Egrets, I’ve had a few but then again…….

I typed this, in a rush, missing an R.

Of course, Frank Sinatra could have raised small white wading birds, though he would not have had long to do so, at least in the UK. Egrets were seen here in 1989 and Frank died in 1998.  So he would have been starting in his late seventies.  One can imagine him (well this one can, try a bit harder if you are having difficulty) standing in a little shack-like pigeon loft on stilts in the marshes, soggy up to the knees handing out damp breadcrumbs and being prodded repeatedly on the rump by hungry wading birds who had waded off behind him, searching for sticklebacks.

‘Egrets, I’ve had, ouch, gerroff!  Egrets, just wait will you?  Egrets I’ve, oh don’t lay your egg in the water, now it’s gone under…’

None of this happened at all, as far as I’m aware, mainly because I intended to write about regret.

Regret for past hurts perpetrated against you, is a serrated knife blade, shallow buried on a shifting sandbank.  There is no way of picking it up without cutting yourself, not even my way, and yet we do.  Your mind wanders into the maze and there you are circularly amazed, the injustice was staggering, the wound was deep and lasting and before you know it, there you are, hanging on to the cutting edge of imagination, lacerating yourself.

I have a tendency to go egret farming if I am peckish myself.  Currently plenty, as I am hoping shedding a few pounds will help my intestines.  Sometimes I do it if I am tired. Some do it when thwarted in the mental universe of present disappointments, egressing backwards, counting unhatched eggs in the water.

Almost everyone would do it trying to communicate with a demented person who was annoyed.  Especially if everyone else has mickeyed off, leaving you up to your knees in it, on a really bad day, up to your neck, and about to go down into the murk.

The care agency my mother chose to help her at home had many employees.  I met most of them.  One lady in  particular I couldn’t place.  She was a young, very substantial person.  Not just hefty, also quite tall.  She first came for lunch, early in my mother’s illness.  We sat at the dining table, making polite conversation.  I wondered what her speciality was.  She didn’t seem particularly insightful.

We met again some months later, when my mother was throwing a major wobbly.  My mother had hold of her walking stick, raised surprisingly vertically for a woman who often complained of the weight of a teacup.  She was shouting at me: I shall hit you!  I am going to strike you!  I will do it now!

This had been going on for some time when the large young lady was admitted to the house by another carer, strode into the lounge and, saying cheerfully, ‘Hello Jane,’ placed herself between me and my mother and the stick.  She was the bouncer!

For some time a bouncer has been required for SMIL.  Previously the mildest Christian person you could wish to meet, SMIL has had her walking stick removed from her because she was terrifying the other residents with it.  She pointed at everyone in the dining room with the stick, making threats, until several residents were sobbing in their cereal.

You may have read some months ago about a resident in a care home being murdered by another resident.  My mother had been in her care home just about a week when another resident stole her engagement ring and went round telling everyone she had a new silver ring.  It was not, it was a platinum ring with baguette sapphires.  The staff seemed unable to do anything about the theft, the thief was eventually moved to a more secure facility, my mother never got her ring back.  I have fully fledged herons on that incident.

SMIL is now in the more secure wing of her care home.  When I ring I can hear the tumult in the background.  I was advised the day before yesterday that SMIL was on the warpath and that speaking to her was not a good idea.

There is no doubt that the longer a demented person is in the familiar surroundings of home, the less mental agility is required from them and the longer they will remain relatively calm.  Every disease path is different, however.  My mother was difficult to begin with.  Maybe if SMIL had stayed at home longer she would have stayed calm longer.  Add to this the varying speed with which the malady afflicts sufferers.  Also, a pattern, familiar from care of my mother, is emerging with SMIL.  First she sleeps a lot, then she becomes aggressive, then an infection is evidenced.  It appears that the overstretched brain, fighting infection, cannot also control behaviour to socially acceptable levels.

One of the very obvious attributes of a disease that involves loss of memory, is that every day is a new beginning.  What happened yesterday, or, indeed, five minutes ago, to a demented person, is utterly unavailable.

What did you have for lunch yesterday?

Did you take a moment to remember?  Are you still unsure?

Now apply that to the demented brain over the whole of life.  Very frequently repeated memories, such as childhood and family, are paths so well worn through the growing grass of memory loss that they are still visible and revisitable.  What happened for the first time yesterday, such as being in terrible pain but unable to articulate it and instead threating people, or reacting with available aggression, will not make even a dent on the grass that will be there a few hours later.

The outcome for family members is first, not to take an umbrage or raise any egrets on anything at all that the demented family member says.  Doing so is utterly pointless.  Repeating back to the demented person what they have said is futile, it has gone from them completely.  Moreover anything said is the product of a diseased brain, nonsensical.

Secondly, a helpful comsideration is the realisation that the longer the sufferer can remain in familiar surroundings, the less stress there is on them and consequently on anyone they come into contact with.

Thirdly, if transferring the person to a care facility, try to discuss the possibility early enough to involve the sufferer and give them some choice.  Imagine if it were you and you were forcibly transported to a place where murderous people abounded.  How nuts would you go?

And, as always, recognise that, in the lottery of life, it could be you.  The murderous resident could be your family member.

It is beyond amazement that care home staff are often kind and dedicated professionals.  I have met few in the wrong job and very many in exactly the place the universe wants them to be.

I am currently speaking to SMIL when possible, which is if she is not asleep or on the warpath.  I haven’t stopped sending cards, or photos of the grandchildren.  Sometimes when words are a difficulty, a handmade card with a little bar of chocolate in it, says a lot.  If it were you, locked up with people being wary of you for some reason you couldn’t remember, a picture someone had made for you and a mouthful of chocolate, might jog your memory into knowing you were not forgotten.

If you are a family member, you cannot do better than your best.  You have to look after you first to be there throughout the illness of your demented person.  This usually means getting help of some kind.

Once you have done the best you can, feed no egrets at all.  Neither those sent flying in your direction by the demented person, or those you have hatched out yourself.

If bystanders who have never had a demented person in the family send flocks of egrets and other beaked birds in your direction, please refer them to eleven years of Dementia Diaries.  Here the emphasis is on assistance in the form of moral support for the most difficult situation you may ever have to deal with.  Just do it your way and feed no egrets.


This posting may or may not be lobbied outside of the council offices by the local branch of the Stretched Metaphor Society and its popular publication Force Feeding Little Similies for Pleasure and Profiteroles.

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