You can’t visit your mum
To mark Time to Talk Day this year, our Communications Manager, Jane, shares the upset of being a denied a visit to her mum on 27 January because of Covid. She says: I’m triple vaccinated and only visit armed with a negative lateral flow test. You read about families being turned away, but when it happens to you, it’s numbingly shocking.
Header photo: Mum with her great granddaughter Ava, and her granddaughter Georgie
We walked in the back way, feeling like fugitives. We were even wearing masks, my brother and me. We wound our way along corridors and past open doors with old people in their beds, just lying there.
Earlier, in my car, I had spotted a resident in her window, easy to see in her well-lit room as I sat in the evening gloom of the car park. As she shuffled around in her nightdress, framed by one of the decorative mullioned windows of the care home – it used to be a church – with her cropped hair and her thin frame, I thought that she could be mum. But I knew she wasn’t.
The care home had Covid. Mum had tested negative, I’d been told on a phone call earlier. You know those calls, they start with the phrase: there’s nothing to worry about. And you immediately know something is wrong. The staff explained the home had two positive Covid cases, I didn’t take in whether they were staff or residents, maybe I wasn’t told. Anyway, the fact was the doors were closed to us. The drawbridge up and the metal gates down. Locked out. I took in this information meekly, alongside the harder to process news that mum had stopped eating, she had lost a lot of weight and ‘she wasn’t going to recover from this’.
Of course, we knew this time would come, my brother and me. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013 – she was in her ninth year of living with the disease, with us watching her decline. We knew how it would end. But now that the time was here, I was really, really sure I didn’t want my mum to go anytime soon.
But more worrying somehow than that, I realised I had just accepted being told that we wouldn’t be seeing her – unless of course things got much worse (euphemistically not mentioning the ‘d’ word), and then ‘we will ring and you will be able to visit’. That’s ok then. They couldn’t say if mum would last days or weeks, they didn’t know, but they knew the rules meant we weren’t allowed in.
I spoke to my brother and we realised we needed to visit that very day. He rang and persuaded them to do just that, and that’s why we were skulking along the corridors, rule breakers. Mum would have been proud.
It was the first time we’d visited her in her room, so things felt even more significant. She’d moved into the home from hospital during the first Covid lockdown and we’d never seen her room. Not until today.
I said thank you so much for allowing us to visit mum. I was honestly truly grateful. The door closed behind the carer, and we were alone with mum. I went to one side of the bed and my brother to the other. He held her hand, I stroked her hair.
I tried not to notice that the pictures and framed photos I’d asked to be put on her walls were stacked up by the wardrobe or that the overhead light was burning its brightness into us. My brother attempted to persuade her to take a sip of her milkshake and she knocked it out of his hand, yelping like a cat, ranting, raging, angry. Still determined. Good old mum.
Later they told us she was doing this a lot, throwing cups and plates around the room. Determined not to eat or drink anymore. We both felt that was a good sign. Showing some fight as she wasted away. It was fitting. She was always the rebel, the rule breaker. Right to the end.
I’ve been better
We read to her and turned off the bloody TV. Why is the television always on in every room in every care home? We put on some hymns. Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. She liked that. And later we asked them to play Radio Three (the third programme, she used to call it) as the default setting, rather than these third-rate brash comedy repeats that seem to be the thing that old people have to like. They said they would.
Of course we took our masks off, our plastic blue gloves too, as soon as their backs were turned. Are you ok, mum, I whispered. She said, I’ve been better. We rejoiced in her appropriate answer.
She lay like a bird in the bed, all blanket and socks, her strong grey hair straight and cropped short by somebody who didn’t love her. Her eyes still blue and clear, her hearing as sharp as a lynx’s – tuning into the poetry I read her, her poetry, beautifully-shaped written memories of her past.
Then we had to leave and we kissed her goodbye. They promised we could go back once the isolation period was over in four days’ time, and we thanked them again for allowing us in.
I called to check on mum’s wellbeing two days later and was told there were 11 more cases of Covid in the home. Despite Mum’s state, we wouldn’t be allowed to visit for at least another week and only then if everyone in the home and all the staff had a negative PCR test.
Again, I heard all of this without questioning it. But once I’d put the phone down, I slowly realised that this was really out of order.
I went on the Government’s website and read the guidance about visiting care homes and realised mum hadn’t been offered the opportunity to have an essential caregiver. Someone who can visit to assist with her care and wellbeing and who is allowed to go in even if there’s an outbreak in the home – as long as they carry out the same testing regime as the staff.
So now the fight is on to find a way to visit our dying mum…
I read this poem to mum during our visit, and although she didn’t know me, she remembered the last two lines of her poem, saying them in time with me.
When I am a child
When I am a child
I shall certainly hold my mother
With a fierce grip
Until at last she settles
Down, down by my side
And I can become mild
Thought never meek
Watch, for soon I’ll begin
To change and glow
A smile fattens my cheeks
Wider and wider curve my arms
Got you! my captive charm
My shield against all harm
Gobble, gobble, gobble
That’s how I’ll swallow kisses
The word I like the most is more
And I’ll keep kisses piled in store
Deep against those thin bleak days
Scarred by some fearsome stony gaze
And when I am a child
I shall definitely dare
To slip away to fly
High over magical lands and seas
Not to sweep cobwebs from the sky
Not because I told a lie
But to show everyone
That here am I
I’m this child
I am me.