Friday, 28 December 2012


“Just get me out of here,” was Mum’s appeal after her latest six week stay in hospital. It’s been a bad year for Mum and hospitals. She spent seven weeks in hospital and rehabilitation between February and April. Now she’s back in again, the cause this time a chest infection but it has been lack of mobility that has delayed her return home.

We’re told that when she can get around better she’ll be let out. The hospital has a duty of care.

Mum has been on a steady physical decline over recent years. Dad died in 2008, after a number of years suffering with dementia. He spent the last 2.5 years of his life in homes, getting specialist care.

Mum’s experience is almost the opposite, mentally she is bright as a button, but physically it is as though everything is shutting down. It causes her incredible frustration, at times leading her to question why she is being punished in such a way.

A half empty rather than half full glass person, she does not celebrate her truly remarkable memory. A passionate historian, at the age of 87, she can still recall dates, places, battles and people from past centuries.

Instead, the physical demise has tended to dominate. She has lost most of her sight and hearing in recent years. Her legs are shot through with arthritis which makes movement ever more difficult. She suffers from incontinence which is another annoyance for a proud lady.

As Mum has physically deteriorated so her ability to do the most basic tasks has reduced. When a little while ago she could put herself to bed, make a cup of tea and some food, now she is reduced to getting out of her chair and going to and from the toilet – not a great quality of life. The need for support will increase as time goes by, moving to a time when she will need 24 hour care either at home or in a home.

The physical world seems to get smaller, closing in on her. So where 18 months ago, she was upstairs in her own bedroom, using the shower with a little help. Now, her bedroom has transferred downstairs to what used to be the dining room. She gets help with washing at the sink. She walked with a stick, now she has a frame and rising chair to help her mobilise.

All of these changes have meant buying in ever more care. The travails with the care services for Mum have been different to those for Dad. He was in the homes. The battle there was to ensure he was being treated properly, not drugged or exploited.

For Mum it has been about bringing care into the home. This began three years ago, with a carer coming in each morning to get her up. She helped Mum wash, fixed breakfast, did the washing and helped set up the day.

Mum established a good relationship with the carer. All went well for a couple of years. However, as Mum’s physical condition deteriorated, so more care was needed. When she came out after her first stay earlier this year the care visits were increased, so that a carer came in during the afternoon and at night to help her get to bed.

As the care requirement expanded so the care company seemed to provide ever less competent staff. I spoke to one new carer about what she did before. The answer: two weeks previously, she had been working as a PA. The training was to go out with one of the experienced carers a couple of times and then she was off on her own.

Care requirements ofcourse vary, from on the one hand getting the shopping for an elderly person to the whole personal care requirements of washing, feeding etc. The qualifications of many of the carers out there are lacking, the regulation, virtually non-existent.

A product of the market the job is done by people forced to take the minimum wage jobs that fit in with other family requirements like child care.

The whole experience has taught me that commerce and care simply cannot mix. It is almost possible to see the pound signs materializing in the care company managers eyes when the magic words self-funding are uttered in relation to a potential client.

I have spent more and more time looking after Mum. The role of carer for a parent is no small task. The responsibility means you virtually end up living two lives, your own and that of carer, Your own life tends to become more and more subsumed by the caring role.

Care cover has to be constantly planned out.

Around one million people in this country have given up careers in order to care for relatives. I haven’t reached that point yet, presently managing to keep all the different balls in the air.

Caring child is a strange place to be, as you almost come to share the same space of the person you are looking after. For Mum it just looks like a tunnel of life becoming worse and worse, more illnesses, more hospitals stays and eventually the end. For me, the recognition that Mum is right, she won’t suddenly get her mobility or eyesight back. Things will get worse, yet you don’t ever want the end to come, to reach that point where the person who brought you into the world is no longer there. Physically broken or not, she will always be my mum and I will always love her for being just who she is.

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