In 1998 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and I spent a long time in a very busy acute medical ward in a large London teaching hospital. That was an interesting time! Let me just say those nurses were literally angels!
It was also my first interaction as an adult with alzheimer’s disease. Joan, in her 80’s was in the bed next door to me. It was an old style Florence Nightingale ward and we were literally in very close physical proximity. She did not need to be in hospital but her family wanted her to be put in to a very well known Jewish care home and social services were disputing it, and therefore Joan was in hospital. Joan regularly disappeared. Was often returned to the ward by two police constables. And generally was a complete sweetheart to me but obviously very confused with life.
Joan loved dancing. In the hospital they have a grand piano in the lobby. With my fiancé at the time, we would take Joan downstairs, I would play the piano and she would dance. I think the nurses were relieved when we took her out and she helped me whittle many long weeks in hospital. (Incidentally, my maternal grandmother had severe senile dementia, but hers manifested in her never speaking to me. I can honestly say I have no recollection of ever hearing her voice. ) Joan was the exact opposite. In many ways the disease manifested in her coming overly alive as opposed to the silence of my grandmother.
I often returned from the bathroom to find her lying prostrate in my bed. For some reason she would also steal my clothes and I would see my spotty green jumper disappear as she went on a runner.
My next door neighbour, June, 84, has also been recently diagnosed with severe dementia and Alzheimers. Unfortunately she is becoming increasingly aggressive and demanding. But she has also started going through my rubbish and taking it in to her house. I threw out a ripped/ broken coat. It has now appeared in her hallway and she swears blind that she has just bought it from the shop. I throw out boxes for recycling and she takes them in.
As my title says, I don’t know why I’m writing this blog. I haven’t got anything particularly insightful to say. But every time I see my coat in June’s house, I think of Joan. A fear tries to grip me that I will end up like this- which maybe I will or maybe I won’t… but I again am humbled by the cycle of life.
June is a big part of my life currently, and I need to try and keep my own sense of self with her, which I find very difficult. With Penelope we have been exploring how to extricate myself from enmeshed relationships and grief that threatens to overwhelm me. We are discussing the importance of remaining separate. Remaining a person in my own right. Keeping myself separate and whole. Things I find so challenging. Maybe the gift of June to me, is that as other enmeshments are prying for my attention at the moment, just maybe June is a safer place for me to start practicing.
I can only offer nothing but my sincerest sympathy to those who find themselves looking after loved ones affected by the ravages of alzheimers.
Thanks for listening.