8 8 mins 6 yrs

For reasons which are purely personal, I was forced to place my wife of some forty-seven years, ill now for many years, invalid herself and unable to move without assistance, into a ‘Care Facility’ about a week ago; and to leave her there in the possibly-tender clutches of others until I get my own medical priorities sorted and hopefully cleared up. I am now faced with appointments and schedules dictated by a faceless and careless NHS bureaucracy, running as we all know and have to accept as ‘the best in the world’ Health Service: which means that I have to be at a certain hospital at that time, and no other; I have to be at the surgery for more ‘tests’, I have to be a ‘free agent’, with the ability to travel or stay without having to arrange competent help for my wife.

So allow me to shed a bright light on how we treat the elderly memories of our lives, those people who gave unstintingly of their own lives so that we might relax on a Sunday, care free and without a worry in the sky. I have three tales to tell, three places which might explain my annoyance, my anger,
and yes, the futile hope that; by writing these few lines: I just might make a change in the way and manner with which the true discards of our ‘ever-so-caring’ society are treated.

I was working down in London some fifteen years ago, when a friend of mine asked me to do him a favour, and visit an old-aged-home, and to do an electrical upgrade tender, as he wasn’t able to leave his own project in Wales. I agreed, he sent me the documents, and I set off to a Council-run ‘home’ in Hackney, or Islington; I forget which, but that is unimportant. The scenes which greeted my eyes will never be forgotten as I walked through the doors of what, in truth, is probably waiting for us all, or at least those of us who haven’t got a small liquid trust fund tucked away in the tax-haven named Jersey.

Don’t get me wrong, the building and the infrastructure were perfectly correct, as were the amenities, the in-house kitchens were gleaming, the rooms were well-decorated, warm and well-lit: the horror came from viewing the people who actually inhabited these warm rooms, and ate the no-doubt nourishing food placed upon their tables. I walked into the large; the really large common room which also acted as the main restaurant: inside were seated some seventy-five or eighty people, along with two televisions blaring away at each end of the room. But less than five people were actually watching the different programmes on the tv screens, the balance were all seated in either wheel-chairs or armchairs, and they were all facing in different directions and angles: and the truly unnerving thing about these old people was the fact that they all were staring, listening to a different drum; focussing, on seventy-odd distant landscapes; a thousand miles away from that old-aged Care Home in Hackney/Islington.

The second item in this record of unthinking barbarism towards our elderly relatives was in that same Inner-London old-aged home, and it occurred as I was making my way out of the dining/common room towards the bedroom wings. The main entrance to the dining room was fitted with glass-paned double-doors, which folded back to stoppers set some three feet away from the corridor walls, and as I passed by the doors, I noticed movement behind the hammered-glass door. So I stopped, turned, moved the door away from its folded-back position, which revealed a small elderly wheelchair-bound  lady who had the misfortune to have been moving along, guided of course by one of the many ‘multi-cultural’ staff members, when the dining-room bell commenced ringing. She had been pushed to the side of the corridor as the staff member had disappeared on another errand and had simply left her sitting there. The double doors had been folded back, trapping this small survivor, who had sat patiently waiting for help to arrive; but none came at all until a complete stranger saw her waving her arms in despair. I moved her along to her own room, then went to find a face to which I could vent my anger; but all I found was one Nigerian ward-maid who spoke no English at all, and the maintenance man who promises that he would raise this problem with ‘The Committee’.

The third tale is, of course, mine own. I visited my wife yesterday afternoon, just to make sure she was coping. When at home, she either sat on the bedside, or lay down on the bed, listening to her favourite classical records on her cd player. She used to come downstairs, with my help to get her on the stair-lift and wheelchair, but she has not asked to come down for some months; I wouldn’t say she was unhappy, I was reassured that she was content to be alone. The only help she needed was when she needed to sit on her commode, as she couldn’t turn by herself when standing up; or when I moved her in to have a shower. The organisers, the Care-home staff, I presume for their own convenience, have sat my beloved wife in her wheelchair and move her into the small common-room available to patients, and park her there so she is forced to mix with the rag-tag bunch of cast-offs from our society whose families pay for the privilege of dumping their problems on to someone else’s lap. When I describe the people whom my wife is now living alongside, I list the tiny woman who just sleeps all the time; seated alongside her is this tall, gaunt woman with bowed head, whose only voice is a bark of distaste as she is harangued in turn by this other woman who firmly believes she is the delegated sergeant-major, and attempts to poke her nose, into everyone’s business, including mine. I also include the elderly man who sits, mute, shaking his head to some silent argument, and the other lady who shuffles distractedly along the corridors, never resting. And many, many more! My beloved wife hates to be shoved into the company of strangers, and even more so when she cannot move by herself, and is totally dependent upon people who probably view her as just a name on a list, or a place at a table, or as someone who needs the help of two staff members to be lifted onto a commode.

I do hope I get my MRI scan soon, and get this medical problem sorted, so once again I can walk upstairs in the peace, quiet and security of my own home, and speak to my love once more!

X-posted from Fire Pillage & Plague

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8 thoughts on “what comes for us all

  1. They’re painful words, Mike. I wish your family all the best and hope you and your wife are together again soon.

  2. Oh Mike! – I know exactly what you are going through. My tale starts a few decades ago when our family had all grown up and had found partners of their own. They all had careers of their own and none wished to follow my footsteps into the family bakery business, so when I received an offer for it, I was only too pleased to accept.

    My wife was a district nurse at that time, and she suggested we might move into the ‘elderly care home’ business. We then spent a long time looking at various existing homes that were for sale, – I can tell you it was a most depressing business, – from tales of disinterest such as you mention to the unbelievable existence of ‘wet rooms’, where, believe it or not, inmates, and I use that word intentionally, – were left to urinate literally ‘where they stood’, to be cleaned-up much later at the staff’s convenience, and there were other things that were equally distressing to see. We looked at some half-a-dozen homes for sale, and there wasn’t a single one that didn’t, quite literally, bring tears to our eyes.

    This was back in the ’80’s, and I doubt very much if things are much different now this time, – your sad tale is unfortunately all too often repeated today.

    That was when we decided to move to America and into what they call the ‘hospitality’ business. Our experiences there were so very different, and invariably better, in almost every respect from those we experienced here in the UK.

    While there, we had friends and neighbours who when widowed and frail, moved into ‘elderly accommodations’, and invariably they were well cared for, and these folk were invariably of working class origins, as we were.

    Suffice to say that we returned to the UK when our health determined it necessary, but mainly for the promises we made to our offspring that our move to the US was but a temporary transition and we would return to enjoy their company and that of our grandchildren.

    I sincerely hope that things work out for you both, and that you can find some better help than has been your experience so far, I have been reliably informed that not old folks homes are so bad. – let’s hope the need to use their services is but temporary. Good luck…

  3. Sorry to hear this Mike

    Best wishes from me and mine.


    When a family member is placed into a ‘care home’ in the UK these days, don’t the local chieftains at the council steal your property to pay for it all?

    When my Grandmother was ‘ordered’ into a hell-hole of a council run care home some time back, they stole her house, lock, stock and barrel.

  4. If ever proof were needed that politics and genuine compassion just don’t mix, the way the UK treats its elderly is the perfect example.

    When will they understand that there are ‘jobs’ and then there are ‘professions’, and then there are ‘vocations’ – the last of which requires a genuine loving caring attitude to those it treats. The care of the elderly is a vocation, – a very tough task, but also one that rewards the soul, and admittedly, not for everyone.

    The government, in its infinite wisdom, decreed many years ago that nurses should not visit the same patient more than twice a week – in an effort to promote synergy and to prevent any ‘conning’, or other criminality occurring. – back then, DN’s often became ‘friends of the family’ and many even had their own front door key, they were also under the auspices of the NHS. Nowadays, ‘carers’ are ‘council employees, and poorly paid ones at that.

    The period after that rule was made saw the highest number of district nurses taking early retirement, – this was back in the ’80’s. There has been a continuing shortage since then.

  5. Mike,

    Pardon my interest in your condition, – is it a cardiac or a joint problem?

  6. Sorry to read this. Don’t let the frustration which is no doubt justified overwhelm you. While our worldviews differ significantly I have always respected your core value of family.

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