Just as lockdown measures were easing in care homes, some are closing their doors to visitors, leaving our elderly cut off from the world
A staff member at my dad’s care home called this week. “Bad news,” she said. My heart sank. I’ve had enough bad news this year. It was bad news when my dad had a major stroke 11 months ago, bad news when he was admitted into a care home, bad news when he was diagnosed with vascular dementia.
The bad news, said the staff member, was that, in light of new developments, the home would be totally shutting down – again. That same day. No more window visits, no more garden visits.
As tears pricked at the back of my eyes and a lump rose in my throat, I told her – my voice wobbling – how depressed my dad (who’s 77 and who’s lived in the home since January) has been since visits and trips outside the home were banned.
It’s been six months now – six months of loneliness, frustration and despair for elderly people in care homes and their loved ones. As a prisoner – for, in effect, that is what he has been – my dad became a shadow of his loud and bolshy old self. I spoke to him on the phone every day, telling him how things would get better and how I’d soon be able to visit properly. I told him that, when I next visited, I’d be able to hold his hand and give him a hug and that we wouldn’t have to peer at each other through the window of his room (as I’ve done now on three occasions) in a sad attempt to let him know that I do exist and that I’m not just a voice on a phone.
The staff member doesn’t know much about my dad’s history. She tells me she’s “just following orders.” World War Two sprang to mind. “That makes you sound like one of the…” “I know,” she interrupted. She didn’t want to hear the word. Perhaps some other disgruntled relative had said the same. I doubted it. Most people I speak to seem totally accepting of the new totalitarian regime.
Most of the public know now that the elderly in care homes are dying more from heartbreak and loneliness than from any virus. Whether they have dementia, Alzheimer’s or are in their right mind, they all feel the same: abandoned, hopeless and that they’re being left to die alone.
And now, just when there was a tiny a glimmer of hope for all those desolate, isolated, imprisoned souls, further deprivation and further breaching of their most basic human rights have been foisted upon them. To think of my dad’s upset when they tell him that there’ll be no more visits – of any kind – for an indefinite period breaks my heart.
He’ll accuse me of lying to him the next time I call, because I promised I’d come soon and that everything would be OK. It’s not going to be OK: even my dad, through his muddled veil of confusion, knows that. He’s intimated to me on several occasions that he can’t and doesn’t want to go on. He’s told me more than once that he’s had enough, that he’s “finished.” I tell him not to worry: he hates that. “Worry is all I do,” he says.
Still clutching my phone, I felt I couldn’t stay quiet and polite any longer, so I told the staff member exactly what I thought. I told her that this shutdown was over nothing; that the virus is just another coronavirus; that thousands of medics are now speaking out.
I hung up, intent on exposing the silent crimes that are being perpetrated behind the now-permanently-closed doors of care homes everywhere. How long is this going to continue? How long are people going to be separated from their loved ones?
I can sit with friends in a pub or restaurant but I can’t sit with my dad. Last time I saw him during a window visit, his favourite nurse was sitting beside him, her arm around his shoulder. Why is she allowed to hug him but I’m not? At this rate, I may never hug him again. He could die before another visit is permitted.
How can this be right?