Continuity announcer: “Next on Radio 4: more from the A Husband For A Carer series. Today’s episode: ‘Wishes’ – read by Tom Hardy” (What? I thought an A-lister might keep people interested.)
The conversation has started. The subject of “24/7 care in another setting” – not my choice of words – is out in the open. I keep being asked whether I’m prepared to carry on my role as informal carer. I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s not just a question of my being prepared to do it. Is it in MW’s best interests? What if I’m not prepared to? What if me not continuing to care goes against MW’s wishes? Are my wishes more important? Do they carry more weight? What about the guilt if I stop? What will the future hold – either way?
The PEG nurse visited this week and spelled out the situation regarding the ins and outs – well, just the ins – of having the tube inserted. MW’s dystonia means any insertion would have to be carried out radiologically, i.e. by using x-ray guidance. Weak cough effort means she’s a sedation risk. Her cognitive impairment is a poor indicator for the PEG tube – “dementia patients don’t do well with PEGs”. Whilst MW does have some – and no real measurement has been made of just how much – cognitive impairment, she does still retain the capacity to communicate her wishes. There are four criteria set out by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to measure an individual’s ability to make an informed decision regarding their own welfare:
• to understand the information relevant to the decision
• to retain the information relevant to the decision
• to use or weigh the information, or
• to communicate the decision (by any means)
MW is OK at numbers 1 and 4. Numbers 2 & 3 are a bit sketchy. This is the professional assessment of a nurse, not my hot take. There’s a sense that information is heard but not really understood to any great degree. There is a lot of information to be taken in about the PEG and whilst MW said that “if it helps, then it’s worth giving it a go”, I’m not at all sure she understands the risks connected to the procedure itself that were explained to her.
It’s the same with the conversation about care. I know she hears the words and she’s expressed her opinion but, again, I’m not sure whether hers is a rational decision or an instinctive, emotional one. She woke me up in the early hours of yesterday morning, panicked and shouting “I’M DYING! I’M DYING! I’M SWALLOWING SO MUCH SICK!!”. She’s woken up screaming many times before but this is the first time she’s shouted anything coherent. I comforted her and got her off to sleep again. This tells me that something’s playing on her mind but I don’t know what. When I asked her, later in the day, what had scared her, she couldn’t remember anything.
This could be the talk of care homes or the fact that recent conversations about her condition (conversations taking place around her as well as with her) have taken a very serious, almost sombre tone. Is she scared of going into a home? Or is she scared of dying? From a procedure or from the MS? When I ask her how she is, she replies with her usual “I’m fine”.
The memory loss and personality shift is so disturbing that I’ve stopped comparing today’s MW with the woman I met and married. Earlier this month, I had to remind her who I am and how we met. She also keeps asking if she’s lost her Dad (who died earlier this year), as though she’s just heard the news and is reliving the experience. Forgetting a bad dream/sequence of thoughts is one thing, forgetting important parts of life is another. She also shows a liking for things that the MW I knew would have hated and, frankly, would have taken the piss out of. There’s a kind of infantilisation occurring (that I’ve written about before) that has changed her completely. I just have to accept that MW is a totally different person now.
The care MW requires is no longer the same as it was before she went in hospital. It was probably not enough for her then. I now know what deterioration has occurred and what interventions are advised. It all feels so surreal. I feel like I’m drowning in responsibility. I just don’t know if I can safely deliver what’s required. Bear in mind that, carers aside, it’s just me. I see this vulnerable woman and I wonder if, after 12 years of caring for her since diagnosis, I’ve reached the limit of what I can do. Scared of making the tiniest error that may have far-reaching and devastating consequences. I already feel guilty because of how things have progressed (yes, I know, it’s not my fault. I know there’s nothing I could have done.). I couldn’t bear the guilt or the grief of getting something catastrophically wrong.
The conversation – and my swirling head – continues.