This afternoon – another grey, windy and torrential British winter’s day – I took my two children to see their poorly great-grandpa in a residential care-home (a misnomer, if ever I heard one).
Before we went in to the shabby looking building with its neglected gardens and a general air of ‘abandon hope, all ye who enter here’, I warned them both that Grandpa may not look, nor act, his usual spritely self. Furthermore, the people who were in the care-home with him, may do or say peculiar things, as they weren’t quite their spritely selves, either.
And I’d prepared them well. For, no one, including the surly, miserable and discourteous staff could be described as spritely. From the irritable care-worker who greeted us with her forlorn, scowling face, to the sarcastic and short-tempered nurse responsible for Grandpa’s ‘care’, the whole building was screaming desperation and neglect.
As Grandpa was eating his lunch (a term I’m loathed to use, as the assembly of food-stuffs might be better suited to a pig’s trough), we asked to use the toilet: ‘You might wanna use the staff one. Ha ha! Be cleaner. Ha ha!’ So mumbled a care(less)-worker. This pissed me off. So, the residents’ toilets aren’t clean. Why?
Whilst I waited for my husband to use the bathroom, I listened to a disturbing exchange of words and slurs, coming from the nearby lounge. A lounge in which 8 elderly people sat slumped in their piss-ridden chairs not watching a blaring TV set which seemed to have The Simpsons on a loop:
Resident: What time is it?
Resident: What time is it?
Resident: What time?
Care-assistant: Just told you.
Resident: What time is it?
Care-assistant: IT’S ONE O’CLOCK! ONE O’CLOCK. ONE O’CLOCK!
Capitalising her words does not convey the spiteful and sarcastic tone she used to address a woman, clearly confused and probably hard of hearing, who was once as spritely as my young daughter. A woman who once laughed, skipped, danced, loved and lived. A person. Someone who, despite her ill-health, still deserves to be treated with love, compassion and respect. Characteristics not in abundance at this shit-hole of a care-home.
Grandpa has advanced Parkinson’s. A condition which has cruelly inhibited his ever-weakening body for many years. He shakes, jerks, rocks, falls; and experiences paranoia, anger and much confusion. He has been described by his nurse as, ‘hard work’. In fact, he’s so much ‘hard work’, he’s been asked to leave. ‘We can’t have someone this troublesome here.’
I’ve experienced this attitude before. My brother was mentally ill and had the severe misfortune of being sectioned and subsequently becoming an in-patient at various psychiatric hospitals. He had a thing for running away. Considering the horror of the places, it was hardly surprising he wanted to escape. A senior psychiatrist told my mum, ‘We can’t tolerate this type of behaviour. He will be asked to leave if he continues to be a problem.’ What sort of behaviour were they expecting from a young man diagnosed with schizophrenia? Difficult? Yes, very fucking difficult. But considering he also had a thing for trying to kill himself, I felt the running away habit was fairly benign.
‘Troublesome’ behaviour needs to be viewed in context. I’ve seen family members and medical professionals react to Grandpa’s behaviour (and my brother’s) in isolation. Each individual action taken at face-value without an appreciation for the surrounding circumstances. Here’s a recent example:
Grandpa shouted at a nurse. The manager called my father-in-law to say there’s been another incident and the nurse is distraught. There will be consequences. But no one, including my father-in-law, asks why? Why did he shout?
Grandpa’s side of the story is different (it usually is). He says he was aggressively woken in the night and told to, ‘Open your mouth!’ (for medication). But, he didn’t hear the care-assistant initially, as he was asleep. She turned on his light and shouted ‘OPEN YOUR MOUTH!’
Unsurprisingly, this pissed him off. And I’m certain we would all react in a similar way if someone turned on our bedroom light in the middle of the night and tried to feed us pills! There is context. But, no one listens to Grandpa’s side of the story. He’s confused. He’s angry. He’s just being difficult. And therefore, he’s ignored. He may as well be invisible, just like all the other residents waiting to die.
Of course, he may well be lying, but if that’s the case, there would be a reason for that, too. But who has the time to explore further? And who has the time for empathy?
I am the only relative to believe he is not in the ‘best place.’ Everyone else tells him, ‘It’s the best place for you, isn’t it? Meals provided, lots of company. It’s alright, really.’ And they’re not simply just being positive. They’re all trying to convince themselves that, this foul-smelling soulless place with its cold, impatient staff; its mentally unwell and challenging residents; the pig-trough slop; the barren, unhomely and unfamiliar bedroom with a naked light-bulb swinging above a bed stinking of urine, is preferable to Grandpa being in his own much-loved and much-missed home. Would any of us wish to spend one night robbed of respect, dignity and compassion in such a place? Would any of us want to watch The Simpson sat amidst hollering, incoherent, lost souls taking it turns to plead to anyone who will listen, which isn’t many, to ‘Take me home. Please take me home’?
I hope that tonight, he will fall asleep in his miserable cell and drift away on a cloud free from pain and confusion; a cloud that will envelop him with love and lead him to his waiting, loving wife. For a life eked out in this miserable, God-forbidden, hell-hole of a care-home is simply not worth living for.
*Disclaimer: Grandpa is very poorly; Parkinson’s is just one condition contributing to his ill-health. He’s in pain and unhappy, and I simply do not want him to suffer anymore. He’s too ill to be at home, but considered not ill enough to be admitted to hospital, hence the limbo of the care-homes.
I realise not all care-workers are heartless and indifferent, and that, not all care-homes are this dire. However, in my experience, too many are. And it’s a scandal we pretend doesn’t exist.