There she was, alone on a commode facing the window, entirely naked save for a thermal vest.
This lonely figure, my mum – who only three weeks earlier was signing Christmas cards and laughing at Dad’s Army – stared back at my worried smile and asked quietly if I could please get her some painkillers.
I draped a dressing gown across her shoulders, wrapped a blanket around her legs and walked down the care home corridor in search of pills – and answers about the state she was in.
“We told her to press the buzzer when she was ready,” the carer said, barely looking up from her phone. I told her Mum’s dementia meant she could no more remember to press a buzzer than she could fly to the moon. The carer, who had been sitting in a chair with her legs up on another chair, tutted and flounced off to fetch someone to deal with her.
Mum fell at home on December 6. We’ll never know for how long she lay on her bedroom floor in the cold and dark but she did have the sense to pull the duvet on top of her. The sensor on her wrist designed to alert a call centre if it fell to the floor failed to work. The company which sold it to us later said it was ‘too soft a landing’ so would not register.
As she was carted off screaming in pain to the ambulance, I insisted her dressing gown was put over her flimsy pyjama top. It was 4C outside. I didn’t know at the time but this was just the start of an agonising saga which at the time of writing still isn’t over.
Mum spent 29 days in hospital and an MRI scan revealed spine fractures. The NHS is not perfect but thanks to the quiet kindness of ambulance crews, doctors, nurses and ward staff, she was safe.
She slept through most of it. When awake, her weak pleas of ‘When can I go home?’ fought the whirring of an air-filtering machine and a breeze from the open window, both needed to combat Covid. I piled more blankets on her, plus my woollen walking socks and mittens, but she rarely got warm.
My sister flew in from Ireland and was able to sit with Mum twice before the stress was ramped up again and visits barred. ‘You can only visit if she’s dying’ was the blunt pronouncement on visits from a ward nurse.
They shipped Mum out to the care home for rehab on December 25 and my sister parked outside to get a glimpse of her arrival. Mum shivered in a thin hospital gown and nothing else. She’s 92 and some comfort would have been welcome, even if there was little joy.
I’ve been living on Christmas cake, oranges, and tea and for no real reason pegged up my daily lateral flow tests alongside the Christmas cards.
On New Years’ Day, miraculously Mum perked up. I fed her mandarin oranges and tea from my flask and she watched The Sound of Music. She wasn’t quite ready for her own So Long, Farewell.
My mum has the biggest and kindest heart and beamed as I reached for her hand through my blue glove. At long last, she was warm.