Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Mother's Escape from Alcatraz

My mother came home yesterday. This was one day earlier than the hospital wanted her to come home.

She was wearing a rather strange outfit consisting entirely of a housecoat and trousers.

"Mum, what are you wearing?"

"Well, I had to get dressed by myself. I missed the bit where they get you dressed."

She can't easily get dressed by herself at the moment. She has one arm in a sling.

"Why did you miss the bit where they get you dressed?"

She looked faintly guilty. "I was probably being bolshie."

There were a lot of things she didn't like about that ward. Some of her criticisms were perfectly valid but hard to remedy: others were valid at least to her and impossible to remedy. But her criticisms were scattered in all directions, like seeds: she didn't seem able to judge which could be improved at that moment in time and which couldn't.

And each complaint was followed by a loud and stroppy cry of "It's disgusting!"

True, it was one of those old-fashioned looooooooong Nightingale wards, built in the nineteenth century, with high windows. They had done their best to improve it with new, clean paintwork but there was no disguising its Victorian heritage.

"Yes, I know it's less than ideal," said Sister wearily, "but it's the only ward we've got."

Here are a few of my mother's criticisms, which were repeated and embellished at regular intervals.

They make you turn your light out and go to sleep at ten o'clock. It's disgusting!

The food's terrible. I eat lots of fruit at home and there isn't any at all here. It's disgusting!

The ceiling's too high. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't know why the ward has to be this shape. It's disgusting!

You can't get out into the fresh air. I keep telling them I've got to be outside and they just keep saying I have to be on the ward. It's disgusting!

The windows are too high. You can't see out through them. And if you could see out, there's nothing to see. It's disgusting!

They never have BBC2 on the television! It's disgusting! And I can't hear it even when it's on!

It's like being in prison. It's disgusting!

Now I have to say that her complaints weren't generally levelled at the staff - in general she thought they were great. And, of course, some of her complaints, such as the ones about the hospital food, are often very valid. At home my mother eats masses of fruit and vegetables, much of it home-grown, and the food on offer was a big shock to her.

The problem was that her rage appeared to be somewhat indiscriminate and not always totally logical.

"I said I was never coming back to this hospital again! And I won't in future!"

"But, Mum, you've never been in this hospital before."

"Yes, I have! Visiting your father here!"

Yes, well that's not quite the same as actually being a patient, is it? But that's not how she sees it. She feels she's done her time in Leeds General Infirmary and they're not going to get any more of her time, no matter how much they beg.

Of course, the reason for all the Merry Hell was she's really quite old at eighty-five, she's had a stroke in the past and she felt totally lost outside her own environment, and this ought to engender sympathy for her. But the sad thing was that she showed it by yelling her head off and being really hard to deal with.

Yet if she was so very distressed at having to stay for five days, what on earth would happen if she had to be in hospital for a long time? I think of the Communist and how bravely he bore having his leg amputated and then living in a nursing home. How would my mother be under those circumstances?

It's very scary to think about her future, and those thoughts kept me awake for most of the night a couple of nights ago.

Meanwhile, she's left the ward. I think I can still hear the distant sound of party poppers coming from the direction of Leeds General Infirmary. The staff of Ward 36, I salute you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all very sad and difficult to resolve. Over the past 20-30 years, as people's diet and general health improved, no one gave much thought to how they would cope in extended old age.
I'm a firm believer that it's the brain chemistry that often lets elderly people down... and there's little those of us in the next generation down can do but to look on and keep reminding ourselves of this fact.
Good luck with your struggles, both mental and literal - you are not alone... others are treading the same path.

10:31 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

Goodness. Never let her in with a nailscissors or more than 100ml of fluids, who knows what she might manage!

It does sound like a grim place to be incarcerated. Glad she's out. With luck, she won't need to go back in.

11:15 pm  
Blogger Grumpy Old Ken said...

My mother in law is also 85. We have promised never to let her go to one particular hospital. Outside our old hospital in derby is a statue of Florence Nightingale. Wheres it all going I wonder.

11:33 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" springs to mind - well perhaps a modern day version of it in which your mum plays a Jack Nicholson-like role in securing freedom for herself and her fellow inmates.

1:31 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

In spite of the tenor of this post, I keep remembering that my mother died at 47, my dad at 60, and how very blessed you have been.

As some people in the States say, "I'm just sayin'."

12:53 pm  
Anonymous ruth said...

I'm not surprised thoughts of what might happen in the future keep you awake at night.

However, I don't think there is much you can do to prepare for the unknown (and possibly not even the known) eventualities IF your mum goes back into hospital in the future.

Perhaps the most important thing is to focus on the now and try not to worry about the what ifs.

Mind you, I am struggling to do that for myself and it's funny how those dark hours can bring out the worst thoughts in all of us. Good luck.

12:59 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Lucy - thank you and you're absolutely right.
Ailbhe - I wouldn't have found it too grim as the staff were nice and I'm used to hospitals - but she just isn't and found the Victorian look particularly gloomy.
Ken - I think it's the staff that makes a place good or bad - - the buildings are secondary - -BUT modern buildings are a definite help and I think this should be understood and have money put into it.
YP - - yes, another day and she'd have had them all waving banners. Her grandmother was a Suffragette and it shows!
Bob - - OH yes, don't think I don't know I'm very lucky to still have her, and I do admire her spirit. I just wish she was happier in hospital, that's all.
Ruth - you're right - - in the daytime we can cope. It's the wee small hours that can be very very tricky.

1:29 pm  
Blogger WendyCarole said...

My mum is 82 and I can just imagine her making similar comments.

Hope your mum gets into a nice routine now she is out.

4:39 pm  

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