Nursing Home

By Nick Gilmore

Published: 23 Mar, 2024

Saturday

This felt like the longest day. Father-in-Law needs a visit.

Volunteer drivers take him to the village day centre three days a week for his lunch and they deliver a hot meal to him for the other two weekdays. But the day centre only covers weekdays. He has to fend for himself at weekends. I don’t always have to go but my presence is required if something needs fixing or moving. His electric shower isn’t working properly and his heating is coming on at weird times so I am in attendance.

So while I descale the showerhead and flush the system through, Lesley is attending to the regular tasks – his laundry, his lunch, checking his hearing aids, filling his dosset box with the coming week’s meds, dealing with his post, rewashing the crockery and cutlery that he thinks he’s washed properly, throwing out the food in his fridge that is going off and so on. I get the shower working as well as it can do and he comes upstairs to tell me how to turn it on.

“Just pull this to switch the electric on”

“OK. Thanks. I’ve finished now. It’s all done”

“You have to switch it on with this cord.”

“Yes. I know. I’ve done it.”

“It’s this switch here.”

I admit defeat at this point.

“OK. show me.”

He pulls the cord and is now happy.

The shower does seem to be quite poor though. The temperature isn’t stable. It’s like the water pressure is pulsing up and down. There has been a lot of new development in his village in recent years. Have Thames Water upgraded their system to cope with double the number of houses? Of course they bloody haven’t.

Physically he seemed OK today. No sign of breathlessness so the pleural aspiration he had a couple of weeks ago seems to have helped. He does seem to be struggling to keep himself clean though and wiping after using the toilet is a problem now. Evidence was first found, obviously, in his underwear and then on the bathroom towels. Today it was in his trousers and, more worryingly, on the floor and the wall of the bathroom.

Mentally, I can see changes. Repetition of questions is markedly worse as is his ability to express himself. He still has the Daily Mail delivered but I no longer have the product of what they would probably like to call journalism thrust at me. I don’t know if he is forgetting to change to his reading glasses and can’t take it in or is just not retaining what he’s read. A bit of both probably.

It strikes me as we’re driving away that we’ve had quite a lengthy visit and no-one has lost their temper. It was the dog’s behaviour that was the clearest indicator. Ordinarily, she will run in the house when we arrive and greet him and then stand by the front door to be taken straight out for a walk. Then, when we get back she’ll pester us for her meal and then go back and lay down at the front door ready to go home. Ordinarily, she finds it too hot, too loud and too stressful to want to hang around. But not today. She had her walk and her lunch and then a nice long nap on the sofa. But then he’d got both hearing aids in properly and hadn’t got the telly on full blast so we weren’t having to bellow in his face to make ourselves heard. Most importantly though, he wasn’t nearly as cantankerous as usual.

Normally, everything’s an argument if it isn’t going to be done the way he would’ve done it or if it isn’t being done the way he always does it. And when you haven’t changed your ways since the 20th century, your way of doing anything is going to align less and less closely with how things work now. I can understand his determination to retain his independence but he’s gone past the point where his actions prove his independence and now they only show the opposite. There’s a small army of people working in the background, usually with little recognition let alone thanks, helping him maintain this veneer of independence.

But today, there seems to be little fight left in him. Perhaps he’s just having an off day. Perhaps he’s actually feeling less well than he’s letting on. We’ll see.

However, we get home for a quick meal and a chance to rehydrate before I head off to visit Mum.

The night shift are gearing up to get people settled for the night. I get through the lounges undetected. Everyone’s glued to the football on the telly or just dozing.

“Hello Mum! It’s Nick. Are you alright?”.

“Ooh, I’m glad you’re here. I’ll have a cup of tea if there’s one going.”

Curses! That means going back to the lounge. There’s no way I’ll remain unnoticed now. I’m met first by Eleanor.

“Have you seen another man?” she says

“Another man!? Won’t I do?”.

She giggles like a little girl.

I ask Jess if she wouldn’t mind making Mum some tea. There’s some confusion as she thinks I’m about to head off home and that she’ll have to assist Mum but I reassure her that I’ll do that. As per usual, the request for food or drink is logged on their system. They all have little handheld devices and it’s all done in real time. While the tea is being prepared I see that Audrey is struggling to reach something she’s dropped on the floor. It’s the parish newsletter, some scraps of torn-up paper and some other bits and bobs. I get down on one knee..

“May I be of assistance Madam?”

“Oh, you’re too kind sir!.. And can I have that bit?… And that bit too?”

“There you go. Is that everything?”

“Yes it is. Thank-you. You can visit me again. In fact you can stay all weekend”.

Fortunately, I’m handed Mum’s tea and I head off back to her. While I help her drink it I tell her how Lesley’s dad is.

“Oh blimey!” she says.

More sips of tea. I tell her how good the dog’s been today and how much she enjoyed her walk. How we went across the football pitches to the stream in the woods where we throw sticks in for her to fetch. How clever she is to not go in the deep bits but to go where it’s shallower and wait for the current to bring the sticks to her. How we then go under the railway bridge to the Stinky Field which has dozens of rabbit burrows by the ditch on one side and smells strongly of foxes by the stream on the other. How she goes into full hunting mode and clearly loves every second. By now, Mum’s managing to hold the cup for herself.

“They make a good cup of tea here, don’t they Mum?”

“Yes. Yes they do”

A figure passes the door.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s Callum. He’s on his way to bed”

“You know everybody here don’t you”

I don’t say that I ought to as I’ve been here almost every day and sometimes twice a day since August.

And then half the night shift arrive en masse to change her pad and administer meds so I get up to get out of their way. Mum’s suddenly anxious that I’m going home and leaving her but I tell her I’ll be just outside the room. I show Jess the empty teacup. She’s surprised and impressed.

On their way out, Jess thanks me for helping Mum with her tea. I thank her for making it and she hoots with laughter.

I carry on talking to Mum. She’s calm and lucid, responsive and talkative. She’s not especially happy as she wants to go home but recognises she isn’t strong enough yet. She’s feeling a bit sorry for herself and I think she might cry but then she sees someone in the doorway.

“Who’s that? Who is he?”

Ah. The first hallucination of this cycle.

“Don’t know Mum but I can’t see him now. I think he’s gone”

“No he hasn’t!”

Bloody hell.

Author’s Note

My Mum is in a nursing home in a small village in the Thames Valley. The photo is not of the home. I used an AI image generator to give the reader some idea of the home she’s in.

All, some or maybe even none (you’ll never know!) of the names have been changed to protect privacy and hide real identities. If you think you recognise someone then let me know and I’ll edit the post or remove it entirely

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