Nursing Home

By Nick Gilmore

Published: 6 Jun, 2024

Thursday

I had a much improved mental health day today. The triggers for recovery can be so random. Today’s was the arrival of the mail. Not that it had anything special in it. It was the avalanche that it caused when I dumped it on the rest of the paper on my desk. Precarious piles of paper in the study are another of my Poor Mental Health Indicators.

Starting to deal with the mail was therapeutic and gave me a clearer idea how how long the problem had been brewing. I thought it had been a couple of weeks. That’s how long the latest bill for Mum’s residential care had been sitting staring at me. Finding half a dozen editions of Private Eye still in their wrapper and a further four unwrapped but unopened was an Eye Opener in every sense. Finding a cheque that was two days shy of its six month validity expiry and still not paid in was a significant clue to when this started. I think that was the time when I was admitting to myself that visiting Mum twice every day was too much.

It had been an enforced Gentle Day today. Lesley’s stitches were very uncomfortable and her movement was quite restricted. The Dog seemed to know it somehow and instead of choosing a longer walk to the next village she took us round the neighbouring housing estate.

I got to Mum in the spell between her supper and the handover to the night shift. The transfer of residents to the other home was going well and I passed more empty rooms than I’d expected to see. Audrey was deep in conversation as I passed through the lounge and I slipped past without delay.

“Hello Mum! It’s…”

“NICK!!” she interrupted brightly.

That was a good sign. Awake & Lucid. She seemed to be in a good mood too. Mum’s cycles are still hard to read. The first stage after a Sleepy phase should be Miserable as she realises how weak and frail she is. But Cheerful? I was happy to take that.

She confirmed she was sufficiently warm and comfortable.

“Do you want a drink Mum?”

There had been four untouched drinks on her table yesterday. Only two today. She explained to me at length what they were and then instructed me to go and put the kettle on.

“Tony? TONY!!! Get in here! He’s going to put the kettle on! TONY!!! Where’s he gone? Is he in that room over there?”

“I haven’t seen him Mum. Don’t worry. I’m sure he hasn’t gone far. He’ll be back in a minute”

She followed that with a set of instructions to a couple of Other People at the foot of her bed and she got frustrated and impatient at their lack of response.

“I think they’ve gone to sleep! I might as well be talking to meself.”

“Mum, sometimes that’s the best way to get any sense”

She laughed out loud at that. She was in a good mood.

I told her about our day and went through Lesley’s surgery again.

“Poor Lesley. I’ll give her a ring tomorrow.”

I was told a long story about two unidentified Other People who had been there earlier.

“They went with Pat and the baby in the pushchair. They went to Liverpool Street”

I’m not sure who Pat is or was. Someone on Uncle Dick’s side of the family I think.

There was a tale about The Two Boys. That’s usually a reference to Uncles Tony and Terry. I found out that she hadn’t meant them when I asked about them.

“Terry!? No, Terry’s dead. He died in November”

I wasn’t sure about it being November. It had to be a quarter of a century ago at least. I didn’t find out who she’d actually been talking about.

Conversation then turned to getting a meal ready. She told me that she’d already done the peas and the cauliflower.

“You’ll find everything else in the kitchen. Just stick it in the pot”

“OK Mum. What about spuds? Have you got any spuds?”

“In the cupboard.”

And then…

“You’d better go and lay the table. The cloth is there and put out the, er, put out the umm..”

“Cutlery?”

“Yeah, cutlery”

“What about salt and pepper?

“I think they’re already out”

There were more instructions about cooking the meal.

There was a tale about getting food ready for the birds.

“You like feeding the birds, don’t you?”

I’ve been a member of the RSPB since I was a little boy.

“Blimey! ‘Ave you!?”

That was followed by an account of having “opened the door by mistake and let all the animals out!”. I wasn’t sure who had done it or where or when it happened.

There were questions about where people were. Brother first, then Eldest Sister’s kids. I said they were having their tea. I also told her that Eldest Sister was bringing her two youngest with her on Sunday. She liked that even though she struggled to work out how far away Sunday was.

“Where’s Tony?”

“He’s in that room over there. Looks like he’s asleep”

“Oh”

At that point she lay back, closed her eyes briefly and put her hand to her forehead.

“Are you feeling alright Mum?

She said she was but she was different. She had lost track of who I was and she was starting to fuss and fidget with her bedclothes. Proper Peak Active Mum would be rolling sheets and blankets into a ball in her lap and throwing them away faster than I could pick them up and put them back. This was all very low key. The top blanket came off and was put to one side.

“I’ll sort that out in the morning” she said as she lay back again.

“Nicholas was here last night”

“Was he?”

“Yeah. He was in a foul mood.”

“Was he? Do you think he’s alright?”

“YEAH!” she said in very much an “Of course he is!” tone.

I didn’t think I’d been in a foul mood and she was too sleepy to have known anyway if I was. But I wasn’t. I definitely wasn’t. I didn’t think anyway.

Proper Peak Active Mum would have carried on talking even as I was walking out of the room. I’ve been told Proper Peak Active Mum would carry on talking all night sometimes. But Mum was flagging now and was struggling to stay awake. Her speech was getting a lot less clear too. I just felt lucky that for most of the hour she’d spoken clearly enough for me to be able to keep up with her, to be with her in her reality, to join in the conversation and even make her laugh.

 “Don’t worry Mum. You have a quick forty winks and I’ll go and get the spuds on.”

She barely responded.

Up until a couple of months ago it had been easy to predict how Mum would be several days in advance. This new pattern where the phases could be much longer or so highly compressed that I’d miss them altogether and where distinct phases would be blurred and bleed into each other made it hard to work out what was going on. Unfortunately for this weekend’s visitors, as far as I could tell, everything was pointing towards another sleepy weekend.

By the time I’d got to leave Mum, the night shift had started. My emergence into the lounge didn’t go unnoticed this time. All at once, Audrey was talking to me, Glenys was talking to me and there were shouts of “Good evening Darling! How are you?” from the rest of the team on the other side of the room.

Glenys was struggling to give Audrey her evening meds. I’d been told that this was common with a number of residents. The problems with getting meds into the country meant that pharmacists were having to change suppliers. The tablets would look different and residents would refuse to take something they didn’t recognise.

Audrey was protesting strongly.

“Let me see! Let me see! What is it? What does it say!?”

I took a chance on Audrey being familiar with the works of Lewis Carroll.

“Let’s have a look…. It says EAT ME!”

“Does it?”

“Yes! EAT ME! EAT ME!” confirmed Glenys.

It worked. It worked so well that Glenys did a little dance.

My problem now was not that I wouldn’t be able to shake off Audrey and get away. The problem was Glenys. She talked for ages. She did share one useful nugget. Mum might be transferred as early as next week. A couple of the residents ahead of Mum in the schedule weren’t feeling 100% so Mum might be moved up the queue. Or not. She wasn’t sure.

All I had to negotiate then was the front lounge. Annie was there on her own.

“Can you help me open the door? I want some air.”

“It’ll be locked Annie and I don’t have a key. Let me find someone to help you. I won’t be long. They’re just here…”

“Please hurry. I don’t feel well.”

Help was already on its way. I explained the situation and left them to it.

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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