…in which I recount a typical day, look back on those three dates I managed to squeeze in before mum’s escape from the care home and Maisie the dog pays a visit, along with daughters and ex-wife…
Episode ten, The Longest Day…but before I begin, let me just say the clue is in the title. Two weeks in to my new life as a carer, I can already sense the hardest thing about all this is that every day is the pretty much the same, and that’s if things are going well… So, instead of living each day with me, I thought you might prefer just one episode where I outline the routine. I can’t pretend this episode is garlanded with music or peppered with stories, though my daughters and ex-wife are coming to lunch as it happens, so please stay a while…
Well, good morning.
Good morning darling, how you doing?
Sleeping beauty up is she? Ah, hello darling!
It’s 7.30 in the morning. That’s Leanne arriving. Why everyone is ‘darling’ I have no idea and she’s got me at it now…
It’s me…just when you thought you was going to have a nice sleep.
Most often, it’s Leanne and me, morning and evening. I’ve met more agency staff over the past couple of weeks and sometimes it could be Joselin or Annie or Sarah who comes by. But it’s mostly Leanne. I think she’s taken to us in some way. And she’s good. She knows what she’s doing and I know she’s on our side.
Did you not sleep well last night?
I’m tired. Like really, bleary tired. Jet-lagged, sleepless night, hung over, don’t mess with me tired. My own fault, perhaps. I’m probably going to bed too late and after too with too much wine for an early morning care call at 7.30am. Mum’s invariably still asleep, and I’m not quite at peak efficiency, shall we say.
I get up around 6.15am. I try to give Mum a light breakfast before the carer arrives. She sleeps on her side at night to avoid phlegm building up in the back of her throat and forcing her to cough or choke. Sitting her up in the mornings means tucking a slippery nylon slide sheet under her torso by flipping her this way and that and then tugging on the sheet to turn her from her side to her back. This is the correct method for safe moving and handling, preserving my back and protecting my mother’s interests in a way that conforms to health and safety concerns. I learned this on the manual handling course.
The moment she is on her back, the coughing begins. So it’s important to raise the head of the bed as quickly as possible using the electric control unit that hangs from the bedhead. I also have the option of elevating the bed so I can offer a glass of cold juice or a coffee and whatever we’ve decided on for breakfast without breaking my back or having to pull up a chair. Which is why I’ve learned to prepare drinks and food before waking her and to have things standing by on the hospital table so that as soon as she is in position and awake enough to understand where she is and what’s going on, I’m ready to feed and water her.
Sometimes, it’s impossible or just too cruel to wake her before the care visit. So I’ll delay things and give her some juice as the carer prepares the hoist. Then we’ll remove her soaking wet pad, take off her nightdress or T-shirt and lift her forward from the bed by her arms to slip the sling behind her. Velcro strap done up, I will wrap my arms around her from behind whilst the carer swings her legs to the side of the bed. We’ll hold her there, supporting her back, whilst we move the hoist into position and attach the sling ends to the two outstretched metal arms that will lift most of her weight.
Once Mum is raised and secure, we’ll wheel her, dangling from the hoist, feet vaguely on the footplate, to the shower, and between us, shift her weight to the shower chair in the cubicle. I’ll go to make coffee, always breathing a sigh of relief, and the carer will wash Mum. The shower chair has a commode function—in other words a hole in the seat and a bucket beneath—so she can use it as a toilet at any point. The end result is pretty hit and miss.
Constipation is an issue with Parkinson’s, caused by a combination of the medications and immobility and the bowel itself becoming ‘lazy’. Laxatives work, but cumulatively, which means, when the time is right, you get an elephant poo.
The morning call is also my chance to change the bed. Linen is changed completely once or twice a week and the Kylie—the absorbent incontinence sheet—daily. There’s often a bit of leakage. Then, with toileting and showering complete and Mum wrapped in towels, we’ll hoist her back into bed to be changed into day clothes, rolling from side to side to pull on trousers and tops. Then we hoist her to the wheelchair and take her through to the living room to begin the day in earnest.
There we are…let’s give your hair a brush and we’ll go through to the front room…looking gorgeous…I’ll get you a blanket.
In the evenings, the routine is reversed. The lunchtime call is set at 12 noon. The afternoon call is 4pm and the evening call is 7pm. With the gaps between calls so short and a range chores to be done—feeding three times a day and medicating four times a day, not to mention breaks for tea and cake—there’s not a lot of leeway.
If Mum needs changing in the day, we do the whole hoisting thing again in the middle of the day, wheelchair to bed and bed to wheelchair, though I have to say, most often she doesn’t need a change at midday, sometimes even at four, and I’m beginning to think we could do without one of the calls.
Good job, there’s the table…I’ll bring you coffee and cake, wait there, don’t go away will you?
Where you going?
I’m getting coffee and cake for you.
I try to put routines in place, for me as much as for her. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the expectation that such and such should happen round about now, throws you completely when it doesn’t. You make the meal, bring it in to her and she’s fast asleep in the wheelchair, drooling. You stand there with the plate of food in one hand, a drink in the other at a loss for a moment before accepting defeat. You take the food back to the kitchen, return to her and wipe away the drool. You think about putting her back to bed, but the thought of the hoist and operating it alone is discouraging. Propping her up in the wheelchair is the only thing left to you, but how? Most often I get a Lloyd Loom chair from the conservatory and a couple of pillows and try to build a support on one side sufficient to hold her head from sinking to her chest, though it will take some time yet to understand that in making her more comfortable, I’m also encouraging saliva to gather at the back of her throat.
She’s quiet, so for now, I can leave her. I check she’s breathing regularly and go back to the kitchen. If I haven’t had my own lunch or breakfast, which is normal as I always like to sort her out first, I can try to eat what’s on her plate. Assuming it’s still edible. If I don’t want whatever it is, soup from a tin, tuna and mayonnaise, melted cheese on soft white bread, our resident fox will enjoy yet another feast this evening .
But it’s not the chores, in some ways doing something is easy. It’s the hanging around, the waiting. I had the radio on the other day, and heard a guy talking about what it was like to be a sentry guarding a wall, I don’t know which wall, the minutes and hours crawling slowly forward to the day’s end. And the only thing worse than the waiting, was when something happened, when someone tried to get over the wall. I know what he means. Yellow alert, all day long and sometimes at night too.
The evenings? Well, you know about the wine. And then there’s the phone. Phil in France gets the brunt of it, the long stories. I don’t watch the television much. I’m just too tired and the outside world seems too remote to comprehend.
If I sound a little hunted, forgive me. I don’t mean to complain, only to explain. And it’s not all bad. Not at all, There’s the satisfaction of a job well done. There’s a role. Clearly defined, obviously useful and apparently selfless. And you have to find the humour when you can. For instance, there’s an unexpected aspect to my life here, one I suppose I could have anticipated, but didn’t. To put it baldly, I now live in a world of women. And having gone to such lengths to meet women online, the irony is not entirely lost to me.
The carers are all women. The district nurses who’ve come by twice now, are women. Our doctor is a woman. The adult protection inspection a couple of weeks ago, was by a woman. I had a call the other day from the SALT Team— that was Elizabeth. Then there’s Ruby, the Parkinson’s nurse. Then there’s Anne, the occupational therapist.
What this imbalance between the sexes says about the business of caring, about men and women, and about society as a whole, would take up a good deal of space and time to debate. Suffice to say, there is clearly a gender issue finding expression here, however you choose to explain it. Though I did read that 42% of unpaid carers, husbands, brothers, fathers, whatever, are men. Maybe it’s men in the professions who are conspicuous by their absence.
As it happens, I feel more at home in this brave new world than some men might. It was my mother and grandmother who were the sources of unconditional love when I was a child. It’s my daughters who are the centre of my universe as an adult and who bring yet more unconditional love my way. I have indeed been thoroughly spoiled. And even though I understand such assumptions are both politically incorrect and psychologically rather suspect, they are the result of a positive feedback loop that has seldom let me down and so is deeply ingrained. I can rationalize, of course. But don’t ask me to actually revise my thinking. I’m an old guy now.
Anyway, enough about me. Mum, is now the centre of things. The bungalow has effectively become the smallest care home in the area, with one resident and one carer/manager. The only modification this place needs to be perfect as a care home is a disabled access ‘wet’ bathroom. I’m on that right now, getting quotes and pushing to ensure the work gets done before the Celebration of Life and Mother’s homecoming party, now only two weeks away.
So there’s just time to fit in a round of the dating game for oldies…I did, after all, promise at the end of the first season, that I’d reveal some detail of those three dates I managed to slip in before mum’s escape from the care home…
Funny, it all feels like a lifetime ago, and I’m sure these short stories happened to someone else altogether, a chap I recognise, but can’t remember…a glorious fool who believed…well, who knows what he believed…
The first date was, as it happens, a little scary. But then I spook easily, especially when confronted by heartfelt castration fantasies. It’s a weakness of mine but clearly a strong instinct in Monica, a South African woman whose husband ran off with his personal assistant, and only very recently from what I can tell. The swiping movement she makes with her right hand adds conviction and a convincing illustration of exactly how she might go about it.
We’re in a pub called The Windmill. They serve thrice-cooked chips in little tin buckets and sea bass fillets with Thai seasoning on wooden boards, but we’re not eating. I’m not hungry, and I don’t want any knives, or forks for that matter, anywhere near Monica.
I didn’t call her again, but I do write an email and say thank you and I do say that whilst it was lovely to meet her, I have thought better of my situation and realized that my new incarnation as a carer will preclude relationships of any meaningful kind.
Date number two, Geraldine, proved to be a very different affair and one that still delights me, even today, many moons after the one short evening we spent together. In her profile, she described herself as athletic and tall, neither of which qualities sounded like drawbacks to me.
She was already waiting when I arrived at and the pub on the edge of the large village green we’d agreed as a rendevous. There was a moment’s embarrassment as we established by looks and gestures, that I was almost certainly him and she was definitely her, but in truth I had little doubt. When she got out of the car, I was absolutely certain the five foot eleven ebony beauty with the figure of an athlete and the air of an aristocrat was not just my date for the evening, but also laughably, absurdly, trop belle pour moi, as the French so delicately put it.
We’d only arranged to meet for a drink, but once we’d sat down opposite one another, she’d noticed my amusement. When I explained, she demurred politely and even went so far as to find some other reasons why it was unlikely we could make a relationship work—both her children were indeed British Olympic team athletes and her time was largely dedicated to their needs—which was fabulously gallant of her. We decided to eat together because we both knew this would be the one and only time we’d ever share a meal. We giggled a lot that night. We said goodbye outside the pub with a chaste kiss and a metaphoric bow to the fates.
Date three was Melanie. In fact, Melanie turned out to be date three and date four, which may seem promising in terms of love, but actually wasn’t…
Not that it was in any way unpleasant. She chose the pub, with a fine garden area out front and a decent menu. The evening was warm enough to sit out. I arrived early and settled myself at an empty table, leaving my tobacco visible and tying to recall if my profile had confessed to my being a smoker.
When she arrived, I bought her a drink and came back to find her smoking a straight cigarette and a pack of Silk Cut on the table.
“I saw you smoked, which was a relief,” she said. She had the most startling and stunning blue eyes. A light, electric blue I had to force myself to ignore if I was to concentrate on what she was saying. And I needed to concentrate because much of the talking we did before going in to eat was polite conversation between strangers…how did she know the pub, for instance, how long had I been dating, that kind of thing. Nothing offensive, nothing remarkable, just chat. It was hard work for both of us in an easy kind of way. I had the sense she was as anxious to end the evening as I was.
When we went to pay the bill at the bar, she realized she’d forgotten her purse. She was embarrassed but I really didn’t mind and certainly didn’t feel the forgotten purse constituted any kind of obligation between us.
When, the next day, I got an email from her saying, “Well, I think you’ll agree, there’s no spark between us,” I felt admiration for her directness.. Only, there was a rider. Melanie did not want me to think that the purse thing had been a deliberate strategy to get a free meal, a thought that hadn’t even crossed my mind. A week later, she pressed the point and with only a couple of days to go until Mum came home, I gave in to a lunch on her.
The lunch was just like the supper in all respects, bar the fact that this time she’d brought her purse. She dutifully paid for us both and when we stepped outside to say our goodbyes and she began to go through the bill, she realized she’d been undercharged by some twenty pounds, and her obvious joy at having bucked the system charmed me and made me laugh, which in turn made her laugh. You can’t laugh at a potential lover, but we knew we weren’t about to be lovers. Any and all tensions on that question had been laid to rest. Though what neither of us realised that with no romantic motive to meet again, nor was there any obstacle or awkwardness, and so, in a manner of speaking, we had by default, become friends.
I have no excuse for believing I could have found my Beatrice lurking online, save gross naivety and the triumph of hope over experience. I had no idea I was now in a world where carers, as the name implies, simply care…without complaint, monks and nuns all, and with no needs of their own. Vocation, vocation, vocation, you might say…
As a carer, or trainee carer, it’s difficult, impossible really, to express the odd combination of constant visitations and complete isolation your life comprises. And it’s easy to feel any sense of self evaporating, with every day just like every other, and with your own existence reduced to that of a functionary, a bit player, a Rosencrantz with no Guildenstern, an amateur amongst professionals, a man amongst women.
So thank the lord that today, this afternoon, four of my most favourite women are visiting, to see mum, but especially to see me. Ex-wife, two daughters and Maisie the dog. Which is frankly marvelous…
She’s just hugging him
She wants more attention
What do you want…what do you want? Well, I thought I’d cook…if the sun’s outish
Yeah, it’s a really nice day.
It’s lovely isn’t it?
Now, do you want your instant garden outside or in the conservatory?
Erm, I don’t know darling, well, you’ve got some gardening to do anyway, so you might want to do it all at once…
Row, row row, row row row row row…hello gorgeous girl…
Please, don’t feel you’re missing out on today’s visit, we’ll be meeting the family again, I promise. And, we’ll be adding to the cast of characters with my favourite uncle, Peter, my mum’s younger brother and her oldest friend Judy. They were at school together in Alexandria in Egypt, more than seventy years ago now…I want to know about mum as a girl and a young woman, who she was before she became my mum…
You’ve been listening to me2mama, written, voiced and produced by the author, who must remain anonymous for the sake of his mum. Me2mama is a family affair. The assistant producer is the author’s daughter, Leah, and the associate producer is the author’s sister, and now co-carer, Karen. Title music is by Wes Hutchinson, with incidental music by Puddle of Infinity, Unicorn Heads, and Huma-Huma, all amongst my favourite stars of Youtube’s audio library. Every one of them very generously making their work available to poor producers like me. Original music is by Leah. This podcast is a me2mama production, all rights reserved.