Chapter 8


“Help us”

I can’t remember how long it’s been now since I last saw my children.

I don’t blame them, really I don’t.  They have a life to lead, they couldn’t be expected to come and visit their old mum all the time.  They all live such a long way away, you see.  They either met partners when away at College, or went travelling and settled on the other side of the world.  You’d have thought the beautiful scenery around here would have drawn them back occasionally.  But no, neither the glorious mountains and forests, nor having a frail and aging mother has encouraged any of them to come home more than once a year or so, for a visit.

I know they feel guilty.  I see it in their eyes when they first see me.  I’m sure that every time, I have looked a little worse – a little thinner, a lot older.  I try to be cheerful so they aren’t affected too much.  After all, do I really want them to complicate – possibly ruin – their own lives and careers and relationships by having an ill relative such as myself move in with them permanently?

No, we’ve been through all that, and I’m settled here in this ‘home’ now.  I know I will die here, and I’ve accepted it.  Sometimes though, sometimes, I do wish it could be a bit of a nicer place.

It was alright at the beginning, under the old management.  The couple who started it really did care about the residents they were taking in.  They would come and talk to you all the time, they would organise events of various types.  The number of concerts and lectures we enjoyed, at the beginning!  I was always so grateful for all those young people, probably more concerned about getting in some practice for their own future careers than entertaining a bunch of old people, but nevertheless, much appreciated.

A girl came and sang opera once.  And a boy played beautifully on a guitar.  And an engaging young man who wanted to be an explorer came and spoke about his recent trip to India, and showed us lots and lots of slides on a projector.  Amazing how many of them I can remember, to this day.

Goodness, it’s been years now since we had anything like that.  The new residents don’t even believe me when I tell them how it used to be, they think I’m rambling, fantasising.

It’s the new owners that are the problem.  We’re part of some chain now, some big company, and of course all they care about is their profits, not the people they’re supposed to be looking after.

The number of staff has gone down.  The wages of the staff have gone down.  Obviously, then, the quality of the care has gone down too.  And it seems like nobody notices, and nobody can change anything, or help.

You wouldn’t believe it.  I’m thinking that when – if – one of my children next visits me, I’ll have to pluck up courage to say something.  But I’m seriously afraid they won’t believe me.  They’ll either think I’ve gone senile (I haven’t, not quite yet), or that I’m deliberately making things out to be atrocious so that they’ll take me to live with them.

How can I steer some middle course?  How can I draw to their attention the reality, so that maybe I can be moved somewhere else?

Surely all care homes cannot possibly be as bad as this one.

It smells awfully.  Do they think old people lose their sense of smell?  I certainly haven’t.  I don’t even know what it is I’m smelling – presumably a concoction of dirty people, dirty clothes, dirty bathrooms, damp walls, old furnishings, dreadful food, discarded medical dressings and cheap disinfectant.  When I could still open the window in my room, I used to stick my nose outside in the hope of getting some fresh air, but now I can’t even budge it, and of course they never take us out anywhere, so I despair of ever being able to take a breath of fresh clean air again.

There have been five different cooks in the last year.  The residents talk about this constantly, as they have little else to talk about.  They compare one cook with another, they hope – when one leaves – that the next might be a little better.

But the food served up seems to get worse and worse, and more and more meagre.  It seems there is always less and less money.  I overheard one of the cooks saying – on the day she left – something along the lines of, ‘How am I supposed to serve up decent meals on such a tiny budget?  I don’t want any more to do with this.’

And then once we all saw lots of supplies being delivered, and for a change some nice smells – of roasting chicken and freshly baked cakes – emanated from the dismal kitchen.  So we all thought things were going to improve.  But would you believe it, it was just our kitchen being used for a staff party, and that night we were all locked up, and we heard music playing until late at night, as the staff and their friends entertained themselves and ignored us.

It reminded me of that scene in the film of ‘Oliver’, when the poor starving orphans saw the feast being prepared for their supposed mentors.  We smelt those lovely smells and virtually cried with frustration, that no-one cared enough about us to bring us even one slice of cake, never mind inviting us to join the party!

But things are worse even than that now, much worse.

How sad that it’s at the end of my life, in a place like this, that I have to witness the worst behaviour, the greatest unkindnesses I have ever seen in my whole life.

The current staff are young and somehow completely unprincipled.  They cannot have received any training, even their most basic tasks they cannot complete successfully.

The poor lady in the room next to mine is completely bedridden and needs to be turned regularly, as well as, of course, being assisted with her most personal needs.  But they just don’t attend to her, don’t come.  I hear her calling out, begging for assistance, quite regularly.  She has a call button and presses it relentlessly, but it doesn’t work.  I used to try to get to her, to help her myself, but now I am almost as incapacitated and vulnerable as she.

The last time I made it to her room, I was appalled to find her lying in her own waste.  I shouted and shouted, I complained constantly, whenever I did see a member of staff.  But I was always either ignored or insulted and mocked.  I was even pushed and slapped, on that occasion, forced back into my own room and told to mind my own business.

How have things come to this?  Is this not a civilised country?  Is there no compassion in this world?  Is no-one checking on how this dismal establishment is run?

In the last few months, ten people have died here – died!  Who will ever know or care whether they have died before their time, or whether they could have been saved if they had been properly looked after.

Yesterday I struggled into the main corridor and picked up a phone receiver – but the line was dead.  I don’t know what else I can do except look for an opportunity to tell someone, should I ever encounter a visitor.

I have lost weight.  I have lost all my friends here.  I have – almost – lost my will to live.

I sit in my room, mostly, and cry and cry, reflecting on life and on the world.  I have tried praying, but can’t make myself believe that there is any deity out there who cares about our suffering.

Maybe one more time, I will try.  I will sit and say out loud, hour after hour, “Please help us, someone please help us.  They are neglecting us here, they are killing us.  Help us, help me!”

Maybe, by some freak chance, someone somewhere – some passing spirit – will hear my plea, and send the police and social services to our rescue!

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