many people suffer from dementia of one sort or another. I think it's attracting more attention & resources in this country, but still underfunded. The social consequences are immense, of course. Such a hard thing to cope with.

Respect due re the crossword. I'm rubbish at the cryptic ones - the answers, that is. I could rattle off clues till the cows come home (e.g. cows come home? Eat consomme backwards and you'll approve) :/

Jack - It looked like they'd had a good long & strong marriage, and I suppose all things come to an end - but of course, none of that diminishes the tragedy of the situation.

petrolhead said...

Dementia is an awful weight to bear. I have worked in several EMI homes, and witnessed residents slide down the inevitable spiral from being highly articulate and having many lucid moments to being entirely dependent on others to do even the most intimate things for them. It's so sad, I dread my parents getting old.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's such a tough illness to bear - maybe even more for the relatives, who have to find a way to cope with these profound changes in the person they know & love. I think EMI homes do a fantastic job in really difficult circumstances - so, respect for the work you did there, PH.