A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Archive for dementia

Fish and Chips

ImageShe glided into the take-a- way behind the heavily tattooed, boiler-suited, yahoo, from distant England who had loudly declared that he wanted the curry rice – and chips with that. She was dressed in a red hat, green woollen coat, pink gloves, and bright red lipstick that formed a crimson slash across her face. Probably about 70 years of age but I am finding it harder to judge age when I am nearly that myself.

She didn’t consult the menu board but instead fixed her gaze on lithe female Chinese owner and rattled off

“A battered cod, a curry roll, and a generous scoop of chips – make sure it’s a generous scoop now” the last part accompanied by a steely look daring the owner to scrimp. She looked around the shop hoping to attract someone’s attention but all the occupants suddenly found their shoelaces very interesting. Like who wants to get involved in what could be some sort of racist attack. She then flopped down beside me, turned around and smiled. I, momentarily distracted from the floor, smiled back. My first mistake. Never look anyone in the eye. I quickly turned back and started flipping pages of the magazine I had hurriedly picked up. God! It was a design magazine. I loathe design and gardens and houses. All that ‘look at Me’ repackaged as entertainment. But all was not lost. The feature article was the secret sex life of Anna Paquin and I quickly started flicking for the relevant article I knew would be a crock. Really, I just wanted to be left alone. Get my oysters, get my chips, get out of there.

“He tried to get me going at 8.00am”
she said “ He has been retired now for   ——-“ She stopped and did what I took to be mental calculations.

“He’s 78 now so you do the sums. He just hasn’t given up in his head. Anyway we got out of the house at 10.00. I normally cook a wee  dinner for him but I thought to myself we haven’t had fish and chips for years – its must be 10 years since I have been in a place like this”.

She grandly swept her hand around the shop as if she was a dowager displaying her drawing room

“I have to do all the driving now. He’s practically blind. Can’t see – so I drive him everywhere.”

She seemed to sense that I wasn’t interested but she persisted.

“Yesterday I said to him that we would have to start thinking about when I can’t drive anymore. Do you know what he said? “

She was obviously racking up her attempts to engage me. I didn’t take the bait.

She lapsed into silence and moved toward the pile of magazines as my order was announced.

“Half dozen Bluff oysters, chips, meat patty.”

I grabbed my order and left the shop attempting a small smile as I am not a complete antisocialist. I saw her start to engage the Englishman as I went next door to buy some beverage to go with my meal.

The door of the diary opened behind me and she was suddenly there again.

“Just thought I would pop in and do some extra shopping while I am waiting” she said as she sashayed down the aisle. The assistant caught my eye and raised her eyebrow.

She paid for her purchases before I had a chance to make my selection and a similar line of rapport was carried out with the shop owner.

I stepped up to the counter.

“I see you have met the formidable Miss Tush,” the assistant murmured as I handed over my five dollars.

“Mrs,” I said “She is bringing her husband his dinner from the fish and chip shop next door.”

“Oh no! Miss Tush isn’t married. She lives up in the next town. Walks here every Thursday and buys her stuff. Mad as a hatter.”

“But she told me she drives and has a husband – retired, 70 ish.”

“Nah! She spent some time in the psych ward last year. I’m told that she has her winter holidays there most years. Completely away with the fairies. We deliver her groceries every fortnight. Same order every time. Lovely old lady but — ‘

She circled her ears with her fingers and smiled benignly at me.

Image

Apron Pocket

Apron Pocket

Moira looked around her little room.  Centerstage, a small two bar electric fire pumped out a pathetic amount of dry heat. To the right of that was Ted’s chair. His slippers lay discarded under the right side; the seat was stacked with newspapers. Next to that was his favourite leather ottoman. She looked around the rest of the room. Bare, except for her ironing board and her haven, the sofa. Had she finished the ironing? She looked to the back of her at the other meager sticks of furniture. They were scattered with little notes and reminders of what she had already done and what still needed to be done. Far away, at the back of her mind, she knew there was some system to all the different colors of the notes but she couldn’t dredge it up. She shuffled over to the armrest of the sofa and picked up the beige colored note.

Put thermostat on electric fire to 60 at 2.00pm.

She looked at the fire and the clock. Fire said 80 and the clock now read – what was that number? Twenty past two or ten past four? Her eyesight was getting worse but then she couldn’t remember when it was better. Nonsense! Of course she could. She remembered standing on the foredeck of the InterIsland ferry and being the first to spot the gap that was to turn out to be the entrance to Tory Channel, when she and Ted were returning from their North Island holiday. She scrunched the beige note up and put it in the pocket of the apron that she now wore night and day. She felt the jagged surface of many other notes but could not remember when they had been put there. She looked over at the occasional table, unpolished and blemished by the sunlight. A yellow note.

Ring store and order week’s groceries. Don’t forget the toilet paper – two rolls.

She wondered who had written that. She did not recognise the handwriting. It was small, spidery, and halfway through the note seemed to take on a life of its own and angled down the side of the page.  There was a knock on the door and she instantly felt a stab of pain in her chest. Who could that be? She wasn’t expecting anyone. Was she? The knock sounded again. What should she do? Was there a note that would tell her? Maybe it was Ted. Back from – back from where? She hadn’t seen Ted for a couple of days. He had gone out to that shed of his and hadn’t come for the meal that she cooked. She remembered something about the meal then it disappeared from her mind. The door sounded again, the knocking a little more frantic and a plaintive call.

“Mrs White, Mrs. White. Yoo-Hoo! Mrs White. Hospital visitor”

Moira in better times

Oh well! That was all right then. Hospital workers were good. Usually. She shuffled to the door and pried back the bolt that Ted always told her not to pull until she heard the knock. Two long, two short, then a pause and another quick knock. Their secret code.

She pulled the door open to be confronted by a dumpy little women with wild, red hair.

” Good afternoon, Mrs White. I am Janet. I’m the OT, ummhh Occupational Therapist from the hospital. I’m here for your assessment,” the women said proudly, pointing to her badge and nameplate.

Assessment. Assessment. She didn’t want any assessment. What she wanted was Ted and someone to do the shopping she had obviously forgotten to do.

“You remember – well you may not remember – but Andrew our Social Worker visited you last week and the two of you arranged for me to come this afternoon,” the red haired worker from the hospital said merrily.

Afternoon. What had happened to the morning? She thought she had only been out of bed a few hours. Ted will have missed his breakfast. Out in that damn shed of his. He spent more time there than he did in the house. Her mother had told her that. Marry a tall man, she had said, and keep your children taller than you. You are a small woman, and need a taller man. What was that to do with Ted? Oh yes! She had said something else about providing a good home and food and your man will always be there for you rather than down the pub like her own father had been.

“Can I come in?” the dumpy little woman said, firmly placing her foot across the threshold.

Moira didn’t like this new development. The woman had taken a look around her kitchen and thrown a couple of cupboard doors open. They were all empty. Moria didn’t know how they had got like that. Why! She had food this morning when she got out of bed. Didn’t she? She couldn’t remember and now the woman was looking at all the notes scattered around the kitchen and pulling open the door to the oven. Inside were the blackened remains of something that moved, something white and shifting. The woman reeled back, gave a little cry, and put her hands over her nose.

“Mrs White! What happened here? This meat is  – contaminated.”

Moira looked into the oven and indeed there was a moving mass of maggots in the oven on what looked to be a fine piece of Texel lamb. When had she cooked that? Why hadn’t Ted had any? The woman looked at her and pulled a sheaf of notes from her bag.

“It says here that Andrew, our social worker, was concerned that you may not be coping at home after your discharge from the hospital. He asked me to come and do an assessment of your living quarters but, frankly, I don’t see the need. These notes, and this (she indicated with a wide sweep of her hand, the kitchen, the bare hall, the dirty walls, the empty cupboards) tells me what I want to know. What’s been happening here?”

Moira spluttered and felt like crying but she knew that wasn’t going to help her case. Hospital! She had been in a hospital?

“I’ll get my husband Ted. Ted is out in the garage. He will know.”

Moira shuffled to the door and disappeared. The occupational therapist glanced down the corridor and saw several doors leading off the main access. She walked down and glanced, in turn, into each room. They were bare. Just bare boards, torn wallpaper, fly-strewn windows, and cracked glass. No furniture, nothing. She heard a noise from the side of the house. She retraced her steps and went through the door she had seen Moira exit.

A large wooden garage, that had seen better days, leaned drunkenly in an overgrown patch of grass. She pushed the door open. Moira stood in the center of the dirt floor in animated conversation with herself. Her arms moved to emphasise to an imaginary Ted the predicament she found herself in with this hospital worker in her house, criticising her homemaking, making her life miserable. Moira berated her husband for spending so much time in his shed and for not eating his meal that she had taken so much time to prepare. What was wrong with the man?

The Occupational Therapist took Moira by the arm and gently led her back to the living room. Moira watched as she flipped open her cellphone and started the process that would forever separate Moira and her former life.

Moira jerked awake in her chair. She had fallen asleep again and no-one had thought to draw a blind or gently wake her and direct her to a bed. The hot summers afternoon sun had dried her mouth and her tongue felt heavy and dry. She searched her mind as to where she was and what she could do to make herself feel better. A woman in a blue uniform descended on her.
“Moira Asleep again? I don’t know girl? I swear you sleep more than half the day.”

Moira looked at her. Did she know this woman? What was it she had said? Something about Ted? Where was he?

The woman started fussing around her and Moira flicked at her, as if she were some troublesome fly.

“Now don’t you be getting violent on me now,” the woman said, standing back and crossing her arms. “You know what will happen if you lay a hand on me.”

Who was this stranger and why had she moved all the furniture? Where was Ted’s chair, and the ironing?

Moira was suddenly aware that she was not in her own little home. This was much grander. Maybe she was on holiday with Ted. She always liked their little holidays. They had traveled the world and, oh – she remembered the rooms, the hotels, the food, and the wine.

“It’s tripe and onions tonight. Again,” whispered a decrepit looking man reclined in a wheelchair next to her. A weak, watery fart punctuated his pronouncement.
” They give us the offal and they eat the prime cuts,” he whispered again, raising his eyebrow as if in anticipation that Moira would continue the conversation, or something more sinister.

Moira turned away and thought about fine champagne and faraway places

Moira looked up at the round face man with the bushy eyebrows as he leaned over her and talked in a loud, slow voice.

“You’re an interesting case my old love,” he started, and Moira could see a spot on his neck where he had missed shaving.

“One of the nurse here is doing some postgraduate study and she recognised some of your symptoms and knew of my research interest.”

Moira looked for more signs of general sloppiness. She could see that he trimmed his nose and ear hairs. Probably vain or homosexual. She wrinkled up her nose trying to smell him. What was he saying?

“We took the liberty of looking up your old hospital records and they seem to accord with what Jenni was observing.”

What the hell was this little pansy telling her now.

“We would like to try a surgical procedure that would reverse what has been going on with you. Thing is, we need consent and in your present state you are not able to give informed consent. Is there anyone – family or such – who could do that?”

Moira was becoming frustrated. Despite not liking tripe and onions much she was feeling very hungry.

“When do we eat?” she asked.

The round face doctor stood up and looked at the assembled students and nurses surrounding Moira’s chair.

“Times like this we have to take the bull by the horns so to speak and just use our prerogative and go ahead. It’s a relatively harmless operation. Simple neurosurgery and there’s a seventy five percent chance that the patient,” he indicated toward Moira who had fallen back asleep when a meal had not materialized, “will have a full and complete recovery and will be cognitively 100%.”

The students murmured and shuffled, trying to convey their enormous respect for this eminent savior of lives.

The room was dark, green, and reeked of stale tobacco. The bright morning sun strained to penetrate the heavy venetian blinds. Moira sat in an overstuffed armchair, a small occasional table at her right hand side, and lit another Camel. Recently released from hospital she was entertaining. Despite the formal dress she still wore her old apron. The young psychologist was here on a follow up visit to assess her level of independence and mental state after she had been hospitalized for three months. A peculiar neurological condition that surgery had reversed but left her unable to take solid food. There was some suspicion that Moira had slowly been starving herself to death and the young psychologist was here to ascertain if such a thing was likely to happen again.

He had just returned from a study visit to the United States of America and the room reminded him of the coloring in baseball stadiums he had visited there. He had become rather fond of the game and, in particular, the razzmatazz that surrounded them. Moira gave him permission to smoke and between the two of them, and the filtered light, the room soon became streaked with searchlights of smoke and dust. The young psychologist had bought a chocolate cake that he had baked that very morning because he knew Moira adored chocolate cake. He remembered when they had first met. He was on his way to the physiotherapy room and in order to get there he had to pass through the day room. There, sitting in a darkened corner, was a tall, gaunt woman, dressed in green and black. She was looking at the darkened screen of a television set. The young psychologist seated himself beside her and noted that she was crying.

“Is there something I can do for you?” he asked.

“I wanted to watch the tennis on the television but the charge nurse said that it would disrupt the other patients at breakfast. She said that television was a privilege and, unless I started eating I could not watch television,” Moira tearfully explained. The young psychologist explained that ward rules were ward rules but he would have a talk to the charge nurse and see if some compromise could be reached.

He returned a half hour later after ascertaining that Mrs. White’s primary problem was not eating, but depression, and that a little morning tennis might be the impetus to get her up and about again. Moira cheered up immediately and for the next few mornings she sat in front of the television and ate her mashed up baby-food. Gradually she emerged from her depression, graduated to chocolate cakes, and told the young psychologist tales of her life as an airline hostess, a television personality, a cooking presenter, a private investigator, and businesswomen. Then she talked of the men in her life and it became obvious to the young psychologist why Mrs. Moira White had been depressed.

Now they sat companionably together in this darkened room, in this deserted house, in this distant suburb, in this city at the bottom of the world, and Mrs. Moira White told the story of her men. As she talked she slowly moved toward a pile of photograph albums and diaries stacked on the floor, in the dark, out of sight. As she moved she fumbled in her apron pocket and withdrew a delicate dusting cloth. She carefully lifted the topmost album and, still talking to her new companion, started to brush away the detritus of decades.

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