I don’t normally dream, or even remember what I dreamed, but recently I woke with a scary image that I had somehow flooded the house we lived in ten years ago; it was so real I could feel the water squishing through my toes as I walked across the sodden carpet! More of a nightmare, really, and I was quite shaken and distressed when I wakened with a shock and came back to reality. I stumbled out of bed in a daze, to find the reality of a bone-dry carpet then, thankfully and gradually, started a new day.
Sometimes, like today, I get a weird and unhappy feeling that I am, actually, living a sort of unreal life. I feel tired all the time, have trouble sleeping, feel anti-social, my body seems to be less supple and has aches and pains all over the place. Deep down, I know that’s simply normal for an old bloke who is definitely out of peak condition! I wonder if other men with a wife in care have similar feelings and physical ‘inabilities’? I console myself by taking two (prescribed) pills each night and almost forcing myself to get out of bed the next morning. Except when I dream of flooded houses and almost jump out!
Dorothy, on the other hand seems, at most times, to be happy ‘in the moment’ and, although I’m told she doesn’t always sleep well, she continues to have a comparatively happy disposition. I know that her Alzheimer’s condition is ameliorated by some medication and she is occasionally sleepy during the day, but she’s usually ready to take my hand and walk, and walk, and walk. I also try to tell her about family activities, read headlines and parts of stories from the newspaper, show her photos, take her out on walks in nearby parks, singalong with the other residents, and join in the morning exercises; I also sometimes stay and have a meal with her and have a coffee together in the cafeteria or in her lounge. But it is a one-way verbal connection most of the time, and I do feel frustrated and tired physically. It should be pleasurable and positive but, as some of my readers will know, the reality is just the reverse!
Despite all the above, I am sure my presence and love enhances her wellbeing, and that’s what keeps me going back day after day and, in a strange perverse way, gives me the mental strength to keep going. I notice how she is changing in subtle ways. How she becomes preoccupied with little things, like running her hand around the edge of a chair or table as though stroking it and making it flatter, how she will stand in front of a chair when I ask her to sit and will ask, “Where is it”; then I tell her, but she continues to stand there and refuses to sit! I see her inability now to focus during group exercises and being unable follow simple movements. Before we go outside the premises for a walk or short drive I try to remember to ask if she would like to visit the toilet and, although she agrees, doesn’t always follow through with the deed when I present her with the opportunity!
Yesterday, she had a visit from a dear friend while I went out for a coffee with our friend’s husband. They make regular visits and I enjoy his company while his wife has an hour or so with Dorothy. It simply amazes me that sometimes, as yesterday, our friend reported afterwards to me that Dorothy, spontaneously without cues, mentions the names of some of our children, and others! There are no intelligible stories attached to the names, but some tenuous links must be there, struggling through the labyrinth of synapses, like little gateways that open and close again and prevent the full memories to flow. Perhaps those tiny fragments provide Dorothy with pleasurable glimpses of past times, I can only pray they do!
Dorothy is continuing in quite good physical health. But I notice that her demeanour can be extremely variable and not always predictable at any time of day. She is on low-dose medication – I don’t pretend to understand the type or level – but, for the most part, she is amenable to most requests, and friendly in her relationships with the (ten or so) other residents and the staff. The staff really deserve my heartfelt thanks, their patience and care are first class, and I am very happy and grateful that I chose this organisation for her care. It would be physically and mentally impossible for me to care for her at home, even with some help. It is a 24-hour job! It is because Dorothy is in such care that I am able to retain a degree of normality and bring some joy to her when I visit.
But when I come home? Now, that’s when extent of my ‘normality’ is tested, and maybe that’s what has stimulated my old brain to dream strange dreams in the dead of night…….