Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The man next door

The man next door is elderly. Ha! What does that make me? Youthful? No, I’m middle-aged. Len – that’s what I’ll call him - is older.

His body’s more agile than mine. He uses a stick and has a power-chair but can still walk about pretty easily, at least short distances. And manages to live alone. Or, at least, used to. Because I, anyway, am not so sure he still can or should be allowed to.

A man after my own heart: wanting independence, as long as possible? Surely I, more than anyone, should understand.

Yes, and I do.

So, am I a hypocrite? Well, no. And one day, God help me, I may need Tom or someone to remember these words – they probably won’t be able to remind me [you’ll see why in a minute] - and put into practise what I preach. Because poor Len has dementia...

About a month ago we first knew it. Tom had been coming home, rounded the corner into our footpath and there was Len. Looking a bit pale in the shivery dusk light and bemused, according to Tom.

“Hello mate! You all right?”, asks my slightly concerned son whose mind really was on getting away for a pint as soon as possible. “You look cold.”

And Len shuffled up to him with half-recognition in his otherwise frightened eyes, mumbling to himself and stammering over his words to Tom: “D-did you see my wife down there?” He nodded in the direction of the side-road running like the cross of a letter ‘T’ across the top of our path.

Now this dear old man’s wife had passed away, oh many moons ago. In fact long before our arrival here. On the night we moved in he bemoaned to me, during our greeting on the doorstep, that his infirm wife had not been given a walk-in shower by the council (the noise of which, being installed, had bothered the neighbours it seems – even though we’d left a note of “apology” when we viewed). Calling on him one afternoon a couple of years ago, when I could still make it up and down the path alone, he showed me where she used to sit and a beautiful painting of the Madonna and Child she bought in Rome (they both belonged to our church, Len of course, still does). He obviously adored her.

And he’s a sweet man: he made sure I got home (i.e. back up the path with a successfully opened front door!) before bidding me farewell.

He was a widower who now in his regressing mind had conjured his wife back again into a temporary, wished-for reality. He believed she would be coming home from the shops (or somewhere) and he should look out for her. Perhaps felt she’d only been lost and could prevent it happening again by making sure she was found now. He was desperate. Pleading with Tom for acknowledgement and reassurance. Tom gave it somehow and then managed to get this echo of a man back into his hollow house, before coming to inform me. As I’ve said elsewhere, my strapping young man of a son may feign disdain for all, but truly his heart is good. And he cares. He wanted to make sure Len was safe.

And, possibly, also that I could engage with it, deal with it and take over so that at least he wouldn’t have to worry about me – at that moment – and he could get to his friends. I could still take charge of a situation. Fair enough!

I rang mutual church friends I hoped would have the adult son’s number. And later they rang me to let me know the son had gone to his dad. We all relaxed.

But nothing changed. Len stayed where he was in the same way – perhaps now with one carer - basically alone.

And, naturally, things worsened.

So that three weeks after that, at two in the morning, there was Len, locked out and knocking on our window.

Thank God, Tom was still living here. Except that he was asleep and had work the next day. If I’d been alone I could only have rung the police. My legs have had it by that hour and won’t move easily.

It was the first time I realised I couldn’t reach down to physically help someone. And it hurt. Prayer is the last offering.

Ah well...

It was me then that first heard the scuffles and whispers outside by the bins, as I was getting ready for bed. Not foxes this time, I decided. Not teenagers (this wasn’t the last place where we might have found needles on the stairs the next morning and where once youths, aggrieved by a neighbour’s screaming at them about “disturbance” on Halloween, as “payback” wheeled away her electric wheelchair, from right under her window). But something or someone strange to be rid of. Which meant - unfortunately and painfully – it was me who was (a bit like afore-mentioned neighbour!) shoo-ing at “them” and threatening to call the police through the entry-phone and finally the letter-box.

Lucy, who – what-do-ya-know – had chosen that night to sleep in her sitting-room igloo, became frantic. Was this a friend? Should she get excited? Or should she just keep barking because she didn’t know what it was and, anyway, it was wrong. Mummy should not be on her legs or talking to someone through the funny phone. She grew hysterical as Tom rose to investigate and was immediately, still noisily, dispatched.

But, oh boy, I joined her then in the hysteria zone (funny how you can be strong until someone you believe stronger comes along and then you crumple) – and it all got horrible.

Tom, of course, was more afraid than me (!) and used his tried-and-tested hollering-at-Mum strategy to scare off the possible intruders (he refused to just open the door [idiot place doesn’t have a peep-hole and it’s jet black outside] to threaten them with his size!). So I did the letter-box bit again before being forced to resign by spasticity back to my chair with my legs up. And that’s when, apparently, Tom pulled back the curtain, saw Len and decided to bring him in!

Oh, horror! It was too much. And I’m so sorry. But one multiply sclerotic person plus one senilely demented does not a happy scene make. Neither can really help the other. And if there’s a third person pretty much in denial as to the state of the first (yelling at me to calm down, make phone-calls – I’d already rung my panic-button (council) and was organising police/social workers), well, as they say, it ain’t happening, man!

Tom, at the same time, was trying gently (!), to get Len to remember his son’s number (no one had actually known it at church so we were none the wiser). But all our neighbour could do was babble, as he sipped on some water, that, “They” had stolen his key. Mugged him outside his door and taken it. “They” were stealing all the houses on our path. Soon, everyone’s house would be gone.

And that’s when I got it. Oh poor Len, he was in a panic and maybe losing his mind, all because of the new landlord (the Registered Social Landlord [RSL] – see last post) and the builders to come. Just like me, that was what was causing his upset.

Oh so cruel. I explained it to Tom.

And, eventually, Len produced from his pocket (I think after he heard me say “the police are coming”!) his son’s number on a little scrap of paper. It was our lifeline (Tom thought by this point he’d be staying the night!).

Anyway, John, the my-age son, came and I spoke to him and he was sympathetic about my situation and I told him about panic-buttons and took his number. And we all said “Goodnight” with assurances of getting Len help in the morning.

Which, by all accounts, is what happened. He saw the G.P.

But he’s still there, next door. Alone. And this is what worries me. Admittedly for my sake (I’m afraid something like that will happen again and Tom not be here) but, most of all, of course, for his sake. It’s scary that he could go – that anyone could go – completely bonkers with no one to guard them against danger/mishap/self-harm. I hate it.

And that’s why I have told Tom – and why I’m not a hypocrite – that should this happen to me (i.e. a stroke or cognitive dysfunction renders me non-compos mentis) and, above all, I can no longer write - in any way ( diggle-daggle ’s fine!) - then the time for Residential Care has arrived. As long as I don’t know about it, it will be all right.

But unless or until that occasion arises...

Ah, poor Len, sort-of half-way there, that’s nasty. He’s in my prayers.

Where’s Lucy?


daffy said...

Hello there, I found your blog today when I was meandering on my lunch hour. I started to read this piece and realised I would need more time so here I am, just finished reading as I sit at home with my coffee close by and my PJ's on, I can't tell you how many emotions I have felt during my read. The truth is I don't relate to the situation an awful lot, I do remember my mum being very confused for periods of time a few days before she died. She went back into the past in her mind, I was scared and wondered what had triggered it and why had she chosen that particular area of her life to revisit. I guess I'll never know but I remember back in 1990 when she had a massive brain hemorrhage, she recovered, really well and she did ask me to make sure that I saw to it that she was 'looked after' should she ever 'losse her mind'. I said I would but I never had too.
Anyway, sorry for the long comment. I don't like to read and leave without leaving a word or two. (or more...) ;o)

Virginia Phillips said...

Hello Daffy,

thank you for writing, it was lovely to hear from you and I was very touched by your words.

Yes, it' an awful thing when you're a mum and you find yourself having to think about these things. But I'm sure it's better than hiding from the truth.

Your mum was obviously very special to you and I'm so sorry she's passed on. Yet I'm happy that you are able, through your experiences with her, to empathise with Len (my neighbour)and me.I'm sure she is very proud of you.

Take care, Daffy. I hope I'll hear from you again.

Love, Virginia

P.S. And I will be visiting your blog!

daffy said...

Hi Virginia! Thanks for the thanks. (and your very lovely, kind words) I've just been reading Lucy's post. She is a special one! xx