Sometimes when I am watching old film footage from the sixties, say at a festival or a Rolling Stones concert and I see all the hairy hippies and flower children and I find myself thinking how old they must be today. And I hope that they are coping with this thing we call 'old age'. And that if they have reached the stage of their lives where they need people to help them that those people are kind people who live up to the title of 'carer'.
I once knew a lady who had lost her legs due to diabetes and she told me that her carers threw her about “like a bag of corn”. She said that the young ones would be helping her and all the while they’d be talking about what they’d got up to on a night out. My friend complained that she crtainly didn’t want to know about how how drunk they'd got or who had got off with who.Young girls can make wonderful carers but often they patronize the elderly people they look after. They can find it hard to fathom that old people were once young and vibrant and full of vim and vigour.
In a Ballyclare home there was a lady in her mid-fifties who was suffering from a degenerative disease. She had lost the power of speech and was unable to feed herself. I watched a carer spoon food into her mouth all the while conversing with a colleague and never once speaking to the person she was feeding.
Then I worked a couple of shifts in a care home in Ballymena. It was tremendously well run and luxuriously appointed and the standards of care were very high. One evening towards the end of the shift when the work was all done and carers were waiting to go off duty, to pass the time, I went over to chat to a bright nonagenarian who came from my part of the country. She had attended the same country school as my father and was full of interesting stories. When I returned one of the permanent staff said to me, “Why were you talking to that old bore?” I’d previously spent my tea break in the company of this particular staff member and had found her very dreary. All she had wanted to talk about was her Christian faith and to criticise other staff members who didn't live their lives according to her high standards.
Carelessness happens here too. Pearlie's carers came in the other morning chattering nineteen-to-the dozen. It was all “she said and then I said and she said and if they don’t like it and imagine putting in a complaint and Jill said to Nancy that Lorna said and I said and then I just said and she goes and…”
And by this time they were in with Pearlie and I heard the clank of cot sides going down and the conversation never stopped. No “Good mornings, how are you today’s?” to the lady in the bed. They continued with washing and changing Pearlie and never lost their momentum or missed a beat.
Then I heard Pearlie pipe up,
Can you turn out the light again?
And this reply…
Just wait Pearlie. Can you not see I’m doing something else?
Then (rather shortly)…
There that’s your light off.
No goodbyes, no see you laters. Just out the door with them.