“All I want to do is go home…” she would say time and time again, following me around, clutching my arm and waiting for him to arrive. “Kevy will be here soon, promise. Only a few more minutes”. His arrival was the highlight of her day, at least temporarily. She smiled that toothless grin, taking his hand. He gives her the Turkish Delight he bought on the way in. She sits listening to his news of family, the house, phone calls, anything that elicits recognition. After a while she falls asleep. He kisses her on the forehead and whispers “see you tomorrow”. He nods his goodbye and leaves.
You would probably call Kevy “stoic”, a description shared by so many men who never learned to express their emotions in words. He is taller than average with a stoop that says he never really got used to being head and shoulders above the rest. His dress, like hers, never came from this years catalogues but from those long resigned to the rubbish bins of history. His wrinkled brown skin shows evidence of a hard outdoors life but these days bruising from falls and infections from lack of care. He responds to concern with “just a bit of bark off mate, she’ll be right”. Tough as nails, at least on the outside.
Today Kevy commenced that final long bedside vigil so many have made in the past years. It’s a time of quietness, busyness of nursing staff, a feeling of descending sadness for those who loved and cared for her. There is no suddenness to these deaths, only relief that the struggling has finally come to an end. Kevy looks away, his eye contact is not so good today. His voice quivers and his hands shake. “She’s not too good today mate” he says.
I had it in the back of my mind that I would probably be one of the first generation to enter a nursing home wearing jeans, but I was wrong. They are already there, the women I mean, wearing faded jeans, boots and carrying large shoulder bags containing who knows what.
Eva is probably too old to be a product of the 60’s but it’s difficult to judge her age. She is tall, thin, has long dark hair without a trace of grey and an all-engaging smile. Eva walks the hall with purpose as though on her way to attend a very important appointment. The content of her bag is yet undetermined. She looks too focussed to wander into another residents room, collecting whatever interests her on the day. Eva seems too sharp for that yet. She sits down at a table for morning tea, spreads a serviette on her knee and when finished takes her cup and plate to the bin, dusts of the crumbs, rinses the plate and puts it where it should go. Eva has no visitors known to me although I’m assured she has someone who takes care of the things she needs to be done such as fix her glasses, buy a battery for her watch or some new nail polish.
I wonder why she is there and more particularly in a secure area. Every resident has their story but I wonder about Eva and feel sad about the length of time she will spend in a confined area without the stimulation of the outside activities. Her story will remain a mystery for the time being.
Dorey fades off to sleep again so it’s time to leave. Eva sees me getting ready to go and calls me over to see the man with the flashing light on his face. “Can you see it?” she asks. “Not yet, where am I looking?” “Over there, just above the handle. The light is between his nose and his eyes. Can you him now?” “Oh yes…..now I see”.
Now I see.
Dorey continues in the Memory Unit where the doors are digitally locked and few new things happen on a daily basis. Changeovers are pretty common and tend to come in waves. For a while there was an overabundance of male residents and despite the age factor the excess of testosterone was evident, particularly in those more mobile men. A few have now gone to God and been replaced by three women which has brought a new and welcome energy into the unit.
Dorey now seems to be deteriorating a little quicker than previously but the carers tell me she becomes more animated as the day progresses and particularly when “sundowning” starts, a little after lunch. The new ladies are more mobile and a little higher up the cognitive scale than some so the carers try to get them involved in games to try to settle the mood and reduce the competitiveness of a couple. This week they played a game of “I spy with my little eye” which apparently was lots of fun but bawdy. It went something like this:
I spy with my little eye something beginning with A: Arse
I spy with my little eye something beginning with B: Bum
I spy with my little eye something beginning with T: Tits
The responses to D, P and a few others can’t be repeated but clearly their competitiveness came to the fore. It’s lovely to hear them laugh together.
Thank goodness it’s not a church based nursing home!
Not even sure if this page is still functional, such a twat am I about not understanding what is going on techo-wise. Sometimes I think I have cancelled something and there it is again, right in front of me, staring and daring me to press some more buttons to make it jump into being again. I guess that’s really what this blog is all about, jumping into being again. At being what?
The aspiration was to write, to write something worthwhile, memorable and solid. I really admire people who have kicked off a writing career after finishing a former. People with the ability to create a plan in their mind and take an idea, develop it into 50 steps instead of just three, with all it’s research, twists and passion. I have known two such writers, one of whom I had the privilege of being mentored by in the early days of my life of crime and corruption. However, like some other of my mentors he fell from grace when he single-handedly put a career noose around his neck and metaphorically jumped. Thus began his days of writing. His demise would have made good reading.
Another was my immediate boss. In his career he quickly developed a harem of idolising women, both his junior and senior. His lovely nature and steamy-like good looks impressed most, but I never made to the his “inner circle”. The two writers meet up for weekend writing getaways where they swap ideas and bask in their mutual ascension to published works.
Absence of motivation, subjectivity and confidence are my enemies resulting in a massive writers block. It’s a feeling of wanting to run in the Olympic Games but not having the capacity to get off the lounge. I research the early stages of dementia, whales in Pumicestone Passage, read the new list of daily blogs and wonder about who really reads others blogs, and why? I come to the conclusion that the desire to write for me is just to put into some sort of whacky perspective the thoughts of a crumpled mind.
Gardening looks good today.
I spend a lot of time with the infirm and the unintelligible yet still grapple with the conflict of psychological -v- physical deterioration in my old age. Given the choice, which would I prefer? Whatever happens, loss of the ability to care for oneself marks the beginnings of forced dependence. Those simple words: “Sorry Mr B, according to our assessment you are no longer able to care for yourself”. The world turns and nothing will ever be the same again.
There are some things I could have lived quite happily without, one is an A4 coloured photo of my dads bum, scarily close to all the surrounding bits with an ever so colourful pressure sore, about five months in the making before detection. Enter the cavalry.
There is a cast of tens involved in this one. They all have a form to fill out, privacy things to discuss, another assessment, a care plan and extra things to buy.
Not only does a very damaged bum cause medical intervention, it opens up a whole new world. There are now special foods, special dressings, special bed coverings and cushions. The highlight is four times a week in-home nursing care and dad’s absolute joy of standing naked in the shower with a vast array of nursing staff for the minimal cost of $10 a day.
By virtue of dads sore bum, I’ve also gained involuntary entry into the aged care health system. I get phone calls from some very well meaning people. They want to give me advice about respite care, dietary needs, shower stools, carpet placement, bowel habits and overall general welfare. I can be perceived as a perpetrator or martyr all in one day, depending on which agency I’m talking to. Bureacracy is fascinating.
Old age is where things are ‘done to’ one, particularly if you don’t have the capacity to stand firm and verbalise needs. It’s not as simple as a form, it’s more about understanding that the person you are caring for will agree with anything because he is deaf and his first response is always “yes”. It’s like watching someone being woken up for the purpose of taking them to the toilet. It’s nearly mealtime so it has to be done. It’s all for your own good!
The Off-sider, generally known as Dad, sits with Dorey, holding her hand and sometimes singing. Since Dorey fell, was hospitalised and then moved into care seven months ago the song has always been “How much do I love you, I’ll tell you know lies, How deep is the ocean, How high is the sky, How far would I travel to be there where you are…..” and so it goes. He feels no embarrassment and frankly, by now, I’m over it too.
Each day he struggles to get dressed, to put on his braces, bend over to put on his socks and a special effort to tie up his laces. His breath is fast and shallow, his skin is pale, blue at the toes, puffy hands. Every step is a challenge as he leans into the wheelie-walker to make the daily trip to see the love of his life.
The Off-sider is cleaning out his stuff. He has cut a bit out of the local paper to let me know where he wants the furniture to go. He is sorting through the old photographs, throwing away bits that no longer have meaning, tearing up diaries and for all intents and purposes getting ready to die. He tells Dorey he has been talking to my deceased brother in his dreams and that Dave is asking how she is. He is reading the stories in the Watchtower that two dedicated women have left for him every month for the past 11 years. He has no religion, no hope of eternity or idea of any form of hereafter. The Off-sider has been living with kidney failure for about 15 years. Every report says it is just amazing he has survived this long. His focus to survive has been Dorey.
To the exclusion of all else this has been an amazing love.
Years ago when work was the focus and for ten other reasons I had no life, I worked in a men’s prison. Committing a crime was possibly the quickest way of getting in because going through the multi level gates was arduous and occasionally damn demeaning. The alarms controlled your thoughts 24 hours a day from waking (don’t wear an underwire bra) to the very essence of people you spent your time with socially. The front gate was sometimes where officers ended up for their sins and where others attempted and sometimes succeeded in exerting what was left of their career power. Few jokes were shared in the room of x-rays, beeps, sign-ins, drug rota testing, buttons, doors opening and slammed shut. 250 metres, press another button and wait…….
Institutionalisation and its impact on behaviour has always fascinated me. What makes a person become so identifiably moulded into an environment that at its most basic level has taken control of attitudes, social construct and personal identification? I had already worked in the “system” for a few years before being drafted into the new prison for six months. Almost all the trainees were new. They had given up their past employment to become prison officers. A lot never made it through the 85% pass mark required in the twice weekly exams but those that did sprouted justice, humaneness, safety, care, equality and all the other theoretical requirements that would get them to the finish line. They made friendships and alliances which would become important to their survival, quite literally.
Into the mix of these trained officers came a uniform and 600 males prisoners. It was no longer about exerting ones testosterone among peers. The point where theory and philosophy became the tool of aspiring senior management and humaness is defined by the rest on a day to day basis. The sheep from the goats. Them and us. Unions. Inappropriate friendships. Collusion, anger, threats and a hundred other most basic human reactions in an inhuman world.
For the prisoner it’s about survival, counting days, months or years, choosing the right contacts, jumping through hoops (or not) and making a decision about whether to return.
For the officers it’s…………………………….what?