Monday, December 07, 2009

a strange, heavy man

Barbara, an elderly woman pop riveted into a substantial, tobacco brown combo, hairdo struck from a block of granite, steps out onto the porch to greet us. The door clicks shut behind her.
‘Oh shit! I’ve left the damned keys inside.’
‘Do you have a spare anywhere?’
‘Hang on, now. Let me think. There’s a set with Mrs Ferguson at number twenty eight, but she’s out at the centre till lunchtime at least. Shit, shit, shit.’
‘There’s a key safe down there. Might there still be a key in it?’
‘Yes! Yes! My God, you’re a genius!’
Despite the suit she manages to bend sufficiently to begin dabbing at the key safe buttons with a leathery finger. The front garden of bolting roses, dark veins of clematis and bramble-spoiled thickets of juniper and lavender, thrashes behind us in gusts of wind as we shelter in the porch.
‘I just need to fill you in on a few things before we go in,’ she says, straightening up and brandishing the key in the air. We take a step back. ‘Mrs Adams has dementia, no living relatives. I’m Barbara, neighbour and friend of some forty years. I have full power of attorney, over everything.’ She squints at us as if to make it clear this means us, too. Then with another abrupt change of pace she turns again and sticks the key in the lock.
‘She falls quite a bit, especially this past year. I only live round the corner so you see I’m here a great deal. And then there are the carers who come in four times a day. Crack squad of angels, to a man. But between us we simply can’t provide twenty four hour protection. Of course we can’t. We’re not nurses – or prison wardens, goodness knows. We’ve tried, but no power on earth can stop Stephanie attempting to do the impossible – by which I mean the things she used to be able to do but can’t anymore. It’s a sad fact, but time moves on. I mean look at this place. There’s only so much one can do.’
‘Okay. Fair enough. Shall we get inside and see how Mrs Adams is doing?’
‘Yes. Of course. The job in-hand. Follow me. She’s in the bedroom.’
Barbara opens the door and leads us inside.
‘Stephanie,’ she calls out, leaning forwards with the deferential stoop of a private secretary. ‘Stephanie? The ambulance people are here.’
Then she turns to us in the hallway and whispers: ‘Mrs Adams has fallen from the bed to the floor whilst trying to get on the commode. I don’t think she’s hurt herself, but I couldn’t get her up on my own, and anyway I thought it best to leave her in situ. I chucked a blanket over her, though. Hope that’s okay. Over to you, the experts.’ And she stands aside.

Mrs Adams’ bedroom has that yeasty odour of rooms lived in too long with the windows closed. Spotted wallpaper rises up to a margin of shadows, a ceiling rose in the middle of it all, cracked and obscure, like a planet viewed through a dirty telescope. And then around us on the walls, a dozen pound-shop portraits of Jesus, the Polish Pope, The Holy Virgin, and stretched on the wall over the headboard, a faded panorama of a convent school, class of fifty two.

Mrs Adams lies on the floor between the bed and the commode, bundled up in a coverless duvet. When I crouch down next to her and ask her how she got there, she says:

‘There was a man in here. A strange, heavy man. Bald. Squinty. I don’t know what he wanted. He just appeared at the foot of the bed. Didn’t say a word. When I asked him what he wanted, he shook his head. So I went to get up, but fell down, and then he came and lay on top of me. All night. And the best I could do was lie there quietly and hope he’d go. Which he did. Most peculiar.’

I look at Barbara. She smiles, shakes her head, and tosses the key from one hand to the other.


Camilla Winlo said...

Alzheimers is a strange illness - it seems to send sufferers on the most extraordinary adventures and gives people superpowers (or at least the belief they can still do what they once could). Very difficult to manage but nice to know that lady has so many people looking out for her - including you.

As evocative as ever - and a really good description of the smell - instantly recognisable but I'd always thought undescribable, but you have it just right (of course).

lulu's missives said...

Hmm........the strange workings of a failing mind. It's the helplessness, another difficult thing to watch.
So very sad, the loss of real comprehension.

loveinvienna said...

Such a terrible thing, dementia. No easy way of dealing with it, it just gets progressively worse and worse.

Was always sad going back to the Care Home after being at Uni all year to find a resident you really liked had changed because of dementia or Alzheimer's or even just (!) short-term memory loss.

I have huge amounts of respect for those who deal with it full-time.

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

CW - It was good to see that she had so many people looking out for her. Sad that her life was running down like it was, but in the scheme of things it could be worse.

Jo - I suppose it must be something like having lots of lucid dreams. Her description of the man was so real (and I'm just taking it on trust that it was a hallucination, of course!) Very scary condition to be in, especially if the hallucinations are upsetting. But having said that, she seemed surprisingly okay with the story of the heavy man, so...

Liv - Me too! Such a difficult area to work in. When a peson loses all sense of who they've been, memories of everyone around them, it's like losing someone whilst still having them there. A bitter abstraction. But so long as they're warm and well and loved, there's still a connection, despite the fact that it goes unrecognised on the surface.

Thanks for all your comments! xx

Anonymous said...

Hallucinations are more likely a medication problem than Alzhiemers.

Spence Kennedy said...

That's an interesting point, Anon. I don't know whether Mrs Adams had Alzheimers or some other form of dementia. The strange thing was that apart from her description of the heavy man, she was perfectly lucid and able to talk about her situation to good effect. So whether it was in fact her medication or some other cause, I don't know. Certainly Barbara didn't notice any change in her orientation or MH. It all seemed business as usual!

Thanks for your comment.

Unknown said...

This reminds me of my Gran, dying of cancer.

My mum was looking after her, one slightly creepy evening, in the house, on her own, wind whistling at the windows.

As my mum starts to get ready to leave, because the pal. care nurse is on her way, my Gran looks at her in horror and tells her not to go "meet that man". She comes out with quite a detailed description of some scary man who was going to do bad things to her.. My mum was a little too freaked out to remember the exact details.

It's strange how the mind works.

Spence Kennedy said...

It is weird. A lucid dreaming state, maybe?

It's the kind of story that creeps you out when you hear it, but you can rationalise away from the setting, in the daylight. Quite different when you're there, of course!

I hope your Gran didn't suffer too much. Tough on your Mum (but great she was there).

Thanks for the comment, Thomas. I hope all's good with you and yours. Have a lovely Christmas and great New Year! :)