George's Blog Post
The text from the carer said dad had pulled his catheter out again, that was twice within a week, something of a record to date. If that wasn’t enough mum was in pain so he called an ambulance. By the time I opened the door the whiff of stale urine was evidence of the unfolding events of the morning. The paramedics and the career were trying to get dad out of a wet bed, cleaned up and into the ambulance. The paramedic said he was ok but very weak, unable to stand on his own and they wanted to get him checked out at the hospital. Mum kissed his three day stubbly cheek said she loved him and to come back when he’s better. I said “see you later auld yin” as they wheeled him away in a chair, his arms bound like an Egyptian mummy wrapped in a red cellular blanket.
So today has been all about manky washing, piles of blood and ammonia smelling bedclothes to do battle with the blue and white pods. Blue and white checked pajamas, sodden with crimson stains, worn at the crotch, washed out, old before their time chaffing on the catheter tube. The duvet cover that once held pink and grey zig zags is now faded and stained the only bright item in the pile is a blushing pink silky Bri-Nylon valance which has somehow retained its vibrant manmade hue but is now discoloured with plasma and pish.
Mum was ok once she had her tablet. She slept most of the time. Her deep wheezing breaths the only sign she was still alive, hunched over the armrest, in her brown G-plan chair like Stephen Hawking in an Andy Warhol wig.
I stripped the urine soaked, threadbare bed, the corner sprouting a yellow, green and red BHS carrier bag bearing the legend Great Value, optimistically used to cover a gaping hole a with strips of brown parcel tape. The bed has served them well over thirty years, no new mattress every eight years for George and Mary. They grew up during the war where make do and mend was the order of the day and that mindset never left them. Thrift and low expectation has served them well during these covid times as they are less demanding than many and have not really been directly impacted (fingers crossed) although dads operation should have freed him of the tube inside his body and allowing him his final years with a modicum of independence and dignity. Their failing brain and muscles are their enemy. Use it or lose it is my mantra to get them doing gentle exercises and build whatever muscle they can.
Their belongings are held together with sellotape and wishful thinking. Broken legged photo frames holding faded pictures of happier times (when they shared the same bed instead of a pasting table I put in in his bed, in theory to stop him thrashing about and pulling out the catheter, evidently it’s not working as planned) bearing yellow crinkly sellotape on the back are now propped up against the sideboard wall, the frame unable to hold its weight.
During the first few months of lockdown I discovered a wallet stuffed with twenty pound notes, folded into 100’s secreted under the bed. The tally came to a round number, dad is nothing if not organized, or I should say, he was, as his brain is a string vest now, just like the one he used to wear in the 80’s until we started calling him Rab C Nesbit. Now he has no chance of remembering his wee hidey holes even exist.
When I was cleaning up a million thoughts went through my mind but the one that stuck like superglue is how in old age we start to live our life in reverse. I remember my dad talking about a “second childhood” when old folk get “past it “as he used to say. Not much was known about dementia in the sixties. The things we needed as children are there at the end of our life. Incontinence pants instead of nappies, zimmer frames instead of walkers, lidded plastic sookie cups when arthritic riddled fingers are too feeble to hold a real cup without spilling the contents. As babies we are the most helpless creatures in all the animal kingdom and depend on our mother until we are at least five, the longest period for any living creature. At the other end of the telescope of life we are once again dependent on somebody else, a carer, a son, a daughter, a nurse a doctor to ease the passage to the grave and do what is required while we are still clinging by the fingernails to life.
The kitchen where fatty brown greasy chops or Bisto soaked stew was once prepared is now an alien landscape like something out of Abandoned Engineering and might just as well be cordoned off with black and yellow police “do not cross” tape. An unused cooker; not required for ping food, a fridge with a safe like door to arthritic fingers hides the wonders that appear at mealtimes. Lancashire Hotpot and Reduced Sugar Jam Roly Poly and Custard washed down by decaffeinated tea and a bourbon biscuit. Living the dream or what?
Followed an hour later with another carer visit for “tuck”. Young men or women, sometimes complete random individuals help you undress and your wizened, sagging, purple footed, green toe-nailed feet and clapped-out body is laid bare to a virtual stranger exposing parts your children have never seen since they were cradled in your arms.
Dad is in the Western, sadly not for a bit part one of his favourite John Wayne movies, The Western General. He will miss mum’s 89th birthday tomorrow, he should get a frequent flyer discount by now and they could name Ward 57, room 17 The George Reid Suite. The cruel view of the health club across the road conjuring images of young fit bodies enjoying their time at the other end of life’s telescope as he forces down the off white lukewarm indeterminate gruel that he selected from the tick box menu wondering how many ticks he has left in his pain wracked husk.
20th January 2022.
Read more of George's blog here: https://zimmerworld.wordpress.com/