APRIL 26, 2013

These official reviews are difficult to fit in. When I come up to the home I’d rather be engaging with Mum than taking part in an administrative task. But it’s not so easy to engage with Mum now that she’ll hardly look up never mind talk. Anyway, today we are having a six-month review in Mum’s room, where I’ve moved her in the wheelchair. She will be oblivious to every word that is said, I’m pretty sure of that, but at least she’s got my company. Her son is there for her, making a nuisance of himself as usual.

Tess is conducting this review. She was the senior in charge of the dining room when I wrote about a very well run lunchtime operation back in January (see A Light Lunch). She is a good honest communicator, which is what’s needed in these circumstances. I ask her to remind me what Mabel’s nightly routine is.

“Mabel usually gets put to bed by the day staff, that’s before 8 o’clock. And she’s usually up between eight and nine in the morning.”

“So she’s in bed for twelve or thirteen hours a day.”

“If she doesn’t rest for that long we notice the difference.”

“She’s sleepier?”

“Yes. All our residents need a lot of sleep.”

Very true. After all Mum is sleeping in her chair for much of the day. My father sleeps a lot as well. He is in his bed from 10pm until 8.30pm every day.

OK where have I got to in this conversation?

“And is Mabel still turned in the night?”

“Yes, every three hours two carers come in, pull the bed out from the wall and turn Mabel from her left side to her right and vice versa.”

“She doesn’t turn around by her own volition.”

“No, so she has to be turned, to avoid the development of bed sores.”

I then ask about toileting. No flicker of disapproval from Mabel who is sitting contentedly enough, with her eyes closed or almost closed. I have given her a cup of tea in the time it’s taken Tess and I to discuss Mabel’s night routine. I want to know if she still actively goes to the toilet or if she’s doubly – what is the word? – incontinent.

“Mabel does wear pads. But she is put on the loo first thing in the morning. And she is put on the loo after lunch and after dinner. She responds well to the routine of this.”

“I see.” I think I do. There must still be an instinct to relieve herself when she is sat on the toilet. I guess it is worth doing, though obviously it takes a lot of discipline on the part of the staff for the system to be maintained. But I’ve seen how they manage to do that in other areas. When Mum’s weight was going down, they monitored her daily intake of all foods and drinks, and the weight loss was stopped, if not reversed.

After three-quarters of an hour I’m signing off the paperwork and thanking Tess for her input. I mention in passing that I’ll be taking out Mabel tomorrow afternoon. Tess tells me that there is an evening concert scheduled for tomorrow and what worked well last week was for Mabel to be put to bed in the afternoon, which meant she was quite perky when the sing-song took place.

“Fine. I’ll take her out the day after tomorrow.”

But the next day I’m curious about the evening concert, so I go along at about quarter to seven in the hope that my calculations as to timing are about right. I hear the sound of music before I go in, and what a merry scene meets my eye when I enter the lounge! Three carers are brightly encouraging a group of five residents to dance. Helga often frustrated during the day, clearly feels in her element. I’m surprised Patrick is on his feet, but he is and he looks steady enough, clutching the Zimmer as of course he has to.

I look around and conclude that Mabel is the only person in the room not joining in in some way. She is sitting at the rear of the room with her eyes closed or nearly so. Her skin looks healthy though she doesn't suit the pink silk scarf that a carer has kindly dressed her in. Her expression is… difficult to interpret. I’m assured she was enjoying the music for a spell earlier on. She has shot her bolt, then. She doesn’t respond to my words or my touch, loving though they both are.

Roll out the barrel,” sings the room as one. Do they mean Mabel and me? Because suddenly I feel very tired. As tired as Mabel obviously feels? Well, maybe not that far gone.

It’s a long way to Tipperary,” sings everybody. Everybody except Mabel and me. Yes, it’s a long way to Tipperary and the rest of you are welcome to the walking of it.

I see Helga with her hand held high, twisting around herself, eyes flashing, feet moving quickly and neatly. At 80-years-old, the care home swinger. In between dances she has time for a quick word with Mabel. Though the effort is not reciprocated.


“I don’t know where these young things get their energy. Do you, Mum?”

No, the 88-year-old stroke victim, now deeply mired in a fog of dementia, does not know or care where the rest of the planet gets its energy. And I feel what’s left of my own
joie de vivre drip out of me, and fall down into the freshly vacuumed carpet.