A stooped old woman leans on her zimmer, eyes unfocused, mouth flapping like a clockwork tortoise – I doubt she knows where she’s going or why. From an adjacent ‘activity’ room a painfully earnest piano hammers out All Things Bright and Beautiful, the chords mixing with an odour of stale urine that manages to overpower even repeated applications of shake ‘n vac. I wheel my mother along the carpeted corridor past an inaudible flickering television playing to an audience of unoccupied high-backed winged armchairs. ‘Thirlmere’, room 24 – we’ve arrived.
An efficient dark-haired woman with tombstone teeth ‘assesses’ my mother. ‘So, you’re 86 Marjorie, how many grandchildren have you got?’, ‘Where were you born?’, ‘Did you have any pets, you know, before?’, ‘Do you want to be resuscitated?’ I can see my mother is bamboozled, and not a little irritated by these enquiries. Perhaps she is railing against the superficial interest in her well being.
Two weeks respite care is what’s planned. My sister is with me. It is she who found my mother after the stroke, she who moved in to look after her, she who has borne the brunt of disrupted sleep and is now on the edge of reason. To her the care home is a lifeline, to my mother it’s death row.
We leave together passing a marooned quartet of geriatrics. Thinning hair, thickening ankles, slumped to their sides or heads down asleep. They’re all women, presumably men for once have done the decent thing and died a decade or so earlier.
The next day my sister calls. She’s distraught, exasperated, angry even. My mother wants out. I speak to Mum. ‘It’s full of sick folk who’ve lost their marbles. It’s depressing. They say it’s all very nice but it’s all top show, they cut corners. They wanted to serve us tea in plastic beakers last night. I said no thank you, there are some nice china cups in that cupboard I’ll have one of those. It’s depressing. I’ll just have to manage at home.’
I drive over to Cumbria to pick her up. ‘Sorry she didn’t like it.’ Says the receptionist as she hands over the bill. They’ve charged for the full week despite Mum’s stay being six nights, ‘It’s all done automatically, by computer’ I’m advised – so ‘effing what I’m thinking. ‘Thank you.’ Mother is just pleased to be leaving. ‘See you… er later.’ Suggests the receptionist. ‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ Replies mother.
My sister is moving out. It’s the right thing to do. A full care package has been instituted; visits at 5.30am, 8.30am, 11.00am, 12.30pm, 3.30pm, 6.00pm, 8.30pm, 12.30am.
Life goes on.
PS Apple’s Steve Jobs gave an inpirational speech to Stanford graduates not too long ago – ‘How to live before you die’ – see it here – http://www.ted.com/talks/steve_jobs_how_to_live_before_you_die.html