April 13, 2012

I’ve been writing and posting these blogs every fortnight for nearly two years now, which is something I’ll try and bear in mind throughout this one.

For the last few months the Saturday lunchtime routine has been for me to turn up at the home and feed Mum at her separate little table. Today the soup has gone down well and the puréed meat-and-two-veg is going down likewise, so I try and prompt a conversation. Actually, I just want to convey to Mum that Dad’s birthday has come round again, that he is 86 years old. But as soon as I start to speak Mabel looks me in the eye and says: “Stop talking to me all the time”. I point out that I haven’t been talking to her AT ALL, and she apologises. But I can see she’s not in a listening mood, so I don’t try again. Clearly, it’s more comfortable for her to remain in her own world of silence. It’s quite cheering actually, to know that she seems happy enough there.

Last year I was able to get Mabel to sign Ian’s birthday card with a little prompting. The year before that Mabel celebrated Ian’s birthday by joining the family group for lunch at a country hotel. That meal ended with Mabel observing, as she watched Ian walk towards the car: ‘He moves quite well. Considering his age’. No such philosophical perspectives can be expected two years down the line.

I become aware that there are four blue-topped carers on view, which is a record, and it accounts for why they seem to have more time to talk than usual. An exchange between Shona and me about the weather, banal though it is, can be heard by others in the room, and this must be no bad thing. The only male carer currently employed by the home has a word with me about the hoist that is used to get Mabel up in the morning and to put her to bed at night. He wants to reassure me that Mabel does not find the use of it distressing. She co-operates with the machine and its handler and things go smoothly, partly thanks to the use of transfer sheets on the bed. I can’t quite picture the scene, but I am, in fact, reassured. Mabel often does a certain amount of protesting (via yelps or screams) when I’m using a transfer board to get her in and out of the car and I was wondering how she coped with the difficulties of being moved in and out of bed. Anyway, it is considerate of Vic to think of talking to me in this way and I try and convey this to him.

With Mabel dozing over her post-meal cup of tea, I walk out into the corridor and have a chat with Carolyn who is on the tea trolley today, as she is every second day. We swop notes. Soon we’re acknowledging the sad fact that two of the residents who used to be most solid and switched on of the bunch are rapidly losing the place. Geoffrey no longer has his meals upstairs but, having been disruptive, now eats on his own close to the kitchen where staff can more easily keep an eye on him. His increasing paralysis has left him feeling trapped and he has become paranoid that it is the people that look after him that are keeping him tied down. Dorothy too is now showing increasing signs of confusion, which her high emotional- intelligence can no longer compensate for. She asked me how my daughter was the other day. And when I explained to her that Mabel was my mother, not my daughter, I could see her wilt.

Mabel has been living in the home for three and a half years now. In that time, off the top of my head, I can think of four – no, five - residents who have died, four whose well-being has fallen off greatly, and three who seem much the same. What the care home needs is an influx of young blood! Instead, what’s happening is that elderly people are being looked after in their own homes for longer than was the case a few years ago. The population at the care home is getting smaller in terms of numbers, and the residents are older and feebler.

When Mabel came to live here she was walking with the aid of a Zimmer. She was, with help, using the toilet. She was taking an active part in conversations and was eating and drinking without help. Now she can’t walk or even stand up. She is reliant on pads, though I believe that ‘doubly incontinent’ is the official phrase. And of course she needs to be fed. Not just on Saturday lunchtime, but three meals a day, seven days a week.

What can she do on her own? She can swallow and chew. She can say yes and no. She can protest that I’m talking too much or that she’s being pushed around too much by her bully boy of a son.

How much further is there to go? There is no-one to ask that question of. So we just go with the flow. Or, rather, we watch the tap drip more and more slowly.

Two days later. I take Mum and Dad to Blairgowrie cemetery and place flowers beside the graves of both sets of my grandparents.

"Well done," Mum said the last time we were here. This time she doesn't say anything. But she does take the daffodil that I give to her. And she holds on to it.