Daddy, dementia and me: I couldn’t face seeing him so confused again

When George’s hackles are raised, he becomes a rebellious schoolboy. A law unto himself. He wasn’t expelled from his first nursing home in Dublin for nothing

George Ryan and his daughter, Áine. George was bridge correspondent of ‘The Irish Times’ for 44 years – retiring in 2014

George Ryan and his daughter, Áine. George was bridge correspondent of ‘The Irish Times’ for 44 years – retiring in 2014

 

Daddy was on a hospital trolley again last week. It was the second time this winter. Once again the lovely nursing home staff who care for him so well were worried it was a stroke. Turned out it was just another chest infection.

He had fallen three times over a 12-hour period. On the first occasion, he told them not to worry he had just missed the side of the bed. All he wanted to do was rest, he said. Have a little snooze and he would be right as rain. (When George is angelic, his halo shines with such charm, he has all his new “girl friends” in the nursing home eating out of his hand.)

“Look at her, Áine. Will you look at her, isn’t her hair so BEAU . . . tiful,” he says, with a wicked twinkle in his eyes.

Well, if you saw the state of my hair when they phoned that night to say they were sending him to hospital. I was beached in bed in my thermal pyjamas under two duvets, an eiderdown I inherited, and a mountain of tissues. Yes, like half the country, I had the flu. The one I got the jab for. The one that didn’t work. Of course, Daddy got it too, for all the use it was.

Truth is, I was relieved to be able to croak down the phone to them that I was sick, incapacitated, unable to visit him in the hospital.

I couldn’t face seeing him so confused again.

I couldn’t face becoming part of the chaos: listening to the groans and yelps for help; the mantra of the emaciated man down the corridor who veered from a chorus of “hup, hup, hup” to “yep, yep, yep”.

I couldn’t watch under-resourced nurses again; overworked carers running up and down the corridor like headless chicken; the spinning heads of young doctors: interns barely out of nappies.

Neither could I cope with George shouting at the nurses again; at the Kenyan-born doctor who tried three times to take blood from an artery in his wrist to check the oxygen levels going to his brain. She didn’t seem to get that his dementia means he has no short-term memory. That he now lives in disparate moments and slips in and out of time zones more seamlessly than Michael J Fox in Back to the Future.

So there was no point in her telling him that she was “back again” to try to get some blood.

“If you need entertainment, take blood out of your own f***ing wrist,” he roared. We both had to hold him down in the end. It was horrible. Why couldn’t they numb his wrist first? You’d be forgiven for thinking the needle was stolen from a vet’s surgery and used to tranquillise horses.

The poor doctor took on the wrong geriatric patient. When George’s hackles are raised, he becomes a rebellious schoolboy. A law unto himself. He wasn’t expelled from his first nursing home in Dublin for nothing.

Well, with a lifelong devotion “to having a healthy disdain for all authority”, there was a certain inevitability about that outcome.

George was bridge correspondent of ‘The Irish Times’ for 44 years – retiring in 2014.
George was bridge correspondent of ‘The Irish Times’ for 44 years – retiring in 2014.

On the first night in the hospital I asked a consultant would he get a bed soon. She said yes. Minutes later, a carer whispered there were no beds. He might get to a day unit, though.

On the second day I visited him George was still on the corridor, technically in a bed, as opposed to a trolley, and snoring like an elephant. (Phew, phew! Please stay asleep, Daddy.) After a little more gentle advocating, George was moved from a corridor crossroads to the sanctuary of a narrow foyer, leading to a double door that was out of commission. I felt we had been given a penthouse suite.

After about two hours of glorious snoring while I read my book, I spied one eye opening, then another.

“Where are we?” He was bright as a button. “Are we in another f***ing hotel, Áine?”

“No Daddy, you are in hospital. You are sick.”

“Sick me backside. Where are my clothes? My car keys?”

“You don’t have a car anymore, Daddy. It was sold three years ago.”

SERIES: Daddy, dementia and me
Part 1: I couldn’t face seeing him so confused
Part 2: How can I tell daddy his son is dead?
Part 3: The stand-off about a car
Part 4: Daddy talks to me about Mammy
Part 5: He left the wedding for a cigarette
Part 6: If granny had drowned that day

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