September 16, 2011

We are in Mabel’s room at the home. Mum is sitting in her wheelchair in between Dad and me. All of us are looking out of the window into the bright September sunshine.

“It’s not shut…the car,” says Mum.

She means that the window of the room is open. It’s one of the first things she’s said in days that just about makes sense.

“You’re right, Mum. But then it doesn’t need shutting.” I fiddle about with it just to show willing. ‘There’s no wind getting in and it’s not cold in your room.”

Dad is holding Mum’s hand. He turns towards her and sings:

“Come into the garden, Maud, For the black bat, Night, has flown; Come into the garden, Maud, I am here at the gate alone.”

A black bat has indeed flown off. It first appeared last Friday afternoon when we turned up to take Mum out in the car. She was slumped to one side in her wheelchair, a pillow placed so as to try and support her. I went ahead with the plan for taking Mum out, though I had to get her into the car with almost no co-operation. She sat slumped in the front passenger seat with her seat belt on, leaning towards me as we drove along. At one point, I was holding the steering wheel in my right hand, while I tried to keep Mum vertical with my left hand, having to exert some force to do so. When we stopped for tea I got out of the car and tried to straighten her by pulling rather than pushing. But Mum began shouting at this new affront, so I desisted. From her slumped position she couldn’t drink her tea, which dribbled from the side of her mouth down onto the car seat.

When I went round on Saturday lunchtime, it was to learn that a doctor had called after we’d left on Friday and a urine infection diagnosed. Mabel was still slumped in a seat, but a more effective cushion was supporting her right side. She wasn’t eating, and carers were having to be persistent in order to make sure she took in enough liquid. Worried about her, I went in again in the evening, when she was one of only two residents still in the lounge at 8.30pm. Whenever I spoke to Mum she would reply, but the response never seemed to bear any relation to what I said, even if I repeated my simple remark several times.

When I called round again on Sunday, it was to be told that, because Mabel had been particularly pale that morning, the out of hours NHS service had been contacted. The second doctor’s opinion was that Mabel did not have a urinary infection, but had suffered a slight stroke, which she would report to the GP for action on Monday, and in the meantime Mabel should get as much rest as possible in the familiar surroundings of the home. I’d been booked to have lunch with Mum that day, so a carer brought my lunch to me in Mabel’s room. It was soup and a main course, eaten with no appetite, swallowed with difficulty, as Mabel slipped in and out of consciousness on top of her bed, covered by a blanket. I recall one exchange we had:

Me: “Are you going to sleep?”
Mum: “Up where?”
Me: “I’m asking if you’re going to sleep.”
Mum: “Up

That afternoon Dad and I went for a drive on our own. We agreed it was an opportunity for us to go a bit further than usual. But no, we just missed her company. I popped back to see Mum late afternoon. A carer had fed her a slice of bread and egg. I took over and tried to feed her ice-cream. She did take a little from a teaspoon when I got the action right, and presented her with sweet softness rather than hard metal. “This is my son,” she said, to the carer who’d been feeding her.

I wasn’t sure when to visit again. The grass needed cutting, so I did that, and in the end it was 8.30pm when I popped in for a third time on Sunday. She had been put to bed but was still awake. The door of her room was propped open by her Zimmer, so that the staff could check on her often through the night without setting off the noisy fire door shutting sequence. I sat on the chair by her bed until she was asleep and then left her. It felt that I’d been in the care home all day, though in fact my visits only added up to an hour and a half. The worry had been hanging over me all day though, that was what had left its mark.

Back up to the home at 11am on Monday, I met the GP coming out the front door. She announced that Mabel was perkier that morning. She confirmed her initial diagnosis of urinary infection and said that, in her opinion, Mabel had not had a stroke. Great news. I looked in on Mum, observed that she was sitting up straighter and without the aid of a cushion. She still wasn’t making much sense, but she was smiling brightly at anyone who entered her orbit. I told her I’d be back with Dad in the afternoon. And so here we are.

Dad sings. Really, there is nothing that can stop Ian singing when he’s in his usual good spirits:

“Meet me in Saint Louis, Louis.
Meet me at the fair.”

I’ve been told that Mum ate soup but not a main course this lunchtime, so I’ve brought along crisps, which she’s eating. And a banana, half of which she’s scoffed. She’s still not drinking as much as we’d like though. The cup seems a bit heavy for her; her lip trembles as she gets the cup to the drinking point. I transfer a straw from a near-full glass of orange juice to her tea, and present her with the tea-cup anew, explaining that she should suck from it.

“Ian, you do the most stupid things,” she says to me. She says it with such precision and poise that both Dad and I laugh.

Yes, the black bat, Night, has flown. I dare say it will be back here again. But when it comes, Dad and I will try and be here too, joining force with the carers, to do what we can to beat it off.