November 25, 2011

It’s Monday evening. I’ve been away for the weekend and so haven’t seen Mum for three days. Dad was able to visit on Saturday though, and spent two hours with Mabel in her room. Apparently, Mum was lying on top of her bed the whole time, but Ian was able to help her with a cup of tea and a cake. Not sure how jolly that would have been for Dad, but he sounded fine about it all. Well, everything except the cost of the taxi. But he needn’t get too concerned about that. His chauffeur is back in town. Normal service will be resumed from tomorrow afternoon.

OK, there she is, sitting on a comfy seat in the big lounge with pillows supporting her and a cup of tea on the little table in front. I give her a hug and pick up a moist chunk of home-made cake from where it must have previously spilled onto the floor. Then I sit down in an empty seat with the feeling of relief that I always get when coming back from a trip to find Mum still alive. I tell her where I’ve been. She doesn’t understand, but the fact that she makes an effort to speak back to me - a few words apparently chosen at random - shows goodwill.

I sit back and look around. There are two other elderly residents still in the lounge, both of whom have been at the care home as long as Mabel, both of whom are sat behind Zimmers. Molly, in her nightdress, tries to get to her feet. ‘God almighty,’ she says. ‘God almighty, God almighty,’ she repeats until she’s made it to a standing position. Actually, the God almighty-ing carries on with every Zimmer-assisted shuffle to the door and beyond.

Shona, one of the regular carers, spots me and comes over. She was on duty when Ian visited on the Saturday and reports, in passing, that he was a bit upset. But I soon gather it was no more than one would expect from spending a couple of hours with one’s life partner, once so blooming, reduced to doing so little, saying so little, being so little. I know from my own experience that being alone with Mum in her bedroom can hit hard.

Shona reports that Mabel has perked up a bit from the dismal state that she was in last week. Mum’s been making efforts to feed herself, has been sitting upright instead of dozing the whole day. She’s been drinking more fluids and has needed less encouragement. It’s good to hear a positive report. But its sad to know that the words can be spoken to me, sitting right beside Mabel, without Mum seeming to be aware that she’s being spoken of.

Shona brings me a cup of tea and a Tunnock’s marshmallow. I don’t want the chocolate-covered cream cake, but Mabel does. It’s in her mouth before I can warn her about the silver paper that covers it. No matter, Mum still knows what silver paper is, and she spits out a bit of it as I remove the rest from the domed surface of cake.

Molly has God almighty-ed her way back into the room and resumed her seat. ‘Time for me to go up the road,’ she says, implying that this is not her home. And for a moment it looks as if the God business is going to start again. But she does the sensible thing: she stays put. It’s 8 o’clock, which means it’s time for a change of shift. Some carers will be going home after their long day on the front line in the fight against Alzheimer’s while others will be preparing for another round of the ongoing battle with failing strength and growing dementia. I wander over to the office just as the outgoing staff are handing over to fresh troops. Terri looks at me, her face showing concern despite this being the end of a long shift, but I reassure her that there’s nothing that Mabel needs right now. I’m just there to say goodnight to them all.

At home, Dad asks me if I think it would be possible to install Mabel’s old bed into the care home. The bed he’s speaking of is an Adjustamatic, and it weighs a ton. What I mean is, there is steel machinery built into the bed, which, at the press of a button in the remote control, allows the top third of the bed – and/or the bottom third - to rise up at an angle from the horizontal. I agree that if Mabel is going to spend time in bed during the day, then the features of the Adjustamatic might increase Mum’s comfort. I’ll discuss with the manager the possibilities and practicalities of doing a switch.

New car, new bed; both remain possibilities as our minds race to try and keep up with Mabel’s requirements. New brain, new ears, new legs; those are what Mum needs really. But, alas, it’s the real world we have to live and die in.

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