It had been a successful visit overall. Friends had been effusive in their welcome, many said that they had bought my book and had enjoyed it.
'You haven’t left a review yet.' I was quick to respond.
The libraries and an indie bookshop were happy to take books from me and the weather for the whole week was glorious.
When I arrived home from Devon, I reviewed events. There is nothing like a reunion to evoke reminiscence. Thoughts and conclusions that weren't new to me but had been shoved into the background now came to the fore in a blast of stark reality.
Meeting people who I hadn't seen for nearly four years was enlightening. I’d known them all for years, thirty plus years in most cases but I’d forgotten the names of many of them. I’d floundered my way through without actually asking who they were, generic terms like “Hallo you/sweetie/my bird/mate” were employed liberally. Sometimes I managed to dredge the names up later – too late to be useful, many times not.
Places too. I went to see a friend who’d invited me over for coffee. I’d known the way there like the back of my hand. I used to go to her home once a week for about two years before I moved out of the area. Now I couldn't remember the way. I reached a literal crossroads and came to a halt, unable to get my bearings. I ruled out left, I knew where that went, so straight ahead or turn right? I’d no idea. Needing to make a decision I went straight ahead which fortunately turned out to be the right choice and details came back to me gradually as I progressed along the narrow lane.
Now here I was back home, ruminating on my mental failings. Verbal language had started to disappear, it was subtle but a fact. No one else would be likely to have noticed and it could always be attributed to living on my own. My son would question the disappearance of language. He says I talk to myself out loud all the time which he tolerates except when we’re in public places together and then I get growled at.
Then there was the increased lack of co-ordination, knocking things over, walking into door frames instead of through doorways, difficulty balancing in any position apart from standing with both feet firmly planted.
Of course there is the straightforward forgetfulness, the classic symptom associated with dementia. I now have a dummy board on my fridge door. Everything I need to remember goes on there. This system is not idiot-proof by any means.
I had a telephone appointment with the GP. It’s a new system, if you have the audacity to require the attention of a doctor, it will be a telephone appointment first. If it’s considered to be worth it then you’re upgraded to a face to face meeting. I consider this and the fact that you don’t get to choose your doctor anymore, to be a symptom of a deteriorating society. As chance would have it I get a doctor I like. He has a smile that reaches his eyes.
'Which doctor do you usually see?' he asks, having decided over the phone that I'm worth further investigation.
The word “usually” infers that I'm a regular visitor, an assumption that I baulk at.
'Well actually it’s you.' I say.
He informs me that I must have a blood test first then see him a week later. I book the blood test.
The appointment for a blood test to determine if there is any other obvious explanation for my symptoms was duly chalked on the dummy board, along with the doctor’s appointment a week later and a date and time for the carpet man to measure up for vinyl flooring. Blood test Monday 11.40am. Carpet man Thursday 11.00am.
I turn up for the blood test, the first step towards a possible diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, on Monday at 11.00am. Forty minutes too early. It could have been worse.
A week later I return to see the doctor. He smiles his beautiful smile, white teeth and laughing eyes, he shakes my hand. I air my concerns. He looks at the results of my blood test – nothing obvious except elevated cholesterol levels.
'I need you to do a fasting glucose test,' he tells me, his eyes still on the screen.
I wait for the penny to drop.
'Oh you are pre-diabetic, so that can wait until your annual check.'
He turns to face me.
'So tell me why you have concerns about your memory.'
I explain, he nods and turns back to the screen.
'Are you still taking your anti-depressants and the statins?'
I hesitate then decide to confess that I’m back on statins now, after leaving them off for two months to see if the fog in my brain would clear. It didn’t. Ditto the anti-depressants for an additional two months but alas nothing changed, I was as foggy as ever.
'I'm back on the medication now though.' I assure him.
I’d been chastised before for reducing the statin dose without consulting him. My aunt, who is ninety two, was on half the dose I was taking and I didn’t see why I needed such a large amount.
“Because you’re pre-diabetic and your aunt isn't I should imagine.” The doctor had told me as he scrutinised the damage caused my self-prescribed dosage.
“I see that you’ve continued to collect your anti-depressant tablets even when you weren’t taking them.” He queried.
“Ah yes. Well you see a few months ago patients had to wait up to three weeks to see a doctor and it takes three weeks for anti-depressants to kick in and six weeks is a long time when you’re suicidal. So I stockpiled a few.”
He gives a wry grin and says nothing.
The printer on the doctor’s desk springs into life, spewing out an A4 printed sheet.
He takes the paper and swivels round to face me.
“This is the first test to be done by a GP when presented with patients who have concerns that they may have Alzheimer’s disease. Are you okay with completing this test now?”
I nod a silent assent.
The questions were incredibly easy. I would have been well down the dementia route not to be able to answer them. The first question was to name the year, month, date and day of the week. I have to admit that the date would normally be a problem had I not been checking the dummy board several times a day and I often have to think for a second or two before working out what day of the week I’m in but that’s fairly typical once you retire – isn’t it?
I was beginning to think what a waste of time this was going to be. I was confident that I was going to pass this test with flying colours and nobody would take my concerns seriously from here on in.
The final test involved drawing. I’m a competent artist, no imagination, but I can interpret a photo in my own style and have a couple of my artistic efforts on display at home.
“Would you copy the image on this page? You can use the space next to the printed image.”
Two pentagons side by side, one inverted and overlapping the other slightly. I stared at the diagram. Two house shapes with walls sloping gently inwards and one upside down. Not separate but intertwined. Easy. I could do this.
I couldn't do it. The result would have been rubbish at the age of four never mind sixty four. The end product was a miserable attempt. I couldn't even produce the upright house shape adequately and the upside down one was only reproduced by turning the paper upside down and drawing a shaky right way up house. The doctor asked me if I’d like another go at it.
“I know it’s rubbish but I honestly don’t think I can improve on it.” I smile apologetically.
The doctor is silent for a full ten seconds as he keys something onto his screen.
“I'm not totally happy with the results and given your mother’s history and your concerns, I'm going to refer you to the memory clinic if that’s okay with you.”
I went home and practised drawing the pentagons and only after many attempts did I reproduce a drawing I was half way satisfied with and that was done by drawing the one shape and turning the paper upside down to draw the other. I could not draw the shape upside down.
I received an appointment in the post but not for the memory clinic as I’d anticipated. It was an appointment for an MRI scan.
“That’ll be a first.” I thought.
Then I wondered if I’d forgotten that the doctor had mentioned this or whether the appointment had come from the memory clinic.
“Just go with the flow Jill.” I told myself. "Don’t stress about what you don’t know or have forgotten you know."