Pat & Angela Smyth's Story

I’m Pat Symth, I live in Belfast, I’ve lived here all my life and I’m married to Angela and I used to work as a staff nurse in theatres in the Royal Hospital, and Angela was a teacher. And we will be forty years married this October. I met Angela in a local musical society, St Agnes’s Choral Society, she had just come back from Canada, she emigrated to Canada and taught in an Indian Reservation in a very isolated area. She had to come home to Ireland because her dad was really ill. Then we met in the Choral Society. She’s a fantastic musician, she played the piano, the guitar, she could sing, she could act, great actor, and we clicked, so the rest is history.

We have three children, Patrick and Helen, they will be 35 this year, and David, he’s Down Syndrome so he lives at home with us.

The first thing I noticed was, at traffic lights, particularly down locally, there’s a set of traffic lights and they change about two seconds quicker than the lane that I was in. I noticed she was reacting to them out of the side of her eye. And then she told me one night she just felt a click in her head and she didn’t waken me and I would have had her straight into hospital. I think she had a TIA, a Transient Ischemic Attack, and it just went from there. That was about 10 or 11 years ago.

Dementia is a terminal illness, and it’s a long process. It’s about 10 years now for Angela and just to see the deterioration week by week, and Angela’s fairly advanced now.

I say I was a qualified nurse so I thought I could handle anything but I was more used to working in operating theatres and trauma, having to do things quickly, an emergency had to be dealt with, whereas the emotional side of it didn’t have an awful lot. I quickly found out that I wasn’t good at expressing myself, expressing my emotions and that’s where I needed help.

I tried an anti-depressant for a while, for about 15 months but I didn’t like it, I was very numb with it, so I’m using reframing strategies but some days … not going to get very emotional … it’s an emotional hell, and rollercoaster, both for Angela as well because she needs to feel secure, familiar surroundings and it’s just ensuring that happens, she likes to be with her friends and sometimes she would break down and say ‘what wrong with me?’ and she cries like a baby because she can’t speak.

She needs constant care, she needs fed, fortunately I have help. l’ve ladies come just in the morning time to wash and dress her which takes a bit of pressure off me, but at the end of the day I still have to do all the cooking and have to drive her here there and everywhere.

We would get here about 10:15, I think it starts officially at half ten, and all the volunteers have the tea and the coffee all ready, the scones and the biscuits, and there’s also artwork and arts and crafts. And there’s Mary Rose, the therapist, gives the head and foot massages, which are brilliant. And then there’s professional nurses, trained nurses, so if I have any problems, if I need a medication it’s fantastic.

It’s the emotional and the physiological support that the hospice provides is priceless, really is. So my time, she goes to the day centre Tuesdays and Thursdays, so the essential part is looking after me, my time, and that’s when I get a chance to meet up with a good friend for lunch and then I’ll try to get a game of golf on a Thursday, weather permitting, and try to keep my sanity. I’m superman but I’m not superman, I need super people around me, that’s the bottom line.