30th June 2017

MY MAD KING by Becky Whitlam

MY MAD KING by Becky Whitlam

I once studied a piece of music by Sir Peter Maxwell Davis called ‘Eight Songs for a Mad King’. I remember it included a lot of strange noises, some large birdcages for the musicians to perform in and the smashing of a violin – it was crazy, but then again so was the Mad King!

In 2004 I met my Prince at university and five years later he became my husband, never did I think that one day I’d be confronted with my Prince becoming a ‘Mad King’.

From the moment I first met Dan (in a dark university dining room after a few ciders!) I knew we would be together forever! He was tall, at 5ft everyone was taller than me! And dark and handsome, what a catch! It didn’t take long for us to get together and he has looked after me ever since. We have two beautiful boys and he helped me through two challenging diabetic pregnancies (all the fun of injections and hypos) and he was amazing during labour.

So on the day of the bike accident the tables turned and I needed to be his knight in shining armour for a change.

My key concerns that day were:

  1. Was he alive – yes
  2. Did he has a life-changing brain/limb injury – no
  3. Would he walk again – yes, eventually

We got through the operation, the stay in hospital and then I got Dan home and settled and so the recovery could begin…

So far I could cope with this.

It was 24/7 to begin with. Getting up in the night to him, making him toast at 2am when his meds made him feel sick, emptying wee bottles, helping him to the shower, wrapping his leg in plastic bags, bringing him every meal and drink and tablet he needed. Pretty much everything.

Overnight I’d become a full time carer. But I didn’t mind as I love him, after all we’d made those promises when we married in sickness and in health. And he was alive, I was soooooo grateful for that; I didn’t mind what I had to do.

It was a bit like having a new born again, that sleep deprivation and being needed all day and night was hard but I also knew he was going to get better so it wasn’t forever.

I had set up a home for him in our upstairs lounge. I thought this was a good idea. We’d moved the spare bed in there and he had doors into the garden when he could finally get out there. It is a lovely big and bright room. He could sleep in there and I could sleep in our room so that when I did manage to sleep I got some uninterrupted, and we weren’t worried about me kicking his leg!

I knew he wasn’t sleeping much but I don’t think I realised how little.

I’d encourage him to call the doctor the day after he got home to ask for a change from codeine to tramadol as he felt so sick taking it and it wasn’t doing much for the pain. After a quick phone appointment a prescription was ready and I picked it up.

Dan’s brave, he’s rarely ill and never takes medication. But he was in a lot of pain so was happy to take whatever he could have, and I just kept giving him the tablets – and making him take full doses. ‘Don’t try to be a hero’ I’d say, ‘just take as much as you can have’.

His texting was intense. I’d barely have time to reply to one before the next came through. It was a barrage of short sentences that went on and on. He was lonely, stuck in one room and it was his way to communicate.  That and the internet were keeping him in contact with the outside world.

When he re-told the accident story to people it was in such detail, and once the idea of writing the blog was in his head that just exploded. He couldn’t give people a short explanation of either of these things and once when his friend from work was visiting I even jokingly told him to move it along and not go into such detail.

Some of these things started to ring alarm bells. The intense talking and texting, emailing in the night, saying what he really thought to everyone including to his parents. I was starting to worry.

He was still in that one room all the time. I’d even quarantined him to be in there alone for a few days when we thought he had a potentially horrendous bug, and I didn’t know what he was up to.

He started buying lots of things, and not cheap things. Online shopping is dangerous! Lots of new gadgets arrived. I checked the credit card bill one evening and noticed two £50 payments to virgin just giving. I asked him about it and he said he’d made a mistake with the first payment and did it again. He’d done it in the middle of the night, I told him he had to stop doing things like that. There should be no texting, emailing or buying in the night when he wasn’t thinking straight.

It was the Monday, 8 days after the accident, that I started to notice little things. By the Wednesday someone from work called me concerned about him and a few things he had done that were out of character.

So other people had noticed too, it wasn’t just me. I came home from work earlier than normal that afternoon and he was so distracted that he barely acknowledged me, he was obsessed with his blog – he kept talking about his blog team that he had assembled. I tried to remind him they weren’t his colleagues working for him, they were our friends (and I didn’t want him driving them away!).

The next day was the worst. Our close friend had planned to come that afternoon – I was so glad, by then things were awful. That morning we had agreed he should call the doctor to ask for something to help him sleep, it had been 11 nights of severe insomnia and we both knew it couldn’t carry on.

He called the doctor, explained the situation – he also told the doctor he knew some family/friends were concerned about him and his behaviour. The doctor prescribed something mild. When he came off the phone I mentioned (I quickly realised I needed to be so careful about what I said to him) that the doctor would be marking his notes as a potential PTSD risk given the accident and following some of the things he had said…

Oh I wish I’d not said that – and so it began – self-diagnosis. By the time Caroline arrived he had found out exactly the area of PTSD that he thought he was suffering from and he could talk about it in scientific detail.

He went on and on all afternoon about it to me and her. Now I’d held it together quite well until now but is was starting to break me. I was trying to reason with him/make him see sense/give him advice and in some cases just trying to stop him doing things. But he was on a different planet, this was not my husband.

Luckily Caroline agreed to watch Dan and the boys while I popped to a meeting at work for an hour, I needed to get out. When I arrived someone asked me how Dan was, not good was my reply. I said out loud – ‘it’s his mental state I am worried about’. There, I’d said it. I’d finally admitted that I was worried about my husbands head. I think this was the first time I used the word ‘manic’ to describe him.

I left the meeting early as I suddenly asked myself ‘what am I doing here, I should be at home’. Don’t get me wrong I trusted Caroline 100% to look after my boys, but if I felt I couldn’t look after them and keep Dan safe too then why was I stupid enough to put that pressure on her? I came home and things were fine. I dreaded Caroline leaving and being on my own with Dan that day. I made tea and made sure he took two tramadol with it as I had been insisting he should do 4 times a day for a week!

I had choir rehearsal that evening, and I really needed to be there as we had a concert a week later. My dad came as arranged to sort out the boys for bed and be there if they or Dan needed him. But I couldn’t leave at 7pm as usual, something felt wrong, really wrong!

I told my dad I wasn’t going to choir, Dan was manic again. He thought everyone was out to get him and he wanted me to go. I talked Dan in to speaking to an amazing colleague and friend who I realised was calming him down, thank God.

Boys in bed I went downstairs and cried. My poor dad, he didn’t know what to do with me. He asked if I was ok, I said yes. He said well you’re not because you’re crying. He knew what was going on and I asked if he was ok with me going to choir for an hour, I had to get out. I was going to be faced with this all night and I needed a break. Dad was fine about it as the boys were in bed (it turns out he never actually saw Dan that evening).

I drove away wondering if I was doing a really stupid thing. But I knew my dad was in control and would know what to do and call if needed. I cried all the way to choir and sat out of the rehearsal just listening. Some of the wonderful ladies in the choir came to see how I was. I was very honest with them and I’m so glad I was as a lovely nurse sat there listening and then asked what medication he was on…

I said that magic word ‘tramadol’. ‘Get him off it now’ she said ‘I’ve seen it do awful things to people, especially to young men of Dan’s age’. I almost felt some relief. I went home from choir and found him in our bed. He’d been to sleep, hallelujah!

We discussed him coming off the tramadol, he agreed.  He was frightened and scared of what not taking it would mean. But we were in it together and I would help him get through this.

The night didn’t end there, and there were a few hours of more obsessive behaviour, this time related to his heart rate and monitoring that for stress levels.

This was also the time he came up with a ‘signal’ for me!! When he wanted me to be quiet he would show me the signal and I needed to stop talking! WHAT?! I was being sooooo patient, but this was just too much for me!

And so the tramadol wasn’t taken again and the drug began to work its way (slowly) out of his system. The weeks that followed weren’t easy but each day got better and we are finally back on track.  My Mad King is returning to the Prince that I met 13 years ago.

MY MAD KING by Becky Whitlam

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