Mum: the most precious thing I’ve ever lost. Mum passed away after a long battle with secondary complications following a severe stroke. I had many encounters with medical mis diagnosis and poor care while
Nursing Home Blues
Nursing home blues
Nursing home blues
It was a Lavender afternoon. Mild, soft and ambiguous. Not quite the
pastel blue of depression, or the bright azure tones of summer, or
the royal blue of navy patriotism. It was a bland Autumn day, a
cummulous clouded afternoon that no longer contained the reds or
yellows of the enthusiasm of active, sunny youth.
No, today was decidedly a dilute purple. The colour that says to the
observer “I am not a threat, I am innocuous”. The colour that blends
well with silvers and greys. It is the colour that defines the walls
of the(euphemistically called) retirement home, from the reception
to the nurses desk. The paint tones belong to one of the
decorator’s varied attempts to calm the spirit of those who enter this
Lavender is the fading spirit of the refined elderly. It is the
colour that my mother wears. It is also the scent that elegantly
covers the stale urine smells of the nursing home that discarded
family members find themselves in.
Ah, to be a famous poet or an artist of some distinctive flare. No
one is likely to critically analyse your carbon footprint or your
reason for existence in this planet in years to come. You would not
need to justify your relativity theorem, or put up with endless
debates about accreditation, scientific relevance, or have to make
endless policy adjustments to please the crowds. You just were. What
mark have you left? At least you would have made a difference with
your time on earth, in a relatively nondestructive sense of being.
Some aesthetes would have appreciated you. What is the best way to
move forward, in life’s greater scheme of good?
The insignificance of many people’s lives in their sunset years seems
like an unappreciated flower, left to wither in the melting pot
cupboard where vases are closeted away from the bustle of modern day
lives. Accountants, lawyers, teachers and even ministers hurry away
on their buck chasing finer agenda with a chronology that forgets that
they once had (and still have) a mother or father or aunty or uncle or
grandparent locked away in some nursing home waiting for the other
side of the closet door to crack open a little to let some light in.
I ponder these thoughts as I wheel my paralysed mother up a capricious
curve that clearly was not designed to be wheel chair friendly. Where
were the town planners when they designed these shopping centres?
Obviously they never had to struggle with ridiculously
under-engineered moebius stripped tread and low traction plegic
mobiles. Disabled signs tease and placate the politicians and
council workers, but bear no true meaning to the reality. They taunt
plegics into believing that some real thought has gone into the
process of their needs.
Mum lets out a sigh as if the weight of having lived past 90 years is
oppressive. The fog of the stroke clouds her mind, as she struggles
to find the words that used to flow so freely. Are you cold dear? She
says with great concern.
No, I reply, I am fine. A slight smile comes across my dour facade.
Mum will always be a mum. Her concern for her offspring is tantamount
to Presidential care for the country, she will defend their rights and
balance the budget always willing to give up her time for others.
I am sorry I am so much trouble for you, she says.
DeNada, I think the small sacrifices I make are very few compared to
the years Mum had in carrying, diapering , feeding and couriering me.
Mum its ok, no problem, I say.
Where would you like to go today?
Anyplace you want to take me, she says.
How about the park? She remembers, as well as I, that the slate laid
some 30 years ago in parts of the path is flaking making those said
tyres difficult to push through. We’ll just go along the asphalt and
be careful. Mum is afraid of falling out of her wheel chair and not
being able to be picked up and put back in. Her balance is fragile.
We could go to sushi after. Or maybe her favourite – Chinese
smorgasbord. Chicken and almonds. Although her glass like teeth can’t
handle the almonds anymore.
Let’s go to the movies, I say. “Mao’s Last Dancer” is on, and mum used
to be a patron of the arts.
So off we trundle in the maxi taxi that has done over a million
kilometres, and good old Joni –the yellow taxi- gets us there with
As we drop the hydraulic lift and back out of the van there is a
distinctive odiferous wave. I think I passed wind, says mum. OK,
shall we go to the loo? I say.
Take me back to the nursing home says mum
OH, but we just got here.
We should go back, says mum
Thank goodness there is a bag of adult nappies and cleaning supplies I
have collected for such an occasion. Off we go to the wheelchair
cramped ablution quarters, narrowly missing the sink and barely able
to turn the wheelchair around. We must roll the dial to lie it flat
and get the back down to turn the wheelchair into a change table.
There are no hydraulic lifts in these public facilities, so if one is
confined to a wheelchair and unable to transfer to a toilet one needs
to be exceptionally prepared and have back up staff to get one’s basic
The wheelchair has a dial on the side to wind down the back, and the
legs come up with a forward pull. Thank goodness my back is still
strong and I can reach and bend. Now it is simply a matter of baby
care, one leg up at a time and massive amounts of toilet paper latter
and we are away. Luckily I am not squeamish, as human faeces dribble
down the leg that needs care. No worse than cage cleaning at our
veterinary surgery, I think quietly, as I pull layers of toilet paper
of the unforgiving roll.
That job accomplished and chair rightfully returned to the standard
angle, we proceed backwards through the narrow “wheelchair” friendly
door. Some kind sympathetic man holds the door open so we can
disentangle ourselves from its self closing action.
Hopscotch film distributors comes up on the screen. Is that the name
of the movie, says mum in her less than inaudible voice. Shhhh says
the unidentifiable neighbours in the movie theatre. Mum, you have to
whisper and be quiet in here, I say, soto voice.
Oh, she says, once a preschool teacher in command of 25 or so
rambunctious trainable and noisy 4-5 year old beings.
This is a long movie, she says, forgetting that whispering was the denovo mode.
That was colourful, and a good movie she says back in her room.
Yes, I say, as I change her clothes back at the nursing home while
waiting for the staff to answer their buzzer. Sometimes they come,
sometimes they don’t, says mum.
They are busy, I say.
Usually they are pretty good when they see me come in. Years of
introductions and a proud mum bragging about her progeny probably
helped. Others are not so lucky. On some days there are no signatures
in the entry book kept out by the front door to register incoming
In the last few months mums neighbours on either side have died. One,
Dougie, had an exceptionally quirky smile which he used to great
effect whenever mum passed by, I used to tease her that this was her
boyfriend. I think she liked him, she said he was probably a ladies
man previously. Another across the aisle Edna gave up her ghost
probably due to systemically infected cellulitis, she had had enough
of the pain. Before her dermal wounds saw the other side, she would
sing and laugh at the slightest occasion. Their beds had no time to
get cold, the human production conveyor belt churns steadily and
brings another tragic stroke victim wheeled in. The waiting lists for
care are long, and Santa doesn’t wait for Christmas. One needs to be
thankful that an opportunity for placement arises, because there is
little respite in some situations. Not enough families around to care.
Too busy chasing the almighty dollar. Too spread out across the
Its a joy when the grandkids run amok in the nursing home. It’s very
rare to see children in this time zone. Kids are probably scared off
by the smells, I think. Some reminiscence of normality, of
perpetuating generational purpose would be nice. The old ones smile
when they see happy puppies jumping around.
Pets as therapy dogs and peoples pets on leashes would also produce
some jocularity. Its not common here. We manage to sneak in our Kelpie
on occasion, who sits under the bed in bewildered fashion wondering
when her “Grandma” will get out of bed.
It would be nice to have a nursing home dog, a small doll like
creature that always smiles that could live there. I guess its just
another chore for the overworked staff, and maybe a hygiene problem,
or some people are allergic or afraid of them.
Why don’t we do a painting mum? I’ll do one when I get home, her
perseverance kicks in.
Mum that may not happen, so why don’t we just do one now. No she says.
Don’t want to. Will do one when I get back to the new house. She says.
The house dad bought with her money that she will never get to live
Ok, how about we read a magazine and do some of the word puzzles. We
manage to get through 3 of them before she has had enough. The nursing
staff still haven’t come to help toilet her and put her to bed. Shall
we brush your teeth (or what is remaining of them, I think). Ok
Staff must be on their break.
I hear buzzers going off up the hall. There is a rancid smell of urine
wafting through the corridors this evening.
Mum, do you want a drink of water? I realise that unless she is
regularly reminded to drink, she forgets to drink. Her lips look like
parchment. I get her some fresh water from the dispenser up the hall.
Still no sign of staff. I push the call button again.
Are you staying down tonight? She asks.
I have to work tomorrow so I might drive back soon, I say.
Thank you for coming and for everything you do for me, she says. I
really like it when you visit. I am sorry I am so much trouble.
Somehow that makes it all worthwhile.
You are no trouble mom, you are my mother, I say.
I kiss her on the forehead and walk away looking for some staff to
help hoist her to bed and change her diaper. They do not like to put
her on the toilet at this time because it is double handling to get
her back to bed, and they are understaffed.
It was a pleasant visit, and I drive away with thoughts of mom’s life
as it is,” Mom’s last dance” in the nursing home.
With love, your daughter.