Dear Readers, last week I described how we had found a nursing home for Mum and Dad. This week, things moved at an extraordinary pace. Mum was rapidly deteriorating – as I travelled down from London, I got a call from the District Nurse who had been visiting Mum regularly to dress her pressure sore.
‘ I think something has changed in your Mum’, she said. ‘I think that her poor body is worn out, and that maybe she doesn’t have the energy to go on for much longer. She might rally, but she might not. There’s nothing medically wrong with her that she doesn’t normally have, but I just wanted to warn you’.
And when I arrived, Mum was wrapped up in blankets in bed, refusing to eat, refusing to take her medication. She was always cold, and her hands shook whenever she tried to hold anything. She had to be helped in and out of the bed to the commode a few steps away.
On Tuesday, the people from the nursing home arrived to do an assessment of Mum and Dad’s medical needs. They asked Dad how he felt about moving in.
‘I’m looking forward to it’, he said, and they were flabbergasted and delighted.
Mum was in no condition to answer anything. When they popped in to see her, she just looked at them with those huge green eyes and went back to sleep.
The admission date was set for Thursday.
‘The sooner the better’, said Dad.
I had a chat with him afterwards.
‘You seem very excited about going into the nursing home’, I said.
‘Well’, he said, ‘it’s for your Mum. I want her to be properly looked after. I wouldn’t be going for anyone else’.
The next few days were a flurry of packing. What do you need for a nursing home? If you’re Dad, you need a couple of blazers, your best shoes and your aftershave. He will be the smartest man in the place. He also brought his beard trimmers. Mum was largely in denial, but she rallied to make her feelings known.
‘I don’t want to go’, she said. ‘I love it here. I love the house. I love the garden. I love Milborne St Andrew. ‘
‘Mum’, I said, ‘I know you do. But you need more care than we give you in the house now.’
‘Me and your Dad have looked after ourselves for 83 years’, said Mum. She is laying on the sofa, and I have adjusted her pillow position half a dozen times because she isn’t comfortable and can’t do it herself. ‘We’ll be alright’.
And then we have a row, and I tell her that the only reason she’s still in the house is because I’ve been up and down from London like a yoyo, and when I’m in London I’ve been organising everything, liaising with carers, sorting out medical appointments, making online food orders.
She blinks. ‘Well, what else would you be doing?’ she asks.
And that, I think, is it in a nutshell. Mum’s world has shrunk until there is nothing in it but her and her needs. Pain and fear have made her self-centred.
Anyhow, there is more argy-bargy and I promise that if she hates the place I’ll do something about it, and she promises that she’ll give it a good go.
The morning of the move seems to last forever. We are all packed and ready to go and waiting for our lift. Every so often, Mum tells us that she doesn’t want to go, but she is asleep for most of the time. I wonder for the thousandth time if this is the right thing to do, but we have pretty much run out of options. The clock ticks, and we sit around and avoid meeting one another’s gaze.
Our lovely neighbours come to give us a run to the nursing home with our suitcases. Dad has his beer and gin packed. We have photos and toiletries and the zimmer frame. Mum sits next to me in the car with her head on my shoulder, holding my hand. I know that she is absolutely terrified. Over the past few days she has developed a horrible infection in one arm, which started as a couple of blisters and turned into a mass of medieval sores. This has been bandaged from top to bottom to try to protect it for the journey. Every so often she winces.
The journey is only about twenty minutes, but it’s the longest ride I’ve ever taken.
And then we get there, and Mum and Dad are shown their rooms. At the moment they’re on different floors, but as soon as a room becomes available Mum will be moved up. The rooms are purposely small to encourage the residents to use the communal areas, but Dad has special dispensation to sleep in the reclining chair in Mum’s room. One of the reasons that I liked this home was that it was very flexible and treated people as individuals. They know how important it is that Dad and Mum can be together.
On the other hand, Dad is very independent. He’s already reconnoitered the place.
‘There’s a fish tank on my floor, they were cleaning it out this morning’, he said, as we went for an exploratory walk, ‘And there’s music and dancing!’.
I could see him eyeing up the proceedings. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he joined in next time.
Someone asked him if he wanted to be part of the Christmas talent show. To my surprise he didn’t turn it down because of course they wouldn’t be there at Christmas, but merely out of modesty.
‘I can’t do anything’, he said. ‘I haven’t got any talents’.
Mum, on the other hand, is resolutely unconvinced.
‘ I don’t like it here’, she said to me after she’d been in the home for thirty minutes. ‘It’s got Bad Vibes’.
I left them at 6 o’clock, Dad in his pyjamas in the reclining chair with a can of San Miguel in his hand. I went to the guest flat where they were staying and plonked on to the sofa with a mix of emotions. Should I just have left Mum where she was and employed nurses to look after her in her last days, if indeed this is what they were? Should I have found a different nursing home?
I went out for a curry and a beer, fell into bed at ten o’clock and slept like a log for the first time in six months.
The morning was bright and clear. The staff told me that ten o’clock was a good time to go in, as all the medical stuff would have been done by then. I wandered about in the grounds taking the photos for this piece. I was struck by what I thought at first was a magnificent holm oak, but then realised that it was two trees growing next to one another, one tree leaning backwards as if they were dancing the tango.
I walked into Mum’s bedroom, expecting a litany of complaints. But Dad had had a good night, and Mum was sitting up. She took all of her tablets. She ate some porridge. She ate half a piece of toast and jam. She looked tired and frail, but not at death’s door, at least not this morning.
‘I don’t like it’ she said. ‘I want to go home’.
I reminded Mum that she’d said that she’d give it a proper try, and that 18 hours was hardly enough time to decide.
‘Alright’, she said, ‘But I still don’t like it’.
‘But there are alpacas coming for a visit this afternoon’ said Dad. The home is visited by therapy alpacas. Who knew there was such a thing?
Mum gave him a look. She is clearly not impressed by the alpacas.
And so we go on. This has been such a quick transition and most people don’t like change, especially as they get older. Mum will need time to get used to the idea of being looked after permanently, and to mourn the loss of her independence and her home.Mum tells me that I don’t understand what those losses mean, and she’s right. What I do know is that this is the best chance that Mum and Dad have to stay healthy, together and out of hospital for the time that remains to them. Whether that will compensate for the loss of autonomy that goes with it, I don’t know.
In a way, so much of Mum and Dad’s ability to make decisions for themselves has already gone. In an ideal world, we would have decided on the future together, and would have gone to visit lots of nursing homes to decide on the right one. Instead, when the crisis came it was an emergency, with the GP saying that they were no longer safe in the house because of Mum’s medical and mobility issues. What Mum did say to me a long time ago was that it was more important that they were together than that they were at home, and that she trusted me to find them somewhere good to live out their days. I hope that at some point, she remembers that conversation. In the meantime I will have to bear the fact that she doesn’t like where she is and that she thinks I’m a terrible daughter. I shall have to harden my heart and rest in the knowledge that I’ve done the very best I can. For now, that will have to do. At least they are safe, warm, comfortable and well-looked after.