So first off the ramp. I’d like to wish my son, Mark Simpson, every success with his new business venture. Apart from his pilot’s licence, he has every principal driving licence that it’s possible to get in the UK. Car, Motorbike, HGV 1 & 2, Coach and bus—and now taxi. He was awarded his badge on Friday and started work as a taxi driver on Tuesday. Loving it and doing well. Congratulations, son.
Best Book Editors have taken on a new Trainee worker this week (Intern), and we’d like to welcome Johanna to the team. The plan is to train her to take over a lot of the day-to-day stuff to free me up a bit. We’re training Jo as an all-rounder, so she’ll learn the marketing side on commission and work as a sub-editor on a set rate to earn a wage while she’s learning.
My sub-manager is second in line for editing but is generally too busy to take any on. He has a full-time job elsewhere. So congratulations, Rebecka, BBE’s previous third editor, who we’d like to invite to take the lead.
Until I can hand a book over to the girls start-to-finish, I will still make the final full edits on all commissions.
I almost didn’t complete this 3-part series. A very unkind person said to me, ‘I can’t believe you’re using your dirty old uncle’s death as an excuse to take time off work. It’s unprofessional, and nobody wants to read about it.’ This was from somebody I’d classed as a friend, and he knew damned well it wasn’t an old uncle. I committed to the 3-part series, and I’ve decided to complete it despite being hurt by the comment.
So, anybody not wanting to read about a family struggling to care for an elderly relative at home, please move straight onto the next section. Trigger warnings etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
The last two days with Granddad at home were like something out of a nightmare.
After the flood, we had a restless night with him, so it was with tired heart and soul that we got up the following day. Hubby was going to work as usual, and I steeled myself for a day of love with his father. I knocked on his door and went in.
He was up and sitting on his bed facing the window with his back to the door. He had on a white t-shirt, and I felt as though I was in a horror movie. The back of his shirt was covered in blood, not just a splash—covered. He had a new gash to the back of his head to go with all the old gashes. If that was the state of the back, what would the front be like? I almost didn’t dare look. It was a case of that awful moment of steeling myself for death or trauma every time I knocked on his door.
It was terrible; a person not used to it might have puked. His eye socket was visibly broken, and the poor love was battered and bruised. He couldn’t walk, and we didn’t want to carry him to the car so, Hubby called an ambulance. I explained his condition, said he was conscious, breathing and in no immediate danger of heart or brain problems—as far as we could tell. We were told that an ambulance would be with us within six hours. I get it, COVID19 numbers are high in Barrow again, and they are rammed. Granddad was silent and seemed oblivious to the state he was in. A blessing of his near-death condition was that he didn’t seem to feel pain.
It only took two and a half hours for two ambulances to come with the First Responders and then a third to take him to the hospital an hour later. Really? It was like Piccadilly station. I had to lock the dog in the lounge, and she was agitated. I politely asked at least six times that they closed the gate when they were coming in and out—and if possible, the front door, too, just in case Teagan let herself out. At one point, I had six of them, plus Hubby and I, in the bedroom.
When I was completely ignored, I shouted, ‘Right, I’m locking the front door because of my dog. If you need to go in or out, you’ll have to ask me to let you out.’
They told me they needed access to their vehicles, and I had to relent and open the door again. Within five minutes, the front door was wide open for the whole world to neck in to see what was going on. As was the gate.
As with many different community care nurses—did they miss the Continuity of Care, class?— we felt judged again.
‘Where have all these old abrasions and bruises come from?’
‘Why isn’t he wearing a protective helmet and hip protectors?’
‘When was the last time he ate anything?’
‘Can we get a window open? It stinks in here?’
It took over an hour before they took him. Hubby went with him in the ambulance.
When the ambulance drove away, I can’t tell you the relief I felt. It was granddad’s wish to die at home, he was terrified of hospitals, and we swore we’d do our best to keep him with us until the end so that he could die in his own bed with us there for him. Surely this was it, and they wouldn’t let him come back home?
Two hours later, the front door opened, and Mark came in and asked me to give him a hand out of the car with his dad. The hamster wheel set off, and we were spinning out of control again.
‘Yes, Mr B, he’s probably broken his cheekbone, but there’s no point in X-raying it in his state because there’s nothing we can do. The best place for him is at home. Keep up the good work.’
Oh, Well, back to it.
The next day was one of the worst I’ve had in ten years. Granddad, off all medication, was manic. We hadn’t slept, he’d been shouting and ‘walking’ all night. Hubby was first in the bathroom when we got up for work and found him on the floor. We got him back into bed. Even when he planks, it wasn’t too bad with two of us to haul him up. He had more bruises just from lifting him.
I was up to my eyes in work, and as well as about twenty service commissions, I had three books in for editing 80K, 130K and 160K. I wasn’t going to get a lot done with Granddad yelling the house down. I heard the bang.
Here we go again.
He wasn’t in his room, and I found him on the bathroom floor. His protection helmet had long since been thrown across the bedroom again. Cut to head, cuts to shoulder cuts to back, bruising all over the place, but difficult to tell because of all the other cuts, bruises and scars. The average time of Helmet wearing—30 seconds. Because of the position of his arm under him, I couldn’t move him without breaking it.
He was lying on the cold tile floor, and body heat was leaking out of him as fast as the blood from his shoulder where he’d caught the radiator. His arm was under him and twisted so I couldn’t roll him onto his back to do a head & hip examination before trying to get him up. I got behind him and tried lifting him, expecting it to be useless. He was already stiffening and planking but, as luck would have it, I managed to do a very dangerous lift that could have broken his arm. The alternative was waiting two-six hours for an amblualnce. I got behind him and heaved. My idea was to move him enough to get his arm from underneath him and put him back in the same position. Instead, I managed to flip him right over and into a sitting position against the wall in one motion.
I could tell you what my back was screaming at me, but I won’t bother. It was nothing to how it felt twelve hours later.
I checked him. He broke his cheek the day before, his black eye had another black eye on top of it, but there didn’t seem to be any new visible broken bones. I ran to the bedroom to get a sheet for a blanket lift. I was less than sixty seconds, but when I got back, he’d slumped to the floor, and I had to lift him upright again. He was cold and barely conscious.
To do a blanket lift, you get the person in a seated position. Holding either end of the material supporting the faller’s back, you raise them to their feet—and deposit them straight into a chair that you’ve pulled up alongside you. Put a cloth strong and big enough to go around them—a blanket or sheet, I’ve even used a raincoat when I was nursing—around the faller’s back and under their armpits, low enough to not strain the sockets. Then you put your feet against theirs for traction and so that the faller’s feet can’t slip out from under them.
We didn’t have the luxury of a chair in the small bathroom. Granddad had planked. This is when the body stiffens as though rigour mortise has set in. His legs were like poles in front of him, and when I tried to lift him, he couldn’t get them underneath him. He was gone and couldn’t even try. He was only about six stone, but it’s still 45 kilos of dead weight to hump around. I’d been trying to get him off the floor for over ten minutes.
There was nothing for it but to pick him up like a baby and carry him back to bed. He wouldn’t stay there, and I swear, without exaggeration, I spent the rest of the day fighting him back into bed. I must have lifted him into that bed over twenty times. Because I caught him before he got out, it wasn’t as bad as lifting him from the floor, but my back was done. I was in excruciating pain.
Work was piling up, and I’d lost two days. For the rest of that day, I took a barstool and sat in his room, literally just lifting him back into bed every three minutes. We had no hoist or lifting aids. It was just me and my back. I couldn’t leave him to get lunch or a drink. I just sat all day long on a stool in between bouts of fighting with him.
At half three, he was choking, and I had to leave him to get some water for his oral care. This is me with a world standard vomit phobia. I was gipping.
He hadn’t eaten for well over two weeks. He couldn’t keep his Foritip shakes down and was down to a couple of sips of water every hour. As I was filling a cup—and yes, I admit, I took the time to put the kettle on too, I heard the bump. I never got my first coffee of the day.
It was that steel yourself moment all over again. I can’t explain how enervating, just that feeling alone is. That breath before you open the door to see what you’re facing this time.
Sure enough, he was back on the bathroom floor. I had left him for less than two minutes. The kettle hadn’t even boiled. I phoned Hubby at work and had a breakdown. I told him I couldn’t cope anymore. He was at the end of his rope too. Neither of us had a whole night’s sleep for nineteen months, and I had only left the house five times in the past year.
Things happened at a lick after that. We got through that night. Hubby spent most of it on the phone while I sat with Granddad. It was arranged that he was going back into hospital the next day to give us some respite. Hubby told me that he wouldn’t be coming out. It was all taken out of my hands, and Hubby and the doctors made the decision—as it should be.
I backtracked. I felt like a failure. Hubby had wanted to keep him at home. I was letting him down. I begged for us to keep him. I could manage another couple of days. We’d come this far. It felt like a massive failure to give up so close to the end.
‘Sooz, we can’t cope any longer. We’ve done our best. Look at the state of him. They can, ‘give him something,’ in hospital.’ Hubby loved his dad, but we’d done all of our grieving while he was alive. My time with Granddad wasn’t the sweet, peaceful ending we wanted for him. He was a madman, and when that (second) ambulance drove away with him, I’ve never felt so relieved in my life. I was furious, though, because the ambulance man took him out of our house for the last time on a stretcher chair in an incontinence pad with bare legs and feet. It would have taken me two minutes to put him a pair of trousers on and his slippers. The Barrow-in-Furness ambulance man would not let me dress him for the sake of his dignity. I think that’s awful. Days earlier, Hubby would have kicked up a right stink, his dad’s dignity was so important to both of them, but he was beaten. He told me to let it go. Hubby was following in his car, and they locked me out of the ambulance. The man said he would put his trousers on before they set off. He outright lied. Alec was left in the corridor at the hospital in a thin hospital blanket and an incontinence pad until he was seen.
They put him in a standard hospital bed. Hubby told them he’d climb over the cot sides and fall.
‘I’m afraid your dad’s too poorly for that, Mr B. He won’t be going anywhere, and we’ll keep an eye on him, don’t worry.’
When he visited the next day, granddad was on a futon on the floor where he couldn’t fall so far. He had a new crop of cuts and abrasions. They’d spent the night chasing him all over the hospital and had to sedate him.
Go, Alec, that’s the spirit. Good lad.
But I didn’t believe he was gone. I expected him to come home.
I never saw him again.
I didn’t visit.
I make no apology for that. He hadn’t a clue who we were anyway.
He was given hours to live when they took him—and lasted another month in hospital. Mark was with him when he died.
I wasn’t there for Hubby. I let him down again.
The staff at the hospital could not have been more different from the awful community nurses and ambulance people. They said they couldn’t believe that we’d managed alone as long as we did. We had no help. His family didn’t visit or call. It was just the three of us for nineteen months of sheer hell.
I’d like to say our life is returning to normal, and it is getting there. I’d love to go on holiday now that we can. But we can’t, we can’t afford it. We still aren’t sleeping, and insomnia is a hard habit to break. Hubby and I have to learn to sleep together again. We keep each other awake all night. We can get out now, that’s good. I can go out with him to walk our dog. I missed that so much.
I still check Granddad’s room. I don’t usually get as far as opening the door, but I go to it before I remember. I forget and get his sippy cup to make him a cup of tea, and I still lock the bathroom door. We have new carpets and have completely redone his room. It’s a beautiful guest room now—fresh smelling.
But he lives on in every fibre of the house. He’s still here.
And onto happier subjects.
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Born in South Shields, Tyne & Weir, Katherine Black lives on the tip of the beautiful British Lake District. She lives with her partner, father-in-law and 4 dysfunctional but co-mingling pets. She is mother, grandmother and secret keeper of all. She is Best Book Editors’ principal editor.