Over the weekend, I went to visit a friend. She’s in her late 90s and has lived on her own since her husband died about 15 years ago. In recent years, as she’s grown more frail and gradually lost her eyesight, she’s needed extra help, with carers calling in four times a day to help her get up, feed her and make sure she takes her medication. She’s said it herself, but I’ve heard others repeat it: it’s no fun getting old.
Clearly the alternative doesn’t offer a lot to look forward to either, but you can sympathise with the sentiment.
Largely due to Covid, my direct contact with her has been limited over the last couple of years. Also, as her hearing deteriorated, it became increasingly difficult to speak to her on the phone. Thankfully, towards the end of last year, I was able to see her a few times. It was telling that, from the moment I sat down next to her, she gripped and held my hand, not letting go until it was time for me to leave.
Shortly after Christmas, an incident occurred at my friend’s flat. I don’t know all the details, but I can read between the lines. She managed to flood it, and the flat below. The outcome was that she was moved to a care home.
I’m not 100% sure what the rules are under the Covid regime, but I know they have been very restrictive for nursing and care homes. The current position with my friend’s care home is that residents can only have three visitors, and they must be registered in advance. I don’t mean three at a time. I mean three in total. Which meant my friend’s daughter had to make difficult decisions. Ultimately, I was included as one of the three, for the simple reason that, because I lived closer, I was more likely to be able to pop in and see her than her other daughter and grandchildren, who all live too far away to visit regularly.
So, all should’ve been set for visits. But Covid struck. Twice. Among the staff, I believe, but the result was that no visits were allowed for the best part of a month.
I should say here, that I don’t blame the staff or the management at the home. Theirs is a difficult job made even harder by the restrictions as a consequence of Covid. The fact that support wasn’t properly provided for care homes at the outset of the pandemic has, perhaps predictably, led to over-reactions to any subsequent developments. Still, with homes even more short-staffed thanks to Covid, the time cannot be there for them to give the residents the attention they deserve. At the same time, a lack of visitors must mean the residents aren’t getting much in the way of human interaction. And we all need that.
When I went to visit my friend at the weekend, having taken a lateral flow test and filled in a questionnaire that proved very little, but ticked the boxes required by the Care Quality Commission, I was led to her room and waited for her to be wheeled in. She didn’t need wheeling anywhere when I last saw her. We’d also been able to share a joke and some memories, although not as readily as we might’ve done pre-Covid. Not now. At times she was barely responsive. To have a proper conversation, you need to ask questions, but that doesn’t work if you can’t get an answer. I think she knew who I was, but it took a while. In the end, we settled largely for holding hands.
Life is busy for me at the moment. My partner is recovering from surgery, and there are other health issues within the family; there are always other family commitments – especially now there are grandchildren – and we’re also planning building work. The only reason I’ve had time to write this has been because my son and his partner were ill and had to cancel me visiting them. But I booked to visit my friend next week anyway. I doubt my visit will turn things around for her, but every little helps.
And, one day, that could – probably will – be me. So here’s hoping someone will take time out to visit when that time comes.