I catch sight of you from the corridor. A little lady swamped by a hospital chair, in a bay surrounded by unfamiliarity. Dressed again in a hospital nightie and, in every sense of the word, ‘lost’. You catch sight of me and I know from your look the magnitude of hope you are investing in me. The one person you are pinning your hopes on. I can see it in your eyes as I walk into the bay and I know the first words you are going to say before they are given life and sure enough here they come, ‘have you come to take me home?’ The moment of happiness, the hope of salvation, of expectation. Short lived. ‘No, sorry I haven’t.’ I see the words land, their impact, the change in your face.
Your focus is crystal clear as is your voice – ‘just get me out of here’. You can’t make sense of what is happening to you, ‘why can’t I go home?’ I see the anger rising in you. You rail against me, call out my inability to help you, question my allegiance, ‘you are conspiring with them to keep me here’. I kneel on the floor beside you, hold your hand, try to comfort you, but there is no comfort here. I have tears running down my cheeks, I’m worn out, but you don’t see them. You are looking away from me. Lost in your rage. Literally beside yourself with anger and frustration.
There is a lady in the chair next to. She has been sat close to you so that you can talk to each other but for now she doesn’t know where to look. A silent witness to our mutual pain. She knows I have just driven 200 miles to see you as you tell me I don’t care about you. She can see the impact of what you are saying. We both feel your despair. She twitches the curtain and asks if I’d like her to draw it. We both know that your words will permeate the cloth. They are barbed, red hot and aimed with precision.
In your eyes I have come empty handed. I look at the small bag of things I’ve bought you and feel their insignificance. A box of chocolates, a puzzle magazine and some clean knickers. The sum total of my offering. For now I am clueless, the health professional who should know what to do. How can I help you to understand, in your moments of confusion, that it is your confusion that is making people question your ability to go home not your broken arm? My professional persona knows how to deal with this situation but at this moment that is not the space I occupy. Your comments cut deep as you intend.
How can I convey that when others see a lady dipping into moments of confusion I see a lady literally beside herself with frustration. Fighting in every way she knows how to gain her freedom and yes, at times, fighting dirty. The gloves are off. How can I help you to understand that coming out of your corner fighting is like turning the gloves on yourself? Every blow hurting you more.
I see a lady who, at 91, is living her worst nightmare. Who has always said, “if I am going to end up in a home I would rather kill myself.’ I know this story well, I have heard you tell it several times in the comfort of your home. Except now when you utter those words within ‘the system’ they take on a life of their own. In your despair you say, ‘I wish I were dead, I want to end it all’ and in saying this you hammer a metaphorical nail in your coffin. They morph into yet another red flag, a sign of your need for ‘care’, that you need to be protected from yourself.
In an attempt to shift the conversation I open your locker and am greeted by a jumble of dirty washing. Your clothes just stuffed in with no care. It’s hard to tell what’s clean and what’s dirty. Jumbles of clean and dirty clothes all mixed together. A bright yellow plastic bag containing soiled slipper tells its own story. I know how immaculate your home is, I know how much pride you take in your appearance. A week ago I became an intruder into private spaces in your home I had never entered before. The person who collected this very jumble now set out before me.
My offering to you? I leave with 2 bags of your dirty washing.