June 8, 2012

Having been on holiday for four days I gave my father a call from Jura. To my surprise I had a signal. To my further surprise the call was immediately answered. I congratulated Dad on actually using the mobile that I’d set him up with. He reported that all was well at the care home but that a single call to his sister, who lives locally, had used up his ten pounds worth of credit. I wound up the conversation before he could change his mind about he and Mum being OK, but I was really glad to have made the call and it put a spring in my step as Kate and I visited the island’s distillery.

When I went round to collect Dad at the end of the week, he was all packed. He was sitting in a seat by the window, with his binoculars within reach (so that he could see across to the Sidlaws) while watching the news channel on the telly. I must say he looked pretty well set up. He told me he’d had a few teething problems ('stupid things' like the shaving point not working and two light bulbs needing replaced, something that had to wait until day two) but had been comfortable enough in what he described as his ‘bubble existence’ as the week wore on. But he wouldn’t want to stay here full-time, as he felt cut off from the real world. I was relieved to hear this as staying at a care home is expensive - £70 per night in this case. Which may not sound that much but amounts to £25,000 a year.

Had Dad seen much of Mum? We’d arranged that Ian would not eat his meals with Mabel as he would have found that tough to take. Instead Ian ate in the first floor dining room at a table with three of the chattiest residents. This worked out well, apparently. Ian joined Mabel in the ground floor lounge for her cup of tea in the afternoon and again in the evening, an hour or so each time. Was Mabel aware of the extra company she’d been getting? Ian felt she was. She’s been fairly responsive and in the middle of the week had asked Ian if he was going to take her out for a run. Ian had replied that going out in the car would have to wait until I returned at the weekend, and she seemed to both understand and accept this.

Dad exited the room leaning on his stick, with me walking behind carrying the bags. I asked him if he felt like he’d been on holiday. “No,” came the swift response.

With Ian settled in back at the house, I returned to the home to feed Mum lunch, as I try and do on a Saturday. I did find her more alert than usual. She took charge of the spoon and if her movements had been just slightly more co-ordinated she’d have been feeding herself like in the good old days of a year or two ago. She smiled at me, and the carers, and showed willing when it came to a bit of banter. Several carers remarked how bright Mabel had been all week. Which is great, but I’m not sure how to stop her slipping back now that Ian has returned to the family home. Well, yes I do. Mabel needs more company. I’m just not sure that either Dad or I can supply it.

After lunch that day, I passed Doris who was sitting in the corridor. She did not look well. Ian had already told me that she and Molly had gone some way to spoiling the atmosphere in the ground floor lounge. They both get depressed, understandably, and can hit out at all around now that they’re losing their minds. Molly would get belligerent, but Doris gave her as good as she got, according to Ian. Dad also felt that Doris and Molly were consistently demanding of the carers so that the quieter ones, such as Mabel, come close to being neglected. When I asked for an example of this, Ian described the situation in the evening. Molly and Doris are taken off to their bedrooms first, because they demand to be. Mabel and others have to wait until later. Fair point, but in my experience Mabel is in no hurry to get to bed and usually seems to be enjoying the tranquility of the lounge when I pop in later, as I occasionally do.

Anyway, Doris stopped me after the Saturday lunch. “They’re killing Matthew in there,” she said, pointing vaguely along the corridor.

Matthew was Doris’s husband, a professional man whom she seems to have much respected, and loved, given the terms in which she always speaks of him. They shared a room in the care home until he died about a year ago.

“I don’t think they are,” I said, diplomatically.

“I know they are,” said Doris, staring hard at me. “Will you help me?”

“I think you’re getting a little confused.”

“If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s confused,” she hit back.

“Hang on in there, Doris,” I said, though it didn’t seem like an adequate response. Then I let myself out of the home.

Ten days have passed since the respite week. A positive thing that has come out of it, is that Ian, who is diabetic, had much lower blood glucose readings at night while he was in the care home. Around 15 compared to the 20 that he regularly reaches at home. After one night of resumed higher readings, we’ve got the blood sugar down again, by me serving him slightly smaller portions and Ian forgoing the ginger nut biscuit that he usually takes after his meal.

Mabel and Ian; Doris and Matthew. Hanging on in there until the end comes along. An end that they can’t prevent but which they can meet with dignity and in their own terms, if given a little – or a lot, depending on how you look at it - of the right kind of help.

When my father finds out I’m writing this particular blog he tells me to mention that there’s far too much traditional Scottish music played in the main lounge of the home. Music is an essential part of an elderly person’s environment and not nearly enough thought is being given to it there. Doris, Edith and Desmond - three of the more switched on permanent residents - are being driven crazy by it.

Thanks Dad, I’ll pass that on to the management.