I haven’t written about visiting my 85-year-old dad for a while because sadly, due to Covid restrictions coming into force at the hospital for three weeks, I simply wasn’t allowed to visit for the duration.
We kept in touch with the ward by phone, so we knew he was doing fine… but still, it was a difficult time not to be able to see dad in person. He has vascular dementia and doesn’t remember about the Covid pandemic, or understand why ordinarily he is only allowed two designated visitors never mind none at all for weeks on end.
So as soon as hospital visiting recommenced at the end of last week I booked a slot to see dad again, and it was such a relief on that first visit to find that we simply picked up pretty much exactly where we had left off – he seemed to have no recollection of the fact that we hadn’t seen him for a few weeks, he was settled and chatty and he looked well.
I noticed that dad has had his hair cut since I saw him last, and with a puzzled look he brushed his hand over his head and said in surprise – oh yes, so I have! So I asked him who had cut his hair, but all he could offer (with a wry smile) was – I’m buggered if I know!
But as soon as I saw dad this morning I realised he was having a ‘lost’ day – where he finds himself neither easily in the here-and-now, nor happily living in the past, but stuck somewhere in between. He said hello and gave a brief smile as I hugged him and sat down, but he kept looking around, distracted and agitated, seemingly trying to pick up visual and aural clues to work out where he was.
I asked him if he was OK, and with sad eyes he said he was in a place full of strangers where he didn’t recognise anyone… A friendly nurse came in and spoke to him by name, and he was surprised that she knew him – he was so sure he didn’t know her. Poor dad, he was so aware that everyone else seemed to know with confidence where they were, so he concluded he must be the one who is confused.
While I was visiting we called mum at home with my mobile phone, and then afterwards my brother called us with the on-screen video function so both he and dad were able to see each other in real time, but dad really struggled to keep his attention on the screen with so many distractions in the background and soon handed the phone back to me, disappointed he was unable to follow the conversation.
I reassured him that it was still good to be able to see my brother via the phone, and dad agreed but wondered why he hadn’t spoken to his mum and dad for a while – he hoped they were still doing fine? I smiled and quietly admitted I didn’t know – what’s the point of reminding him his parents have been dead for a good 30 years…
Dad often lives in this nightmare psychological no-man’s-land these days, alone and lost in a mental landscape ravaged by dementia, increasingly burdened by his inability to make sense of his surroundings. He tries so hard to make his brain work the way he wants it to. He thinks and he thinks and he thinks; puts in so much effort to try to understand it all but somehow nothing makes sense any more.
It hurts us to see him hurting and struggling so much, but with the best will in the world there’s nothing any of us can do to ease that burden for him. There’s no easy-to-read how-to handbook to help with all of this, no instruction manual for coping with the disintegration of mental capacity caused by dementia. All we can do is be there for him and guide him and continue to love him for a long as we can…
Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Handbook