Penny couldn’t believe five whole months had passed since Sally’s birthday. That sunny evening in her kitchen was the moment Penny knew something was very wrong. And so began a stressful and frightening few months. She gingerly sat down in the lounge room, trying hard to find the right words.
‘Mummy what’s wrong? You look sad.’ Penny clutched her glass of wine with shaking hands and began to relay to her family what had happened in the previous few weeks.
Her GP, Dr Douglas, was caring but old-fashioned. He didn’t have a computer in his surgery. He still wrote sick certificates and medication scripts by hand as he peered at you over his ridiculously small spectacles.
Penny took a deep breath and prepared to tell him her concerns. It felt as if her racing heart might beat out of her chest. Talking about it with a medical professional made it all too real, and Penny had been in state of sweet denial for a while.
Apart from getting her blood pressure medication, Penny avoided going to visit the doctor. She had begrudgingly decided it was high time she bit the bullet and confronted these symptoms head on. Although, at that very moment sitting in his consulting room, she felt far from brave, in fact she was terrified. Her level of fear was so paralysing she could hardly speak.
Penny proceeded to take another deep breath before exhaling slowly. Dr Douglas looked at her with kind wrinkled eyes and asked, ‘Now then young Penny, what seems to be the problem?’ He referred to her as young. How was it then, that Penny found herself sitting there worried about her frequent lapses in memory.
Penny fumbled around for the crumbled piece of paper at the bottom of her hand bag. ‘I um, I made some notes. Sorry, I’m a bit flustered with all of this.’ He gave Penny a reassuring nod. ‘I am forgetting things all the time. I often walk into a room and wonder why I am there. It’s a good thing Sally got a smartphone for her birthday as she had to use it on more than one occasion to call me from the bus stop when I forgot to pick her up. What’s wrong with me doctor? What kind of a mother forgets to pick up her own child?’
Dr Douglas leaned in closer. ‘Go on.’
Penny gazed at the floor as she went on. ‘I forget about appointments I have made and can’t recall friends phone numbers. I’ve lost my confidence in social situations. I have been avoiding teaching my cake decorating class as I feel like a fumbling fool. Four weeks ago I muddled up the recipe, forgot to turn on the oven, and subsequently sobbed in front of the whole class. I haven’t been back since.’
Writing was another one of her passions and lately she found her words did not make sense. Her sentences ceased to flow the way they used to. All her colourful journals and note books had sat untouched gathering dust on her bedside table months.
Dr Douglas gently placed his withered hands over her clammy forearm. ‘Penny, I am sure it’s just stress.’ He ordered a few tests to put her mind at ease and prescribed her a mild sedative to help her relax and get a good night’s sleep.
Three weeks later she found herself in a neurologist’s office with sweaty palms, seated opposite a ‘no nonsense looking’ man with jet black hair, a menacing jawline, and a thick moustache. He looked like he stepped out of a horror movie. He smiled, flashing perfectly straight white teeth. No fangs.
‘I’m afraid your tests indicate you have younger onset dementia.’ Penny’s head was spinning at such an alarming rate, she felt physically sick. She heard him say the words vascular dementia. Penny had only heard of Alzheimer’s disease. The specialist explained to her that vascular dementia was more than likely attributed to her high blood pressure and the series of mini strokes she had suffered the year before.
The room and all its contents felt like it was beginning to close in around her like a boa constrictor. She couldn’t breathe as the terror of what she had just been told began to suffocate her. A pile of pamphlets was forcefully thrust into in her hand. The doctor was talking, but for Penny, it was simply white noise.
‘Penny, do you have any questions?’
Penny’s mouth was as dry as the bottom of a bird cage and no words came out, even though they were formulating in her head. ‘No doctor…...um thanks.’ She lifted her numb lifeless body from the chair and slowly headed for the door.
Penny had been on her own at that appointment as Damien couldn’t get away from work to be with her. She had never felt more alone in her life. On leaving the building, she sat and cried in her car for over an hour before somehow managing to drive home in a daze.
Following that appointment she arrived home with damp blood shot eyes. Dementia. The word has resonated in her head over and over all the way home like a song you dislike coming on the radio, and you are unable to change the station.
Damien and Sally were watching TV. Once again she burst into uncontrollable sobs. ‘I apparently have dementia. Something called younger onset. I had no idea people could get it so young.’
Sally immediately gave Penny a big bear hug and said ‘Don’t worry mummy. If you are sick, I’ll help you and it will all be OK’.
Damien mumbled ‘I’m sure it can’t be all that bad love’ and went to check his emails.
Penny didn’t get a single wink of sleep that night as she watched the shadows dance across her high Victorian ceilings in the ghostly moonlight.
Unpublished Work (c) Hayley Walsh 2023