It’s only words

Do smart phones dumb down baby talk?

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Steph Booth

‘Where’s that cat come from?”

“What cat?” “The one be­hind your shoul­der.” I turn to check the chair be­hind me ex­pect­ing to see our old cat, Rosie, sleep­ing on it. The chair was empty. I turned back to look at Tony who was now cross.

“For God’s sake. It’s sit­ting on your shoul­der!”

His hal­lu­ci­na­tions are be­com­ing more fre­quent, but are never the same. Many moons ago he would have paid good money for sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences.

It is easy to shrug off these in­ci­dents when they oc­cur dur­ing the day as these tend to be rel­a­tively harm­less.

It is when they hap­pen at night they are fright­en­ing for Tony and ex­haust­ing for me. He re­cently woke me in the early hours of the morn­ing. He was ter­ri­fied and con­vinced there was a woman hid­ing un­der the ta­ble in the bed­room. His fear was pal­pa­ble. I could not con­vince him we do not have a ta­ble in the bed­room for any­one to hide un­der. He did not want me to turn on the light as that would allow the woman to see us more clearly. In the end, un­able to get him to ac­cept there was noth­ing to worry about, I did switch on the light. It was a long time be­fore he set­tled back to sleep.

I think per­haps the hal­lu­ci­na­tions may be due to a lack of food. Tony is asleep al­most all the time. He does not want to eat and I have to be ex­tremely assertive to get him to drink any­thing. He just can­not be both­ered any more. He has for­got­ten he is a smoker and he no longer eats choco­late – both sub­stances he has had a life-long ad­dic­tion to.

Tony can no longer ar­tic­u­late. What­ever it is he is try­ing to say is ob­vi­ously clear in his own head, but comes out of his mouth in a mostly un­in­tel­li­gi­ble mess. He does not un­der­stand why I can­not make out what he is say­ing.

Where he once would have been roar­ing with frus­tra­tion he now sim­ply flaps his hand at me to go away. He just wants to go back to sleep. That is the sum of our day.

Tony’s daugh­ter Cherie re­cently came to Tod­mor­den to visit us. With the help and sup­port of our lovely friend Kev, we were able to get Tony into the car, so we could all go out for lunch. It was great. Tony did not say very much, but he clearly en­joyed the company. He was per­suaded to have some soup.

He was then of­fered a lemon meringue pie. When it ar­rived he was the most an­i­mated he had been dur­ing the whole meal. The pie was placed on the ta­ble. It was al­most like a re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence for him as he glee­fully tucked into it. It was worth all the ef­fort of get­ting him out just for that mo­ment!

The fol­low­ing day our friend Ernst Walder came to stay for a cou­ple of nights. Tony and Ernst have been friends for a very long time – since the early black and white days of Corona­tion Street. Ernst played Elsie Tan­ner’s Pol­ish son-in-law. Ernst was shocked to see how thin and frail Tony is. Ernst was in­cred­i­bly pa­tient. He has ex­pe­ri­ence with his older sis­ter who also has de­men­tia.

Ernst and Tony sat out on the gar­den for hours smok­ing cigars and drink­ing wine. Ernst just lis­tened to what­ever sounds and words Tony was able to make. Tony en­joyed the cigars al­though strangely it did not jog his mem­ory about cig­a­rettes.

Ernst was partly re­spon­si­ble for one of Tony’s (many) out­ra­geous es­capades. Tony had a role in a film play­ing a Ger­man, maybe a Ger­man sol­dier, but any­way he was re­quired by the di­rec­tor to say some­thing in Ger­man. When he asked what he should say the re­sponse was just some­thing in Ger­man.

Tony then asked Ernst, who is Aus­trian, for some help. Be­tween them they de­cided Tony should say some­thing rude and sweary. Not know­ing Ger­man ei­ther, the di­rec­tor was sat­is­fied and no one else from the English side picked it up. Ev­ery­thing was fine un­til the film was re­leased in Ger­many. I be­lieve it caused a few waves. Ernst, who is a great gig­gler, was de­lighted to tell me he thought Roger Moore was also in the film. Un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther Tony nor Ernst could re­mem­ber the name of the film – which is a shame.

It was good to have company. I have known Ernst for the 20 odd years Tony and I have been to­gether. The end game is a lonely place to be. It is im­pos­si­ble to ex­plain how it feels. The slow, cruel in­evitabil­ity of it. What I want now is for peo­ple to talk in plain lan­guage. I hate this faffing about, not say­ing the “D” word. “What will you do, you know, when . . .” “You mean when Tony dies? I don’t know. How can I know how I will think and feel?”

Shocked looks be­cause I have said dies, dead or dy­ing rather than passed. What is wrong? Are we so de­ter­mined not to face up to death as a cru­cial part of liv­ing we can­not even say the word? I am not be­ing bru­tal. I am fac­ing my re­al­ity – even when oth­ers would pre­fer not to.

‘‘ Shocked looks be­cause I have said dies, dead or dy­ing rather than passed. What is wrong?

Tony Booth at home in his gar­den in West York­shire, Eng­land, with his res­cue lurcher, Ed­die. Tony’s hal­lu­ci­na­tions are be­com­ing more fre­quent, but are never the same.

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