Here is the link to my book, We’ll be married in Fremantle, for those who asked. It was published waaaaaay back in 2001 but is still available and is now also an e-book (which I only just discovered!) Below the link is an excerpt from its prologue.
THE JOE STORY
I first met Joe several years ago, when I began to work in a small nursing home in Western Australia. I’d been nursing for about ten years and had looked after a large number of people with Alzheimer’s Disease before meeting Joe, so I didn’t take much notice of him at first. He was just another Alzheimer’s patient sitting in an easychair, mostly silent but sometimes yelling out in sudden anger. I changed his trousers when he was incontinent, I showered him when he was on my list and I fed him his dinner. In the daily reports I would write “Joe, no change”.
Things did change however.
One afternoon I was in the panroom which was directly opposite the entrance to the dayroom. Joe was always seated in the chair facing this entrance. As usual, he was slumped down in his chair so I went over and hoisted him up into a more comfortable position. He suddenly lashed out and punched me in the side shouting, “Leave me alone, you bastard!” – which, when he did speak, was a fairly typical coment from him.
A bit stunned, I went back into the panroom and watched him. He looked up at one stage, caught my eye and shook his fist. So, I thought, he recognises me. This was a bit of a surprise, as I thought Joe was ‘too far gone’ to recognise anything about his immmediate circumstances. He had always seemed very listless, depressed even, and often just stared at the floor. Suddenly intensely curious about whether Joe would be able to recogise me, I wrote my name in big letters on a piece of paper towel and, without thinking too much about what I was doing, went in and showed it to him.
He was a bit bewildered at first; then, at my insistent “Joe this is my name, do you think you can remember it?” he looked a the paper and then up at me, scowling. I crouched down beside his chair and said, “My name’s Julie, Joe. You can keep this piece of paper so won’t forget it. Is that okay?” He looked at me again, looked at my name and, just as I thought he was either going to punch me again or just ignore me, he grinned, repeating several times, “Julie?” I was pretty thrilled as I hadn’t seen him smile before, let alone grin. [pgs. 7-8]
‘The Joe story’ was the fuel for the book because it was Joe who transformed my attitude to people suffering from dementias like Alzheimer’s Disease. My relationship with Joe, though short-lived because he died, remains the flavour of the book (originally a PhD thesis). This excerpt is the first of five.
The book’s fundamental thesis/thrust was to do with how listening to people with dementia who can still speak is far more useful, and far kinder, than dismissing their stories as meaningless. At the risk of sounding solipistic, I am now finding my own book is helping me to cope with what is happening to Anthony. How ironic!