Saturday 31 January 2015

Rest in peace Betty

Betty, who lived next door to us for the whole of our 20 years living in Daventry, died very recently. We kept in touch with her when we moved to Shropshire so when we didn't get her usual Christmas message we guessed that something was wrong.
She was always the perfect neighbour - which was fortunate because some of our other neighbours were rather "strange"! In no particular order there was the man who was clearly running a business from his home - despite previously signing a binding legal document agreeing not to do so. Then there was the man who deliberately set his own house on fire and the elderly couple who "demanded" for reasons that were never made clear that we "must" chop down a tree that was some considerable distance from the boundary between the two properties.
Betty was an oasis of normality in a desert of strangeness.
Claire and I have always believed in the idea of people dying to make space for newcomers. In 1984, when our daughter Sally was born, my Grandma and Grandpa (who were then aged 89 and 90) wrote to us telling us how pleased they were to hear that a new family baby had arrived to take one of the places that they themselves "expected soon to vacate". Now we will always remember that Betty died just before our niece had her baby boy. He was born to take Betty's place in the world.
Rest in peace Betty - we are happy that you have been reunited with your husband George after so long apart.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Different pathways - to the same end?

On Wednesdays Claire and I usually go walking in the hills around Church Stretton with other members of the "Walking for Health" group.

We always start and end at the same place but there are many routes, of varying length and complexity, that are available for the Walk Leader to choose from. Life is rather like that isn't it? Sometimes a person comes to a fork in the "road of life" and they need to pause for a moment to decide what route to take.

In the past I have sometimes stared at the signpost conveniently standing by the fork for too long. Somerset in the late 1980s and Northamptonshire in the late 1990s are two prime examples. As the years go by the time I have left on this small planet rotating around a rather run-of-the-mill star decreases and so the luxury of "signpost staring" becomes less and less affordable.

Looking down the different paths as I arrived at a junction sometimes gave me a clue about the advisability of going down a particular route. The path labelled Belgian Philatelic Study Circle had an ogre standing in plain sight a few steps from where I was standing so I didn't waste my time or energy investigating what was on offer behind the librarian!

I have also seen long and tortuous paths that clearly ended in a dead end. The opening section was smooth and level but the further I looked the rougher and narrower the path became. Of course I haven't always avoided the steepest paths. I went down the routes labelled "adult mentor" and "school governor" with some caution but the journey was made easier thanks to the stairway constructed by Appreciation and Making a Difference PLC.

As I write this I am standing on a path labelled Ragleth Writers. The path has suddenly become much rougher and steeper and it feels like Appreciation and Making a Difference PLC have gone walk-about. Some of my fellow travellers have shown themselves to have feet of clay and that has left me wondering if the journey is worth the risk.

Sunday 4 January 2015

How Dad died - an unsolved mystery.

Claire and I kept quite detailed records of this difficult time. I think Dad had worked hard to keep the full extent of Mum's dementia from the rest of the family so neither my brother or I realised that he had in effect become her full time carer.  Claire thinks that Mother's decline crept up on him, and that it never occurred to him that the family might be able to help or advise or want to know the extent of his trouble with Mother.

Regardless of the background the whole house of cards came crashing down when Dad was taken into hospital

The timeline

For Claire and I the drama started on Friday 8th October 2004. Our daughter got a phone call to say that Dad had been rushed to hospital. I had to come home from work and Claire and I then drove down to Harpenden to collect Mum and then off we went to Luton and Dunstable Hospital. We were told that he had a blood clot on his brain as a result of a fall he had had three weeks before. He was under sedation and on a ventilator in ITU. At the end of what was a fairly traumatic visit we took Mum back home with us for the night.

The next day we returned to ITU. He was taken off sedation at noon and by 3PM he had regained some movement on his right hand side.

On October 10th his ventilator was removed but later replaced. Dad then started fitting - including one while we were visiting him.

October 11th to October 15th 2004 - I had to return to work so my brother and his wife travelled up from Cornwall to help Claire to look after Mum in her home in Harpenden and also to visit Dad. He steadily improved and by the 14th he was able to follow instructions and he also started trying to talk.

October 16th 2004 - My brother and his wife returned to Cornwall so we took Grandma back to Daventry with us. Dad was talking well, "It is very boring in hospital" and "I'm very cold".

October 17th 2004 - We visited Dad again who was quite chatty and seemingly on the mend.

October 18th 2004 - A traumatic day as Mum had to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act because of her dementia. She was taken to an assessment centre for what ended up being six weeks.

October 19th 2004 - Dad wanted some fresh air and a short walk. Neither of which was allowed. He was drowsy but this was the start of the three day spell during which I thought he might come out of hospital alive. Of course I was to be proved wrong.

October 20th 2004 - Dad was out of bed and much the best we had seen him. We were able to tell him more about Mother and his accident.

October 21st 2004 - Dad had been moved to an ordinary ward. He was very tired but was able to tell us that he was on solid food. With hindsight his transfer to ward 17 was premature because his condition steadily deteriorated during his time there. We also visited Mum in the assessment centre who was obviously upset at not being allowed to go to see Dad.

October 22nd 2004 - We got the dreaded phone call and Claire and I travelled down from Daventry expecting that Dad might be dead when we arrived. His breathing was very noisy and he clearly had a chest infection but by the next day he was somewhat better.

October 24th 2004 - Dad had a raised temperature and he wasn't very alert.

October 25th 2004 - Dad's medical data looked encouraging but to the naked eye he seemed unchanged.

October 27th 2004 - My 50th birthday. Dad seemed to be showing some signs of improvement.

October 29th 2004 - A former work colleague of Dad's was already there when we arrived. None of us were able to get any response from Dad who appeared to be unconscious.

October 30th 2004 - This was to be the last time we were to see Dad alive. True to form the visit was rather mysterious because we could clearly hear him talking to the nurses who were washing him but by the time we were allowed to see him he appeared to be unconscious.

November 1st 2004 - Claire went down to Dunstable on her own. She got no response from Dad who sounded very congested.

November 2nd 2004 - In the early evening we received a phone call telling us that Dad was dying. This was at 6:30PM and by 7:30PM we had arrived at the hospital only to be told that Dad had died shortly after they had phoned us. We were never entirely convinced by this and we have always thought that it is more probable they found him dead and then phoned us. Due to some miscommunication we were shown into the side ward where Dad was laid out before being told that he had died so we had to work out for ourselves that he was dead!

Claire and I went to Harpenden for the night rather than trail back up the motorway.

November 3rd 2004 - My brother Stephen travelled up from Cornwall and together we told Mum that Dad had died. She took it very well.

The mystery. We never found out how Dad came to fall on the stairs sufficiently badly to cause a slow bleed in his brain. Nor why he didn't go straight to the doctor.

We know that after the fall he confided his worries to a former medical colleague who then did nothing on the grounds of "patient confidentiality". Had she told us the whole story we would have taken Dad to hospital ourselves and it is likely that he would have lived. She never showed any regret or remorse about her (in)action.

Friday 2 January 2015

Looking back 7 years

I got a shock when Claire casually mentioned over breakfast that it was 7 years since my Mum died.

In late November 2007 Mum was as good as she had been for several years. The endless worrying that had made her life so miserable had almost disappeared and although she was a long, long way from the person Claire and I had known before the onset of her dementia our twice weekly visits were not too much of a burden.

On 6th December Mum had a fall and she cracked her pelvis. From then on she went steadily downhill. The last time we were able to have a sensible conversation with her was on 13th December. She knew, just about, who we both were and we persuaded her to sign some Christmas cards.

By 14th December she was talking gibberish and by the 18th she was partially incontinent and very frightened. It was quite distressing seeing her in this state. I visited her again on Christmas Day and it was obvious that she was dying. Her brain was closing down and she was rambling on about her teenaged years.

By the 27th December Mum couldn't speak and Claire and I were not at all convinced that she could see. Later that day she was transferred to hospital and she died there on the 29th. Claire and I with her when she died - the actual death was un-dramatic, her breathing just slowed down and then stopped.

Her funeral didn't take place until January 11th 2008. It was very disappointing that nobody from Harpenden felt able to make the 1 hour trip to attend. Mum had been very active in the local community over several decades and I felt rather upset by the collective indifference of her former friends and neighbours.

Keith Gould, above all, should feel ashamed. Mum and Dad gave him a lot of support over several years when he was widowed but when my brother Stephen phoned him with the sad news of Mum's death  Keith couldn't have been less interested.