March 30th – the virus marches on…..

SARS-Cov-2 virus continues to rampage around the world. Many countries are now in lock down and we are all beginning to come to terms with this very new strange way of living. It does at times feel as if we are living in a type of disaster movie.

I managed to join Mum’s birthday party via Skype which was really great. The staff had made her a lovely chocolate cake and brought it up to her room for her to blow out the candles. She seemed so happy and oblivious to everything that is going on.  I skyped her again this afternoon – she was with two of her favourite carers and they were all having a really good laugh. I was able to join in and showed her round my newly built mezzanine studio which now houses the teddy bear studio ( all designed and built by my lovely husband).  She was able to chat to me and we talked about gardening and the fact that all the garden centres were now closed. She had not heard about the virus and felt that it sounded as if she was better not knowing!  I told her that there is a little robin in the garden and that he sometimes perches on my spade. ‘ He won’t be much use’ she quipped and we all fell about laughing.

It is very hard not being able to visit Mum but the Skype video interaction is really helpful. All of the staff and residents remain well at present. I pray that this will continue.

Today we have learned about front line staff coming down with the illness and 4 doctors have now died. It is a very sobering thought. I am still waiting to here if there is anyway I can return to help. Apparently 1:4 NHS staff are off sick at the moment, many of them not knowing whether they have the virus or not. Testing, testing and more testing has been called for by the WHO. Testing has now finally started for frontline staff but in my opinion not quickly enough. The speed of change has been incredible and the government is undoubtedly pulling out all stops and calling on all resources. Who would have believed 4 weeks ago that by the end of this week the new 4000 bed hospital would be open to admissions in London. It has been an immense undertaking.

My thoughts and hopes are with all those people living in third world countries – they will all need our prayers.

 

March 26th – Happy 92nd birthday Mum!

Today is my Mum’s 92nd birthday! Due to the obvious restrictions on travel and visiting I have not been able to celebrate with her. However, today I don’t want to dwell on the sadness of the situation and hope to share some happiness with you all.

Mum’s care home have now got Skype up and running! I skyped Mum today. She was in great form. Her room had been decorated with banners and the staff had all made a fuss of her. Robert and I were able to sing happy birthday to her and she joined in the singing! Apparently when they went in to see her this morning to wish her happy birthday she told them that it was not her birthday until the 26th March!  She was able to show me the teddy I had sent her. I told her he was called Brahms and that I had Liszt waiting for her here – she laughed and laughed and the carer asked her why and she said ‘ p…….d’  I reminded her that she was now nearly the same age as the queen to which she replied ‘ don’t be so ridiculous!’. I asked her if she would like to live in Buckingham palace to which she replied ‘ no. I would rather live here where I am very well cared for. We have lovely food.’ I reminded her that there was some port downstairs with her name on and she laughed. We managed to talk to her for a good 10 minutes. It was lovely to see that she was happy and well cared for. The home have made her a birthday cake and will be celebrating with her this afternoon – they have very kindly invited me to join them by Skype.

Last week, having seen all of the news coming out of Italy and Spain I decided to try and go back to work to join all my colleagues in the Emergency department. Sadly, as I have now been retired over 3 years the GMC would not grant me temporary registration. My thoughts and best wishes are with all of those wonderful people working within the NHS and care homes all over the UK. There are going to be some very tough times ahead . Stay safe and thank you all for your dedication.

I have attached some of the bears to try and add a little sunshine!

 

Saturday 21st March – a different world

As I sit and write my blog this morning, I am looking out of my window watching the lambs playing and jumping around in the field completely oblivious to the pandemonium taking place in the rest of the country.  One week ago we returned from a wonderful holiday in Western Australia to a relatively normal country. In just one week schools and universities have been closed and from tonight we will not be able to go to a theatre, cinema, restaurant, café, gym or any social gathering. Everyone has been advised to practise social distancing or isolation except for those essential workers. Scientific experts and advisers predict that on average between 0.5 and 1 % of people who contract this virus will die, many of these will be elderly with a mortality rate of 12 % in the over 80s.

Every year in the UK we have an average of 8000 deaths during the flu season which is spread out over 10 – 20 weeks. Every year the NHS has been telling the government that they are in crisis. Emergency services have been on their knees. Chronic underfunding  of the NHS for many years and only now, the  government wakes up to the fact that the NHS will collapse under the strain of this virus unless draconian measure are taken. Recently retired NHS workers ( many in their 60s) have been asked to return to work to prop up front line services.

The scale of economic, social and financial consequences is almost unimaginable. Many people must be fearing for their future and I worry about the mental health repercussions which will undoubtedly be enormous.

Mum’s care home closed to all ‘non essential visitors’ last Friday. I e mailed the manager asking if it would be possible to see Mum fleetingly providing I used the fire exit which is directly out side of her room and used sensible precautions. Robert and I are both symptom free and had elected to self isolate after our 17 hour plane journey.  I had no reply to my e mail and phone calls were deflected so I drove over to the care home armed with a bagful of goodies –  flowers and vase, chocolates/ cakes/ port/ whisky and both Mother’s and birthday cards plus a teddy bear. I had been advised to sit in the carpark and that someone would come out to see me. I arrived and waved to the lady in the office. After waiting in the car for about 5 minutes I decided to go in via the back door to the kitchen and office which was wide open. Sadly I was met by a tirade of  ‘ you are not allowed in here, please leave immediately.’  I was taken aback as the lady then returned to the office leaving me to hand over all the goodies to a kitchen worker. I returned to my car and must confess I had a little cry.  On returning home I rang the home and asked if I could speak to Mum on the phone. The carer kindly took the phone up to Mum’s room. Poor Mum recognised my voice but couldn’t understand why I had not visited her. I asked if she had had any of the presents but she and the carer could only find the flowers which had been put in the vase.

Now I know there will be mixed feelings here and some of you will think that we should completely isolate ourselves from elderly relatives. However, I believe that a little common sense and compassion should be used in these circumstances. I have been banned from visiting my mother but care workers who have children at school are going in to see her on a daily basis.  I had agreed to take precautions, had no symptoms and would not have entered any public areas or met with any of the other residents and only stayed with her for a short time.

There are thousands of residents in care homes. Two of my close friends have parents in care homes and both like me, feel heart broken at the thought of not being with them or seeing them for a prolonged period of time. Many residents will not have the capacity to understand why they have been ‘abandoned’ with consequent mental health deterioration.

I have received an apology from the manager of the home for not replying to my e mail but she has reiterated the fact that no visitors will be allowed in for the foreseeable future. I had asked if we could try and set up Skype and she did give me the  e mail details but to date there was no reply from the contact. I tried ringing Mum again yesterday but she was unable to hear or identify me.

I have also learned this week of the passing of my first cousin Lesley who lived in Australia. She and her sisters were both bridesmaids at my Mum and Dad’s wedding. I met her on two occassions- she was a lovely, jolly lady and me feel part of her family for the very short time I spent with her. My thoughts are with my Australian family at this sad time.

Take care every one and look after each other – there are very difficult times ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 18th March – Lockdown continues.

As I write this today, half of the world is going into lockdown. Borders are being closed,  flights cancelled and major cities such as Paris, Rome and Venice are under virtual martial law and resemble ghost towns. The virus continues apace taking the lives of many of the elderly and vulnerable.

The total deaths worldwide now number around 8000 which equates to the average number of deaths in the UK from annual winter flu epidemics.

The UK Government has suddenly stepped up it’s response, asking all citizens to socially isolate as much as possible, work from home and avoid cafes, pubs and social gatherings.

Many of the London theatres are closed or closing as are many pubs and restaurants. The main reason for all this panic is the chronic underfunding of the NHS . The government has suddenly realised that there will not be enough ICU beds or ventilaters! Who knew??? Interestingly no mention of staff shortages yet even though they have made the decision not to do any front line testing!! Bonkers or what? Staff are being asked to stay away for up to 14 days at the hint of a cough or rise in temperature without a confirmatory diagnosis!

The social and economic consequences are going to be catastrophic. It is difficult to see how small businesses are going to be able to keep afloat with the knock on effect of redundancies and staff lay offs. Many families will find it difficult to pay mortgages or rents.

Mum’s care home has banned all visitors including the district nurse and the local GP. I have e mailed the manager a number of times requesting that she sets up a data base of all relatives so that we can be kept informed and have asked if it would be possible to set up a Skype session for the residents to talk to their loved ones but to date have not had any reply. I have also offered my services to go in and help if required.  I dread to think what will happen if the carers have to go off sick or if any of the residents contract the illness.

I am really missing my Mum – I have not seen her now for nearly 5 weeks as this outbreak coincided with my holiday to Australia to meet up with my sister. It is very hard to  imagine  her lying there every day wondering why we have abandoned her. I also wonder if she now remembers who I am at all. I am sending her cards and will try and get some whisky, port and chocolate delivered. Mother’s day is coming up this weekend and it is her 92nd birthday next week. It is going to be very difficult not being able to celebrate with her. I can only hope that she is being well looked after.

The shopping frenzy continues! I ventured out to Sainsbury yesterday to get some essentials and was met by rows and rows of empty shelves and bemused shoppers! All of the fresh vegetables had been sold as had all of the flour, pasta, soap, tissues and loo rolls which can now it seems only be bought on the black market!

I have been in touch with a few of my elderly friends who are now sensibly self isolating. They all seem very upbeat and ready for the task ahead. We are very lucky to live in a lovely village surrounded by beautiful countryside. The lambs have now appeared in the field across from my kitchen window.

My most important message to everyone this week is to be kind to one another and remember to keep in touch with those people who may be lonely or in need of a friendly voice.  These are very strange times!

 

Friday 13th – Mamma but we’re all crazee now!

Robert and I returned from a wonderful holiday in WA early this morning. In the 3 1/2 weeks we have been away the whole world as reacted to a before little known virus known as COVID -19. When this outbreak started in China I am sure that no one could have predicted the enormous world wide economic and social effects it would bring with it. For the majority who are affected, the symptoms will be relatively mild and self limiting. Elderly people and folk with co morbidities will not fare as well with a number of deaths predicted.  The response from the general public to the ‘crisis’ has been in my opinion completely ‘ over the top’ adding to the economical disaster which is almost now inevitable. Mad panic buying of toilet rolls had stripped the shelves of supermarkets in WA before there had even been 5 cases confirmed! Social media has fuelled the panic and supermarkets all over the world are now trying to control supply and demand. Major sporting events have been cancelled and all mass gatherings have been banned with some countries in complete lock down. The airline industry and travel businesses are going to take a major hit with severe consequences. Schools are being shut down with major implications to parents and the workforce. The NHS, already under tremendous strain is going to take a big hit – we can only hope that the majority of people who contract the virus with milder symptoms take advice and stay away.

Sadly, but understandably most care homes in UK have now closed their doors to visitors. This will have a major impact on the mental health of many of the residents and push them into social isolation. Care will undoubtedly  be compromised particularly when  care workers become infected and others are advised to socially isolate.

Is the world reaction to this virus ‘over the top’ as first announced by President Trump who then proceeded to ban all travel to the USA from Europe? I guess history will provide us with the answer.

I am really saddened at not being able to visit Mum but I have rung her home and been informed that she remains ‘well’ and is eating and drinking. I have sent her  a few cards whilst we have been away to remind her where we were and sent her another one today – I don’t want her to feel abandoned. Unfortunately, her birthday and mother’s day fall in the next 2 weeks. I don’t suppose she will know that it is her birthday or have any idea of the havoc this little virus has created.

In the words of Noddy Holder ( my childhood idol!!)  ‘Mamma but we’re all crazee now.’

 

 

Thursday 20th February – WA time! just after midnight.

9 years ago next May, Robert and I packed up our house, 3 cats and all our wordly goods and travelled half way round the world to live in Golden Bay in Western Australia. We stayed for 3 years and had a fabulous time enjoying the Australian life style and meeting lots of new friends. As they say ‘ all good things must come to end’ and it was with much regret and soul searching that we made the decision to return to the UK when my Mum was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia. I came back to see her three times during the early stages of her disease. I must confess that I knew very little about LBD at the time and had no idea of the time scale or the physical and mental consequences she has subsequently had to face. I will say now, that although it was a difficult decision to make at the time I know it was the correct one for me and I have not regretted one moment of the time I have spent with my Mum since our return. We have however now decided that it is time for another visit back out here, to catch up with all our friends whilst they still remember who we are and also to reaquaint ourselves with the ‘Aussie lifestyle.’

We had initially planned a 2 day stopover in Singapore but changed our minds at the last minute due to that nasty little virus and transitted through the airport instead. It is a long flight but the time went quickly as I absorbed myself in 5 films. One of the films was called The notebook and starred Ray Gosling and James Garner – it is a lovely film but particularly sad as it is told by the husband at the end of his life as he comes to terms with his wife’s dementia. I must confess to shedding a few tears at the end.

We are now staying in a rather gorgeous 4 bedroom house on the canals in Mandurah which will be our home for the next 3 1/2 weeks. I feel very sad at having to leave Mum but take solace in the fact that she doesn’t really know who I am any longer and has little if no memory of my visits. My elder sister does not live far away so she will still have a regular visitor. I heard yesterday, that her doctor has prescribed her another course of antibiotics for a chest infection.  I have left her a number of cards which I have asked the staff at the home to open at regular intervals to read to her to remind her where we are and that we are thinking about her.

Sadly, my brother in law, who lives in Tasmania is also over here at the moment having flown over to spend the last few days with his mother who was in a nursing home. She passed away last night peacefully. May she rest in peace. I am sure he will take comfort that he was with her at the end.

And so, I look forward to 3 weeks of warm sunshine, catching up with old friends and visiting old stamping grounds. My friend Alison and her husband Alan arrive on Monday – they have been staying with my sister in Tasmania who joins us for the final week.

Goodnight everyone.

 

 

 

Wednesday 12th February – a sad day.

Whilst the country deals with the ravages of storm Ciara and the world deals with the corona virus , I am trying to deal with my mother! She is in a very bad mood today – she initially told me that she didn’t know me very well, didn’t want me to stay with her and told me to go home! When I told her I had driven a 1 1/2 hour journey to see her, she replied ‘ well you shouldn’t have wasted your money on the petrol!’ She then fell asleep and woke a few minutes later. I gave her a glass of port  and when I told her she should be more polite to her guests and told her what she had said she insisted that she wasn’t talking to me but to some man on a phone! One of her carers came in and asked her what she wanted for lunch. She insisted on scampi and chips which I knew she would not eat. As soon as it arrived she said she didn’t want it and would like an omelette!

Robert is at home today building me a mezzanine studio for the teddy bears!! It is a very ambitious project and he has spent months designing it and procuring all the tools / wood etc. He is a bit of a perfectionist and always prefers to work alone and does not like interruptions! I have provided him with cups of tea and chocolate but have mainly kept out of the way. He had one small melt down when he put some screw holes in the wrong place but otherwise all is going well! Work is slow but steady. He did say he thought it would be finished today but I think that was being very ambitious and will be surprised if it is finished by the weekend when we leave to go on holiday!

Mum’s omelette has now arrived but she is too tired to eat it and has fallen back to sleep.

This week I have been thinking a lot about grief. It is a very strange emotion and does not really have a useful purpose in evolutionary terms. The one thing we do know is that we are all going to die and will presumably lose people we are close to. I have found myself wallowing in self pity this week following the death of a boy friend I haven’t even seen for over 30 years! He has been in my thoughts constantly and I have been ruminating  about some of the times we spent together. I have letters and notes from him declaring undying love!  It just seems strange to me that he is no longer alive. I think the main problem is that I never got to say goodbye. My father died over 25 years ago. He knew he was dying and even planned his own funeral. I spent the last 24 hours with him and was able to say goodbye. We were able to talk about past experiences together and had some lovely memories. In a way, I have been grieving for the loss of my  mother  for months who although she is still alive she is now almost a complete stranger to me. Her memories are very few and faded and embellished with fantasies and hallucinations. On days like today I find it so difficult to understand her world.  I cannot tell whether she is happy or sad.  She sleeps most of the time and when she is awake she has no sense of her environment , time or indeed person and talks to imaginary people.

Mum has just woken up and is screaming and crying that she can’t move her legs and saying that she can’t take this anymore and wants to go home. I have settled her down and she has gone back to sleep. It is difficult to imagine how much longer she can endure this dreadful disease.

img_20200211_210927691