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The sleepiness curse

Dave squaring up to Berlioz

When I was a child whimsical adults would talk about benign fairies coming at bedtime to scatter sleepy dust on us. How sweet. Well, hateful Ms Alzheimers is certainly armed with pocketsful of sleepy dust but it’s no blessing. More like a malevolent curse.

My Loved One, until recently an active. quite energetic man, is now tired all the time. If he sits down he nods off and that’s despite also sleeping well all night.  Take, for example, the night last week when Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust was on at the Proms. MLO and Dave the cat repaired purposefully to the sitting room to listen to it. Now, I have to say that Dave is not a very discerning music lover. He’s as happy with Elvis as Wagner, just as long he’s got a warm, cuddly, relaxed human being to lean against. And he certainly had it during said Berlioz. When I popped downstairs from my office half an hour later in search of a sustaining cup of tea I glanced through the sitting room door to see them both fast asleep. Chin uncomfortably on his chest, MLO wasn’t hearing a single note of Berlioz’s masterpiece.

The same thing often happens these days at live concerts, plays and films – and that would have been laughably unthinkable even two years ago. As a reviewer I sometimes see two shows on one day –  typically a matinee following by an evening performance. I wouldn’t now dream of asking MLO to accompany me on such a long day because I know he’d find it unbearably exhausting. Frailty, thy name is man. Especially if Ms A has got at you.

Then there are shows which entail a long journey home. The later it gets the tireder he becomes and sometimes, anyway, I’m allocated only a single ticket. I’ve lost count, for example, of the number of times this year I’ve driven solo home from Chichester pounding along all those As and Ms – A27, A24, M23, M25 and A 22 – with only late night Radio 3 for company. In another life I would have stayed at the Premier Inn in Chichester and driven home in the morning but am now uneasy about leaving MLO at home overnight. I have two double show days coming up actually in Chichester – so that’s the problem compounded.

One of the saddest things is to watch MLO – a lifelong reader – struggling to read books through his fatigue. He has had the same two books, which he also carries around the house during the day, on the bedside for around three months. He reads a page and then the book falls from his hand as his head droops in sleep. I suspect – although I haven’t asked the question and don’t really want to know the answer at the moment – that he can’t actually remember what he’s already read when he picks up the book. It reminds me of the weak teenage readers I used to teach in secondary schools who would come to class with the same “private reader” all year – until I intervened and told them to give up and get something short, easy and do-able to build confidence. It’s a very different situation when reading ability is declining because you’ve got Ms A chewing away at your brain.

I first noticed this uncharacteristic  somnolence two years ago when we were on holiday in Arizona. Every night after dinner we’d return to our hotel room to read for a couple of hours – me seated at the in-room desk and MLO on the sofa. Within a few minutes I’d glance over my shoulder and he’d be asleep. At the time I just thought it was mildly amusing – the desert air and all that. Little did I know. I seem to have watched him – still only 72 –  age twenty years in just a few months.

Well  this disease is a one way street. He isn’t going to get any livelier – although the medication he’s due to start next month could, just possibly, stop him getting any sleepier for a bit. Meanwhile the hardest part is the poignancy of his saying, quite often, that he hopes to be better soon. If only. The bitter truth is very hard to accept especially when you’re the person it’s happening to.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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