Who cares about the elderly and alone?
I worry about the elderly. I especially worry about some of the elderly in my own little flock. I worry about the ones who have no family.
My own grandparents had children to care for them when they became frail. None of the children lived too far, or if they did they visited regularly and kept in touch. Grandchildren visited often – often against their will it has to be said, but that’s another story. We didn’t have a choice in the good old days.
But what of the elderly who have no children? In the past month I’ve had dealings with two such people. One was a lady who had no relatives except a distant nephew from whom she was estranged. She had dementia and was in a care home. I visited her but she had no idea who I was and it was difficult to find out any of her story because she was confused and gave all sorts of variations. Her family had all died in a plane crash, or all died at sea – one of the two, she told me. And then people at church would tell me her family lived in Falkirk all their lives! She had made arrangements for her funeral though, although nobody knew this until after she died. The only people at the Crematorium were carers from the Home and some members of Christ Church. There was little story to be told of her life and loves. Known to God alone.
The other person is a lady from Christ Church who is in hospital at the moment. She lives in a rather nice Abbeyfield Home near the church where she says nobody talks to her. At 93 she knows her memory is going and she gets forgetful, but she always has a smile and a mischievous look in her eyes. Last year she told me some hair-raising stories about her time during the war in Egypt. Her beloved husband is dead and she has no other family. Last week she had a fall and broke her pelvis so is in our brand, new lovely hospital. There she lies in a room on her own, not really knowing what is going on because her doctor is a ‘foreign gentleman’ and she couldn’t hear what he was saying. Since her admission she has gone down hill rapidly and visitors now tell me she is unresponsive and almost unconscious. Nurses tell them it is just because she is on heavy pain medication. Our little flock are great at looking out for her and have brought her flowers, sweeties, magazines, cards, fruit and toiletries. They all lie around her unopened. When I visited her on Sunday the nurse roused her and she muttered “Oh I’m so glad to see you!” before lapsing back into a deep sleep holding tight to my hand.
I sat with her for a while, praying and watching. Sometimes that is all we can do. I glanced at her charts lying on the window sill where it says Alert every day. Alert? Visitors for the past seven days have found her asleep and unable to be roused. When is she alert? First thing in the morning? A nurse brings in a drip of fluids but because I am saying the Lord’s Prayer she backs out again, never to be found again. I ask other nurses if I can speak to someone about her but her named nurse is busy elsewhere. I wait for 30 minutes before I have to leave.
So I am left worrying about my little poppet lying in bed with no family to enquire about her. Several times I’ve tried to find a nurse to speak to but have been unable. Phone calls all elicit the same response – “She’s doing fine, very well.” Her next-of-kin is listed as a woman nobody knows. I worry and I don’t know what to do. How awful to be alone with nobody to speak up for you, nobody to tell her story, nobody to tell the medical staff what she is like, nobody to tell them that she doesn’t like potatoes or chicken but she loves cakes and a wee glass of wine.
As clergy we used to be able to wander hither and thither in hospital, our dog collars gaining us entry to wards at any time of the day or night. That is not the case any more. Ward doors are locked and buzzers seldom answered. “Lunch time is protected time for the patients” I’m told. “But I could help to feed them while the food is still warm,” I mutter to frosty faces. Many times I’ve had to give up on visiting because I couldn’t gain access to the ward and couldn’t come at the visiting times.
Any clergy out there found a way around this? I guess I should be trying to find the Chaplain.