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A Wry Tale


Registered User
Aug 7, 2007
I hope this tale prompts a smile of recognition - "I've experienced something similar".

J's consultant has always remarked that her communication is better than would be expected based on the various cognition test scores. A close friend who is a retired Prof. of Linguistics has remarked how skillfully J. uses stock phrases and covers over her difficulty in finding the right nouns.

Huub Buijssen in his brilliant and helpful book, "The Simplicity of Dementia" notes, "It costs someone with dementia tremendous effort to put a good sentence together and in order to cope as best (s)he can (s)he, quite understandably, retreats into a series of automatisms and standard phrases" (p.78).

J. needed a blood sample taking (for a kidney function test recommended when taking Lisinopril for elevated blood pressure) and a cervical smear. Our GP practice has different nurses for these two tests. Using the internet-based appointment-booking system, I organised for both tests on the same morning with an hour between to enable us to go to a local tea room for elevensies.

The "blood nurse" opened J's file on the computer and checked key information - name, address, date of birth etc. "Quite right", said J. when asked if each element of information was correct. The information was duly transcribed to the paper form that would go with the sample for testing.

The "smear nurse" had J's file open on the computer but asked J. for the relevant information piece by piece. "Maiden name?" she asked. J.s face showed total panic as she turned towards me. I doubt if she understood the concept. I provided the answer. "Date of birth?" asked the nurse looking at J. I provided that answer followed by J. saying quite firmly, "That's quite right." The nurse continued asking J. the questions and taking the answers from me. Everyone was relaxed and happy.

Once the test was over - and it went well with less hurt than J. expected (she had a vague memory that smear tests were "not nice" and the nurse had remarked at one point that she was using a slightly new procedure that was more comfortable) - J. started to dress. Panic again; this time in her voice. I asked if she needed help, knowing that she did. The nurse watched with a warm, sympathetic smile and much patience as I prompted J. on how to get fully dressed (our procedure to help her do as much herself as she possibly can).

As goodbyes were said, J. went to the nurse. "You did that very well. Thank you" she said and promprtly gave the nurse a big hug and a kiss. One nurse with very tearfilled eyes and, I suspect, a huge lump in her throat struggled to say a simple "goodbye".


Registered User
Aug 29, 2006
SW Scotland
What a lovely story, Petrus. You must be so proud of J.

Unfortunately, I've no similar story to relate, as John lost all language very early. But until recently he was just as polite and kind to people, even without words.

Kate P

Registered User
Jul 6, 2007
That's a lovely story Petrus.

Mum lost her language early on but after her last consultation she kissed her new doctor on the cheek.

I was quite astonished as mum has never been overly "touchy feely" as it were.

The consultant just said "Oh, how nice thank you" and left which I thought was lovely of her as any other response would have crushed mum.

Grannie G

Volunteer Moderator
Apr 3, 2006
Dear Petrus,

And that`s the crux of the matter isn`t it, the difference between open ended and closed questions.

One nurse provided the information for J, who only had to agree. Would she have agreed if the information had been incorrect?

The second nurse wanted to establish just how much J knew, and of course she needed help.

This is what worries me about medical consultations. To a certain extent, people are able to bluff their way through, unless the right type of question is asked.

Thank you for a very interesting post.

Love xx