A- A A+

Alzheimer's erosion

9 Comments
Vin Maskell |  11 October 2011

ErosionWe are standing by the life-saving club, chatting about the erosion caused by the high tides. Biggest in a while. Photos in the local paper. Stories on the weekend news.

The sea has taken a tonne of its sand back and now the asphalt ramp from the clubrooms down to the beach is pretty much gone. And the sand-dune between the water and the clubrooms? Gone too. There's a drop, a cliff, a fall.

Clyde is wearing a sweater with the life-saving club logo. He knows this beach as well as anyone. Me, I'm a blow-in, a part-timer, a youngster. Clyde, he's a permanent.

He knew my parents and has outlived them by 20, and 10, years. I ask about his health and about his wife Vera. He tells me that three years ago he bent down to bowl at the bowls club and couldn't get up. 'I fell. My legs gave out from under me. I couldn't tell them what to do.'

The doctor told Clyde he had glandular fever and needed a real rest, maybe a spell in a nursing home. 'I asked, But what about Vera? Who will look after Vera?' Behind his glasses his eyes reflect the bruise of the question.

The doctor told Clyde that Vera could go into a nursing home too, one with extra facilities.

'I said, What? The two of us apart, in different nursing homes?'

The doctor said, Maybe that's what's needed.

Clyde didn't agree. Couldn't agree. Wouldn't agree. Even if his energy was ebbing away.

'I've been looking after Vera since 1996,' Clyde tells me, there outside the life-saving club and the broken ramp, where plastic orange bunting warns sightseers. 'I wasn't going to stop because of glandular fever.'

The erosion of his wife's health started before 1996 but that was the year Clyde realised he had a full-time job on his hands. A permanent job. No easy retirement here, down by the beach, down by the rise and the fall of the waves, by the drift and the pull of the tides.

The sound of the sea is constant here, rolling or crashing onto the shore, then over the diminishing dunes and into the bushland, where the houses try to — not so much hide — as hold their place.

No, no nursing homes for Clyde and Vera.

Clyde and I talk sport and the weather but Vera's always on his mind.

'Her memory's gone,' he states. 'I only ask her one question each day, the same question.'

Clyde's thin lips are breaking into a smile.

'I say, Who's your best mate? And she looks at me as if I'm stupid!'

We are standing by the life-saving club. The sea rolls out and it rolls in again. 


 

Vin MaskellVin Maskell has written for The Age, The Big Issue, and Best Australian Essays (2008). He published a collection of his short narratives, Jacaranda Avenue, in 2003.


 



Comments

Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Submitted comments

..............a poignant piece and having just spent 10 days in a ward of a public hospital the impact of our living into our 90's is evident........we must plan for that contingency with appropriate places for the Veras and Clydes
I remember my dad's saying
"Dont laugh as the hearse goes by"

GAJ 12 October 2011

Beautiful.

I knew a lady once whose mother was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's. The only thing that would turn on a faint light was to read some verses from the old lady's school reader. Longfellow, The Owl and the Pussycat, Browning - short lines with strong rhyme.

They can send neutrinos faster than light, they can transplant a uterus, they can discover dark energy; why can't they do something about the cloud that hangs over everyone after the age of 60 and has us doing crosswords, playing bridge, filling sudoku?

Thanks Vin.

Frank 12 October 2011

Beautiful.

I knew a lady once whose mother was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's. The only thing that would turn on a faint light was to read some verses from the old lady's school reader. Longfellow, The Owl and the Pussycat, Browning - short lines with strong rhyme.

They can send neutrinos faster than light, they can transplant a uterus, they can discover dark energy; why can't they do something about the cloud that hangs over everyone after the age of 60 and has us doing crosswords, playing bridge, filling sudoku?

Thanks Vin.

Frank 12 October 2011

Moving piece, and poignant in particular for couples who wonder sometimes whether something similar one way or another might be in store for them. And whether thy would rise to it as well as Clyde.

Race 12 October 2011

It is hard to believe it is considered normal to part a long married (or together) couple parted because one of them needs more care than the other can now provide for them. It's time we rethought the way we look after elderly people.

Margaret McDonald 12 October 2011

Thank you for the story of Vera and Clyde.
Nursing homes are becoming more flexible about couples - I guess there is a growing demand. I know there is a lot to be said for staying in your own home. But if you can get mod cons and meals made for you, why not? I am sure as the baby boomers move towards senility more options will open up, but you can't outrun this - time & age catch up with us all.

Jenny Esots 12 October 2011

I have worked in an aged care facility for seven years. I "oversee" everybody's cultural, spiritual, emotional and leisure and lifestyle needs. I have less than an hour allocated to each resident per fortnight, if I divide it up that way. My budget allows me about $2 per month for resources per resident. I get paid $20.40 per hour, with an unpaid meal breal. Most of my colleagues earn $17 per hour. A 15-year-old at Chickenfeed earns that much. There are three units- low care, high care and dementia. Each has between 30 and 40 residents in it. In any one shift, there are two carers to shower, toilet, feed and move people.

If you have ever cared for one elderly, disabled person for a day, you may have an idea of the work involved in this. Most of the workforce is about to retire. The younger generation will not accept these working conditions.

Mainland nursing homes are being staffed by refugees and immigrants who have no choice than to accept the working conditions. Nobody knows who the hell is going to care for the baby boomers. Something has to change. I attended a workshop on victims of torture and trauma only yesterday, and most of the conditions that constitute torture- loss of liberty, interrupted sleep, being drugged without individual consent, environmental restraint- apply to a dementia unit. This is because of lack of staff and funds. Nursing homes are run by entrepreneurs, not by humanitarians.

Aging and death are merely a growth industry. How can the heart be put back into aged care? From what I see, the elderly and the staff of nursing homes are equally exploited.

Monica Brian 15 October 2011

Another beautiful " happy sad " story . Playing my heartstrings like a virtuoso.

Petr Maskell 09 November 2011

A postscript: Clyde Freake died of lymphona cancer on 14 December 2012, aged 92. His wife Vera died, in aged care, in mid-2012. The 50 year old Fairhaven Life-Saving Club, where I last met Clyde back in 2011, is currently a demolition/building site.

Vin Maskell 04 January 2013

Similar articles

You are not alone

2 Comments
Shane McCauley | 18 October 2011

Naked WindMist moves here, cloaking statues, mild giants that haunt and wait... the slave breathes toward
his freedom.


A mother should not know her offspring too well

Various | 11 October 2011

Nervous PrintShe would be aghast, at the weeping litany of my sins... From the moment the apron string is cut, we are free to be. And to bring, make or undo, whatever the hell we want to.


Jesus' desert odyssey

6 Comments
Jane Jervis-Read | 19 October 2011

SnailEvery night the devil gave birth to roast chickens and jacket potatoes and gallons of wine which it swilled and gobbled, sucking the oil from its fingers. It shrugged when the man and dog refused the steaming food. They always refused it, for they knew where it came from.


Amoral accountant

Maria Takolander | 04 October 2011

Shiny suited

Talk of morality is bad for rationality ... it's a derailment-factor, a self-sabotager, a barbecue-stopper, plain un-Australian ... I can help you leverage your life-goals, so that you can experience real change with improved results.


Trashing American English

5 Comments
Brian Matthews | 30 September 2011

old metal drumsFew dump masters are as erudite as Steve. 'Had a bloke here the other day, a Yank. Said he was after a couple of barrels. "You mean drums," I says. But no. He didn't want to play the bloody drums, he wanted barrels. Well, I says, the only barrels round here are wine barrels. What you want is drums.'