My Dad’s a Goldfish. He really is. Thirty seconds after eating dinner he has forgotten what he ate. Thirty seconds after coming home from an outing he has forgotten where he was – or even that he had been out. I can go into the kitchen to make us coffee and he’ll be surprised to see me when I return, even though I’ve been sitting beside him for the last hour. Okay, I know they’ve sort of de-bunked the myth about goldfish memory-span but dad’s loss of short-term memory certainly gives meaning to the expression ‘living in the moment’.
For anyone who has not guessed from the above description dad has dementia. This blog is a way to allow me to relieve my feelings about the situation – perhaps even try to find some humour in it – and stop boring my friends and family half to death by going on and on and on about it. I don’t mind if no one reads it but if others coping with a similar situation find it useful/helpful to know they are not alone then even better.
The Goldfish has vascular dementia with a bit of Alzheimer’s thrown in for good measure. For a while after the diagnosis, life seemed to go on much the same. His wife (the wicked step-monster, of whom more will be said later) appeared to be coping with his increasing forgetfulness and maintained everything was ‘fine’. Oh, the guilt when I think back to those early days and wish I had intervened sooner. She wasn’t coping, wasn’t even not coping but was in complete denial of there being anything wrong at all.
The Goldfish continued to visit me whenever he took the notion (maybe when he remembered I existed?). These social calls usually happened during my working day, often when I was on deadline with an article. I tried to pretend I wasn’t in but he would assume I hadn’t heard him calling and wheeze up the stairs to the top floor to my study. Downstairs I’d make us coffee. After asking fifty times if I had any holidays planned and was I having a busy day he would lapse into silence. My questions as to what he had been doing were answered with a: “Nothing much.”
Two or three times a week he drove to the bus stop, caught the bus to the next town where he would walk through the shopping centre, have a coffee, – the girls in the coffee shop would have his white, no sugar on his table almost before he sat down – buy a couple of things in the Pound shop and catch the bus back. I could have walked the route blindfolded so often did I hear him recount it. Sometimes, though, his car was not where he swore he left it, and we’d have to search the streets close to the bus stop. One day I was shopping when I received a call from the DH asking if I could think where else he might have parked his car as it was nowhere to be found. It was a bitterly cold day, the temperature never rising above freezing and the Goldfish had been wandering around for hours. “Maybe he was late for the bus and drove to the next bus stop along the route,” I suggested. They found his car, the windscreen completely covered in ice and Wee-sis watched in horror as he drove off, only able to see through a tiny peep hole he’d rubbed clear.
The car was his independence. We dreaded the day he would not be able to drive but, even more, we dreaded the day he had a serious accident. A couple of times he came home with a scrape or a dent with no memory of how they had happened. When his licence was due to be renewed the DVLA wrote to his GP who contacted us. He was concerned about dad’s fitness to drive but if we felt he was still okay he would agree to the renewal.
“Can you sit in the car with him and get him to drive around the town? See how his driving really is?” I asked the DH.
“Why don’t you sit with him?”
“I’m not getting in a car with my dad driving.”
The decision was made. It was awful. The Goldfish was furious, demanding to know who was stopping him from diving. How could they? We had to remove the car from the drive, insist the step-monster hide her car keys and explain to him over and over and over again the doctor felt it was time for him to stop driving. We assured him his wife was able and willing to drive him wherever he wanted to go. How wrong we were.