Beloved was admitted (admitted - doesn’t that sound awful?) to his Nursing and Care Home on Tuesday, straight via paramedic transport from the hospital. I arrived before him and was already sitting in his room when he was wheeled in. His face lit up the moment he saw me.
How did you get here? How did you know I was coming here? So lovely to see you. etc.
He was very tired and almost at the end of his strength after 2+ weeks in hospital, where any likelihood of recovery from an illness is far from given. He was barely able to get out of the wheelchair and on to his armchair.
First impressions of the Care Home were good, the staff was friendly and helpful, the room and bathroom neat and very clean, the food good (they had kept lunch for him); while I was waiting for him one of the nurses showed me around, I found everything satisfactory.
The place is like Fort Knox, well run but impossible to break into and out of. Everything on Beloved’s wing is regulated by keypads, access to lifts and stairs requires code numbers. I had a job to get my codes organised, now, several days later, I am still asking staff to help me get in and out. Even if he could walk unaided, Beloved is not going to pick up his trusty stick and make for the exit. He wouldn’t get very far.
I had a wonderful example of the craftiness of dementia today. As I was leaving, three elderly ladies stood around by the lift. One had a light coat over her arm and a handbag. All three were in day clothes and chatting amiably. I did my trick with the lift doors and two of them climbed aboard with me, the third just about to step in when the doors began to shut. I somewhat perfunctorily called out “NO, careful now”. All three were rather wraithlike and there was a doubt at the back of my mind about them: were they residents, by any chance?
The doors shut and one of them said “now you’ve frightened her”, meaning the one left behind. “But it’s happened and can’t be helped.” I was getting really worried. “Are you sure, you err . . erm. . . .” If they were bona fide visitors it would be most embarrassing to have doubts about them. “Oh yes, “ said the spokeswoman, "we are leaving now.” I took a closer look: thinning, slightly straggly white hair, frail and a little unsteady, and with that vacant look of dementia, crafty, but empty-eyed.
On the ground floor I put down my bags and made as if to punch in a number on the keypad. “Remind me, ladies, which way round . . . . . .? They had no idea.
I was sure now and went for help. A carer was within range and I handed my wraiths over to her. Even then I was told to wait with making my exit until they had been safely shepherded out of the way and into the lounge next door.
Hagley Place Care Home is good and a comfortable place to be, a bit like a medium range hotel, except that the staff wipe your bottom, give you a bath, and come running when you ring your bell. I am told that Beloved eats well (he orders the “full English” for his breakfast!) and has so far not tried to escape. I’ve lugged lots of homely things in for him, pictures for the walls, a small wardrobe full of clothes, daffodils and other bulbs in pots about to burst into bloom, as well as edible treats. He is allowed to have anything he wants in his room and I can visit any time of day. The chef will provide a meal for me too, if given prior notice. Today I took him a very small quantity of sherry. And Millie, Millie has already become a favourite, both with staff and residents.
In the three and a half days of his stay Beloved has already had his hair cut, seen a doctor and been visited by the memory nurse from the Memory Clinic which first diagnosed him. He’s been drawn into activities, is taken to the dining room to eat his meals and encouraged to walk with a Zimmer frame, which he learned to do instantly. Still very weak but recovering some of the strength he lost in hospital.
But, Oh My Goodness Me, picture the residents, the inmates, the poor creatures incarcerated for their own good. I see some of them and I could weep at the ruins once upright and intelligent people have become. I should say that this is a very expensive private home which reflects the class of patient to some extent. One nurse proudly told me of Jack, the former editor of a national paper, Mary, a former painter, Joan, a well known former golfer given to addressing other residents in the dining room in cut-glass accent and phrases, thanking them all for coming and providing excellent rankings in spite of the dreadful weather, for which she actually apologises. Now nurse has Beloved to add to her gallery of notables. "Fancy that”, she says, “a principal player at the Royal Opera”.
But really and truly, it’s all so awful, I can hardly bear it. Yesterday he asked me: “Where did you disappear to last night? We are still married, aren’t we? You haven’t left me?” And “What am I actually doing here?” I still talk about the Convalescent Home and sometimes, when he gives me a little nudge in that direction, about a hotel he’s staying at without me. The hardest thing in the world is to pick up my bags, take Millie’s lead in my hand, gaily call out “See you tomorrow”, and walk out of that door, leaving him behind.
I’ve been out three times in the last few days, once to a live streaming of the play “Amadeus”, once to a lecture about a particular aspect of child abuse (now there’s a cheerful subject!), and today to a lunch in aid of refugees. Everybody else is so busy being chatty and lively and animated and I’m just sitting there thinking “what am I doing here? On my own?” People at the lunch were very nice to me and asked genuine questions. I could only answer with tears in my eyes. People being kind is the very devil, I am always glad when the questioner is no more than an acquaintance and I can answer their How Are You with the bland formula Very Well Thank You.