Demented Dad is finally back at home after what, if this had been a TV reality show, we might have described as a roller-coaster ride. It was certainly a journey.
We had the patronising Consultant who all but wrote off Dad just because he was old; at least one Nurse Ratched and a fleet of Florence Nightingales. They would have made an ideal cast. Plenty of conflict, lots of jeopardy and an uncertain outcome. There was even a bit of inadvertent nudity.
Being in hospital is hard - whether or not you have dementia. Hospitals are entirely inhospitable places.
Doctors and nurses might be used to drips and catheters and cannulas and blood transfusions, but for those of us with even the mildest hospital phobia these things are very unsettling.
Doctors use shiny, life-saving implements and miraculous modern technology; patients see instruments of torture and feel themselves being turned into Cybermen. There is no privacy in an open ward and the view from Dad’s bed was not unlike a John Bellany painting. Nightmarish, incomprehensible and frightening.
For people with dementia it can only be worse, particularly if they have trouble communicating. Dad can easily start a sentence but very rarely finishes one. ‘What I really need is….’, ‘Would it be possible for me to have…..’. ‘What’s most important is….’.
If I could train him to use the same number of words but be more direct it would be easier all round. ‘I need a pee.’ ‘I’m cold.’ ‘I want a drink.’ Most of the time I have a menu of options I run through until I hit on the right one, or until we have to give up.
During Dad’s ten day incarceration other patients came and went, some looking very sick indeed. One or two were abusive and un-cooperative; everyone very quickly grew tired of the sweary man across the ward whose foul language and obnoxious behaviour was apparently alcohol related. Others were pitifully grateful for the help they were getting.
The ones who could walk would stop and say hello to us on their way out for a fag. One man handed me his business card! - he works at a large castle hotel, with a superb chef apparently - , and he confided to me that the patient next to him was a well-known gangster whose family’s fingerprints are all over the Gorbals. I particularly liked the man who listened to the radio and would shout out the occasional headline or a snippet of news, randomly, throughout the day. That’s the other thing about being in hospital – it’s boring. So boring I even asked him for the football results! One of my friends is a QPR supporter and I wondered if Harry Redknapp could make a difference. Apparently not yet.
No-one tells you how to be ill and unless you’ve had lots of practise it comes as a shock. Being exposed, feeling vulnerable, kept under bright lights and woken up all the time to be inspected or jabbed or fed something you don’t like and don’t know what it’s for, must be terrifying. And I wondered for a moment if any of it was at all similar to Dad’s experiences as a Prisoner of War. If it was he couldn’t say, but by the end of his stay he had that jaw-clenched, poised-to-do-battle look on his face – and his hands were sometimes balled into fists – that made him look as if he were bracing himself for the next onslaught.
Assuming they all have them, hospitals need to involve their ‘dementia champion’ nurses as soon as they admit anyone with dementia and to tell families and carers straight away how they can help. It was day 5 before I even knew dementia champions existed - and I only found out by chance - yet everyone benefited from my extra pair of hands. Most of all Dad.
On the whole the teams that looked after Dad were kind and good humoured. They jollied him along as best they could – and I don’t only think it was because I was there. Much like the cameras in those reality shows, people soon get used to the extra presence and forget that it’s there.
Dad is now comfortably settled back at home - in his favourite chair, feet up, with an array of cold drinks, cups of tea and cake. And Oscar Peterson playing in the background.
Possibly the only good thing about Dad having dementia is that, if we don’t keep mentioning it, he will soon forget most of the detail of his ordeal and get back to telling us that ‘the most important thing ……’
And I’m just guessing at filling in the blanks here: ‘….. is being back at home’.