An Unexpected Kindness
My heart sank when the upstairs neighbour came round to complain about the noise. It’s happening all over again, I thought.
I invited him in to meet Nick. At least that way, he could see for himself that Nick is not well, and Nick could understand the impact that his loud radio has on other people. The neighbour turned out to have tinnitus like me and gets very affected by external noise. He didn’t want to make a fuss, he said, but it would really help if the volume wasn’t turned up so high that vibrations were buzzing through the ceiling.
I stuck one of my dayglo post-it notes to the wall reminding him to keep it down, and “I will” said Nick, which is his constant saying now – totally meaningless, he says it about the wine (“Please pace yourself, bro”), the carers (“Nick, you must tell them what you want”), the radio, the reminders to check his phone for texts, you name it.
“I will,” he says, like some bridal ceremony on a loop, but even if he thinks he will I know perfectly well that most of the time he won’t. (“I forgot” is the other most popular saying.)
So I have been fretting a bit about the radio as well as all the other stuff I’m worrying about, since both Nick’s physical condition and his mental capacity seem to be deteriorating almost in front of my eyes. The carers are a still a huge worry; some of them have been really keen, reading the daily notes and making sure Nick has his non-slip mats and good grip cutlery to help him eat his beautifully chopped up meals. They have made his bed every time and someone has even been making a stab at the recycling!
Others are just not listening, or not looking. Why did they give him dry toast again this morning when the clear instructions were for two of those sticky malt loaf things that he likes, that the dietician recommended and that were in full view on the kitchen counter? Why was Nick wearing socks with his toes sticking out, bits of last night’s pasta still curling up on the seat of his chair, and a shit smear on his bathroom basin that had been there for three days (I deliberately didn’t do anything about it as I knew someone was coming in to clean today, and I wanted to see if they would notice. Sure enough, they said in their notes that they had thoroughly cleaned bathroom and kitchen, but the shit smear was still there. I felt like putting one of my post-it notes beside it with a big arrow, but in the end I didn’t.
It’s not good enough. It makes it hard to relax. So I feel anxious all the time with that awful infectious dread that has no exact source but just grabs you in the chest and sits there. I know that I can’t sustain this and do the real work of caring for Nick but it’s a real effort to lighten up and switch off, or move into another gear.
But things do give me hope. In the space of a few days, which is often the way, we have had the extremes of understanding and kindness.
One, the business exemption checking service, who wrote a stern letter billing Nick for willful mis-use of a form at the dentist’s. Sorry??
Long story. But to cut it short, Nick’s dear friend Dave from school had been alarmed by the tale of the wobbly teeth. He arranged for Nick to have an appointment with another old school-friend who is now a dentist.
This happened while I was away for a couple of days, so Simon took Nick. He said it was very moving to see the two old friends meeting again after all these years. Nick needed a small filling and had a scale and polish, with a reminder to brush more regularly and stay off the Snickers bars last thing at night. We didn’t think any more of it until this letter arrived.
Apparently Nick had signed the exemption form saying that he received ESA (and therefore did not pay for his treatment) when actually since coming to Sheffield he only gets contribution based ESA as his finances were so tangled that the income related part of it has never been sorted out. Another thing I’m still chasing. So anyway, he should have paid the fee upfront and shouldn't have signed the form.
Simon didn’t realise – he just assumed that Nick didn’t pay for his treatment – and apart from a few flashes of lucidity, Nick will sign anything put in front of him these days. So that was that, but now, for his perfidious attempt to dodge the system, Nick is being charged a sizeable penalty on top of the actual fee.
I wrote at once to explain that Nick has a serious impairment that affects his ability to process information and of course this was a mistake, our sincere apologies, we will pay the bearer forthwith. But that wasn’t good enough. They replied that we would need to send a letter from a medical professional confirming that the illness in question would have that effect, and one form Nick giving his permission for me to discuss the case on his behalf. As well as prompt payment of the penalty along with weekly interest that was now accruing. If they decided that there was justification enough to waive the penalty then they would perhaps refund it.
Give me strength!
I have sent the proof they asked for and paid the original fee – stuff their penalty! –
and fumed to myself about the extra time it takes up to contact the GP and ask her to write the letter (an email won’t do), and also compose and print out a letter for Nick to sign. Not for the first time, I wish people- organisations, I mean – had a clue about the enormity of work involved for the average carer to just keep the wheels on the road. They genuinely seem to think that we have nothing better to do than gather six different forms of evidence and proof of I.D in hard copy, then send them all first class with recorded delivery.
If only there were some shortcuts for all this admin so that I don’t have to waste another afternoon jumping through other people’s hoops.
And then, just as I was feeling really low and that the milk of human kindness had definitely gone sour, I bumped into Nick’s upstairs neighbour at the paper shop.
“I’m so sorry” he said, “I did some research on your brother’s illness and it’s awful isn’t it? And he’s not going to get any better. Poor chap.”
He asked if there was anything he could do to help. You’ve just done it, I said. You’ve taken an interest – you’ve cared. That means so much.
It means so much that another person gets it, understands a bit about the situation. I realize that maybe there’s something I can do to ease my frustration with all these time-munching organisations. Who knows, it might make a difference and it will make me feel better.
So, every time I have to deal with the council, the benefits agencies, anything official like the dental exemption checking service, I am going to include a leaflet about Huntington’s in the envelope. I’ve started doing this with all my official correspondence. Just so you know, guys!