2018 Grateful 7

I caught the last train to the village on Thursday night. I’d been in a workshop all day and then to the doctor that evening but I was on time, with 30 minutes to spare. I settled in to my seat, a whole carriage to myself. The joy of late-night train travel. I double-checked my messages. Yep – I was to get off in Balatonszentgyörgy where himself would pick me up.

Fast forward the 2 hours and 15 or so minutes the train takes, and we pulled into the station. I got off. No sign of himself on the platform, which was unusual. No sign of the car in the car park, which was downright worrying. So I rang.

M: Where are you?
H: On my way to Zalakómar. Where are you?
M: In Balatonszentgyörgy.
H: What are you doing there?
M: This is where you told me to be.
H: But then you called and insisted I go to Kómar.
M: I did not. We haven’t spoken since this morning.
H: Yes. We did. You called me after your workshop.
M: No. I didn’t.
H: Yes. You did.

I ran back, crossed over in front of the Keszthely train getting an earful from the station agent for my trouble. The train splits in Balatonszentgyörgy with half going one direction and half another. My half was beginning to roll down the tracks but the shouts of yer woman berating me for my near-suicidal dash across the tracks pulled up the driver. He leaned out the window and shouted:

D: Hová mész? (Where are you going?)
M: Kómar!
D: Rendben (OK), thumbing back to the carriage.

I jumped on and he took off. {I’m available for stunt work.}

The friendly ticket conductor was curious.

C: Do you know where you’re going?
M: I know where I was supposed to be. But my husband, he’s in Kómar. [Relax – it’s just easier]
C: Ah, us men, we’re always wrong.

And bless him, he didn’t charge me for the extra leg.

So, I get to Kómar and there’s himself. On the platform, phone at the ready, to show me the record of our call. And yes. We had talked. For 3 minutes. I didn’t have the faintest recollection of the conversation. And that scared me shitless.

I am terrified of dementia.

Dementia is a syndrome, not a disease. … Dementia is a group of symptoms that affects mental cognitive tasks such as memory and reasoning. Dementia is an umbrella term that Alzheimer’s disease can fall under. It can occur due to a variety of conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

My anxiety levels were rising and no matter how he tried to steer the conversation, I kept coming back to the fact that I had zero recollection of a phone conversation that happened less than five hours earlier. Bless him. He really has the patience of Job. I was nearly hysterical. I had a knot in my stomach the size of a pregnant orange. On the 10-minute drive to the house, I messaged a good mate of mine in the UK who is studying memory issues and told him what had happened. Thankfully, he was online. He asked me if anyone had commented on any changes in my behaviour recently. I checked with himself. And yes, apparently I’ve been more forgetful than usual. I asked him if he could run a preliminary check on me. We fixed a date for Sunday evening.

It’s been hovering in the back of my mind the whole weekend. I’ve been watching myself like a new mother might an infant child, the anxiety eaten up by what ifs. What if those three minutes were is alibi for some heinous crime himself was wrongly accused of? I wouldn’t be able to swear on a Bible that I’d spoken to him… the most I’d be able to muster is that my phone records say I did, your honour. What if this is the start of it? What if I’m losing my mind? What if I can’t remember who I am in a year’s time? Or worse, what if I can’t remember who anyone else is!

We did the test – ACE-III – and I got 99%. The cut-off is 83%. No sign of memory issues. Man, was I relieved.

So why the complete blank? Knowing better than to suggest I was burning the candle at both ends, he told me of a patient who had been spinning too many plates in the air and had experienced similar blanks. When he’d cut back on his commitments, when he’d stopped running around so much, when he’d taken time to do nothing, the blanks stopped. Enough said.

I’m grateful it’s that simple. I’m already paring back on the weeks ahead and considering what I can do to take some of those plates out of the air without breaking any. I got the fright of my life. And while there may be far worse things that could happen to me, at the moment it’s losing my mind that I fear the most.

2018 Grateful 36

I spent a lot of time this week with my dad. Even after 50+ years of knowing him, he still has stuff to teach me. We went to visit his younger brother – there’s 13 months between them all. For him, time has taken on new meaning. He has something – dementia, Alzheimer’s – he’s lost his memory. We were chatting and he told me that he’d lost it. To which I found myself replying – Everything to you is new, wow. Every meal, every experience. Imagine tasting ice-cream for the first time, every day? But no, he said, it wasn’t the experiences that he’d forgotten, it was the names, the faces, the connections, the links. He’s 91 but he’s open to being any age.

While we were there, an elderly lady came and stood at the door. She was holding on to a baby doll, as if it were a real child. She remonstrated with us telling us to ‘be proper, be proper, be proper’. God only knows where the woman’s mind is. But no matter what they remember or don’t remember, that human contact seems all too important.

At the end of the second WLC week, my wellbeing was to make contact with three different people each day. You’d think that wouldn’t be a problem. Just fire off three emails or make three comments on FB or, God forbid, actually talk to three people. But it wasn’t simple enough to manage, to get the 35 points on offer for successful completion. I’ve noticed that I’m guarding my time, and being very careful whom I spend it with or on. I’m avoiding group meet-ups and parties, as energy is limited and I’m easily drained. And while I know that as a card-carrying introvert, my happy place is sparsely populated, the danger of retreating is all too real.

Reading Death on Demand recently, a cop novel by Jim Kelly,  Valentine had this to say: ‘You won’t know this yet but life stops when you’ve got no one to tell; no one to receive. We’re like radios, I think – transmitting and receiving, but if there’s just you, what’s the point?’

Last year, Joseph Lindoe opted to live alone in a flat for a week. He did this to highlight the loneliness that is rampant among the elderly. His account makes for interesting reading.

This is in the UK. And it’s a problem in Ireland, too. But here, there’s the added element of fear. Just yesterday, I heard of an elderly couple in the village who had moved in with their daughter because they were afraid to live alone. Not because they might fall or anything, but because they might be robbed and beaten up – in their own homes. This is a real fear. It happens. The elderly are being targeted. What sort of person could do this? I can’t begin to imagine.

One of the pluses, though, of having close neighbours, is that everyone watches out for each other. Remember the 1919 novel The Valley of the Squinting Windows? I used to hate that everyone knew everyone else’s business, but now that my parents are of an age, and I’m not always around, I’m very grateful that there are those who would notice if Mam didn’t show up for mass of a morning or if Boss wasn’t seen up the garden. It makes being at a distance that much easier.

Paradoxically, though, until himself came on a scene a few years back, I often thought that if I fell out of reach of a phone on a Wednesday afternoon, it would be a full week before anyone would notice I was missing. And a lot can happen in a week. Such is the plight of single people all over the world. Back in 2007, 44-year-old Sandra Drummond was found dead in her flat in Hulme, Manchester. She’d been dead for nearly a year and no one had missed her. Elizabeth Day, writing in The Guardian, described Sandra and her ilk as

modern-day Eleanor Rigbys who die with no friends or family to notice.

How sad is that? Young and old alike, those living on their own need to connect. And those of us who tend towards solitude, need to take care not to lose ourselves in it.