December 23, 2011

Yesterday, Monday, I couldn’t see Mum because Dad wasn’t well. In fact, he could hardly speak. I called the doctor who speculated that Ian may have had a slight stroke as his right-hand grip seemed weak and he had difficulty raising his right leg. Dad still couldn’t speak more than a word or two when he got to hospital, so I did his talking for him, describing what had happened that morning and helping out with his medical history.

Luckily, by the end of the day his speech was back. And this morning, when I returned to the hospital, I was told that the CT scan on Ian’s brain had revealed no damage. The stroke doctor reckoned that Ian had suffered a TIA (mini-stroke). This was in the left hemisphere of the brain, hence the weakness on the right side that he’d experienced for a few hours and also the speech impediment. Luckily, the blood clot that in all probability caused the problem would seem to have dissolved. Apparently, the body is able to protect itself in this way. Given that the brain scan revealed no bleeding, a high dose of aspirin has been prescribed for a fortnight to thin Ian’s blood and a cholesterol-lowering drug has also been added to the long list of pills Ian has to take on a daily basis to maintain an even keel.

This afternoon, Tuesday, Mabel and I are sitting together in the large quiet room at the top of the care home. I’ve tried to mention Ian’s illness and his hospitalisation but “Will you stop talking?” has been Mum’s only response.

I push her chair to another part of the room and try and get her to take an interest in some seasonal decorations. Oh God, Christmas. I’ve done nothing about it, not having had a chance to think it through. Though I believe Ian has a pile of cards that are ready for posting. They are written as being from him and Mabel, mentioning that Mum is occasionally down in the dumps but at other times is reassuringly perky. These cards are addressed to the few remaining friends, relatives, ex-neighbors and ex-colleagues that Ian and Mabel are still in contact with.

During my Christmas rumination, Mum has adopted what has been her default position recently: sitting with her head bowed, staring through the floor into the middle distance. Having collected my thoughts about Dad again, I lean forward into her field of vision as a prelude to speaking. “Will you stop talking,
please!” says Mabel, before I can get a word out. Yesterday one parent couldn’t speak. Today the other parent won’t listen. It’s a quiet life, one might conclude. Well, it can be.

After sitting in silence for a while, I take Mabel downstairs. I have to get a carer’s help to transfer Mum from the wheelchair to her customary seat. The technique used is for each of us to hook an arm through one of Mabel’s, while trying not to put too much pressure on her armpits. After the manoeuvre is complete Mum turns to me and says: “That was horrible”.

Saying nothing, I put away the wheelchair and slowly approach her again. “Stop creeping up on me from behind,” she says clearly. All her few utterances of today have been remarkably clear. Of course, I haven’t crept up on her from behind, but because of the way she is sitting, with her head bowed again, most approaches could give the impression of being sly.

In a way, it’s good all this. Mum is cutting off from the world and from other people, including her closest family. Hopefully, this will be what it’s like when the end comes: an unsentimental drifting off. But I expect there to be plenty of coming and going before then.

Dying is such a slow business. The body takes a lot of killing off, as does the mind. I expect Dad to be home and singing in a day or two. The ward sister said to me: “What a charming man your father is.” And I know that to be true. This afternoon Dad will be charming the pants off the speech therapist. Tomorrow he will be working his way into the good books of the occupational therapist and the physiotherapist, thus securing his early release from Perth Royal Infirmary. When he leaves the ward, there will be a fond farewell bid from every other bed. I've seen all that before.

The challenge to his charisma will come when he next rolls up at the care home to see his wife. But by then Mabel will be all sweetness and light again, hopefully, and the three of us will pass a pleasant hour.

In the meantime, here I sit with the charmless one. But that’s not fair - it’s the dementia that has reduced Mum’s power to please. Besides, there
is something pleasing about this reverie of Mum’s, this withdrawn state that she is so protective of. I watch as she musingly rubs her forefinger up and down and across the fabric of her seat’s armrest. She’s kind of at peace. What she doesn’t need is some young fool disturbing her delicate equilibrium.

So I’ll just sit here. Saying nothing. Wishing my mother and father a restful Christmas period.

mabnov11 002

(I'm reading these through as I put them online in June, 2017. It would have surprised me back at the end of 2011 to know that Mabel still had a full two years of life left. Surprised and horrified? Absolutely not. I didn't feel under any pressure. I was going with the flow.)