By David Eccles

 Insomnia plagues me. It has been this way for over twenty five years now, I suppose. If you ever ask others who have the condition about it, most would probably tell you that they suffer with insomnia; I, on the other hand, do not—I simply live with it. I bear it. Maybe it’s been longer than twenty five years; maybe it hasn’t. It’s just a rough guess. I’m not even interested in how long it’s been since I had a “decent” night’s sleep. I’m long past caring.

Picking up the mobile ‘phone that’s lying on the bed next to me I yawn and check the time, rubbing my eyes with thumb and forefinger of one hand, blinking rapidly as I try to focus on the screen and pull together the bright white blur that blinds me into readable digits. Fuck! It’s 3.15am. I drop the ‘phone on the bed and am suddenly conscious of a pressing weight in my lap. I recall what I was doing before I dozed off: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time no longer graces the screen of my Samsung netbook; the ostrich racing scene—the last thing I remember— has finished and now Windows Media Player is asking me if I would like to play the movie again.

Calculating that I have only two hours and forty five minutes remaining in which to get some sleep, I remove the uncomfortably hot computer from my lap, close the lid, putting it into hibernation and place it at the foot of the bed before rolling over and closing my eyes. I am asleep in seconds. The Sandman doesn’t just come and sprinkle his magic dust in my eyes—he punches me in the face, rendering me comatose!

Consciousness of sorts returns at 6am; the ear-piercing sound of two battling sitars and accompanying tabla resurrects me, bringing me back from the “small death” that is sleep. Fumbling around on the bed for my ‘phone, I retrieve the offending object and stab the section of the screen bearing the word Dismiss, feeling a great sense of satisfaction as I do so, then I drop the ‘phone once more and lie in bed, relishing the possibility of another thirty minutes of sleep.

The creaking of the metal monstrosity that is the wheelchair accessibility ramp followed by an over-enthusiastic rap on the front door tells me that it is very nearly 6.30am, and that my father’s care support workers have arrived to wash and dress him.

“Come in!” my father booms, unaware that the door is locked and that the security system is armed. I’m not sure he’s even aware of what day it is most of the time, or even what year it is! Sometimes he doesn’t even recognise where he is, asking repeatedly: “Can you get me up and take me home?” My reassurance that he is in his own home usually has a calming effect, and he is able to recognise his own state of confusion, though sometimes he is adamant that he is not in his own home, thinking instead that he is in a house a few streets away from where we live.

Shut the fuck up, father! You’ll wake Darren if you’re not careful, and you really don’t want to be doing that! Waking up my brother at this hour would be like standing in front of a sleeping tiger and letting off a firecracker—the end result would not be pretty! Both my brother and I share the same explosive temper, so I throw back the duvet, spring out of bed and make my way downstairs, tripping over the laptop’s power lead in the process as I hasten to get to the door before another barrage of unwanted door-knocking threatens to wake the dead.

Once the alarm system is disabled and the door is unlocked, the two care workers make their way to my father’s room, greeting both my father and I with a chirpy “Good morning, Laurence! Good morning, Connor!”

What’s so fucking good about it, I want to growl at them. Nobody in their right mind wants to be up at this time of the morning if they have any sense, I’m sure, and if one simply has to be up this early because of job commitments, then I’m doubly sure of it!

Coffee! My universe does not exist until I drink at least two cups. After three, the world seems bearable—up to a point! While the kettle is boiling, I assist in the morning ablutions, removing and disposing of all clinical waste before loading up the washing machine and seeing to all of the other chores that need to be done: koi carp are fed and the dogs and the parrot are fed and are given fresh water.

I drink my coffee.

All the while the carers are with my father, he utters only one phrase albeit repeatedly in response to their polite conversation.

“Did you have a good night’s sleep, Laurence?”

“My eyes are sore.”

“I know, dear. It doesn’t help matters that you keep rubbing your eyes, does it? You must try not to rub your eyes.”

“My eyes are sore.”

“Can you roll over towards me and hold on to my waist while we change your pad?”

“My eyes are sore.”

“Connor will put you some drops in once we’ve seen to you, Laurence.”

Dementia has taken its toll on my father, and i hate it. His dementia was brought about due to a series of mini strokes, or transient ischaemic attacks. Unlike Alzheimer’s sufferers who experience a steady rate of decline in all abilities owing to the fact that the disease affects the whole of the brain, vascular dementia sufferers retain some of their abilities and maintain their personality unless they have further strokes, in which case further loss of abilities may occur.

Once a fit and very active man, even for a man in his seventies, my father is a shadow of his former self: he has had to undergo the amputation of one of his legs above the knee; he has become increasingly frail; his general health has suffered and he has more or less no short-term memory at all, hence the repetition, which can drive even someone with the patience of a Saint to the point where they would want to pick up the nearest heavy object and use it on him. Having to listen to someone’s virtually constant complaining is like listening to a record that sticks, and it’s enough to make a person go insane. It’s like Chinese water torture!

And the hiccups! Once my father starts to hiccup, it’s a sign that I’m in for a really bad day with him. His hiccups are a clear sign that the brain’s spark plugs aren’t firing correctly, and I dread the sound of that first hic! Needless to say, his condition is deteriorating once more, and now most days spent with him are really bad days, much to my dismay.

After the carers have gone, I dispense my father’s medication from the blister packs made up for him by the pharmacy that delivers them to our home, I make sure that my father is comfortable and fed and then I take refuge in my Fortress of Solitude: my bedroom, where I reinforce the fortifications of my sanity by putting on headphones to safeguard against attacks from the “Can you get me up?” repetition bomber. Hearing this particular phrase uttered upwards of two thousand times a day by my father has made me numb somewhat, and I ignore him for the most part now when I hear those words spoken, because even if I have sat him up and made him comfortable only a minute before, after that minute has passed he has no recollection of me sitting him up and he calls for me to sit him up again; he doesn’t even realise that he’s already sitting up!

Headphones really are essential, because his ability to keep his thoughts internal is zero: every thought that he has is externalised, and so one gets a running commentary on everything that happens, in great detail! Even when asleep, he still talks! This can go on for up to twenty hours a day, every single day; it makes watching TV, reading a book, listening to music or even holding a conversation on the telephone impossible without the use of headphones, although after having a word with my father’s physician, the situation has been improved slightly with a prescription of Amitriptyline and Diazepam so that he is less anxious, able to relax more and therefore sleep more soundly.

When I am not performing household duties, out shopping or seeing to my father’s needs, I spend my time catching up on all of the TV programmes that I haven’t managed to sit through without interruption, or I read; sometimes I surf the web, or I might listen to music as I am writing for my blog.

Periodically, I check on my father to ensure that he isn’t in any discomfort, and that he hasn’t tried to climb out of bed. He has a habit of pulling himself from one side of the bed to the other by holding on to the guard rails that prevent him from falling out of bed, but in the process he has a habit of spinning around so that he is more or less lying across the bed in a very uncomfortable position. When questioned as to how he has ended up in such a position, the answer is always the same: he has no idea. Arguments between my father and I have been known to get very heated over this little “trick” that he demonstrates with increasing frequency.

“You’ve dragged yourself around on the bed again!” I explode.

“I haven’t,” he replies, innocently.

“Yes you have. I’ve just seen you do it!”

“I haven’t done it, I’m telling you!”

“Bollocks! Who the fuck’s done it then? A fucking ghost? Think logically, man. There’s no-one else in the room, and there hasn’t been an earthquake, so it must have been you!”

Still adamant that he hasn’t manoeuvred himself into his present position, I bite my tongue before I really lose my cool and run the risk of causing him physical injury and I haul him back up the bed. I feel better for having let off some steam, and I know that in the end it doesn’t really matter to my father, who I know will forget all about what has just happened in a minute or two, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling awful that I let things get to me so much.

As angry as I am in that moment, I feel really shitty at having shouted at him.

Sometimes my father performs this feat at least twenty times a day, and as my father is no lightweight it can be a struggle to push and pull him around on the bed until he is positioned correctly once more. A shoulder injury that I received during archery practice compounds the issue with regard to manoeuvring him, but my main cause for concern is the fact that my father is catheterized superpubically. I dread to think what would happen should he accidentally pull out his catheter! Without doubt, there would be much pain and an ensuing hospital visit involved, the house would stink of piss and the laminate flooring would be ruined!

It is hard seeing my father this way, and I know that it’s not his fault that he is the way that he is: old age and infirmity comes to us all. It’s like looking after a full-grown baby sometimes, and on occasion he is prone to temper tantrums, so he has to be treated as one would treat a naughty child.

Some days are good, others bad, but i know that at the end of the day things will only get worse; it’s inevitable, and the thought of what is to come fills me with a deep sense of sadness.

Maybe my anger at the whole situation is subconsciously a kind of coping mechanism, a way of putting distance between us so that I don’t feel that I have to care so much? I don’t know. All I know is that on a bad day I get out of bed and I think fuck it! I switch off as many of my emotions that I’m able to and I ride out the day, just going through the motions.

“Connor! Can you get me up! My eyes are sore!”

Fuck! Autopilot engaged!

6 thoughts on “Autopilot

  1. sarah

    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx stuff your pockets full just in case some slip out xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    1. David Eccles (@Vikingbeard)

      Oh i will, Sarah! I’ll be sure to collect and keep every single one!xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Got them all!

  2. Peter Staff

    That was so open and honestly written, my friend, that I felt every single part of it. Thank you for giving me an insight into the love and frustration that comes with that kind of care. I truly hope I never have to go through it and I’m sorry that anyone should ever have to. Utter respect to you Dave. Peter. (EvilClown247)

    1. David Eccles (@Vikingbeard)

      Thank you, Peter. It can be very frustrating at times, looking after someone with dementia, and as i point out, vascular dementia is very different from Alzheimer’s. I wouldn’t like to think what things would be like if my dad had Alzheimer’s. The carers of Alzheimer’s sufferers are absolute saints. The things that they have to deal with which the average person is not aware of is astonishing!
      Only today i saw a free e-book on Amazon that someone had written especially for carers of Alzheimer’s sufferers telling them how to cope with spitting: Alzheimer’s sufferers gradually lose the ability to swallow, and so their saliva collect in their mouth and so they spit to get rid of it. Not very nice, i know, but it’s just one of the things that must be dealt with.
      Once again, i thank you for your kind words, Peter. I hope that i can hold the attention of my readers with each piece that i write and maybe elicit a response from some of them, as you have kindly done, and i look forward to any comments on my work, be they good or bad from anyone who wishes to pass comment.

  3. Emily Anne

    Very honest story. I really like the way you tie in ‘eyes’ throughout. I felt like there was a deeper level of ‘seeing’ versus ‘feeling’ underneath it all. Thanks for sharing! keep on writing 🙂

    1. David Eccles (@Vikingbeard)

      Thank you, Emily Anne. The story is, for the most part autobiographical, as i have to deal with my father’s dementia as well as lots of other conditions that contribute to his ill health. I wanted people to “see” a little of what it means to care for an elderly infirm parent.
      Some of the story is fictionalised, but there is a lot of truth in the story, and when i uploaded it to my blog i thought that i would get lots of nasty comments, but i have not yet received a single one, much to my amazement!
      Dementia affects not just the person with the condition, but all others in the immediate family who care for them. I’m so glad you saw and felt a little of that, and i thank you so much for your kind words 🙂


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