A roadside picnic

5 Jul

On June 27 2021 I uploaded this picture, looking across the Solway Firth towards the Mull of Galloway.

And I wrote the following: On the way back from the hospital today we stopped off for a roadside picnic.

So, by this point Mum had been transferred from the Royal Infirmary at Dumfries to the cottage hospital at Stranraer.

I guess this happened in the in-between days, as I make no reference to it on my Instagram posts from that time. But then it really was so appallingly managed, as if designed to cause maximum distress to Mum and to us through miscommunication, bad planning (actually it felt like no planning at all, just reacting) and just casual lack of care for any of us. There had been angry phone calls. There had been tears of frustration. And we had dropped everything and jumped into cars in different directions (so one of us could be with Mum in the ambulance taking her from Dumfries to Stranraer, and the other one could meet them in Stranraer… get her settled and then drive all the way back to Dumfries to pick up that car, before going back to Gatehouse). And with all that, Stranraer hospital were not expecting her when she arrived. The admission ‘process’ would have been so much more distressing for her had we not been there to talk to the staff, and to advocate for her. Never had we been more grateful that Mum had done the paperwork some years earlier to make us both her Welfare Attorneys.

We were uneasy about a move to Stranraer – which we knew was entirely illogical. It turns out that the drive to the wee hospital at Stranraer takes about the same time as the drive to the new hospital at Dumfries. But somehow, to us, it felt like it was in the wrong direction (it was not en route to mine or James’s homes, and could not be done easily if we returned home instead of camping out in Galloway).

But it happened. And when she was finally admitted we knew that it was a significantly better environment for Mum. Though still not ideal, she was at least no longer living in complete isolation in an unfamiliar place – it was unfamiliar certainly, but her whole life was becoming unfamiliar to her. She was in a 4 bed ward. The staff were friendly and constantly bustling about – and somehow the rooms were more connected, more open to the corridors, so there was a sense that she was more connected to the world.

The visiting restrictions were similar to those at Dumfries, in fact I think they were in theory more restrictive as we were only allowed one 45 minute visit by one person each day. So one of us would make toast in the morning, and pack up a basket with dry toast, her memoirs, and a single flower from the garden (which would come back with us, as flowers were still not allowed in hospital wards).

When we got there we’d butter the crispy dry toast, right to the edges all around, as she specified. And then spread it with marmite, cut it into wee bite sized pieces and smile as Mum tucked in. This was one way we could still care for her, show her how we loved her. She always loved her toast and marmite, and was thrilled that she was getting something special.

Mum had little curiosity in the outside world by now – she rarely asked about other people or about how our lives were (just as well really, because I’m not sure we had much to offer on that front!). She had always been someone endlessly curious and interested in other people.

We would read a few pages of her memoirs, giving her those familiar stories of her own life back to her. She would sometimes add extra details, though less often than even a few weeks before… she would still finish sentences word for word. She had some favourite stories, mostly ones involving ponies. Or perhaps they are my favourite stories. I have such a soft spot for Tiny, the cantankerous wee pony who didn’t like walking through puddles… but would lie down and then roll about in them – so whoever was on her back needed to jump off quickly to avoid getting soaked and muddy and squished by Tiny! Or there was Rosie, back in Scotland, who pulled the sledge through the snow, with 8 year old Mum and her big sister Jennifer on it. Such happy times, and Mum had carried these stories for over 80 years, so no wonder they were embedded in her very heart.

But back to the end of June 2021 – we had by this point come to accept that a care home would be the best place for Mum to move to on discharge from hospital, and we were actively looking at options. We felt that the thing that made the most difference to Mum’s wellbeing was seeing her family (and by that we meant either myself or James, primarily). So this led to us looking at care homes near where I live in the Clyde Valley, or James in Edinburgh. And of course we were doing our research. This was all so new, such a foreign territory for us.

If you take anything away from this, please think about how care homes can help you to live your best life for longer. Caring for elderly people at home is hard, and has indignities and loneliness. What happens if you are no longer able to go to the loo independently, but the care package only allows for someone coming to see you four times a day? And what if you are still sort of mobile but a bit wobbly, and you fall at home? How long will you lie there in pain till someone finds you? Honestly, care homes are designed to look after us at the time in our lives when we need more care.

Mum had always wanted to stay at home, but it was not going to be possible to keep her safe, or to allow her to live with much dignity if she returned home. This decision a few days before (when we hadn’t realised the extent of Mum’s ongoing needs) had seemed like a betrayal, like we were letting her down. Now it felt like the right thing.

And the following day Mum said to James, “I’m not going to go home am I?”.

Till then, she had been focused on getting home. Home was where she wanted to be, where we all had thought she needed to be. But not now.

And she didn’t know much, but she knew this. She gave us the permission to make plans with her blessing (though perhaps not expressed quite that explicitly).

Our focus now was on her Escape Plan, we were going to spring her out of hospital… but exactly how, we did not know.

But if I know one thing, it’s that first of all you need to know what you are trying to achieve… and then you will work out a way to achieve it. This is true in so many things in life. I love a plan.


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

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