When I moved in with mum, it was agreed I could go away every now and then, while she would enter into respite care – but we had not yet found a place where she felt happy to go and stay. Last week, I went to visit a friend for a few days and mum went into a care home. It was recommended by someone we know and trust, so I was confident it would be a good, safe place. When we visited, it seemed comfortable and cosy – that’s what mum looks for, not luxury, or elegant furnishings. The other residents seemed friendly; greeting us not sitting drugged in front of the tele. I was really hopeful. The whole time I was away I kept all my fingers crossed and all my toes. Mum was indeed very comfortable there. She liked the place and the people – and the people liked her. When I phoned her, she sounded cheerful and happy, in no particular rush to go home. But on her last night there, just walking back to her room, she had a heavy fall. It was such a shame. All the benefit of her ‘holiday’ was lost. She’s shaken up; her face is a picture of black and yellow. She has bruises down her side and ribs, and on her feet. She obviously went down with an almighty thump. The miracle was, she didn’t break anything – although the side arm of her glasses had to be repaired. The home took her to A&E, sat with her there for hours. The doctor dressed the wound where she had scraped her face and the District Nurse has been to check on the dressing. They gave me a pamphlet about head injuries, warned against confusion and sleepiness – but that’s normal for mum! The nurse asked was there any nausea or diarrhoea? No. She’s tired, feels achy and under the weather, but the wound should heal in a few days and the effects pass away. The worst thing is, she’s lost her confidence. Apparently, the danger after a fall is, even if there’s no injury, the ‘faller’ will become afraid to move around and their health suffers. I hope, as she begins to feel better, mum will go back to doing things for herself. I hope she won’t associate this cosy, friendly care home with the fall, and will be happy to return there for another stay. I’m also relieved that the fall happened when she was with other people. It looks like she’s been beaten up. I wouldn’t want anyone to think it had been me!
Last week I went away for a couple of nights (I know, I’m lucky to be able to get away, many carers can’t) but when I came back, absolutely replete with good conversation and good food – I really didn’t want to be here.
I felt I’d expanded back into my old persona. I didn’t feel like fitting myself into that diminished outline of myself I have to inhabit as a carer – that’s to say, a person who has to put someone else’s needs first. I sulked, I disappeared into my room and started texting, I put on my headphones and plugged myself into some music. I didn’t want to drop everything and answer when I was called. I didn’t want to serve up a meal when I wasn’t hungry, or abandon my emails to answer the same question for the tenth time.
I’d had some hassles on the return trip: bad transport connections, having to lug my bag around in the cold. I got back here rather tired and frazzled. I wanted some acknowledgement that I’d had a rather demanding day and a long chilly journey. I didn’t want to be nice to someone who ignored how I was feeling; who just sat there and expected me to wait on them hand on foot. I didn’t want to help them, even though I knew they were old and achy and finding it hard to walk, pick up things or undo buttons. I didn’t care!! No, I didn’t!!
Of course, you can’t be cruel to the one you look after, so, I gritted my teeth and mended my ways. But for a couple of days, I was sulky and begrudging and surly, just going through the motions. Because there’s history, isn’t there, between parents and children, between mothers and daughters? Sometimes it takes a supreme effort for me to overcome that powerful urge to shift back into the old game-playing, power battle that defined our relationship for many years.
I’m not asking for sympathy, it was my choice to move in with mum but – I’m not a selfless saint. Sometimes I’m just a sulky teen, resenting the fact I’ve been ordered to do the washing up.