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.