Read the latest blog from The Man in the Middle who muses on his Mother, dementia and Covid-19.
It’s five months now since Mother got sucked into a demented game of ping pong between us, hospital and nursing home. Four falls, four visits. Still fighting.
In that time, she’s fractured her hip, caught Covid and won the most cheerful personality of the year at the local gerontology department’s Christmas awards, after charming them all during her Yuletide internment there.
‘She has us in stitches all the time,’ said the consultant.
‘How appropriate for a hospital,’ I say.
‘What?’ replies the consultant.
‘Don’t worry. Bad joke.’
Head of Fun and Games
By New Year, she had charmed her way to the position of Head of Fun and Games for Older Folk. She was about to make a bid for Head of Hilarity for the entire CCG when the doctors decided it was time for her to return to her nursing home and pass her bed and entertainment duties to someone else.
In October, her first fall took her to Charing Cross where the CT scans exposed blood clots and a brain shrinking almost as fast as Britain’s eastern seaboard. The hospital’s consultant diagnosed dementia and a fractured hip.
‘The hip will heal in six to eight weeks, the dementia will not.’
Close to a century old, her bones still want to stick together, but her mind wants to go its own way.
‘She will need care 24/7 from now.’
This sentence was the crossroads we knew would come one day. A moment when a yawning mismatch appeared between our compassion to care and our capability to deliver it; her desire not to be a burden versus her wish to stay out of a care home. The conflict between obligations to the present and future and the past.
Apart from the first hour I spent with her when I met her from the hospital at the nursing home, no one whom Mother knows or loves has been in the same room as her for nearly half a year. Covid knows how to put the distance into social.
Though there are moments when sadness seeps through, she’s happy. Her nursing home are ‘wonderful’, and she can’t say enough good things about her carers.
‘I’m eating like a pig,’ she says gleefully. ‘We have cake and biscuits all the time.’
Hearing this makes me guilty. Should we have bought her more cakes when she was living with us?
Keeping in Touch
We’ve tried to compensate for not being able to visit her by writing regular postcards and letters about our locked down lives, even though they are uninspiring. She likes to know what the family are up to. Our drudgery is her drama.
‘But nothing’s happened to me since I wrote three days ago,’ says my son, as I wave at him a blank postcard with a sprig of budding daffodils on it.
‘Make something up,’ I say.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ I say.
‘It’s the thought that counts,’ says my wife, trying to mitigate my willingness to sacrifice truth so speedily on the altar of convenience.
Writing to her is less onerous than it would have been years ago thanks to technology. My wife has discovered an app which turns pictures on her phone into postcards. You don’t need to buy a stamp, print the card or even post it. The whole process is automated by the app. It’s so simple, it can feel like we’re cheating by not making a ‘proper effort’. But if Keats had had access to Moonpig, the greatest letters in the English language would never have been written.
Getting to Grips with Tech
Video calls help ease the isolation. But the broadband is as threadbare as an old rope bridge and sometimes can’t bear the weight of her words or mine and, carelessly, tosses whole sentences into a chasm of silence. Somewhere in the cracks of the internet there is a graveyard of disabled phrases cut adrift forever from sense and sensibility.
The other communication problem is Mother’s hearing. Her hearing aids have gone walkabout, not that she’d wear them if they were found, and she needs to lean her left good ear towards the iPad to be sure of understanding what’s being said. I’ve learnt nothing kills a conversation quicker than being asked repeatedly ‘what did you say?’.
I shouldn’t complain. Seeing her helps and it’s better than no video call at all. As my father used to say when faced with a situation that was OK but not perfect – ‘it’s better than a kick in the slats.’
I smile. I haven’t thought of him for a long, long while. I guess he’s top of mind because I am about to go on my bi-weekly video call with Mother. I wonder if she still thinks of him? I never ask. I will today.
My wife pops a cup of tea onto the desk beside my laptop.
‘Good luck with the battle of the broadband.’
The nursing home calls. The sound is on, but the video is not. Out of the darkness comes the sound of Mother talking to the carer who is holding the iPad for her. It is too heavy for her to hold steadily.
‘I have some good news,’ the carer says to me.
‘We’ve got the go-ahead for visits to the home.’
‘Wednesday. I’ve got a slot for you in our safety pod. You’re her designated visitor, I assume?’
Three days till I see her face to face for the first time since October. Well, not quite face to face. After we’ve gone through the health and safety procedure, it’s clear I’ll be wearing a mask, gloves and various pieces of PPE and be behind a plastic screen.
‘Wonderful news. I don’t think I’ll have been that close to so much latex since I went to a fetishist’s party in the 1980s,’ I joke.
‘Too much information,’ he replies.
‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘Overexcited.’
‘Here’s mum,’ he says.
‘Oh dear,’ says Mother peering at me. ‘You don’t look in good shape. Have you been partying a lot?’
I think I hear the carer laugh.