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You never know where you are with Ms A

Alzheimer’s is an unpredictable business. Last Friday I left the house at noon to interview an author in North London. Then I went to Jermyn Street Theatre to review Anything That Flies (very good, by the way). Because it’s a short, 90 minute show, I was home just after 10.00pm. That means that My Loved One and his unloved, ever-present companion Ms Alzheimer’s were alone to do their own thing for ten hours. There’s nothing unusual about that, of course. I have to work and at the moment he’s perfectly OK at home. He can assemble simple food for himself quite capably, although I don’t now leave him at home overnight on his own.

Usually I come in to find MLO and catus domesticus asleep on the sofa pretending to listen to Schumann or Elgar. Not this time. During my absence MLO had brought in all the washing – big load – in from the garden and sorted it. He’d collapsed the rotary line neatly and put the cover on – having claimed for weeks to have been utterly baffled by the new one I’d bought. Indoors, he’d neatly stashed underwear and so on in the airing cupboard and ironed and hung up the shirts and blouses to air. He’d even put the iron and ironing board away in the right place. As if that weren’t enough, he’d found a pair of shoes I’d dumped without discussion in the kitchen, intending to deal with them later. He’d polished them.

As a performance it was almost as good as the one I’d seen at Jermyn Street Theatre. And I was astonished.  Ms Alzheimer’s was evidently having a day off.  Of course a couple of years ago MLO would have done all this and more. Neither of us would have thought anything of it or commented. We used to be a team. Now t he often spends whole days simply reading his Kindle or nodding off over newspapers, completely forgetting simple tasks we’ve talked about. Friday’s achievements therefore seemed very surprising although ten hours is a long time and I suspect he worked very slowly. I said something to the effect of “Goodness! You’ve been busy. Thank you” – with a grateful hug.

He replied cheerfully: “Yes I was very pleased with it too. I’ve felt really quite well today.” The sad, tragic even, thing is, of course is that we’ve reached a stage that we have to get excited and congratulatory about a bit of routine ironing. Not so long ago some of my Twitter followers would regularly tease me, and by extension, MLO about his dedication to, and expertise in, ironing. Those were the days.

Even when Ms A is backing off a bit and MLO is saying things like “I feel a bit of a fraud – everything seems almost right at the moment” there’s the tiredness to deal with.

Now that we have our “new” (we’ve been here 13 months) house more or less as we want it inside, I’m trying to sort the garden. So, several times recently, after a few hours’ essential desk work I’ve put on old clothes, repaired to the garden and got busy with clipping, nipping and unearthing the detritus, such as car batteries and bricks, which our eccentric predecessor saw fit to bury in the flower beds. Well it wouldn’t occur to MLO and Ms A to go out and start gardening independently but if they see me out there with a rake or hoe in my hand, they find a pair of dirty-jobs trousers and wander out to join me.

Then he tries to be helpful and is – provided I issue very clear instructions. one task at a time. I find myself saying things like “Go and get the small saw from the big shed. It’s on the third shelf down on the right.” It might take him ten minutes to find it and I might have to repeat the instruction but eventually he’s by my side with the requisite tool and I say “Saw this branch off – just here, please”. Cutting bits off trees brings out his inner George Washington and he quite likes it. Thus our gardening can be quite congenial for an hour or two.

But Ms A soon starts leaning on him and heavy weariness sets in. I can see him visibly flagging. “Why don’t you clean up and go and lie down for a bit” I say. Next time I see him, when I come in from the garden myself, he’ll be fast asleep on the bed as if it were two in the morning.

The variability is curiously unsettling. Yes, it’s wonderful to have my Real Husband – the one who lovingly cleans my shoes until they gleam without being asked – back for a few hours but it’s hard to adjust when he’s so different so soon after. Take each day as it comes?  Much  easier to say than to do.

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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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