Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Living with Grandma

I get on well with my gran but it's hard work at times. She's been largely immobile for some years, but lately she's lost much of her mental sharpness too. She gets confused very easily and her short-term memory is almost non-existent. Sometimes I feel I'm living in some kind of Alice in Wonderland world. My gran has lost all sense of time, so effectively while I'm living here there's no clock and no calendar. She'll make herself breakfast at 3:30 am, then pour me a cup of apple-flavoured instant tea at 5:30 (which I tip down the sink when she's not looking), then she'll sleep most of the day.

Friday was her 88th birthday. I gave her regular reminders of this as the date approached. She would recite her date of birth - "twenty-eight five twenty-two" - but without knowing what it meant; it might as well have been a car number plate. And then the big day came. We - myself and the absent members of her family - made a fairly big deal of it. I'm glad we did. In all she got two birthday cakes, three bouquets of flowers, two punnets of strawberries and numerous cards. And the phone hardly stopped ringing. I even took her to the village pub for lunch (it was good to see her eating well). But later that afternoon she wanted to know what day her birthday was!

What makes it hard for me (and anyone else) is that she's unwilling to accept help from others. She still thinks she can be in control of everything. Every morning a carer briefly visits her for a quick check, but whoever this person is (unfortunately it changes) my gran doesn't trust them.

I should point out that her emotional responses to other people are just the same as they've always been. There's no point trying to pull the wool over her eyes; she can read you like a book. And occasionally all the circuitry in her brain magically aligns and everything, for a few minutes, returns to normal.

Conversation often makes little sense. For instance I'll hand her a bowl of strawberries. "I think I'd better leave these to stand for a while." Stand? So they can brew? Ferment? Dance?

On Saturday disaster struck as she developed a severe pain in her lower back and she could hardly move at all. Suddenly simple things like getting into bed or using the loo became a major operation. On Sunday I called the doctor who came round and prescribed some painkillers.

Not that he should have bothered. There are painkillers, and just about every other kind of prescription drug under the sun, all over the house. She has a cupboard jam-packed with diazepam, clonazepam and nitrazepam, although I couldn't find the one we get in New Zealand called sweetazepam.
Most of the dates on the boxes are from last century but if I dared throw any of them away I'd be in big trouble. My gran is a rampant hoarder (I'll get on to her ancient tins of food in another post).

If you're wondering what diazepam (a.k.a. Valium) is doing in her cupboard, she's suffered from anxiety, panic attacks and depression for sixty years. Her thirties sound like they were a living hell. Things haven't been anywhere near as bad recently but she still gets the odd "attack" such as today when the realisation that the cleaning lady will be arriving tomorrow sent her over the edge.

I love my gran a lot, she was very good to me as a boy, and I'm happy to help her (so long as she'll accept my help!). Funnily enough after cutting her toenails today (she's unable to do them herself) she thinks I should pursue a career as a podiatrist!

Last night I watched Andy Murray's disappointing loss to Tomas Berdych in the French Open (normally I'm watching on a TV with no clever red button, and it's at night anyway, so I don't get that luxury). Murray's body language wasn't good - it was as if he couldn't wait to get off the court (and I know what that feels like). This year's Roland-Garros was the seventh time I'd been to a Grand Slam (I went to Wimbledon in '98, '99, '01 and '02, and the Aussie Open in '05 and '08). It's been a real shame to see so many empty seats in Paris this year. Apparently the tickets have been sold but people don't turn up. Something similar happens at Wimbledon with all the corporate fat-cat tickets, but not to such a ridiculous extent.

Today was a bank holiday so St Ives had a special super-sized market. This time we even had people giving demonstrations of their products. I had a look around, but as always, restricted my purchases to food.

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