I had a feeling before we set off that it might be a bit tricky. My horoscope said to expect arguments, my mother had been well and lucid for weeks, so was due for something, but most of all I just had a feeling in my water.
And was not disappointed. She seemed fairly cheerful as we arrived but I had only brought one meal for us all, two extra things for her and the cake because she’d been quite adamant on the phone that I wasn’t to do shopping. Perhaps that’s what set the alarm bells ringing. My mother has always been a controller, food is what she uses for control. Throughout her illness the state of the fridge has always been a problem: she is either horrified at how much food there is or alarmed at how little food there is. The actual quantity of food is fairly consistent as carers move food out of cupboards and freezers into the fridge and I top it up either remotely by Internet shopping and delivery or, when I am visiting, by going to the shops. However my mother’s alarmed perception of the state of provisions is a pretty good indicator of her health, so I should have known, despite her assertions that she was fine, that something was up. In my defence it is very difficult to pick out from the mass of words of someone who talks ceaselessly, the information from the white noise. Demented people have difficulty expressing themselves, even the very verbal ones; they might be complaining about something that happened during the war or yesterday, to them it’s all the same. You need all your wits about you to pick up on anything relevant to the current situation.
All was well until the changeover of carer after lunch. As I was talking to my mother in the dining room after lunch, which she likes to do while having a moan or laying down the law or running through the list of who gets what when she dies, or where the paintings have to go – I was unaware that the changeover of carer had happened, until my mother stopped talking to go to the toilet and discovered in the hall that it was a male carer. She has had him often before, he is good at his job, very caring and, on a good day, she likes him. But on Wednesday she saw that he was a man and went crackers and nuts in an instant.
By this time I was out in the garden, planting up the last of the pots with the plants I had brought with me. The OT came out at speed, to say my mother was in the sitting room going bananas at the carer. I said I was going to finish planting the pot and asked the OT to lift it back up for me because it was concrete and I’d got it off the post to empty the old compost out. Well he lifted it up and said he didn’t want to go back in alone, so I suggested he help me and he set to weeding. Next thing we were aware of was my mother running into the garden shouting that she had thrown the carer out of the door and she wasn’t going to have a man looking after her. Running into the garden, no stick and shouting at the top of her voice – this poor frail little old lady who has to have the TV remote handed to her because she is too weak to reach it for herself and is frightened to go out in case she falls over.
Well I talked her back into the house and found the carer had indeed left. The next five hours were very like the bit in TV Star Trek where Captain Kirk by talking and logic persuades the rogue computer not to destroy the planet, while keeping an eye on the inhabitants surreptitiously evacuating the surface by the back door. This is with me being Captain Kirk (and by chance that week I had been at the quite-red-three-washes hair dye and I was wearing a tight tee-shirt and a ton of mascara,) add high heels to the good captain and you have the picture exactly. Except it was more like a Star Trek movie in that it went on way way too long with my mother writing the highly repetitious plot.
The carer upon his departure went and sat in his car and summoned reinforcements. Soon an alternative but fairly new carer arrived. I let her in and left my mother, back in her chair in the lounge, screaming that she would not have a male carer because he was a man good God what were they thinking etc. and got the carer in the kitchen to remind her of the two locking doors upstairs for her safety and to reinforce the idea that I did expect her to save herself first always. The plan at this point was to settle the carer in and go shopping for my mother.
But if you’ve got someone shouting: I will not let you do shopping! You are not to go shopping! I will not have the care agency paid any more! Dismiss them immediately! Send back my cheque book! Do it now! NOW! NOW! etc. it’s a bit tricky to go shopping, besides which I wouldn’t leave the carer, who was obviously frightened, alone with my mother. I protested that I had to get cat food, whereupon my mother, hurled herself out of her chair and, stickless, swept into the utility room, flung open the cupboard door and screamed that good God three tins of cat food were enough, she wasn’t spending any more of her money on cat food, he could do without, and then just screamed at me like a tyrannosaurus Rex in close-up until I could see her uvula vibrating and then shut her mouth suddenly and scuttled back into the lounge.
At what point the carer sent for the second in command and the muscle lady I am not sure, but next time I escaped towards the kitchen they were at the door so I could let them in, which was just as well as my mother had handbagged the keys off the hall table and put the chain on the door.
So the manageress and the muscle lady joined as advising Spock and telephonist Uhura in the lounge until the point where my mother started hitting me with her stick and slapping me. Fortunately for me the stick is one of those collapsible ones in sections with elastic through the middle. If it had been solid she would probably have broken my other arm and the day would have ended with both of us in different sorts of hospital. In the end we had a tug of war with my mother shouting that she would strike me and was determined to do so and three of us having hold of different parts of the stretchy stick. The muscle lady won and the manageress, the muscle lady, the OT and I withdrew to the drive and left my mother ranting on her own and shouting that everyone must leave her house and she would lock all the doors and no one was permitted to enter her house. At this point the lady carer left and the manageress phoned the doctor for permission to give my mother a sedative covertly. I spoke to the doctor and expressed my views that it wasn’t so much the physical aggression that I was worried about as the fact that my mother seemed in such a state of agitation I was worried that if we couldn’t calm her she could precipitate a heart attack in herself. The doctor agreed and the manageress commenced grinding down a pill to add to her tea. So we made a cup of tea and took it in to the lounge but my mother refused to drink it and demanded instead a bottle of water which she clutched and with which she kept topping up her glass. We all, meanwhile, continued with a charade of: tea lovely tea I am enjoying my cup of tea, while my mother ranted about money, male carers, why was the world being cruel to little old ladies and Good Godding. It was now half past four and she hadn’t stopped swearing and raving for two and a half hours straight, during which time she hadn’t had a breath of her supposedly vital oxygen and had actually run from room to room like a marathon runner warming up.
The manageress and the muscle lady withdrew to the drive to have a quick chain smoke in the car and I continued Captain Kirking by now suggesting that if my mother wouldn’t have tea she might at least have some Lucozade to keep her strength up. I freely admit that this was a downright lie; the last thing I wanted her to do was keep up her strength, it true what they say about the strength of the insane, it is as the strength of three big men, with six packs, who work out, with personal trainers. What I wanted her to do is drink the spiked tea. Would she? Would she heck!
In the end the manageress on the drive summoned a doctor to attend when my mother’s doctor rang her to ask how we were getting on. At five the doctor arrived. I thought for a moment when the OT showed the doctor into the lounge and it was a little, gentle, never previously seen lady doctor that my mother was going to throw her out too, at which point the manageress said later, she would have been obliged to section my mother for the safety of all, especially me. However, as I’m sure you remember from long ago, my mother craves the attention of doctors so much she had Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, because she was jealous of the attention her invalid sister got. All through my childhood I had unnecessary medical procedures because I was the proxy, but just for once this craving worked in my favour. My mother let the doctor in and let herself be examined, she even shut up long enough for the doctor to listen to her chest, and she weed in a potty (which took me a good ten fraught minutes to find in the place she had hidden it in the corner of the wardrobe) for a sample. And for lo! The doctor pronounced my mother to have a raging water infection of at least ten days’ duration.
Well the antibiotics were fetched and I got the first dose into my mother, the carer returned, the manageress left and by seven o’clock I had talked my mother down sufficiently that she was demanding the Lucozade I’d suggested three hours earlier, though she still wouldn’t eat.
I wasn’t going to leave the new carer alone so we waited until the most experienced night carer, who is little short of an angel in human form, yes Margaret if you’re reading, this is you, arrived, ON HER DAY OFF. And I wouldn’t go until I’d got my mother to promise she’d have some toast if the carer made it and take the next pill. I was fairly sure she would go to sleep because in the course of the six hours since it all kicked off she’d run upstairs twice to throw the new clothes that I’d brought off the bed, round most of the downstairs rooms and twice out into the garden. which is more moving than she’s done for the last six months, in a day.
Thank goodness for the care agency. The money from the next lot of the mortgage is due to run out in December at which point, unless the housing market has appreciated sufficiently to generate more value to borrow against, I’ll either have to move back in with my mother or do something else. If I terminate the agreement before my mother dies I will be subject to punitive rates of interest which would leave me no money for a care home for her. As the law stands she would have to possess less than two months care money, at the present rate, before the government would step in and provide a care home, which possessions include all her assets, the house, the contents, the lot, which would most certainly not be even in the same ball park, let alone the same league as the level of care which my mother currently enjoys. Do you think a government old folks home would get someone in on their day off to soothe a fractious patient, or do you think they’d just chuck her in the little quilted room and let her get on with it?
Yesterday on the phone my mother was still very agitated. She was in a stew about the way china had been put in the china cupboard and how dangerous it was, so I listened to a half hour rant about that. I did keep listening because I have promised myself if I ever hang up on my demented mother that’s my failure, not hers.
Today on the phone she was more normal. She said she couldn’t believe all the fuss there had been on Wednesday about the male carer. She doesn’t seem to realise it was her making the fuss. I asked if she had groceries and she said one of the carers had been shopping, thank goodness I topped up the petty cash. Thank goodness I instituted the petty cash so people can help without having to fill in numerous forms at the office. Thank goodness for the care agency. How will I manage without them? Will I have to? Would I survive living with my insane mother on my own if I had to?
All I can do is live each day and, like Captain Kirk, wait for the next adventure.
JaneLaverick.com three years without a day off.