The challenges continue for those of us grappling with Covid-19 restrictions and the impacts for the elderly in aged care. This has become a very personal dilemma for me.
My 96-year-old father has developed a sense of being imprisoned and I must say his distress over this has caused my knees to buckle.
He lashes out at aged care workers when they try to direct him towards the gate to see his children. He rouses on us for not coming in. He forgets he’s been told it’s because of Covid-19 and then says: “Well, that’s the first time anyone has explained any of this to me.”
But of course it is not the first time at all.
Masks make him angry. Maybe because the people wearing them in Westerns were always the baddies. But it also has a practical aspect. Being very deaf, he has lip-read for most of the last 30 years or more. His cochlear implant only works when he’s got it in and he’s forgotten how to work it.
His carers glove up before they go near him. He’s restricted to the confines of his room, more than ever. And when he is allowed to roam around the premises, all he wants is to get out. He has lost the experience of having his hand held.
It seems logical that we should take him away. My siblings and I developed the idea of doing this for him last week. We got the okay from his general practitioner, and then I had a meeting with the sister in charge at the nursing home, Sr Latu.
We were all set to go. It was an agonising decision mainly because if it didn’t work out Dad couldn’t come back. Difficult consultations with family, advice from specialists in the area, the support of my friend Sue, who’s nursing service would likely be retained. This was about family having more access to Dad and Dad having more access to family. More particularly, and not to put too fine a point on it, for Dad to be able to spend endless stretches of time with his children if these are the last of his days, since Covid-19 lockdowns at his nursing home are expected to go on for possibly another 12 months.
And then, of course, Sr Latu and I invited Dad to join the conversation.
“Would you like to come to live at my place?“
“Are you sure – you could have your family around you.”
“I don’t want to leave here.”
More questions and he was adamant – never been clearer. We’d been warned about this, and some professionals had suggested that if we presented a united front, that he would have a period of being unsettled and unhappy and then after maybe several weeks he would settle in.
But are we that family, the one who would impose this on him? All through his grand old age, we have respected Dad’s autonomy. He has made his own decisions. One or two have been questionable but most have been spot on. How do we change course now?
I looked at Sr Latu and she looked at me.
“Dad you’re unhappy but you say you don’t want to go. What is it you really want?”
He thought about it for a moment and then said passionately: “I want to stay here but I don’t want to be locked in!”
We both explained that if he moved out he wouldn’t have that same sense of restriction.
“I want to be able to wander down the street to the coffee shop.”
“I could take you any day you like. If you moved to my place you could get there much more often.”
And then he shook his head.
“But your mother’s just over there.”
He pointed over the hill, in the direction of Rockwood Cemetery, the biggest necropolis in the southern hemisphere.
Just to be sure he completely understood, I said, “Dad, you realise she’s dead, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
“I could bring you out to the cemetery every day to visit her.”
He shook his head.
“I don’t want to do that but she is just here. And I don’t want to leave her.”
It’s a hard thing for a lot of people to understand. But he always talks about Mum being ‘just over there’. As the sun sets into a set of big old gum trees, he nods and reminds us that she is that close. I think this is more important to him than being with us.
He won’t get that freedom he wants, unless he changes his mind. But at least now we can remind him he has the option. That makes us feel better.
And he stays close to Mum, while we watch, wait and see, feeling our way, groping awkwardly towards the right decision, wondering how to navigate this impossible choice.
Australian families taking their elderly out of aged care and into the home, amid COVID-19, was reported in an ABC news report on August 9, 2020. To view this, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pprt_7q1_U4
Burials Without Hugs – Our 2020 Moment
Advance care planning and dementia patients.
Compassion at the end of life in Covid-19 times.
This is a cry from the heart.