Marmite on toast

17 Mar

On 20 June 2021 I posted:

I’m back after a few days hiatus.

Mum broke her wrist on Tuesday and is still in hospital. The last few days have been filled with journeys to and from hospital, with upsetting visits where it’s clear the pressures on staff mean only the basic care is possible, with packing baskets of delights to improve mum’s stay – you would be amazed how powerfully marmite on toast says ‘I love you’ – with hatching escape plans for mum, with trying to work out what is the next step. Mum wants to be at home. It’s what we all want.

Mum loved marmite on toast. And she was VERY specific about how she liked it.

The toast had to be well cooked (verging on burnt if you ask me, and she would be quite happy if it was properly burnt). Once the toast was cooked, it should be left in the toaster (or in a toast rack if you have one) to cool, so it doesn’t go flabby. Wait till it’s really cold, and you’ll find that it goes nice and crispy. At this stage you can wrap it in a beeswax wrap and pop it in your basket, with a small pot of butter (real butter, not a spread), a jar of marmite and a knife.

Once at the hospital, I’d butter the toast (ensuring the butter was spread evenly and to the very edges, not a single gap of unbuttery toast) and then spread a smearing of marmite across it all. Then cut into either fingers, or tiny bites… to be honest if the toast is crispy enough, as you try to cut it into fingers it will shatter into shards.,

This was Mum’s absolute treat. And early on in her stay we discovered that she was the only person in the hospital eating toast, as no toasters were allowed in the building (a fire hazard evidently). Mum delighted in telling us every day how the consultant had eyed up her toast and that next time she came round Mum would offer to share it with her.

It was becoming clear that Mum could not live at home independently while she had a cast on her arm, but it was far from clear what the ideal solution could be. Staying in this hospital was not it. Individual nurses were kind enough, but it was clear they were over worked, and after over a year of Covid, they were nearly broken. It felt like the system itself was already broken, but more on that another time.

Mum was in a large room on her own, she was unable to move about without help. She was allowed no other visitors apart from my brother and I, and when we were not there, she just sat in her room on her own, listening to the screams of the woman along the corridor, “Help me! Help me! ….. Heeeeelp! Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” We had taken in some magazines, and I noticed that she only ever looked over the same couple of pages – her eyesight was failing and I suspect that an impact of her dementia was that she couldn’t really retain what she was reading. At home she would have listened to a radio, but we weren’t allowed to bring one in. She was not able to work out how to access the screen on the wall, and the television was of little interest to her anyway.

For the moment, my life took on a new rhythm – one day I would set off to the hospital by mid morning, and would have a coffee with Mum while she had her toast. I’d stay with her while she had lunch, and help her to eat it. Then I would make excuses and leave for a while, usually spending an hour sitting outside at the hospital with a coffee and my embroidery. After my break, I’d head back up to see Mum again for a couple of hours before heading back to Gatehouse, where my brother was. The next day, my brother would do the hospital run, and I would try to do a day’s work, despite my head being all over the place. We cooked good meals for one another, we tried to keep our loved ones up to date on how Mum was, and tried to think about what the future might hold, tried to work out which bits were within our control, or that we could influence. Honestly, we had no idea.

We had a phone call on the second or third evening that Mum was there. It was a nurse from the ward who said that Mum needed to speak to us. Mum was terribly distressed, just wanted to come home, said she needed us to come and pick her up straight away so she could get home. It was heartbreaking. She sort of knew she couldn’t come home, but as much as she knew it, she also did not understand it.

With hindsight, bad as it seemed at the time, I think it was worse than we realised. This was an elderly, vulnerable woman, with dementia, who was not able to articulate her own needs. My brother and I were legally her welfare attorneys, but had to fight to be included in any decisions that were being made. Her arm had needed to be treated, and now there was nothing more that an orthopaedic ward could do for her. And they were unable to cope with her dementia. What she needed was what used to be called a convalescence home… she needed care, and help, but actually what we felt she needed most was the company of friends (or kind strangers would do) and to be reminded that she was loved and that we would do what we could to keep her safe.

We were still fixated on getting Mum home. It was all she wanted too.


If you want to catch up on how we got here, this series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation.

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