“I wouldn’t worry”
“I wouldn’t worry, Mrs Roberts,” said the doctor. “She seems perfectly alright to me.”
Laura’s mother, Brenda, was not encouraged by this rather unprofessionally vague statement. She decided she’d made a mistake in approaching this particular so-called expert, and would ring the man who had been her second choice as soon as she got home.
“But I am worried, doctor. She’s a brave, quiet girl, and wouldn’t want to make a fuss if anything was wrong. But I can tell something’s changed with her, in the last two or three years. Really, a mother knows these things.”
The little man opposite her had a rather bemused and unsympathetic expression on his face. She had tried to like him, tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but had failed.
He’d better not tell me it’s just puberty, she thought to herself darkly.
And as if on cue, he announced, “It’s probably just that she’s going through puberty. These are crucial years, and a young person’s emotions can be all over the place. I’ve done all the tests I can think of, and she seems to be in perfect health. Just give her time and things will settle down.”
Brenda couldn’t help raising her eyebrows to show her disdain at yet another inane statement. Things will settle down? Hardly a medical opinion, hardly medical advice. And yet, if all the tests were negative, what else could she do?
She plucked up courage to have one more try. “But what about the falling asleep issue? I’ve watched her drop off in all sorts of situations, and I’m worried it could be dangerous. I thought it might be, well, narcolepsy, is it called?”
“Mrs Roberts, I’ve tested for that, and for sleep apnoea. She probably just hasn’t been sleeping very well for some other, transitory reason. Problems at school, or fretting over some boy maybe? Make sure she goes to bed at a reasonable hour, and perhaps try her with some herbal sleeping pills.”
Deep breaths were called for. Brenda knew all about Laura’s sleep patterns. She had been putting her to bed every night for years. Clearly this man had no children of his own.
“I just wanted to be sure. She doesn’t – need a brain scan, perhaps?”
“From what you’ve described, there’s no call for it.”
“It’s not a mild form of epilepsy, then?”
“The symptoms don’t suggest that.”
“And it couldn’t be that she’s using some sort of drugs?”
The doctor waved a piece of paper at her. “As I’ve said, all clear on that front.”
Well I know there’s something wrong, Brenda thought to herself as she made her excuses and left. It was going to be a case of visiting a few more doctors, hoping to find someone who would take her concerns more seriously.
She had started to notice it a couple of years ago, something different in her daughter’s behaviour and demeanour. Laura often seemed to go blank, in moments when she thought no-one was watching. Just as if she was falling asleep, or going into a trance of some sort. And then the other thing was a subtle shift in her character. She was somehow more mature than might be expected, and more troubled, as if she had a big secret. Or a big problem.
In the depths of the night, Brenda would imagine the worst. She even wondered about her own husband. It couldn’t be that he had been…? No surely that was impossible, how could she even think it? Well, someone else then? What was causing her little Laura to adopt such a glazed expression? What was causing her to look at her mother in such a strange way, sometimes?
She had tried asking, once or twice, but to no avail. In fact she had found herself hugged and reassured by her daughter, and felt closer to her than ever. They went for walks together, sometimes, and sat in tea rooms, and talked in quite a sensible way about quite adult things. But never did Laura indicate to her that anything was wrong.
“You seem tired quite a lot,” Brenda said once, stroking her daughter’s pretty hair.
But Laura just shrugged. “Maybe it’s the weather,” she suggested. “I think my quilt’s too hot.”
“I’m a bit concerned about you.”
“Mum, there’s really no need!”
It was after this exchange that Brenda had contrived to get Laura to undergo a general medical examination, under the guise of signing up to a new GP. To arrange this again without worrying her daughter unduly would be difficult.
Maybe the nonchalant doctor was right, and there was nothing wrong. Maybe it was all in Brenda’s head, an undefined worry. But this was where things got complicated, because it was precisely Brenda’s concerns about what was going on in her daughter’s head that were the problem.
Because she had another reason to be concerned about her daughter’s state of mind. Something so personal to her, that she had never even discussed it with her husband.
It was because of her own mother, Mary, who had died in an accident when Laura had been very little and hardly had any time at all with her grand-daughter.
Mary had been very troubled. Mary had caused Brenda and her siblings some concern, mostly when they were young, but then even more so as Mary had got older.
Mary struggled with motherhood. Mary had to battle on a couple of occasions to keep her children with her, as fledgling care authorities sought to remove them to a care home.
Sometimes she was fine, sometimes she went very strange. She became eccentric, and suffered from bouts of melancholy and distraction. Brenda had found her several times in bed or on a couch, her eyes glazed over and completely un-rousable. A scary thing for a young child to experience, her mother being there but not there. Alive, but somehow absent. Unable to speak or get up.
These episodes always passed, but they had upset Brenda deeply, as her mother’s care and love seemed to be intermittent, and unreliable.
As she grew up, she saw it as some sort of mental illness or instability, and had feared for some years that she might exhibit the same symptoms herself. Luckily this had not happened, but it was now with some dread that she began to see similar signs in her own daughter.
It was not narcolepsy she was afraid of, she realised. It was madness, plain and simple.
Oh well, Brenda sighed to herself, tossing and turning again in the middle of the night. Best not to worry too much – not yet. Maybe, after all, it was just puberty.