So we had to find a nursing home. We were being kicked out of the hospital, the bed was needed for someone else. And I can understand that. I mean thats one of the main problems here, not enough hospital beds to go around. I know when we were waiting for a bed to become available for Dad in the rehab hospital I was practically going to bed every night praying for a flu virus to sweep through the place to free up a bed for him.
The thing that annoyed me the most was that any decision making was taken away from him. Taken away from all of us. It’s like he still had a fine brain and was perfectly capable of making decisions but he couldn’t. After fighting so hard for all those years to maintain his independence. One day he said to us – so after all these years it comes down to this then, this is how it ends. These people get to decide his future after having known him for three weeks. I felt like bringing in his diary and making them all read it. I wanted to say – this man was a boy who lived through the second world war. When he was a child he lived in a country that was occupied by the germans. When he was nine years old his parents had to put him on a boat to England by himself and while he lived there without them he survived the london bombings. When he was older he set sail by himself on a ship to Australia to begin a new life where he knew no one. I mean this man is tough, he is capable, you don’t know him.
But in the end people I’m sorry to say that what you have been, or been through, counts for nothing.
So they handed us a great stack of paper work for Mum to fill out – assets tests and I don’t know, whatever she’s spent a cent on or had for breakfast over the past seventy years. And there was a list of nursing homes within the area. And when I say area I don’t mean the area within which my parents live. There is one nursing home there and it doesn’t offer high care services and there is another one due to open next month but they are not planning to offer high care services in the near future either. So wherever Dad ended up it was going to mean at least an hours drive for my mother to see him. So I picked out nine homes that were within thirty minutes drive from my place and I spent a day driving around looking at them all. It was a long day. Most of them you can’t get into on weekends because the front door is locked and you need a code to get in but I just lurked about the gardens and car parks until someone came out them I pounced on them and asked them about the place. One place I did manage to sneak into when I saw this guy trying to wrangle his mother, her wheelchair and his kids out of the door and as long as you just stroll around saying hello to everyone and being friendly they all think they should know you anyway. I spoke to said wrangling guy and he said his mother seemed happy and she liked the food but that – it ain’t cheap. Well we sure found that out for ourselves later. When I told Mum that the place looked nice she rang them up and they told her that they would require a $300,000.00 bond! You know, in case he went crazy and smashed the place up or something I guess. Then the woman said – but you get it back when he leaves. Well WTF!, how many people get to leave these places once they get in.
Two places I didn’t even get out of the car because they were so shabby and one place actually made me shudder. I thought that I’d stepped into a Charles Dickens novel. There were these awful awful grey tiled damp looking buildings that sat in the shadow of this great enormous looming church. I imagine that they put all the oldies into shackles every night and whipped them soundly.
There was another place that I liked the look of but you had to be able to speak Greek to get in there. Shame really, it was all orange colourbond and funky timber.
The last place I went to seemed okay. I was lurking about the gardens when one of the nurses came out to put rubbish in the bin and asked was I ok so I explained the situation to her and she said – come on, I’ll show you around. So off I went on this unauthorised visit through the home and apart from the smell of cabbage that seems to permeate most of them it seemed really nice. She even offered to take me through the dementia ward but I said no thanks. However she did show me the size of the built in wardrobe each person has which did seem….. large. It was kind of weird because there was this old lady asleep in her room and here we were rummaging about in her wardrobe laughing about the size of it. But that was one of the things that made me like that place. I thought that my father would like this girls sense of humour. I thought that if everyone was like her, just down to earth and up for a laugh that we’d fit in fine.
So I wrote my report and submitted it to the family. On the Monday Mum rang the head office of the sleeping lady with excessively large wardrobe and was told that they didn’t have a spare bed in that facility but that they did have an available bed in another of their homes that was about an extra ten minutes drive. So I met Mum and my sister Min there and it was pretty nice. Only about four years old. They had a hairdressing salon and doctors surgery in there and a lovely little chapel with gorgeous stained glass windows. They had a nice dining area and meals were prepared on site then a big tv room that opened onto a sun deck that overlooked paddocks that had horses in them. It was still a nursing home but it didn’t seem too depressing.
So we said, thanks, yeah ok, see you later but when Mum got home her answering machine was running hot. They are all in cahoots these people – nursing homes, hospitals, social workers. What no one had told us is, that if you are a high care patient, you basically have to take the first bed that is offered to you. If you knock a bed back for whatever reason then you have to start paying the hospital $425.00 per day to stay there. And your private health insurance will not cover any of it.
So Mum played possum that day and pretended she couldn’t get in contact with all the children to make the decision because we had an appointment at another place the next day and we didn’t want to accept this first place without at least seeing another one.
So Mum and I met at this other place and externally it looked lovely. Nice gardens, gum trees, bird noises. Thats the first thing Mum said to me – I can hear birds. Because Mum and Dad are both great gardeners and nature lovers. But as soon as we walked inside it was ust awful. I felt really tense and defensive the whole time we were there. I had my arms crossed across my body from start to finish. And I’m sure they must have put some sort of happy gas throughout the airconditioning because Mum was acting like a freak the whole time we were there. We were on this tour with other people and I kept dragging her into corners and saying – we have to get out of here, this is not the place and she’d say – but the garden is so nice. I knew she still had half her wits about her though when we walked into one of the bedrooms because we just looked at each other and went WTF. tripled in eye rolls. So he would have had to not only share a room but then share a bathroom with people on the adjoining side. And forget about having a massive built in wardrobe here, all you get is one of those hospital lockers in the corner. And when Mum said – they don’t get much room for their clothes the woman said – oh well they don’t need much once they get here. (yeah, just a straighjacket keeps them happy). And I’m not even joking about this, two people share a room, not a large room, and they can both have their own TV. So they’re lying in their beds about, Oh I don’t know, about six feet away from each other and on the opposite wall they both have a tv. So I was just standing there wandering what the hell happens at 5.30pm when someone wants to watch the ten news and the other person wants to watch who wants to be a millionare.
And then we met the woman that my mother and I now refer to as The Cackling Loon. No, not an inmate but the Activities Officer. I don’t know what it is about these nursing homes but they all seem to think that as soon as you hit the age of 80 you develop some insanse desire to make things out of felt offcuts and left over paint samples. As soon as I heard the way The Cackling Loon spoke to the elderley I knew that my father would go insane if he had to spend a minute near her. But still my mother was under some evil spell. I dragged her into another corner and said – this is not right and she’d say, do you think?, what about the gardens? and I said are you fucking crazy!!! or something similar. I said, see those people propped in chairs watching tv? Are they even real??
Another problem we had with this place is that Dad couldn’t have his motorised chair in there. They said that some old guy had had one when they first opened but he did so much damage to the woodwork that they banned them. So basically the patients are at the mercy of the staff. The wheel you somewhere and then you sit there until they come back to move you somewhere else.
The funniest part was when we were walking in our little tour group down a hallway and we heard this old lady repeatedly calling for help so the woman leading our tour group went in there all friendly to ask what was the matter and this old lady said – I always call for help but no one ever comes, I sit here calling for help all day. Lol, Well thats what you want when you’re showing about prospective clients. In my mind I like to imagine that the tour leader shoved a sock in that old ladies mouth.
Anyway it was a weird place. When I spoke to Mum later that night on the phone she told me that the whole time we were there that she felt depressed but that as soon as she drove away from there and was headed for home that she felt better.
So when we got back out to the car Mum got her senses back and we talked about it and it was all depressing as shit but we decided that we could knock back that first place and start paying our $425.00 per day but that we might not ever find anything better. We thought that we were probably very lucky that the first bed that became available was in a place that looked prettty good and not for example in the house of Charles Dickens of dirty damp grey shingles and great looming churches. I said that it was probably a lot like when you went shopping for anything, you could spend all day looking but in the end you always went back and got the first thing you saw.
So Mum said that we would take it and we went back and talked it up to Dad. He’s funny though, he said – But I’m not staying there forever!! And – this doesn’t mean the marriage is over.
In the end our aim is to get him back closer to their home. We don’t want Mum travelling over an hour each way on the highway three or four times a week to visit him. And dad worries about her doing that as well. Our hope is that the nursing home near them will offer high care services in the near future and he can move back there and Mum will be able to walk to visit him. I mean he could get on his mtoorised chair and drive home for the day and just go back to the home to have dinner and to sleep.
So thats where we stand at the moment. He likes the staff where he is and thats a massive help. He’s allowed to have his motorised chair, he’s allowed to have his mini stereo, he’s allowed to have his scotch at night and he has his own room and his own bathroom. When it comes down to it it’s still a nursing home and when I walk around I will never believe that he belongs there but as far as they go I think that we have been very lucky. It’s been a very hard few months. The other day Dad was sitting out in the sun and I heard him tell Daz that he hadn’t sat in the sun since April 13th. And he just says things like that, without any self pity or bitterness. He just says it because he appreciates it in that moment.
You know I always used to get cranky when Mum would laugh and tell me I was just like Dad but now I really hope that I have a lot of his qualities. But I also hope I’m like my mother because she has really stepped up. I know she’s felt depressed many times but she just has this amazing attitude. I can’t is not an option for her. I speak to her a lot on the phone and sometimes she says – I’m depressed today and it always makes me laugh. Well, smile anyway. Not because I don’t believe her but just the way she says it. It’s like – I’m depressed, but not in a – whiny crybaby sorry for myself kind of way but in a – this has been one really long tiring mother fucker of a day and I’ve dealt with a lot of arseholes and now I want to sit down and have a glass of wine and a good sleep so I can take up the fight again tomorrow.
So as I said, that’s where we stand.
But we’ll keep fighting the fight and we’ll run the race until it’s through.
And until we’ve won it.