Monthly Archives: April 2017

Leaving the world behind #5 – The kindness of strangers

In the summer of 2016 I spent 6 weeks in a care facility following surgery on a multiple leg fracture. Six long weeks. Six weeks when I wondered what ever would become of me, six long weeks when I had time to contemplate what might lie ahead should I need care that could not be given by my family. Here I observed daily life in a rural nursing home/ care facility populated by elderly who were cared for by enthusiastic young girls and men, and by mostly Phillipino and immigrant nurses. This series of posts are my thoughts on those surreal weeks.

The kindness of strangers.

Totally immobile and in need of help with basics like food preparation, managing stairs, showering etc, the knowledge that I could not go home after surgery dawned slowly but surely. Added to this, a cocktail of pain relieving narcotics frequently resulted in ‘out of body’ type sensations, such as floating and light headedness, or something similar to having had one or two too many glasses of wine, so a solution had to be found. This being that I  would be transferred from hospital to a care facility for 6 weeks until such time as the  plaster cast could be removed and a boot put in its place to prevent weight bearing.

The transfer itself was interesting.  In and out of elevators and wheeled along endless hospital corridors by ambulance crews, we ended up in what looked like a back yard with bins and sundry stuff  lying about. It was lashing rain. The ambulance was parked some distance away and we had to make a dash for it. Brian and Kate were both deeply apologetic that I had to be run through the rain as they could not park any nearer the door! Apparently I was fortunate that this was high summer and not the depths of winter with hailstones and high winds to contend with.

The care facility turned out to be a nursing home populated mainly by elderly and staffed, in the main, by some of the loveliest and kindest human beings I have ever met. Mainly Phillipino men and women, the nursing staff were always smiling, always kind, always helpful, always concerned and always attentive. These people were thousands of miles from their families, yet appreciated that they had jobs, could work and look after the family at home in the Phillipines. One of the senior nurses had worked in Ireland for 15 years. Her husband and 8 children were at home, while the two youngest were with her in Ireland.  Another had been in Ireland for 8 years while his wife and children remained in the Phillipines. He tries to get home once a year to see them. A few of them also had other jobs, caring for elderly in their own home, or perhaps working a shift in another establishment so they could look after their families on the other side of the world.  If asked about their family at home, the tears would well up in their eyes, yet they always had a smile and you would never think that they had such sadness to deal with on a daily basis. 11,500 kilometers is a huge distance between spouses and children.

The care assistants were mostly local young girls, students working through their holidays from nursing or other courses at university. At a guess, the average age of the assistants was about 20 years, desperately young to be caring for older people I thought. But I was wrong. I have never seen such affection and gentleness as these young girls had for the people in their care.

An elderly man, hands gnarled and with his back almost doubled over with arthritis, holds on to one of them, shuffling along as she gently guides him to the comfort of a big armchair in the sitting room. His face is expressionless, he does not speak, yet she talks away to him, encouraging him to take every step.

A frail white haired lady with a walking frame is gently guided towards the dining room; the short journey along the corridor from her room taking all of five minutes but is filled with cheerful banter from the carer about the beautiful flowers by her bedside. There is no response.

Flowers. Guaranteed to lift the spirits. (Image the silver voice)


A girl, who I discovered is all of 19 years old, wheels a profoundly disabled man to lunch in his huge wheelchair with lots of equipment attached. She chats away in an imaginary one sided conversation, and you would hope that he heard what she is saying even if he cannot respond.

At the weekly singalong, a young girl delights a profoundly incapacitated man in a wheelchair by holding his face and singing ‘You are my sunshine’ at close range. Only his gladdened eyes seemed to register what was happening.

A man who has lost his mobile phone for the fifth time in as many hours is distracted by a young girl who invites him to go out to the garden to look at flowers. He forgets his phone and follows her obediently as she expertly distracts him from his huge concern about the phone which  is not in fact lost at all.

All of this personal care is in addition to changing beds, helping patients get up and dressed for the day, serving meals, showering patients, providing cups of tea, all so willingly done, often on 12 hours shifts and on the minimum wage of just over 9 Euro an hour.

disco

Disco Girls (By Dossier – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29792495)

At the end of their shift on a Saturday night these young girls change into their disco gear, apply their make up and false eyelashes, don short short skirts, do their hair ( one, a brunette in uniform even had long grey tresses), splash on the scent  and head off for a night on the town. They look the same as all the other young things at the pub or disco, but believe me these fabulous girls on minimum wage are making a huge difference to many lives!

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Ageing in Ireland, Emigrants from other countries, Ireland, Life in a Nursing Home, Seniors

Leaving the world behind #4 – A visit from George Clooney! 

In the summer of 2016 I spent 6 weeks in a care facility following surgery on a multiple leg fracture. Six long weeks. Six weeks when I wondered what ever would become of me, six long weeks when I had time to contemplate what might lie ahead should I need care that could not be given by my family. Here I observed daily life in a rural nursing home/ care facility populated by elderly who were cared for by enthusiastic young girls and men, and by mostly Phillipino and immigrant nurses. This series of posts are my thoughts on those surreal weeks.

A visit from George Clooney! 

Being wheeled off to a ward after surgery was such a relief! Deliciously painfree after 6 days of severe discomfort, the heavily plastered limb totally numb and an array of metalwork now holding it all together, I was on cloud nine! Total immobility was required for a number of days to be followed by some weeks of non weight bearing as any pressure could ‘bend the metal’ or something like that.

Soon after arriving on the new ward, nature called. The red call-button that hung over the bed was duly pressed. An assistant arrived and the request was lodged. Routine stuff in a hospital ward takes a while, so I settled back on my comfortable pillows. Still pleasantly woozy and in a carefree floating hazy drug and anaesthesia induced sort of a stupor, I waited for my Florence Nightingale to return with the appropriate solution to my dilemma.


I  recall lamenting the passing  of the nurse in her starched cap and apron and the colour coded uniforms that distinguished between ward assistants, ancillary nurses, staff nurses and ward sisters. It’s always good to know who you are dealing with. Nowadays they are all in navy pants and tops and lord alone knows who we are speaking to. Its all very confusing. I harbour very real and deep seated fears that anyone, even the tea lady or a porter, might enquire about bowels, and that I may divulge the most personal information to an inappropriate person. What is one to do?

Modern hospital nurses, mixed genders, mixed uniforms!

About five minutes after my call for assistance there was something of a muted buzz of admiration on the all-female ward. From my vantage point furthest from the door, and through my druggy blur, I saw a very-handsome-all-smiling George Clooney lookalike cruise in. Gosh! WHO is HE visiting!  He glided down the ward and I realised that the very attractive lady in the bed opposite was going to be the lucky one…in all probability this is one of her handsome sons. I hoped that my hair, unwashed for a whole week, was not too bedraggled! I adjusted my blue paper hospital gown with the back opening that refused to stay closed and prayed (possibly aloud) that there would not be a bed pan or commode delivered to my cubicle in the presence of such a vision as ‘George’ who was approaching! After all, a girl is never too old to want to impress!

Within seconds ‘George’ with his beautiful smile was standing by my bedside. MY bedside!  MY BEDSIDE! Almost delirious,  I glanced at the envious faces in the other beds. Wishing  to impress, I tried, but failed  to recall the names of his films from deep within my drugged and anaesthetised brain. My blood pressure soared  and I swear my heart stopped! He swished the curtains around my bed, so that it was only me and him! Alone. In a cubicle. I surely have died and gone to heaven!

‘Come here to me now, girl’ says he in a thick County Cork accent, while he pulled back the sheet and revealed a glinting bed pan from somewhere behind his back.  ‘Roll over dere now, girl’ says he, forcing the cold steel into bed beside me. ‘You’re not George Clooney at all’ I muttered, totally mortified. ‘George Clooney?’ Not at all girl! I’m O’Sullivan from Ballydehob. Where are you from yourself?  Let me know when you are ready der, girl, will ya, just press da button’. He swept away as quickly as he came, leaving me scarlet faced,  bewildered and mortified. A spilt second later as I struggled to recover myself, he parted the curtain and asked in the loudest voice I have ever heard : ‘And did da bowels open today, love? If not,would ya like some prune juice? ‘

I hoped the ground would open up and swallow me!

7 Comments

Filed under Ireland

Leaving the world behind #3 – Company in Bed

In the summer of 2016 I spent 6 weeks in a care facility following surgery on a multiple leg fracture. Six long weeks. Six weeks when I wondered what ever would become of me, six long weeks when I had time to contemplate what might lie ahead should I need care that could not be given by my family. Here I observed daily life in a rural nursing home/ care facility populated by elderly who were cared for by enthusiastic young girls and men, and by mostly Phillipino and immigrant nurses. This series of posts are my thoughts on those surreal weeks.

Company in Bed

Following surgery on my broken leg I was transferred to a care facility by ambulance, to await further orthapaedic treatment. I was quite pleased to discover that I had been allocated a private room with a private bathroom. It smelt peculiar and slightly unpleasant but I resolved to ask if the bathroom might be swabbed down with bleach to freshen  it up. A small window did not allow much light in as it was only about two feet from a high wall, but as I later learned I was very fortunate to have a window at all and doubly fortunate to have a room of my own.

Exhausted after the transfer between institutions and delighted to have some bit of privacy after the 6 bed ward of the acute hospital, I settled into bed early with the TV for company and eventually dozed off.

During the night I became aware that there was someone in the room, and not only in the room, but climbing into the bottom of my bed. ‘Hello’ said he in a very quiet and friendly voice. ‘H..h..h..h..hello’ I blurted as he continued to climb in next to my plaster cast leg as I wondered if I should strike him with it. I said that I thought perhaps he was in the wrong  room, but he told me that I was in HIS bed. All the while I was fumbling for the emergency button and was grateful that at least he was climbing in to the bottom of the bed and not the top end!


After some minutes, help arrived and he was coaxed out of my bed and led back to his own space, further along the corridor.  Apparently he had a tendency to wander and he was regularly retrieved from beds that were not his own as he was confused.

It was an eye opening experience on my first night in a care facility, where patients who were physically capable of wandering about are free to do so.  I was immobile in the bed, with only my heavily plastered leg as a weapon to protect my honour! A close call indeed!

5 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Life in a Nursing Home, Seniors

Leaving the world behind #2 – Meeting Old Nick

In the summer of 2016 I spent 6 weeks in a care facility following surgery on a multiple leg fracture. Six long weeks. Six weeks when I wondered what ever would become of me, six long weeks when I had time to contemplate what might lie ahead should I need care that could not be given by my family. Here I observed daily life in a rural nursing home/ care facility populated by elderly who were cared for by enthusiastic young girls and men, and by mostly Phillipino and immigrant nurses. These are my thoughts on those surreal weeks.

Anastasia and Old Nick.

Anastasia was a truly lovely lady. She was here on a voluntary basis, had settled into her new home and was very content. She was shrewdly observant and made her way to the so called Library after tea each evening where she held court!  She was very proud of the fact that her parents were of a mixed marriage but that her father had insisted the children were all raised Roman Catholics.

She was one of many I met in here who was happy with her lot, content to be someplace where her needs were seen to, where she did not have to worry about looking after herself, about shopping for meals, about doctor appointments, about taking her medicines at the correct times. I do not recall her having had any visitors when I was there. Perhaps she had no immediate family nearby.

She usually announced her arrival in the ‘library’ with the immortal words: ‘Do you believe’? My standard reply was ‘In what? ‘, ‘In ‘Old Nick’ of course’ she would answer. ‘And who on earth is Old Nick?’ I would ask, knowing full well what she meant. ‘Old Nick is the Devil himself ‘ she said and  ‘If you don’t believe in him, he will come to get you’.

Anastasia felt especially safe in her bed at night as a priest had been the previous occupant.  He had been given the Last Rites and died in that bed that was now hers. ‘Can you imagine the prayers that were said in that bed’ she would say? Old  Nick would not dare go near her there!

Every night after my first meeting with Anastasia I wondered who had occupied this bed that was now mine, hopefully temporarily.  How many had slept here?  Had they died? Had they been anointed? And how many were priests?

I will be glad to get back to my own bed, that I have owned from new and that has not been an anointed death bed.

I need to get out of here!

Leave a comment

Filed under Ireland, Life in a Nursing Home, Older & Bolder, Older Generation, Seniors

Leaving the world behind #1 – the ancient mariner. 

In the summer of 2016 I spent 6 weeks in a care facility following surgery on a multiple leg fracture. Six long weeks. Six weeks when I wondered what ever would become of me, six long weeks when I had time to contemplate what might lie ahead should I need care that could not be given by my family. Here I observed daily life in a rural nursing home/ care facility populated by elderly who were cared for by enthusiastic young girls and men, and by mostly Phillipino and immigrant nurses. These are my thoughts on those surreal weeks.

The Ancient Mariner

Tall and distinguished, gold chain hanging from a waistcoat pocket, white shirt, with a perfectly knotted tie and wearing an exquisitely cut grey mohair suit, he arrives to the ‘library’. Probably in his 80s but looking younger, he is walking with a crutch, held backwards. He studies the library shelves, tilting his head slightly to one side to read titles on the vertical spines. Danielle Steele, Maeve Binchy, Patricia Cornwell do not stir any interest. Ian Rankin, Nelson DeMille, Andy McNab? No! The so-called Library consists of two lots of shelves in a chair lined room, with a table on one wall, covered in white linen.

He makes return trips on several consecutive days after his first arrival. The mohair suit and the beautifully knotted tie, to my surprise, are evident each day too. How long before these sartorial  items will be replaced by track suit bottoms and a tee shirt?

Sitting in the corner of a ‘library’ in a care facility, I observe the comings and goings of older people who must leave the world behind when they pass through the locked door. Some for weeks, some for longer, some forever. I wait for my broken leg to heal over possibly six weeks. In six weeks I hope to be on the outside again. Will he ever be back out there to choose his very own reading material, to peruse his own bookshelves for his reading of choice?

He turns and walks towards other shelves and I catch a glimpse of a hearing aid. Other residents are being escorted to the dining room for the last meal of the day, some walking with support, some in wheelchairs, some slowly making their own way on legs that are no longer strong. ‘What  do you like to read’ I ask, quite loudly. ‘SEX’ he responds, in as strong a voice as I have heard within these walls!  ‘ I don’t  think you will find much of that here’ I respond as he goes back to scrutinise the book shelves only feet away from a table shrouded in white linen, adorned with artificial flowers and a pair of  extinguished candles, that lies in wait for the weekly Wednesday morning mass.

SEX. Nothing could be further from life in a care home, in a nursing home, in a home for the elderly. Yet this man seeks it on the few miserable book shelves, populated by popular fiction, easy reading, chick lit, in all likelihood donated on a charitable basis by family of the patients.  What, after all would an older person want? What else could they be expected to read? Several times a day he returns to the bookshelves, almost in disbelief. Where are the books he is interested in? Where are the books suitable for a single former merchant navy seaman on these shelves beside the stark white linen altar, prepared for mass? Bent in disappointment, he swings his reversed crutch and klonks his way towards the dining room.

I need  to get out of here.

 

9 Comments

Filed under Ageing in Ireland, Ireland, Living in Ireland, Older Generation, Seniors