She asks me if she’s stuttering and twitchy, and I have to tell her that she is, but it’s because she is tired. In fact, she is too tired to enjoy the diagnosis of not having dementia but some other condition which affects the memory and can be treated. Mother is this tired because as well as her trips today and at the beginning of the week, she had to travel the same distance in the other direction for a mental health assessment.
Off the bus, into the foyer, ah yes… coffee and packaged fake cake and sit around waiting for the appointed time. Then, off up to the ward and – oh, he’s been moved back to the other ward. Ok. Ah. Mother remembers that he was in a side room on his own; so I look, and he is not there. Up to the end, into another sideward with two other old guys busy dying and he’s…
He’s prone in bed, scrunched up a little to the right this time and for some reason – it could be fewer bedclothes, it might be the lack of dressing gown, I don’t know – he’s looking as skeletal as ever. I sniff deeply over his bed without anyone noticing. Nope, he’s still alive. There’s a mad anecdote where he seems to be apologising about the past or something and I quip about Oscar Wilde and brevity being the soul of wit; one of his favoured sayings and his face scrunches up as if I was speaking in a completely alien language.
So his neurons are going. Great. How much longer before he simply turns into breathing meat?
While we have been greeted warmly by the nurses, when I go to make my own investigation about how the old man’s doing, I notice a terrified emptiness in their eyes. It’s as if they want to grab my collar and slam me up against the nearest wall, bawl into my face from kissing distance, “He’s DYING you jackass! This is it! He is NOT going to ‘get better’!” I can’t tell them I see this though.
Paper thin whispers from him. Skin close on his skull. I check the board, see how to read it in seconds; hey, I used to watch medical dramas. Yes, he’s down for physio (hah! He’s lost most of his muscles). I return and he’s deep in conversation with mother, trying to get her to understand that volunteers bring a sundries and sweeties trolley around and he wants some money so that even if he doesn’t actually want anything from it, he can buy some stuff from the trolley. I sit on the ‘patient chair’ beside the bed and watch this unfold… feeling seasick somehow. Hang on… what the hell’s going on with my bum? It feels like I farted, but I didn’t… oh wait… it is different now… It’s one of those cushions designed to prevent sores on people who may get them. I relax and try to enjoy the unusualness of it. Then we leave.
We talk about how he seems today, and I can see that mother’s very tired indeed. Too tired to enjoy the diagnosis of not having dementia. Did I say that before? The bus journey back is unappealing to me. For the first time, mother talks about how she can see he’s hurting and afraid inside, and how no one can reach in there and give comfort… she wants him home to look after him – all these years as wife and mother, it’s all she can think to do. It’s the first time she’s spoken of it in this way, of seeing it from his angle. I give her some waffle about how I play with words to deal with the situation, and end up with telling her that when I feel overwhelmed with emotion by it all, I recognise that I have compassion – something lacking in many. And that it’s strong in me because when you look at it, the biggest part of compassion is ‘passion’. She nods sagely and the bus is better than on time so we start for home.
My brother is busy doing his part as we drip in from getting soaked from the bus stop to home, and I tell him that if the weather is like this before leaving for the bus stop, abort the visit that day and do it the next. Sitting on a bus in wet clothes like this is not fun, and not good for anyone. He agrees. And I tell him that if I come up to the house from my place and I’m this wet on my day to take mother, I’ll call it off. He agrees. I report to him what was said, and that we’d left him money for the trolley. He looks tired.