Tuesday, 1 February 2011


My head takes me to a different time and a different place. It's somewhere around eleven o'clock in the morning there, a city I hadn't seen for almost twenty years. The famous bridge looking over a beautiful harbour, ferries sailing across from Circular Quay to oddly named suburbs like Manly, the shell-shaped opera house that its creator never lived to see completed.

I have fond memories of Sydney. It presented me with my first experiences of rugby and cricket, and even my first ever international football match. The beach was never more than twenty minutes away and so much of life was based on being outdoors. As we were chilling in the big freeze in London, the person I was calling was enjoying their summer. Well, all except for the cricket scores.

It's not a habit of mine, making long-distance calls from other people's phones, but this time, I have no other choice. Leon lived on his own, his nearest living relative the son we were now trying to reach. Friendly neighbours were plentiful, but how friendly they would be if woken at midnight was another question. The police had found him wandering the streets in the middle of the night, dressed in nothing but a dressing gown and slippers. He had no money and no keys with him, and was completely lost. The police had discovered his address, and luckily he had a key-safe by the front door to which he somehow remembered the number so they could get back in. The police then called on us just to "check him out" and put his mind at ease.

Physically, Leon was fine. His numbers all added up, he felt generally well, but from what we could ascertain he had never before gone strolling in the middle of the night. He also couldn't remember where he lived, and didn't recognise the fact that when the police found him they were only a block away from home.

Dementia was listed as his only medical condition, and having finally got through to his son, we discovered that it was still fairly mild. His short term memory was affected intermittently, but he would normally function day-to-day quite happily and capably on his own. He had a cleaner come in once a week who would also take him shopping since he'd had to give up driving. Otherwise, he did everything on his own.

Nocturnal travels, however, were a new, potentially hazardous occurrence, and left us all with a problem.

I was loathed to take Leon to hospital, but had no other way to guarantee his safety. There was no-one we could ask to come and stay the night, just to make sure he stayed home. Leon was reluctant, and his son even more so, but both saw the logic to the argument that we couldn't just leave him alone. Hopefully the hospital would be able to care for him until his son arrived from the other side of the world.

"We've been thinking about a residential home for Dad." He tells me that they'd had honest discussions, and that the plans were in the pipelines. Now they'd have to be brought forwards. "I can be there in thirty-six hours."

"Don't forget it's winter here," I told him.

"Oh, I know. I'll say goodbye to summer as soon as I take off from the airport."

As we all stroll out to the ambulance, my mind takes its own little walk and wanders back again to Sydney's Kingsford-Smith, my last sight of it, and its runway that ends in the beautiful blue sea.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've come here from the former 'Ambulance Man's' blog. I'll be back - it's good.

This article was moving. I can relate to it. For those with a Leon as a close relative, it is a warning.

There is an intersection with how hard it can be to actually help a relative when this happens. The new 'Power of Attorney' system will come as a nasty shock to Leon's family.