Wednesday, August 6, 2014

This Night Two Years Ago

I can choose to remember that it was the night I failed to protect my husband; that it was the night he left me; the night he left his home and never came back; the night he was vulnerable, hurt and afraid; the night he lay in the cold a long time alone without help. 

Or I can choose to remember that he was brave and resourceful and full of faith, and that it was yet another instance (and more than one) of the way he always put me and my wellbeing first.

We watched the second episode of a two-part TV movie about World War I. The previous week we'd watched the first half at Heritage Nursing Home, where he was staying for temporary respite. The respite was for me, to give me a rest from the arduous carer role. I still saw him every day, had meals with him, and took him out to lunch and to the Art Gallery when my son came for a visit. That Sunday night we watched the movie in the big TV lounge, just the two of us, holding hands. The staff on duty kindly brought us supper. It was quite romantic.

A friend had warned me that Part Two was harrowing, with stuff about the trenches. It wasn't good for him, at that time of his life, to watch distressing movies; he became too affected. But he'd seen Part One, and he had a lifelong interest in World War I because of his father's involvement. There was no way I could persuade him to skip Part Two. I hoped that if he had a bad reaction I could calm him with Reiki. However, although it was an emotional movie, he seemed to cope all right.

He ended up being the one to give me Reiki. The staff at Heritage asked if I was sure I wanted to take him home as planned. They'd had a gastric flu thing there and thought he showed some signs that he might not be well. But it was all rather nebulous, and we'd both been looking forward to his coming home. So he did come home, and Part Two of the movie was six days later. While we were still watching it, I developed a sudden, awful cough.

It was violent, pretty much uncontrollable, and at its worst I was afraid I would choke to death! Apparently he hadn't picked up anything from the Home; I had. 

That was the first night in months (except when he was in the nursing home) that I didn't deadlock the front door and hide the key. His Alzheimer's was mild most of the time, and controlled by medication, but that illness gets worse at night and people may wander off physically too. I only did it as a precaution, though; I wasn't aware of a definite need. And anyway, I reminded myself, getting down our front steps was beyond him now and he never attempted it. All the other doors were deadlocked. It seemed safe enough.

That night, coughing fit to choke, I thought if it got too bad I might have to go to hospital. (In which case they'd have taken Andrew too, as he couldn't care for himself.) I thought that if I got worse in the night he could probably call an ambulance all right, but he wouldn't know how to let them in if I locked up too securely. So I didn't deadlock that door. I did Reiki the lock, with prayers that we be looked after.

In bed, he cuddled me and gave me Reiki. Best Reiki hands in the business, I always told him, and they still were. I felt rotten, but the cough became more manageable. He wanted to keep doing it, but I was concerned that he wasn't comfortable and needed his sleep, so I said, "No, that's enough now," and persuaded him to turn over and get some rest.

At some point I half-woke to find him getting out of bed and grabbing his wheely walker. I assumed he was going to the toilet. Normally, I'd probably have gone with him in case he needed help, but I was feeling SO sick. I told myself he'd manage, and went back to sleep. 

At 3am I woke again. The bed was empty. I didn't know how long it was since he'd got out of bed but I went down the passage to see if he was all right. He wasn't in the toilet. 

His office door was shut. I thought he must be working at his computer, as he often did if he couldn't sleep, and had shut the door so as not to disturb me. Again, had I been feeling normal, I'd have opened the door and checked on him, but, still feeling really sick, I went back to bed and back to sleep.

I was woken at 5am by a call from the hospital. 

"We've got your husband here," they said. "Someone found him wandering the street. He's all right; we've made him warm. We're going to keep him in a bit longer just in case. So there's no need to worry. He's safe. You can go back to sleep." 

As if! I got up and found the front door wide open. The outside light wasn't on. I'll never know how he got down the front steps in the dark with his wheely walker and all, and with only bed socks on his feet.

"He's left me," I thought at once. It seemed to pop into my head unbidden. I told myself not to be silly. Then I realised that in one way it was the truth.

I was still coughing badly. It was obvious to me that with me being sick — indeed if either one of us got sick — the whole at-home care thing broke down. I would need to take him back to Heritage. It was suddenly time to make that permanent — which had been discussed with all concerned and we knew it was only a matter of time. But he and I had both hoped it was at least a few months further off.

I turned up at the hospital at 8am with his clothes, naively expecting him to be discharged. I had a scarf over my face so as not to take infection into the hospital. A nurse gave me a mask instead. Andrew was no longer in Casualty; he'd been moved to the wards. When I found him, he was sitting up in bed eating breakfast, with a thermal blanket that looked to be made out of tinfoil still wrapped around him.  

"I was hoping you wouldn't come," he said with some gusto. "You need to be home looking after yourself." He seemed fit and cheerful, but the nurses said he'd be kept in for observation for a day or two, just to make sure there was no serious damage. 

He told me he had no idea how or why he got there, but found himself lying on the ground at the top of our hill, a few doors down from our place, with his wheely walker beside him. He couldn't get up, so he prayed for a car to come past. It seemed he lay there praying a long time, but finally a car did come past (at some time in the wee small hours in our quiet little cul-de-sac — astonishing) but it went by without stopping. Dark pyjamas, black wheely walker; I guess they just didn't see him. 

He decided to try and pull himself up on his wheely walker, and managed it. He banged long and hard on the car outside the nearest house but couldn't rouse anyone. So then he got himself across the road and knocked on a door. It wasn't the door of anyone we knew. The man inside yelled a lot of questions before Andrew convinced him to open the door, but then called the ambulance.

He was gleeful with pride that, at the hospital, he had remembered our doctor's name and our address and phone number.

In hindsight he felt that his getting up and going out might have had something to do with being deeply affected by the movie, but he couldn't really explain it even so. He'd lost the memory; just had some vague notion.

I went back home, swapped his clothes for pyjamas and toiletries, delivered them to the hospital, went home again and put myself to bed for a week. I went through all the stages of that nasty gastric flu that was doing the rounds. With paracetamol, water, Reiki and bed rest, I got myself over it as quickly as I could. Andrew and I spent a frustrating week yelling at each other over the phone. The nurses didn't realise he needed his hearing aids and he couldn't remember to tell them. 

When I saw him again, he had deteriorated. It became obvious to me that he was dying. He did eventually go back to the nursing home, for palliative care, and the end came soon. 

In those final weeks, despite his decline, there were happy, loving moments, and he was at last free of the constant, excruciating pain in his legs (from peripheral neuropathy). But all that is another account I'll write another time. 

The doctors couldn't really pinpoint cause of death. His various ailments that he'd had for some time are all listed on the death certificate. They told me they thought he'd had a series of very tiny strokes that didn't show up on the scans. From various signs, I think so too. But really he died of old age, of his physical vehicle wearing out, of his time having come.

I never got to give him a decent hug again. First I didn't want to pass on my flu; then he had all sorts of drips and things attached; and finally he was just too frail. But that last night at home, when we went to bed he hugged me and gave me Reiki, and next morning at the hospital his first thought was for me to take care of myself even if it meant he didn't see me for a while. So much love! I can never say I missed out on any loving.

Tonight, remembering, I could focus on pain and guilt, thinking of him lying out there while I slept, unaware. I could think, if only I'd deadlocked the door, if only I'd gone to the loo with him, if only I'd looked into his office.... And then what? Would I have left him in the street while I raced home to call an ambulance? Would I have tried to half carry, half drag him home when I was so sick I could hardly move myself? Would I have gone outside to find him already disappeared, and panicked, not knowing where? If he hadn't gone outside that night, would he have had the strokes here at home and ended up in hospital anyway? Probably yes, to that last.

The way it happened was easier for me at the time. For him, he had the autonomy of heading off wherever his dementia was leading him; then the feat of getting down those steps successfully, hampered as he was. And after he fell, lost consciousness, and came to again, he was in his right mind, and that was when he became so brave, resourceful and full of faith that I can only feel awe and admiration. 

Perhaps, after all, looking back from where I am now, I would not want him to have missed such an incredible achievement. Perhaps it was a necessary step on his soul's journey. 

Note: I think I've probably written this account already in some version. At the moment, I'm not even going to try and check. I had a need to write it out tonight in any case, from my present perspective. 

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