Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Back in the hospital

Yesterday was the day Jean was supposed to go home.

Like many older people, my mother-in-law is deeply attached to her home and this attachment has, I think, somehow been keeping her going in her increasing illness of the last years.

So this has been the focus of her latest stay in hospital.

She lives in really rather lovely sheltered housing just beside Holyrood Palace, and has been there for at least fifteen years.

It was so ideal for her when she was fitter and more active. But now it has simply become too much for her to manage, and this is crystal clear to everyone but herself.

I walk down the long corridor from her bedroom to the bathroom to the living room and shudder at the memories of her struggling down it, at first with the stick she refused to relinquish, and then with her zimmer: in desperate pain from her arthritic hips and back, heart pounding and gasping for breath.

Somehow she has forgotten the strain and anguish of those times, and simply wants to return.

Getting ready for this has brought back much of the suffering her stay in hospital has helped her leave behind. Her legs are red and swollen, she has pain in her back, she is aware of increasing weakness in her legs, and becomes breathless just walking to the window and back.

On Monday she fell in the toilet, and had to be rescued; and then yesterday morning results of blood tests showed her kidneys are suffering from the strain of it all.

So she didn’t go home.

I went to visit her in hospital in the afternoon, learning my lines on the way, and was so happy to find her somehow quite calm about it all. Philosophical. Maybe even a bit relieved.

I’d asked to see the doctor, who turned up soon afterwards.

Like all the staff I’ve encountered on this ward, she was intelligent, caring, idealistic: very respectful of Jean’s situation, and of mine too. She told Jean that it will be a while before they’re able to reassemble the care package that made her home visit possible and that maybe she’d like her to contact the social worker so that they could arrange a few visits to care homes so she could have a sense of what might be involved.

Just in case it turned out she couldn’t stay at home after all.

And so it was arranged, this simple step I’ve been trying for over a year to accomplish, with immense friendliness and professionalism and tact.

Chatting about it afterwards, I said “You’ll like visiting these places. And you’ll know which ones you like and which ones you don’t” and her gleamed with pleasurable anticipation.

And she chatted with Mary from the bed diagonally opposite, and I went down to buy her more Ribena and the People’s Friend.

Headlines in a newspaper were screaming some new NHS horror story, and while I understand why, I felt so grateful that Jean’s ward, 202 in the new Royal Infirmary, was somewhere it felt so safe for her to be and where she is treated with such dignity and respect.

And then went back up in the lift, repeating the lines from JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN as I went.

Back in the ward, a nurse was patiently redirecting a confused old man who was wandering. I used to do that, the time I was in despair at my inability to write, and was nursing.

And I thought of that old man’s untold story, and Jean’s untold story, and the often exasperating but so real heroism of these lives.

Some day I must find a way to tell these stories: but for now they must wait.

QUEEN JESUS is travelling down to Brighton.
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