Persuading a parent to give up their independence

September, 2012 TSG_PTIMG_care

We’re all living longer, with associated problems. Jo Toye’s father insisted on his independence and lived alone, refusing help, till circumstances intervened.

On 30th January I went to see The Savages, the blackly comic film about putting your ‘elder’ into care. I smiled, cried a bit, nodded in sympathy with the squabbling, guilty, compromised children. I came home.

In the early hours, my father, 86, almost totally blind, with angina, an enlarged prostate and circulatory problems which gave him little feeling in his legs, not to mention a suppurating ulcer on his left ankle, and who’d insisted on going back home after a short stay in hospital and a nursing home over Christmas, missed his footing on a nine-inch step separating the two ground floor levels of his house. He fell backwards, on to the rush mat that I’d begged him to let me take up because I thought he’d trip over it, but which was now the only thing between him and a quarry-tiled floor. He bumped his head slightly on a radiator, he lightly skinned his elbows, but, as he established by feeling himself all over (he’d had enough falls to know the routine) amazingly, hadn’t broken any bones. (The dinner-plate-sized bruises on his bottom came out later).

For 10 years I’d tried everything short of promising him Elaine Paige on a plate to get him to move, first to a flat, then, as his sight and mobility problems got worse, to sheltered accommodation. More recently I’d hoped for a miracle – that he’d elect to stay in the lovely nursing home where he’d spent Christmas. No way. The one thing which reassured me slightly about his staying at home was the ‘panic button’ he wore round his neck and which had alerted me and/or his huge-hearted neighbour, Tony, many times in the past. This time, for whatever reason, it didn’t work – too far from the receiver, perhaps. Survival instinct kicking in, however, Dad shuffled on his bottom into the kitchen, where at least there was a heater and there, for 10 hours, he lay on the floor till Tony made his daily check call at noon.

Luckily the summoned paramedic was willing to take responsibility. Unless Dad wanted to (which he definitely didn’t), he said there was no point going to hospital since they’d only run the same tests – ECG, blood pressure, limb-waggling – that he had, but, as a bonus, would almost certainly keep Dad in for ‘observation’. (‘Just time to pick up an MRSA,’ muttered Dad).

Someone stayed with Dad overnight but next day, with the bruising coming out and the shock kicking in, he was, if anything, worse. Getting him downstairs was terrifying. On the rogue step he swayed and stumbled again, crying out in pain and panic. Easing him on to a chair in the kitchen, even he admitted he’d ‘come to the end of the road’ in the house.

‘I’ll just see out the summer, and then…’

The summer? I wasn’t convinced we could get through the weekend.

I made him some breakfast and he ate it, then said a surprising thing. ‘As it’s Friday…’ (Dad’s crises only ever happen before a weekend or on a Bank Holiday) ‘maybe it might be an idea to get my own doc to come and check me over.’

This was the equivalent of six-foot letters in the sky. He’d never voluntarily suggested seeing his doctor so I knew how wobbly he must be feeling physically and emotionally.

More luck – Dad’s own doctor was doing house calls. He arrived and did the same tests as the day before. All was, given the recent trauma, near normal. In fact, with some gentle hints about needing a bit more looking after, the GP was about to go when, sensing a chance slipping away, I asked if he’d help me get Dad up the famous step and through to the sitting room. (I hadn’t a clue what I was going to do when Dad needed the loo, which was on the lower level, but decided I’d worry about that later). Thank God I did. It was pointless assessing Dad immobile – it was when he was on his feet that he was terrifying. He’s 6’4” and was, at the time, 14 stone. Even on a good day he tended to lurch around, literally blindly, like a sea-creature that’s been harpooned – today he needed one of us in front and the other behind and even then the short journey was torture for us all.

The exercise brought a rapid change in attitude. When we’d finally got a breathless and exhausted Dad seated, the GP snapped open his briefcase and brought out a laminated card. It was the PCT’s checklist of points under which Intermediate Care would step in and place someone in a nursing home as an ‘admission prevention’. Did Dad qualify? Did he buffalo – every time he was on his feet he was an accident waiting to happen.

As the afternoon ticked away, two of the Intermediate Care team, who less than a month earlier had seen Dad home with a ‘care package’ (which was basically someone coming in each morning to check he’d taken all his tablets) arrived. A nursing home bed was arranged and it seemed they were about to speed off when I asked how on earth I was supposed to get him there – he could hardly stand, let alone get in and out of a car.

A wheelchair and taxi with ramps was the answer and at 4 o’clock Dad was pulled backwards, painfully, like an extracted tooth, out of the house he’d lived in and loved for almost 40 years, 20 of them, since my mother’s death, on his own, the décor preserved as she’d created it, the same dusty silk roses in the coal scuttle, the threadbare patches on the carpet covered with rugs.

‘Bye, Dad. I’ll pack and see you there.’

The bag was already half-done; he’d had so many falls that I kept one ready, like an expectant mother. All I had to add were his tablets, tooth things, mints, biscuits, talking clock, and his lifeline – the radio.

It can’t have taken more than 20 minutes to tidy up, close some curtains and leave. But by the time I did a brilliant blue sky had clouded, filled and was throwing down a blizzard of Biblical proportions. It seemed some kind of apocalyptic judgment on what had just happened – what I’d just done? – but at the same time it felt benign, inevitable.

My mother was in there somewhere I’m sure, but not in a bad way. As I closed the front door I also felt as if the house was finally at peace. It was no longer being asked to be something it couldn’t be – a safe place for someone who couldn’t move about easily, or see. I thought it was the end of my worries about Dad – of course it was just the start of a whole new set.

Sourced from Saga

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