Chapter Sixteen: Changing Rooms.
I’ve been moved to a shared room. Maybe to keep the geriatrics entertained but it’s a tough crowd when the three ladies are either asleep or semi comatose.
Next to me is Betty, who I met at lunch. She’s unconscious, but her shirt has changed since then. Victim to the fruit crumble and custard she’d had for dessert.
Opposite me is Sheila, born in 1932, reading a magazine but keeping a close eye on the activity or lack of it on the bay.
To her right is Marjorie, who is 91, and won’t have anyone else tell her otherwise.
But she’s afraid, in fear for her life because there are men on this ward. She wants reassurance from me not that I can give it.
Nò men can come on this ward. You’re perfectly safe. Nò harm will come to you.
All I can think of was Carol’s husband and Stick Man.
I’m deaf she tells me. I can barely hear her so I shuffle closer.
I’m deaf, she repeats. Don’t worry I can’t hear.
There are some men on this ward but they’re in a separate area, I enthuse, just as a male porter comes in to change the bins.
People aren’t nice to me she continues. They say I talk in my sleep all night. But I can’t do that.
Oh yes you can , I thought. Nò more peaceful night’s sleep for me.
And there’d be no late night tv to lull me to sleep anyway. I was at the wrong end of the ward and Betty had drawn the curtains across and muted the sound.
Then Carol’s husband called out.
Chapter 17: Salt and Pepper.
Today I meet the Grandee of rehab. Marjorie who’s 99 with her hundredth coming up on Feb 6 next year.
Never met anyone twice the age of me before.
Shes got an untidy mop of white hair and felt slippers on her feet. Her beige cardigan jacket is neatly buttoned.
Marjorie’s only here because she cracked a few ribs but she still speeds her way into the dining room like a woman possessed.
I’m not sure I’d want to be a passenger in her car judging by the way she steers her walking frame.
People tell me at my age I should try to slow down but why should I? She questions.
I like to be independent.
You and me both, I think.
We’re sitting in the dining room with Sheila and Betty for lunch. There are wet wipes to clean your hands but I’ve long since given up trying to open the foil sachets they come wrapped in.
Marjorie grabs it and with one easy swipe it’s open.
She beams looking for approval. I’m seriously impressed. Her omelette and beans is the first to arrive.
While one of the nurses is squeezing open the ketchup Marjorie has grabbed the salt and pepper sachets. They too are ripped open and spread liberally over her food.
I’ve been age shamed. A woman twice my age acting like she was half mine and more.
As Betty fights with her mash Marjorie leans over to help her. It’s touching to see a woman of almost 100 mother another of 80.
How many grandchildren do you have, I ask her.
Oh, I can’t quite remember that, there are too many, but I’ve got 4 great grandchildren, a couple of great great grandchildren, and one great great great child who’s just one month old.
Five generations in less than 100 years.
I pour glasses of water and we all pretend they contain whisky or gin. Cheers , she says raising a glass in toast.
What are you doing for your 100th birthday Marjorie, I ask.
Having a party of course. Will you come?
Chapter 18: I must go down to the sea again. The lonely sea and the sky.
Two more ladies to talk to.
Emily has just had the toes of her left foot amputated after they went black. I tell her about the mother of a friend who also lost her toes but got walking again after some physio.
She wants to go home but social services need to find her carers, which they can’t right now. So she’s stuck here with me and Marjorie 99.
Opposite is Audrey who fell trying to catch a spider in the bath room that her husband’s carer was too afraid to catch.
The beast was on the ceiling and as she reached up to stick it in a pot she lost her balance and fell breaking her hip.
Her husband has dementia, so he can’t look after her. So she too is stuck here waiting for help.
Marjorie spots the dolphin pendant hanging round my neck. What’s that, she asks.
Any opportunity to talk about the sea.
Weren’t you scared? No.
I couldn’t do that.
Where have you been?
Oh the Philippines, Maldives, Tahiti. All over.
I worked on a dive boat in Tahiti. As a guide.
Have you travelled a lot ? asks Emily, who’s never left the UK.
And I want to again.
Well you must. You must get better, so when we leave we can imagine where you’ll be.
Where should I go then?
Oh anywhere. How about South America?
Better start planning
Chapter 19: Exit plans.
Today marks exactly four weeks since I’ve been in rehab and I’m starting to feel I’m making progress.
I can get out of bed so my feet are on the floor ok.
I can use the slidy board to slide over to my chair.
And I’m mastering the machine bizarrely called the Sara Steady which I just think is the silly stand because it seems so silly that it’s so bloody hard to use (And I’m pissed that Marjorie 91 uses it without issue.)
And now here’s when I get mad.
Today I’m told the rehab centre wants to get rid of me by next Thursday.
But I’m not ready I say. I need to be able to transfer safely from bed to chair and vice versa.
I need carers if you need me to leave.
But we need to give you a discharge date before we can start the search for carers. And you can only have them four times a day.
Is that it?
I’m thinking of the times I might need help. It all seems overwhelming.
I’d rather stay until I was happy.
Going home before then and risk falling at home, breaking a bone and ending back in hospital and the whole vicious cycle starting again.
As for improving after I get home? Here I’m getting physio every day and seeing small steps every day.
At home I’ll get physio ‘in the community’ once a week IF I’m lucky.
So that will be 2x a week IF I rehire the private physio I had been using before this.
I can only hope that I’ll retain whatever fitness and strength I have when I do eventually leave.
And the government wants to get disabled people back in the overall community and stop being so reliant on social services?
We can’t if the system is so crippled itself the patients it discharges are unfit for purpose.
Chapter Twenty. Death becomes us.
Marjorie 99 left us yesterday.
She slipped away while I was meeting the social worker.
Never even had the chance to say goodbye.
Her departure kept me awake last night.
Born right before the end of WW1, a munitions worker in London in WW2.
I woke today at about four as usual, just as the light started to filter through the skylight above me.
It was hard to see what kind of day it might be without direct reference to a window.
Betty, next to me, had been coughing like she’d smoked 100 a day her entire life and was dying from emphysema.
You could hear her struggling to cough up whatever phlegm it was stuck in her throat and wonder if she was choking.
Sheila and I would check.
She’d so far responded that she wasn’t. One day of course she would be or it would be too late to help.
I glanced across to Marjorie 91.
She lay stock-still on her back. Her mouth wide open with lips drawn back, almost as if she was in rigor.
No sign of any dentures. No sign of any breathing either. Was death was amongst us?
She’d not been well the last few days.
Often, I’d catch her staring vacantly into space. Hearing too bad to listen to music. Eye sight too poor to read or watch tv.
Is this what death was like? The closing down of each sense one at a time until there’s nothing left? Brain might be there. Body is not.
Suddenly she flinched.
I breathed in relief. Not dead after all.
I determined to find out Marjorie 99’s details so I could make her 100th party.