Tag Archives: Taking Smock Of The Situation

Roses after the rain

23 Jul

On 11 July 2021 I posted:

There are so very many shades of pink aren’t there?

The smock comes along slowly… and in the garden the roses smell divine. I’ve actually come away for a couple of days (reflecting that last time I did this, the time was cut short as Mum fell and broke her wrist) and it feels so very good to be home with The Captain for 48 hours. Yesterday we picked up masses of bedding plants from our neighbouring garden centre and filled every planter and trough and tub… the car was like that scene from Frankie and Johnny with the flowers in the van, you know the one? And now the terrace is a mass of colour again.

Your bonus pics today are roses after the rain. They still smell as sweet you know.

I had been away for a couple of days, but I think I was already back in Galloway when I posted this.

Being home had made me realise quite how much I had put my life on hold. How much The Captain (my partner) had too. And I realised that he missed me, though being a West Coast Scot he rarely admitted to it, not before a drink anyway.

I missed the easygoing relaxed life that we had created in the Valley. I mean we never did nothing, we were always doing something, had a project or two on the go, and despaired at how much more there was to do… but it had been so lovely doing stuff together for a couple of days, making our home feel more home like. And as I type this a year on, I am fully aware that this year we have not bothered to fill our window boxes and troughs with flowers.. perhaps because the pattern now is that we are away pretty much every other weekend, or more often, down in Galloway.

On this same evening I was knitting whilst messaging my friend Juliet on WhatsApp. I had made a mistake and spent about an hour un-knitting back to the place where I had made the mistake. And then I said to her: “I have finally unknitted to the mistake. And it may not be the mistake I thought it was.” (I can tell you now that it wasn’t, it was all absolutely fine, no mistake at all). She replied, “Ha! That’s not like you at all!” (which we say to one another when we admit to overthinking something).

And it’s only now, with hindsight, that I see what she did. And what I did. Juliet is amazing – I wish you all had a Juliet in your lives.

Anyway I hope your lives are all going well, and that if you need to unknit anything in your life you stop and think and check if there really is a mistake there at all. … and even if there is, does it matter? This last year I have learned how there are far fewer things that really matter in life than you imagined. And often they are not the things you might have thought mattered.

Remember to tell the people you love how you feel about them. And don’t just casually drop that love word into their lap. Make it special to them, tell them what it is about them that you love. They may never thank you personally for it, but it will stay in their heart and sustain them.

***

If you want to catch up on how we got to this point, this series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation. It includes, somewhere in there, a link to my fundraiser for Alzheimer Scotland… pause for a minute before you skip over that link, and know that any and every donation will make a difference. We are all much more hard up these days, I know, but if you have a spare pound, please consider gifting it – when enough of you do this, we can make a real difference to people’s lives.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, or (swoon) the most incredible blackcurrant ripple ice cream you will ever eat, then you could check out my recipes here.

I see the sea!

21 Jul

On 8 July 2021 I posted:

The slow pace and the sort of mindless/mindful focus I need for this project is good for me. I could just pick it up and do a single stitch, and that would be enough. But actually it never is. I always get drawn in, do more.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of going down to the beach in the summer holidays. I’d put my swimming cozzie on under my frock, for speed of getting into the sea. Then mum would bundle us all into the back of the car, with our towels and buckets and spades and chittering bites.

As a child, isn’t the road to the beach the most exciting journey? … we all knew the EXACT spot where we’d first see a glimpse of the sea, shimmering beyond the fields, and we would all squeal, “I see the sea! I see the sea!”

In Mum’s memoirs she’s written of doing exactly the same with her sisters when they were all kids, being driven to the Cape in South Africa in their Dad’s car. Evidently Grandpa used to beep the horn to accompany their chorus of “I see the sea”. Until the time the horn stuck. And there was a constant beeeeeep for the three miles to the coast.

Your bonus pics today are of me at the beach. A few years apart.

In other news, we are putting in place Mum’s Escape Plan to get her out of hospital. More on that soon, once the plan is less fluid.

And just over a year on from writing that post, I have again been getting excited about seeing the sea. (this was drafted Monday 18 July 2022) We’ve had seriously hot weather the last few days and more tomorrow. We’re not as hot here in Galloway as some other parts of the UK are, but I took this morning off work and we were on the beach with the dogs by 8.30am. It was blissful, and being there just relaxing in the sunshine, in the gentle breeze, watching the tide going out, the tide coming in, has been just the tonic I needed. We spent all of yesterday morning there too, reading Sunday papers, embroidering, paddling about in the water, walking out to the island at low tide, and making friends with people who have discovered this magical place and were wild camping.

Looking back to last year though… the day before I wrote the post above, my brother and I had both gone together through to Stranraer to the hospital, to meet the discharge team, or whoever they were. I know we had struggled to establish how decisions were made about Mum being discharged, and who made those decisions.. and what criteria were used to make those decisions. We were pretty confident that as her principle carers (prior to being admitted to hospital) it was probably important that whoever was involved in making those decisions included us in the discussions… But I think if we had not pushed for our involvement, there would have been a decision made about Mum and we would have found out about it afterwards.

The team was trying to put together a care package, so Mum could return home. The package would comprise of 4 visits per day, to help Mum get to the toilet, and to get her dressed in the morning, and ready for bed at night. The rest of the time she would be on her own.

I still feel physically ill when I think of how this would have impacted Mum. Mum, if she was helped out of a chair, could manage to get herself about – her legs still worked. But she had broken her wrist, and for some years now had been used to pushing herself up off a chair by holding onto the arms of the chair with her hands, and using the strength in her arms to leverage herself up. She could not do this with a broken wrist bone which was not yet full healed. But she had dementia. She would forget this, and would try.

I could go on, listing all the many reasons this care package was not going to work for Mum – but for two reasons we never had to consider it further. Firstly, there are insufficient carers in the region and they could not cover all 4 visits every day. Until they could put all 4 in place, Mum could not leave the hospital. But secondly, we had already decided that a care home was really the only way we could see Mum being able to live with dignity, and this is what we wanted. We were considering paying for this privately, and had already looked at some options.

During the meeting, the social worker asked if we would consider Fleet Valley, even as a short term option until something closer to where we live became available.

Fleet Valley is the care home in the town that Mum has made home since the early 60s. We all lived a few doors along from Fleet Valley in the 60s, 70s, 80s, until Mum and Dad sold up and moved to the other end of the town after us kids had left home. I think initially we had been so focused on what was easiest and most convenient for us, while also giving Mum what we thought would be best for her, that we hadn’t seen what was right in front of us. Of course Fleet Valley was a sensible option. Apart from anything else, she would be cared for by people who knew something of who she used to be, and that (to this day) feels important to me. While so much of Mum’s identity has eroded, I like to know there are people with her every day who knew her when she was Provost of the Town, perhaps know that the pavement out to Port Macadam is known (by some) as Mrs Wolffe’s Motorway, remember her fighting to save the local school from being closed… this is part of who Mum is.

And, Fleet Valley, we were told would have a room available soon, in the next week or two. Would we be interested? Things were about to happen, and they would happen quite quickly.

Until then, one of us made the journey to Stranraer and back every day.

***

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

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, or even making the best hot tomato chutney you will ever eat, then you could check out my recipes here.

The operating theatre

10 Jul

On 6 July 2021

Another petal is nearly complete, and I definitely feel like I’m improving my embroidery skills. I still need an eye test and new glasses though.

Mum is still in hospital, having rehabilitation to get her mobility back after falling and breaking her wrist. It’s a slow process, given her frailty and also her difficulty with short term memory which makes it tricky for her to learn new ways to do things.

Two bonus pics today. The first is a bowl of pears poached in Madeira… somehow there’s always a bottle of Madeira at the back of the cupboard and it’s the perfect match for pears. And the resulting ‘pear juice’ is the best treat to take in to hospital for a rehabilitating mother.

The 2nd bonus pic is of my maternal grandmother’s childhood home. Gran went back there during the war, with her daughters, including Mum. They lived in the Gardener’s Cottage when the main house was handed over to the Norwegians who turned it into a temporary hospital. Mum tells a story of the day she jumped into the water tank, and nearly sliced her foot in two on a broken jam jar. She was carried, foot held high, up to the house where it was stitched back together in this operating theatre.

I’ve also added a picture of the X-Ray in the Servant’s Hall, as it is described in Gran’s old photo album.

Looking at what else was going on in my life, I see that this was the day I had the interview for that internal job I went for. I had hoped to hear back from them by the end of the day, but heard nothing, so by the evening was fairly confident that I wouldn’t get it. My manager (who would continue to be my manager) was goin on leave at the end of the following day, and had assured me that they wanted to make a decision before she went on leave. Having put myself through the application and then the interview process, I had come to realise how much I disliked aspects of my current role and wanted the change. I also knew that my head was all over the place, and the practicality of it all meant that if I got the job, they would have to recruit someone to take my role, which I’m not sure was desirable for anyone – our team had been under-resourced for ages and we were all looking forward to a full team.

By the end of the following day I still hadn’t heard back from the interview. I sent my manager a message wishing her a good holiday before she left .. and no mention was made of the outcome of the interview. I should have asked, and in different times I absolutely would have, but I was so broken, so low.. I had lost so much of myself these last few months.

My brother and I went down to the sea that afternoon. When I look now at the pictures I took, the sea and the coast looks glorious. We look like husks.

***

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

The big pink cosmos flower

7 Jul

On 27 June 2021 I wrote:

My big pink cosmos flower is beginning to look a wee bit more like it might be recognisable as a flower. Squeee!

In the background is another bunch of flowers from the garden. Mum loves her garden and makes creating a wonderful space, full of interest and colour all year round, seem so easy. She just has a great instinct, matched with some serious knowledge.

Today I give you two bonus pics, both hand drawn.

The first one is a pencil sketch in the back of her school poetry book, so probably drawn by her as a teenager.

The second is by her youngest grandchild. Thank you Camila, what a kind and talented child you are!

I was struggling at work during this period. I was probably struggling fullstop.

But I was lucky with work, they had brought in good flexible working policies for people with caring responsibilities in January 2021, so I could use 20% of my working hours as caring time – this had helped in the first few months of the year, when Mum was still living at home, semi-independently. But now that so much of our time was taken up travelling to and from hospital, this wasn’t sufficient. I decided to take two days off a week, so on those days I could devote myself to Mum, and also not worry about how wrung out I was on my return from the hospital. Because invariably I was wrung out.

I was constantly anxious about the future. It felt certain that Mum’s condition would deteriorate (at a rate unknown) and then inevitably would die. It also felt certain that Mum would never ‘be herself’ again, that none of us could look forward to a better time with her, a more enjoyable day, or even just an easily relaxed day when we were happily companionable in one another’s company. Every time I thought about how her life had changed, how our relationship had changed I would well up with tears. And if ever I allowed my brain to fast forward to a time when Mum would not know who I am, the tears flowed freely down my cheeks. So, I learned to live in the moment with Mum, to accept her each day for who she was that day, never comparing her to a previous version of herself, nor to an imagined future Mum. It was surprisingly easy once I got my head round it, and free-ed me up to really be with her each time we were together. And, you know what? Every single time I have seen her, there has been so much still to love about her. And today, over a year later, she has little in the way of actual conversation these days, but we laughed together this morning, between her peaceful snoozes.

***

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

The new temporary normal

24 Mar

On 22 June 2021 I posted the following:

After several frantic days we have now settled into a new temporary normal.

Mum is still in DGRI, but is getting stronger and each day she seems a wee bit closer to independence and being able to come home. My brother and I each do half day visits so she has company most of the day and over mealtimes – the company is so important to her, as the dementia means she can feel quite lost. And today, although we’re not technically allowed to bring in flowers, we brought one wee sweet smelling rose from her garden. Such power in that wee flower.

And this morning I headed down to the beach with my smock and reminded myself how to do French Knots. The muscle memory was there, and for a while there was just me, and the sea and our memories.

I really appreciate everyone who has sent messages or been in touch or made donations. Thank you a million times. If you want to provide support for people living with dementia click the link.

Being by the sea restored me.

I only have to think of that beach and I am restored. I can smell the briney sea, hear the rhythm of the waves, the birds, and the wind, always a wind down there by the edge of the land.

We were, at this stage, preparing for Mum’s return home, and as well as some gentle crafting by the sea I also had to be home to wait in for the Care Call Engineer, to fit a pressure pad under Mum’s mattress, so we (and the agency) would get an alarm if Mum was out of bed for more than, say, 20 minutes through the night.

It’s just as well it was around midsummer and the days were as long as they were, because there was much to do.

It was a hospital day, so I’d make the one and half hour round trip, and try to spend quality time with Mum; and there was a new role at work that I felt I should apply for – it was a ‘sister’ role to my own, but more focused on one type of fundraising, instead of the role I held which was split across two teams and (to me at least) no longer made much sense. The role had been advertised externally and I had been hesitant to apply – I knew I was not in a particularly good place and feared that I did not have the resources to perform well at interview. If I got this new role, it would be worth it. But if I didn’t, I couldn’t imagine that I would even want to stay in my current role.

Fortunately (in some ways) I’d had to apply for my own job about a year previously, when the fixed term contract was made permanent, so I had some paragraphs I could cut and paste for this new role. But, of course, the application form had been ‘updated’ and there were new questions… ‘What are the challenges of remote working in this role and how would you address them?’ ‘Please give examples of work you have undertaken that demonstrates our Commitments of Communication, Collaboration, Consideration and Change’. I’ll be honest, those commitments had been rolled out some 2 or 3 years previously, with all staff sent a weeny wee leaflet listing the four commitments and what was meant by each one. But since then, I’d seen no mention of them. Ever. So it slightly surprised me that it was something we now recruited against.

In the past I would have told Mum about going for the new role, would have known that she might not have understood why I was so unsure about it, but just having her listen to me, and wishing me luck, and telling me that she would give me the job if she had it within her power. That would have been a comfort, would have given me some of the strength and energy to go for it.

Instead it felt like something I had to do, it was a chore. If I didn’t apply, it demonstrated that I was not interested in progression (I now realise that actually I’m not, and that’s ok). I had been encouraged by my line manager to go for it. I wanted it.

Anyway… I did it. A good friend helped me polish the final application, and edited out ‘some of the snark’, which was definitely necessary. And then, later, she reminded me that I had to submit it by 10pm, or else she would submit it on my behalf. I was relieved to press the send button, and hopeful that I could make positive change to my somewhat unsatisfactory role at work.

But honestly, the only thing I really cared about was getting Mum home.

***

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

Selfie with a Beltie

22 Mar

On 18 June 2021 I posted:

There are probably loads of hashtags that those nice folk at the Royal Highland Show would like me to use here. But I didn’t see them. So it’s just me and the NHS rainbow beltie.

#beltie#BeltieGalloway#ProudGallovidian

I could write so much about Mum’s stay at the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, but I’m really struggling to find the right words. And to be honest, I am struggling to recall exactly how it was, how things developed. My brain has done the sensible thing and is reluctant to let me re-live the detail of that time.

Looking back at messages between myself and my brothers, in those first days we were eagerly trying to work with the consultant and the other staff in the hospital to establish what we needed to do to get Mum home when it was safe to do so. There was no sense at all of timescale, nor of what criteria they would use to decide when she might be able to go home. There was, though, mention of Mum potentially staying in a cottage hospital for a while to transition between hospital and home. There was a super cottage hospital at Kirkcudbright, just 7 miles from home. But it was closed due to the Covid pandemic. We were already of the view that anything would be better than an orthopaedic ward in a large modern hospital where they seemed not to be set up to cope with a patient’s dementia. But there didn’t seem to be many options for us. In fact, initially, no other options, other than Mum staying at DGRI a bit longer.

Due to Covid, Mum was only allowed two designated visitors (and preferably only one at a time, and only one visit per day, as I recall), so my brother and I took turns, with one of us visiting one day, and the other the following day. The journey took about 45 minutes each way. We were allowed to stay with her for as long as we wanted, and after some negotiation, they conceded that we could spend time with Mum, then take a break downstairs and then return on the same day. Seeing Mum out of her familiar world for the first time in years, was heartbreaking. We can both confirm that it is possible to drive all the way home from the hospital, crying all the way.

Generally we would aim to be there over a mealtime. Mum’s right arm was in a stookie (that’s Scots for a plaster) and so she was unable to use her right hand, nor could she use her arms to push herself out of a chair if she needed to get up (for instance to go to the loo). She also was unable to use her ‘dancing partner’, the 4-wheeled walking frame that she needed to give her enough stability to be mobile.

On my second visit, I passed a nurse in the vast corridor as I walked down to Mum’s room. I asked her how Mum was, and was told that she was ok, but that she wasn’t really hungry, she’d left most of her lunch.

It was true, Mum had left most of her lunch. But not because she wasn’t hungry.

Mum had left most of her lunch because she was unable to eat it. She only had the use of one hand. She could not cut things up, she could not open plastic packets of cheese or of biscuits. She could not spread butter from a small fiddly packet on bread. A few months earlier Mum might have asked for help, or at least told someone of her difficulties. But Mum with dementia was not able to articulate her difficulties. And she did not want to be a bother to anyone, so she stayed silent, she just agreed with the nurse who cheerily enquired if Mum was not hungry after all.

This was not a place where Mum could thrive. I wondered if she could even survive there. She was desperately unhappy and just wanted to get back home.

***

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

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.

CAIM

14 Mar

On 17 June 2021 I wrote:

Last year’s #100daysprojectscotland introduced me to the very fabulous @ellieandtherubesterpapercuts and her papercuts of words that have no equivalent in the English language.

I love her work. I love her too, though technically I don’t know her.

I bought some of my favourites last year, including this wee darling – caim. I’ve needed (and found) caim more than ever of late. I hope you find yours.

I was going to apologise to you (and to Ruth) for the appalling quality of the pictures, with that reflection on the cellophane. But actually, I kinda like the reflection in the second image, of my hands, cupping my phone.

***

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

S L O W

11 Mar

Day 16

On 16 June 2021, the 16th day of my 100 Day Project, I posted one line, and one picture.

Slow progress on this deliciously slow project.

But actually, sometimes making real progress doesn’t seem transformative from one day to the next, but over time, that slow and steady change adds up. So, appreciate the days when not much happens, when it all feels a bit “same as, same as”… on the days when everything changes you’ll be grateful for the resilience you created for yourself on those quieter days.

Everything had changed overnight. Everything for me, but more so for Mum.

***

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

The crisis

7 Mar

On day 15 of the 100 Day Project 2021 I posted no updates.

Knitting a sock in A&E

After less than 24 hours at home I got a phone call. Mum had fallen and appeared to have broken her wrist. She was comfortable and an ambulance had been called.

I don’t recall the precise logic, or how we made the decision, but we quickly decided that I should drive straight back down to the hospital at Dumfries, and meet Mum there. Before I had left home we established that it would be a further 4 hours to wait for an ambulance and the recommendation was that we found our own transport if that was possible. So, my brother and sister in law managed to get Mum into their car and met me outside Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary A&E.

In June 2021 the Covid rules meant that only one person could accompany Mum in the hospital. I stayed, believing she would be seen relatively quickly and that I’d be able to get her home later. The naivety! The innocence!

After a long and difficult wait, Mum was admitted into the orthopaedic ward some time after midnight. It was heartbreaking leaving her there, and I was beginning to realise that she would not be able to come home for some time.

I didn’t know then that Mum had spent her last night in her own home. To be honest it was probably best that way. Though nothing felt best at that moment.

***

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

Dementia is confusing and distressing.. for the person with dementia and those around them. Please help ensure that nobody with dementia goes through it alone. Click on this link to help by making a donation to Alzheimer Scotland.

Thank you, a thousand thank yous.

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