The following is an extract from ‘Somebody I Used to Know’ by Wendy Mitchell (with Anna Wharton).
I’m sitting in front of Jo again as she tells me the three words she wants me to remember by the end of the session. She starts going through the same memory tests as she did six months ago. When she asks me to name objects beginning with a certain letter, nothing comes. I glance around the room for inspiration, my eyes flicking back to hers, noticing how she watches me, how she knows I’m cheating.
“Take your time,” she says gently.
Eventually I find a pen, a pad, a pencil.
“OK,” she says, writing them down.
It’s obvious to both of us that there has been a decline, and yet Jo’s gentle, confident manner distracts from the fear that’s gathering in the pit of my stomach. She leans across the desk and hands me a piece of paper and a pen.
“Can you draw a clock for me?” she says.
Easy, I think, and yet when I lean forward, the pen hovers above the paper; the circle isn’t quite what I remember a circle looking like. I start filling in the numbers, my brow furrowed in concentration, but it doesn’t look right – the twelve is in the wrong place. I sit back and stare at the page. Why is there no room for the twelve?
“I’m sorry,” I say. “It’s so strange. It’s just a clock.”
“It’s OK,” she says, making another scribble inside her notes. And then she asks for those three words she’d told me at the beginning of the session, and again, they’ve slipped away without me noticing. “We’ve got two more weeks to go, Wendy,” she smiles, closing my file. “Plenty of time to try again.”
The third and final set of test days dawns and I’m back in front of Jo as we go through similar tests and this time, it’s just the same. At the end of our session, she sits back in her chair.
“How do you think that went?” she says.
“I know it didn’t go well,” I venture. I pause for a second, enough time to muster up the question I’ve wanted to ask for so many months. “What do you think it could be?” I say finally.
She looks into my eyes, and her voice is calm and steady. “Possibly dementia, but I can’t be completely sure, not until we get the results of all the tests.”
“Of course,” I reply. But I’m not sure how the words reach my mouth because a numbness embraces me, and a sadness too, a feeling that this is the end because that’s all I know about dementia; the blank stares, the helplessness, the confusion. And everything I’d been determined to avoid since I first saw whispers of the word in the letters that went between Jo and my neurologist.
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