In my case, it was the toenails. I don’t think I’d ever seen Nana’s toenails until today, or at least not like this. Perhaps somewhere in a long distant, barely remembered past, Nana wore open-toed shoes, and had polish on her nails, and maybe I did spy them peeping out from strappy sandals or high heels. Maybe. I don’t recall… but I’ll never forget the toenails I saw today.
It’s been a long day. It started at 5:45 am and has nowhere near finished… I realise plenty of people do this every day, so I’d just like to acknowledge them now as the super-human superstars they are. How do they function? I just don’t know. I lay awake last night worrying about what’s going to happen to Nana as her condition deteriorates, so I think I got about 5 hours’ sleep at most. I do not fire on all cylinders after that amount of sleep, and the people who do absolutely floor me. Anyway, it was the second part of Nana’s memory testing today, so Llew drove me over to her place before depositing us both at Prince of Wales hospital first thing this morning (Nana’s memory loss notwithstanding, I’m not the only one feeling a little spaced out – earlier this afternoon, Llew and I both forgot he’s got the car at work).
When we collected Nana this morning, she was wearing the same outfit she’s worn four of the last five times I’ve seen her. I’m now almost certain she’s no longer changing out of it at all. Naturally it’s starting to look a little… rich, and smell a little ripe, but when I question her about it, she insists it’s just one of her preferred ensembles. Uh huh. Sure thing, Nana. Just like you’re showering every day, too. See, I can tell you get in the tub and scrub a dub dub just like you say you do, because that cake of soap has been hanging out of its little box at precisely that angle since the last time I checked your bathroom for signs of life, and those towels, well, they’re the same three crispy planks sculpted to the rail as those that first sent alarm bells pealing through my brain. Smack those towels on the tiles and they’ll shatter like glass. That shower recess has not been used in who knows how long, either, but certainly not since last Monday when I made a point of noting the precise position of everything in there. This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but I’ve been a little slow on the uptake. It just didn’t occur to me at first that she wasn’t washing herself or her clothes until that black velour tracksuit turned up three times in a row. And one of the reasons I didn’t twig sooner is that Nana is – has always been – a supremely fastidious groomer. It wasn’t something I was on the lookout for at all. So who knows when the slide actually began? I knew it in my gut last Monday, which is why and when I made my mental notes on the state of the bathroom. That was t-e-n days ago, so I know it’s been at least that long. And I now suspect it’s been far longer since Nana last observed the usual practices of a lifetime of toilette du femme (that’s probably wrong, but you catch my drift).
Which is GHASTLY. Just ghastly. Poor thing – she’s so adamant she’s doing it, so sure, so indignant that I would even suggest she’s not, that it makes assisting her a little tricky. As I admitted to the Darklings earlier, the rebuffs are almost as hard to accept as the evidence that she’s not maintaining her personal hygiene. How do you make someone let you help them? She’s still self-aware enough to say no. And a small, utterly horrified part of me wishes that she had said no today when the specialist at POW asked her to remove her shoes and socks. I turned a whiter shade of pale when she did as she was told, because I didn’t see it coming, and the state of her toenails occasioned a loss of innocence from which I will never recover. Christ Almighty. It was like the Guinness Book of Records down there. I think I audibly gasped, and certainly Dr Broe knew I’d just received a very nasty shock. And nasty is the word. Oh, shit. Shit.
When I got Nana home, she insisted she didn’t want a shower, and I’m not about to strong-arm her into one, I wouldn’t even know how to, so I knelt down in front of her, and I clipped the nails that could be trimmed without causing her pain. Three toenails appear infected, and need attention beyond what I can give – she needs to see a podiatrist, I think, and that’s an appointment I’ll make in the morning. For now, and I mean right now, just this dusk at the end of a very long day, I’m simply glad to know that help is on the way. And in a strange way, I suppose part of me is even glad that I’ve seen the toenails, because it’ll never be my first time again, and now I know a little bit more about what it is I’m dealing with here. It has a name, too, and yes, it sent a chill down my spine when Dr Broe confirmed it: Alzheimer’s. Now we know.