Thursday, February 16, 2006

On being.... vague

A customer gave me an unexpected pin-prick of memory this afternoon when he phoned me in the La-La-Land of the Local Government Department I work in to enquire about his service. He opened the conversation in the usual manner:

"Hello. My name is Such-and-Such and I live at Such-and-Such address. I received a letter from you that says I never returned my questionaire. I'm sorry, but I'm more than 70 years old now and I'm the first to admit I'm a little vague."

My mother used to use that term in the early stages of her downward slide.

"A little vague".

I think it must describe the feeling as well as the actuality of the mind becoming less reliable. How terrible it must be, to find at first that you have become unable to keep track of everything that used to line up nicely in your life; that things are starting to somehow become less real in your own head. And worse, to know on some level that something isn't right, but not being able to figure out exactly what.

This man had enough savvy left to figure out there was a problem, and to give it some kind of a name.

When you live with someone with Alzheimer's, there are so many affronts to logic and reality that you either find a way to cope with it on a minute by minute basis or you simply walk away. My method of coping with my mother was to stick another layer of mental armour on. I could feel each layer click smartly into place whenever a new stage of the dementia presented itself. You have to find a way to tough it out. It's a waiting game with only one sorry ending. A marathon.

My customer and I discussed his income limits for the service.

"I have a pension, though," he said.

I told him that on the application form it would be fine to send a photocopy of his pension book as proof of income and that the relevant departmental section would determine his eligibility for a reduced rate for the service based on this proof. He was fine with this and we chatted about his living alone and the lack of anyone else in the household who would potentially put him outside the income bracket for the service.

He apologised for not sending back the questionaire another time and I told him this was okay. He could re-apply for service on the form I'd send him.

I scribbled out his name and address on the envelope as we were speaking.

When I was done, I reiterated that all he needed to do was fill in the form and send proof of income.

"What income?" he asked, the sound of confusion evident in his voice.

"Well," I said. "A pension, for example."

"I have a pension," he said, as if it was for the first time. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm a bit vague sometimes."

When I'd gone around the houses again and we'd hung up, I tossed his application form into the Out Post basket with the others.

I've been unhappy this evening. There are still a few armoured places in me, far more ready to rise up than I had thought still possible.

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