Journey With a Lighter Heart

She was better than I dared hope, and her surprised reaction, her face breaking into a delighted smile when she saw me, was worth millions. I had brought three bottles of her favourite fruit juice, M&S’ Kale and Mango. It looks like water from a particularly scummy pond, but tastes like heaven.


By the time I left, shortly after four this afternoon, there was very little of the 750ml left in the first bottle. If you can drink a bottle a day I said, and she refrained from telling me I was being bossy, it should keep you hydrated and ward off UTIs. They are the things we have to watch out for, they’ll make you fall. And you feel dreadful, she added, showing me that what I told her was nothing she didn’t know already.


It was extremely difficult to broach the carer conversation. But about an hour before I left I managed it. I had been speaking to one of the community nursing team, repeating my fear that Aunt will develop pressure sores on her heels. She raised the subject of carers. I explained how Aunt and I had both been less than impressed by some of Mother’s carers. I gave examples. The nurse tutted and said she saw what I meant.

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A Ticket to Aunt

How are you today? I asked.

Weak, said Aunt. I never thought I’d feel this way; just raising my arm wears me out.

So we talked about changing priorities; about how the main goal is for her to stay at home and for the first time she seemed to welcome the idea of carers.

I promised to call the Specialist Nurse tomorrow to see what we could do.

Thank-you, said Aunt. Continue reading

I Must Go Down to the Fields Again

Mother was on cracking form. Due to a signals delay I arrived later than planned. She was just polishing off her lunch. After a brief skirmish with the spoon, and when reassured she didn’t have to share it, she got stuck into pudding too. I ate my own meal and watched. Things were quieter today than on my last visit. A lady who had needed help with her lunch last time was feeding herself. A middle aged son arrived to feed his mother.

We headed to Mother’s bedroom. As usual after a meal she wanted to doze, so I let her be while I sorted out the chest of drawers, and decanted the pyjamas which had been wedged in with her tops to their own drawer. No sign of her multi-coloured blanket which always makes me think of Joseph, but her tartan shawl was spread over her legs.

She opened her eyes and I showed her her birthday presents. She’ll be ninety-three on Monday. She was quietly pleased. I left the card propped up for the carers to help her open. “Would you like me to read to you?” I asked. “Yes please,” she said.

So we started. Again John Masefield stirred her into a more upright position. She recognised it at once. “I must go…” I began. “Down to the fields again,” she continued. OK, so it’s not what Masefield wrote, but it makes sense, especially for a country girl like Mother.

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Daughterly Concerns

When I get back from Mother’s I am always in several minds; relief to be home and guilt at leaving her make uncomfortable partners. I also need to reflect on how things have been, as when I am there I seldom have much opportunity.

It wasn’t great timing coming home on Friday afternoon. For starters it was very hot and I had left Not Cat’s pillow that I can chill in the freezer in London. He had the ice blocks for my food instead, wrapped in towel underneath the shredded paper in his pet caddy. Probably a bit bumpy, but I didn’t want him overheating. That happened to Cat once on the relatively short journey to the cattery and it was very frightening.

My rhubarb survived without its cold companion. The mushrooms looked decidedly sorry for them selves and the hummus fizzed.

But the main reason I felt bad leaving was because of Mother.

When I arrived on Tuesday I saw her foot was swollen. I asked the carers about it. Neither knew how long it had been swollen. A District Nurse had been in the morning to do the dressing on her heel (it’s the same foot) and not said anything. I asked the carers to make a note so that the DN would look at it when she came on Thursday as I was likely to be already away on the boat, chugging along to the pump out, a journey that was more than necessary. But I’ll spare you the details.

A week ago, after a discussion with the GP, Mother’s nightly dose of Mirtazapine was halved. She had been sleeping late in the morning and very drowsy. On Monday night she was very unsettled and the carers blamed the reduced dose. They asked me repeatedly what I was going to do. In turn, I repeated what the GP had advised; we needed to wait at least a week to see how it panned out. This response was met with pursed lips and shaking heads.

On Tuesday night, Mother went to sleep in seconds. She had been delighted to see Not Cat. I don’t think she realises he’s mine, but she knows he’s not Cat, and points at him excitedly with lots of “Look, darling! Look! A little dog!” When he goes up to her and rubs her hand she beams. Just watching him soothes her More than ever I feel that there should be animals in every facility for the elderly. In fact one of the best ideas I’ve come up with is for a care home combined with a donkey sanctuary. In the hospital where Mother has had her three incarcerations this year, even PAT dogs are not allowed. The reason is Health and Safety, yet I know my mother’s health is improved by the presence of animals.

The guest room was booked on Wednesday night, so I tried out the new Aerobed which I inflated in Mother’s sitting room. The bed is fantastically comfortable. The problem was getting the chance to be in it. Continue reading

Getting the Picture

It’s a beautiful morning. The sun is shining; the birds are singing; Not Cat tried to kill a Daddy Longlegs but it escaped him; I’ve had breakfast; washed out the fridge; folded the clean laundry that I left to dry last night; topped up the engine oil; and now I’m just waiting for tonight’s agency to call me. Then I’m going to take my cup of coffee, the laptop, and maybe Mother’s new trousers which I am hemming, and join Not Cat in the garden for a while.

Mother has had her morning meds and gone straight back to sleep. The carer didn’t want to wake her, but I insisted she needed them especially the pain killer so that it would have time to take effect before anyone comes back to help her wash and dress.

I also asked that when mother has a cold drink it’s in a glass. Some of the carers use the china mugs for both hot and cold drinks. By using mugs for hot drinks and glasses for cold, Mother gets a clear signal about the temperature of what she’s being offered. It’s not rocket science, but it does make a significant difference.

Nora, last night’s carer, was friendly and professional from the word go. The questions she asked about Mother revealed a good working understanding of dementia. It turned out she had wanted to nurse, but had been put off by working for a year on the very same ward where Mother had such disastrous care. We need people going into nursing because they want to do a good job; who care and have a vocation. That this young woman left because she felt disturbed and frustrated by the attitudes and standards of care she witnessed is a terrible indictment of the hospital, and a scary prospect for the rest of us when we are in-patients, especially when we are old and infirm. Continue reading

First Night Nerves

At nine o’clock last night, I was sitting in semi-darkness in Mother’s living room, grateful for the sound of a busy bell as Not Cat cantered briefly back through the door for a rest in his explorations. Mother came home at four yesterday afternoon.
On Monday, when I called the ward, I was told transport had been booked for the morning and to expect her between nine and midday. So I drove up in the evening, calling the AA out after the first third of the journey when the car behaved oddly.
At half past twelve yesterday, wondering if I should be putting lunch on, I called the ward again to find out what time Mother had left.
She was still there.
Transport, I was told, had been booked for the afternoon and she could be home anytime between one thirty and nine in the evening. So I could have gone to get petrol in the morning after all. And slept a little later. Or even driven up yesterday morning and enjoyed Monday night in my own bed.
Oh well.

I know the hospital staff are stretched, but they don’t have a monopoly on being busy and having to juggle demands. Sometimes I find them quite cavalier in their attitudes.

Anyway, the important thing is Mother is home.

She looks frail and is certainly disorientated. But she recognised her flat, and the moment the ambulance crew had left, up she got to go to the loo. I went with her, guessing correctly she’d be wearing some form of incontinence pad that she would first struggle with and then discard.

While she was sitting on the loo, I helped her out of her trousers and into a fresh Tena pant. For some reason I started counting. Maybe it’s the influence of Janh’s counting backwards from two hundred cycling up hills. I don’t know that would work for me. Cycling up hills is not something I’m planning to do anytime in the next century. So one two, buckle my shoe, I said. Three four knock at the door. Mother joined in. I counted, she completed the rhyme. The only one she got stuck on was nineteen twenty. Continue reading