Man in the Middle – Chapter 50: An appointment with the Memory Clinic

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No.50: An appointment with the Memory Clinic

Mother is back home after ten days in the hospital and is the centre of a lot of attention. Not just from us. She’s on the care list of the NHS integrated community response service team, which includes a nurse, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a social care assistant, a social worker and her GP. Even a handyman. All have been in attendance as the Court Circular might say.

‘I’ve got more flunkies than the Queen,’ Mother says. She’s wrong. The Queen has over 1,000 people in the Royal Household. But I see why she might think that, given the numbers going in and out of her bedroom asking her if she needs anything. Though she doesn’t have as many attendants as the Queen, I am sure not even the Knights and Ladies of the Garter could be more dedicated than Mother’s band of helpers.

It’s not just their practical help that’s impressive. It’s the way they speak to her. The tone in their voices sounds almost like love. I wonder if I sound as considerate when I speak to her. I’ve  nicknamed Mother’s helpers the ‘A-Team’. It’s my homage to the soldiers of fortune in the 1980s TV series, who specialised in getting people out of dodgy situations, which the legal authorities
couldn’t handle. Which is exactly what this team have done for Mother: got her out of hospital, where she didn’t want to be, and got her back home with us, where she did.

The only difference between the A-Team and Mother’s team is that the NHS team is armed only with blood pressure monitors, pills and PPE; not tanks, rifles and grenades. That said, if Mother asked them to get her a tank to go shopping, I’m sure they’d sort it out.

‘Our mission is to do anything we can to stop her going back into hospital,’ said the unit’s head honcho, reminding me of the pipe puffing Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, leader of the fictitious A-Team.

Mother was in hospital because of a fall. My daughter discovered her at seven in the morning on her back on the sisal carpet outside her bathroom, staring up at the skylight. Distressed and confused, she kept saying she didn’t want to disturb anyone. But could someone help her back to bed? ‘I’ll be alright after a cup of tea’, she said.

Of course, she wasn’t. We got her back to bed with the help of an ambulance crew but, despite a lakeful of sweet tea, her condition deteriorated. She became immobile and delusional: there was a man knitting flowers in the trees outside her window, she thought I was her husband and our house was a hotel.

After a few days, the ambulance came again. In hospital, they diagnosed an attack of acute delirium but no broken bones. A brain scan suggested her brain had shrunk, though. This isn’t unusual in someone her age, they said. But they couldn’t do a proper diagnosis until her delirium finished. The Memory Clinic had to be contacted.

‘She may have dementia,’ said the consultant. The word exploded shock waves through the family. What does this mean for her? For us? The day she returned home, she and I sat on the patio
next to a wilting tomato plant in a terracotta vase. She talked for over an hour in the sun without pausing. A dam broke inside her and a rag bag of memories, questions and thoughts came flooding out of her. Is this the dementia? Is this how it’s going to be now, I thought?

A week later, it seems she is recovering. Her old sociable self has returned. When the community team come, she turns it on the charm. It’s ‘darling’ this, ‘darling’ that. Lazarus walks again. But, for an unfathomable reason, she’s started to speak Franglais to her carer, which given the woman isn’t French and Mother has never spoken French before is both bizarre and comic.

‘Le toast est beau,’ she says gratefully waving the half-eaten piece of toast the carer’s given her. ‘Tres bons, les eggs’

The carer smiles, patiently. I hope it doesn’t sound patronising.

‘She thinks the carer’s French and is trying to be friendly by talking to her in her own language,’ says my wife. ‘It’s harmless.’

‘As long as she doesn’t start talking in tongues, we’re fine,’ says my son.

The doorbell goes. The delivery driver hands over a large box of books I’ve ordered about dementia. The first one I pick up is called ‘Breakfast with the Centenarians’. Is this book a prophecy? A sign that she will be breakfasting with us in three years? I make a note to call the GP to see if Mother’s appointment at the Memory Clinic has been fixed yet.

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 51: My teacup overfloweth

Read the previous one – Chapter 49: Acute Deliriums episode one

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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