Friday, 28 March 2014

Call me Al(zheimer)

It cannot be denied that we have become a less caring society, contracting out the extended care of our increasingly long-lived elderly to the state; breaking the family bonds so completely that when dementia strikes the sufferers are often without a friendly face to turn to. Alzheimer’s disease is a nightmare end feared by many and feared more so by those without company in their final years. As life expectancy rises and medical research despairs of finding a cure this is a fate which awaits more of us each year.

Janice was a one-time care home worker and although she had moved away from her early caring career she was still determined to do her bit, so when she came across a frail old man, bewildered and weeping on a park bench she gently took a seat by his side. He looked out across the boating lake with a vacant expression. Janice examined his sorrowful countenance and took his hand. He became dimly aware of her presence and half-turned to face her. “Hello dear” he said, as you might greet a close relative.

Using her gentlest voice and her most concerned expression Janice dutifully played the part of a favourite niece and listened to his tale. He explained how he had come out to feed the ducks, indicating the bag of stale bread on the bench beside him. He liked to come here because this was the spot where he had met his wife. Janice noted his use of the past tense and clasped his hand tighter, breathing a soothing murmur of empathy. He suddenly switched to the present. “Actually” he said “you are about the same age as her.” Janice took a breath and played along, nodding as he told his tale.

“Yes, my wife is a lovely woman; half my age and a real looker. She takes care of herself and she loves to take care of me, too. When I’m with her we are like newly-weds; we hold hands and kiss all the time. I call her Pookie and she calls me Dirk and we flirt and flirt and flirt.” He brightens as he recalls his married life and Janice makes small noises of encouragement; it is good when they are in a buoyant mood. The old man warms to his theme, a blush of colour coming again to his cheeks.

“And our sex life is wonderful!” he exclaims and now it is Janice’s turn to blush. “We have sex most mornings, to work up an appetite for breakfast. She wears sexy lingerie in bed and stockings during the day. She likes to give me the occasional flash of stocking-top to keep me going and some days, if I have the energy, we make love in the afternoon. But always, always, we fall asleep, exhausted, hot and sweaty in each other’s arms after an extended bout of thrilling tantric sex.” His smile is wide and Janice is flustered. But suddenly the old boy’s features droop and the sad face of earlier returns. He sobs uncontrollably.

Janice knows the drill and hugs him, patting his back and uttering soothing there-theres. Keep talking, she reminds herself, keep him engaged. Poor, poor man; try to take him back to those happy memories. She gently reminds him of all he has just told her, feeling a little embarrassed as she recounts the detail but knowing she’s doing the right thing. He just sobs all the more. “You must really miss her after all these years” she says and with that the old man stops and looks at her.

“She’s not dead!” he exclaims “I’m not completely doo-lally. I know exactly where I am, it’s 2014 and David Cameron is the prime minister, we just had the Sochi Winter Olympics, I watched the Farage-Clegg debate on Wednesday night and I’m very much looking forward to the second round.” Janice was astonished. “And” he went on, “I do have a hot wife, half my age and we do make sweet, sweet love every morning and every night!”

Janice drew back and studied his newly animated face; he certainly seemed to be lucid. “Then why all the sobbing?” she asked. The old man composed himself, took a breath, looked her in the eye and said “I’ve forgotten where I bloody live.”

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