So the antibiotics are doing their stuff and am no longer coughing so much or sleeping almost all the time. Even went out to buy a paper this morning – when did everyone start walking and talking so fast?
A mountain of paperwork on my desk, quite satisfying to start dealing with it. As ever very tempting to go from neutral to fifth gear straight away, but I know from past experience that I need to poodle along in first for a bit.
Yet another odd thing about serious illness is that of anything else that you catch. Not only am I more vulnerable physically to any passing germ but I’m psychologically more vulnerable too. So my immune system is banjaxed and everything I catch hits me harder than it used to and takes longer to recover from. And my psychological immune system takes a battering too – so just having a normal illness like a bad chest infection seems to herald the beginning of the final lap. GP taking it all so seriously showed she’s aware that the mileage on the clock is ticking over.
But it turns out it wasn’t the opening chords of the last trumpet after all.
Taxi to the doc this morning which is normally a fifteen minute walk. I came out of the house with the intention of walking it, but realised after a few steps that I’d stand a better chance of climbing Everest.
I’ve been wrestling with sleeping the last six months or so and have been taking sleeping tablets, gradually reducing the dose. Now I’m wrestling with keeping awake. I’ve gone cold turkey on the tablets but am still sleeping through the night and then most of the day. I even manage to fall asleep in the waiting room.
The GP is kind and efficient, before I became ill I’d see her every five years or so. Now it’s at least every month, but she knows I only come as a last resort. She thinks it’s another chest infection, plus a bit of whatever Mum had last week. More antibiotics. And she says to just give in to the sleep.
I’m to phone her on Tuesday to let her know how I am, ‘if you’re not better, I’ll pop round.’ Then she insists on going outside to call me a cab.
Let no one diss the NHS in my hearing.
The good news is that Mum is really on the mend, taking fluids and eating and getting up; that generation are a hardy lot.
Not so good news is that I seem to have caught a version of it, without the vomiting thankfully. But I have basically been asleep since Tuesday, right through the night without sleeping tablets and then most of the day. Deep sleep, with only the occasional glass of water and piece of toast. I seem to rally and wake up about six pm but only for a couple of hours before the bed calls again. And it’s a call not to be denied, not an ‘I fancy a nap’ type of call, but an ‘If I don’t lie down I shall fall down’ trumpet, followed by several hours of deep sleep.
Doc tomorrow as I don’t seem to be improving, a wonderful practice where you can get an appointment within twenty four hours.
But meanwhile, I’d run out of milk and bread, so made a sortie to the shop. Met a neighbour who asked how I was and when I told them to keep their distance because I’d been in bed most of the week, told me I was looking really well. The fact that they are still standing demonstrates my weakened state.
At the shop, I look at the veg and turn away, buy some fruit, milk and bread and just can’t face buying anything to cook. So I walk along the ready meal shelf, disregarding the sound of all my French relatives turning in their graves, and buy a couple. No one from the food police stops me at the cash desk, I take them home and put them in the fridge.
Never bought one for myself before or willingly eaten one. The fish pie tasted ok, not as good as the one I would have made.
But the slippery slope of serious illness just got a lot slipperier.
Mum is taking the antibiotics and beginning to sip water and hold it down, she even ate some custard – unthinkable before her dementia. Custard was on a long list of things considered way beyond the French pale. Along with Christmas pudding, sprouts, jam with meat, Victoria sponge etc. And there were secret lists too. When my father died, Mum never ate turkey again, she said she’d always hated it, but ate it annually for the forty years they were married.
I’m back home for a few days and knackered, physically and emotionally. It’s all I can do to crawl into bed and sleep, with the occasional glass of water to keep hydrated. I’m so tired I even do without my sleeping tablets on two successive evenings and still sleep like a log.
Today I make some calls to arrange a specialist appointment for Mum and am struck with a wave of sadness when I realise that our last appointment was when I was still caring for Mum at home, before I became seriously ill. I had a job and a completely different life.
I call a good friend who is looking after both his elderly parents – it helps just to articulate the sadness with someone who really gets it. We exchange sadnesses and then laugh about something else. Just the tonic I needed.
Friday and Mum is suddenly very poorly; unable to eat or even drink anything without vomiting. She has a high temperature and is very clammy. We spend the day trying to get her to drink in sips, but she vomits every time. The doc comes and says it could be one of any number of things, but prescribes anti-sickness pills and antibiotics if she doesn’t improve.
The worry is that she will get dehydrated, that will mean a drip in hospital, which would confuse and frighten her even more. I hold her hand and watch the Tour de France on silent and then a bit of Wimbledon. As the day passes she gets cooler but drifts in and out of sleep and her gaze is far away.
I wash my hands as much as possible, not wanting to pass this on if it is a bug, or indeed catch it myself. A cooling flannel seems to help, though her conversation rambles in and out of making sense.
She doesn’t have much strength or resilience these days and sitting by her bedside feels like an awful taste of the future.
Thursday – I go down for my coffee in town before seeing Mum. A’s son is there and I ask after his dad. ‘He died shortly after you left yesterday.’ I sympathise and he shrugs his shoulders. I’m about to sit at another table, when something makes me stop and pay attention and I realise that he is, of course, quite distressed but unable to articulate his sadness. So I put my coffee down and he asks me whether he should tell his mother, B, who is also a resident, that her husband has died. He thinks it would be better to tell her the truth, but wants to know what I think. I tell him that she won’t remember and each time they tell her it will be like hearing it for the first time.
He then goes on to talk about his parents and his childhood and is quite tearful. I have misjudged him; what I took for coldness was diffidence. We have a conversation that dances round the sacred.
To see Mum last Wednesday. I arrive to be told by reception that two people on her floor have died since my last visit. One was H who was unable to speak or feed herself but had the most luminous smile that lit up her whole face. I sympathise with reception and they reply, much more sadly, that the rabbit has also died. The noticeboard announcement for the rabbit is much bigger than for the humans. English sentimentality about animals always takes me aback.
Up for lunch with Mum, who is on good form. A relative at the next table, in his sixties, is eating with his family. Mum nods disapprovingly at the fact that he has taken his socks and shoes off. He hears us speaking French and tries to engage, mostly to tell us that he has had to interrupt his holiday to come and visit his dying father. I sympathise but am told ‘it will be a deliverance’. Have not seen this man before in the year I have been visiting Mum. His father is the delightful A, who smiled charmingly and played the piano on any available surface.
We sit in the garden in the sunshine and watch the Tour de France on my tablet. Then we go down for a musical interlude with a singer straight from the clubs, with a good voice but rather annoying patter. A medley of Elvis, Vera Lynn, Tom Jones, etc follows. Three ladies in a row in large chairs, which are used to ferry them about as they are unable to walk and are pretty immobile and incommunicative, mouth the words to all the songs. Another lady gets up and dances with a carer and when I compliment her, she says rather wickedly, ‘ I used to love to dance…so many boyfriends.’
Mum plays along to the rhythm and smiles, we do a bit of wheelchair dancing. Then the singer plays ‘Unforgettable’.
The three ladies sing along, word perfect. I find myself in tears – they all have advanced dementia, but some things touch the cord of memory.