Nursing Home

By Nick Gilmore

Published: 30 Mar, 2024


Started the day with a team trip to Father-in-Law’s. Being a Saturday I pick an alternative route that’s going to be least challenging to The Dog. So no village centres where we’ll  be caught at traffic lights where there’ll be people walking close to the car. Alternative Route One is blocked by a flood. Not just any old flood. A water flowing rapidly across the lane away from the lake into the woodland on the other side flood. I complete a 15-point turn in the narrow lane without getting stuck in the ditches on either side and head off down Alternative Route Two. We have had Biblical amounts of rain over the past few days to be fair.

My last visit there hadn’t been that bad but then his hearing aids were working that day. Today, unfortunately, they weren’t and it made for a, shall we say, challenging experience. The aim of the game is to keep your voice loud enough for him to hear but not so loud that it upsets The Dog. We fail on both counts. It isn’t made any easier by his habit of not saying he hasn’t heard or doesn’t understand. What he does instead is start talking across you, often about something completely different.

I can understand why he does it. It’s embarrassing and frustrating to keep asking people to repeat what they’ve said. With us there it’s also likely to provoke someone to fuss about with his ears and his hearing aids which he hates. His tactic is to talk and control the conversation so he doesn’t have to listen. He used to be able to talk about something relevant but now he either hasn’t heard enough or understood enough to make a good enough guess about what to say or he just plain doesn’t bother and says whatever he wants to say. Doesn’t make it any less annoying though.

We decide that we’ll have a coffee with him before taking The Dog for a walk. I’m presented with my coffee and Lesley returns to the kitchen to get his and hers. Seconds later she’s running back into the living room…

“DON’T TOUCH THAT COFFEE!!! The milk’s off!”

No wonder he keeps getting bad stomach upsets. He’s consuming stuff that’s gone off. We’re always throwing stuff away that’s growing in his fridge

When we do get to take The Dog out, it’s wonderful. The sunshine is warm, the recreation ground is empty as the flooded pitches have postponed the football, the gales have brought down loads of sticks in the woodland and the stream is full of water to throw them into. The Dog is in heaven and runs herself ragged. I end up covered in mud.

On our return to Father-in-Law the regular laundry, meds, admin, central heating timer reprogramming and fixing stuff tasks are completed. Then we get to the sundry tasks. Today’s Sundry Task is getting ready for the visit of Sister-in-Law from half a dozen time-zones away with her daughter. The problem is that the spare bedroom is full of crap. It’s crap that he says he is “sorting out”. Crap that ought to be thrown away but which he isn’t quite ready to part with yet. Some of it is crap that we’d thrown out years ago only for him to say he’d save us a trip to the charity shop and would take it there for us. Only he’s kept it. It’s not a recent thing either. For years now I’ve gone over there and seen him wearing a shirt that looked remarkably like one I’d put out long before.

Anyway, Lesley’s plan is that all this stuff gets put in the garage for the duration of her sister’s visit. He’s resistant. Obviously. He tries, as an opening gambit, the “Give me a bit of time to sort it myself” line. It obviously won’t work as he’s been sorting this stuff for the past decade at least. Another couple of weeks won’t make any difference. The next move is more imaginative. “I need to make room in the garage before you can move all that stuff out of the spare bedroom”. Nice. Only he doesn’t know we know his garage is empty. There’s a big car-shaped space right in the middle of it as there has been since we convinced him he wasn’t fit to drive any more.

Actually though, I have a lot of sympathy for him. You may use words like “Hoarder” or just “Catastrophically Untidy”. I prefer “Differently Organised”. I’m the same. My desk is under a mountain of paper and magazines, It looks like chaos but it’s organised chaos. If pressed, I can usually put my hands on anything I need to find in short order. But my whole mental map is blown to pieces if anybody else moves anything or adds anything. I imagine he’ll be the same. And his mental maps are getting pretty shaky now so the slightest disturbance will be the end of his knowledge of what he’s got and where it is. My suggestion is that we leave well alone. It’s not dirty or dusty. There’s just a lot of it and it covers every flat surface. And all the drawers. And the wardrobe. And most of the floor. And it’s not as bad as the third bedroom. If Sister-in-Law wants to move anything then she will. And she will. And he’ll let her do it to avoid an argument because he always has.

So we get home and bolt down some food before I have a “Shit! Is that the time!!??” moment and head off out again to see Mum.

I get a “Look at the state of you!” ribbing from Reggie and he tells me that Mum is “Alert and Happy”. He noted that Mum had a cough when he went to sit with her this afternoon. Several of the residents have apparently.

“If she’s still coughing when you see her, come and let me know will you Nick?”

“Right you are”.

I apologise to Audrey for my somewhat dishevelled state and explain that it was extremely muddy when walking the dog. She tells me that she will put up with me. For now.

I continue to Mum thinking Reggie’s said that she’s alert and happy. The next scheduled stop on her cycle after Sleepy and Melancholy is Calm & Lucid. When I walk in her room I find I’ve missed Calm & Lucid. Completely & Utterly.

She’s laying skewed across the bed. Pillows and duvet everywhere. The duvet cover is half off the duvet and she’s gripping the corner.

Her greeting is

“Here. Take this. Come on! Hurry up!”.

That translates as “Please help me by taking the duvet off me so I can get up. We are leaving immediately!” which is normal for Peak Active Mum.

“What’s going on here Mum? Hang on while I get all this straightened out.”

Her discontent at the fuss and my failure to assist her escape is marked by her saying “Oh blimey!” as each item of bedding is adjusted.

“We went to see Lesley’s dad today Mum. He’s doing alright considering. But he’s as deaf as arseholes though”

When she’d stopped laughing, she turned to the Other People and said to them

“Did you hear what he said about his Father-in-Law!? Poor old devil. What a bloomin’ cheek!”

The conversation continued. Not with me of course. With the Other People. And there were lots of them. Normally, they’re children but today they were all men. My guess is that, like the children in the school next door, the children she has in the room with her are all on holiday for Easter. Apart form Uncle Tony, she didn’t know who any of them were and she kept asking me to identify them.

On a positive note, although she’s talking nineteen to the dozen and laughing a lot she hasn’t coughed once.

“Back in a minute Mum. I need to tell Reggie something”

She was so busy talking, I don’t think she even noticed me going. As I head back to the front of the building, Audrey waves at me. She’s got some advice.

“Be careful down there. They’re playing with guns!”

“Good grief! Are they!? OK, I’ll be careful. Thanks for the warning!”

Having told Reggie that Mum’s not coughing I got back to find her coughing like a good’un.

Bloody hell.

I’m even less involved in the conversation than before now. Another “Everyone Else In The Room Is More Interesting And Entertaining Than You Nick” evening. She’s laughing with them, getting annoyed that they’re laughing at her and even whispering things to them that no-one else is supposed to hear. I was sitting there wishing I’d recorded this because there was no way I’d be able to remember any of what was being said. Only being able to hear half the conversation and not understanding the bit that that I am able to hear gives you too few reference points to go back to so only a couple of things have stuck.

One was her turning to me and telling me something that I’m not supposed to admit to knowing. It’d been a couple of months since she’d done that and I couldn’t make out who, what where, when or why this time either.

The other was when she told one of the Other People that the fish had gone off.

“A fish Mum?”

“Yep. A fish.”

I sensed a chance for a reminiscence.

“What was that music hall song that Dad used to sing us Mum? You know, the one about the kipper.”

She looked blank

All my life I’ve kept a diary
Written in it every day
I write down all I say and do
In a systematic way

And then one day, I had a notion
While going down Lambeth Walk
I thought I’d buy a kipper
And teach it how to talk.

“How does the rest of it go Mum?”

Still blank and clearly losing interest now.

“Wasn’t it something like…

On Monday, the fish became a little strong
On Tuesday, the fish began to ping-a-pong
On Wednesday, was walking
On Thursday, started talking
On Friday, he took a little nap
On Saturday we chained him up
On Sunday night the brute boke loose and killed our bulldog pup

I was pretty pleased with myself for remembering it (if, indeed, I have managed to recall it at all accurately). It’s got to be half a century since Dad sang that to us as kids but we did ask for it a lot. It was one of his Dad’s favourites.

But Mum wasn’t interested and was already talking to someone else.

Oh well, I did try. I bade her goodnight and left her talking to her companions.

On my way out I saw Eleanor talking to Sean. She’s milliseconds away from sobbing and he’s clearly being no help. She spotted me and rushed forwards as fast as her walking frame would let her.

“There’s a big man who will help me! I’ve lost my shoes!”

I looked down. She’s wearing shoes.

“You’ve got shoes on though”

“No,” she says like I’m an idiot, “They’ve disappeared!”

“Ah, I see. Well, have you looked this way?”

I know where her room is and I guide her towards it as it’s on my way towards the front door. It takes an age because she accosts everyone we meet on the way. Basically, the entire night shift are interrogated as they arrive for work.

But at last, I escape. I’m worn out..


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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