memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘care of the old’ Category

Tom would love to hear from you

Hi everyone

Jo here, Tom’s niece, gatecrashing his blog again!

Tom is back at the Lar working very hard at getting better. He’s medically stable, well looked after but rehabilitation is slow and frustrating. Tom’s mind is sharp as a razor as ever, but he’s frustratingly not able to type, read or use the computer. However, he’d LOVE to hear your messages, words of support, notes or anything else. It really does make a difference and lift Tom’s mood. Do leave a comment here (They’ll get read to him) or email me jo[at]minestronesoul.com

x Thanks

Jo

Minnows in the shallows

There are lots of odd and surreal things about this place which lead me to think I have already arrived in that twilight zone between dream and reality.

MY SON - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

MY SON – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

Take the case of people tapping their head significantly (but medically dismissively) and jerking their chins towards some of the poor souls who get up from their places while a meal is still in progress and start to meander in slow motion between the tables as though exploring a maze to which they have forgotten the way out.

Logically we are facing a scenario whereby one half of the oldsters are tapping their heads significantly and jerking their chins towards the other half.

(Ironically there is only person here about whom they could validly tap their heads significantly and that person is me, with my recurring brain tumours, the fourth of which I’m about to have surgically removed any time now).

Tap tap they should go

Tap tap

Tap tap

We are all just

Minnows in the shallows

The mysterious case of the uneatable pears

An  inspirational book (for my generation at least) was CATCH 22 by Joseph Heller.

Wicked and hilarious this book with brilliant wordplay brings paradox to an inevitable  Zeno-like absurdity. Published in 1957 it dazzled our generations and spread across the Anglophonic world like a wildfire.

(Now, of course, we have spawned a generation which, not only has not read CATCH 22 but also hasn’t read much else either – poor them, so many lost conceits, so much lost irony).

Anyway there is a scene in the book where everyone on the base is issued with a pill to throw away into the bushes.

STILL LIFE WITH FRUIT - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

STILL LIFE WITH FRUIT – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

So it is in this place. Sometimes we are distributed with green pears so hard and unripe that those of us who still have our own teeth, should we actually attempt to bite into them … but not to worry the pears are not to be eaten but to be put into our pockets or bags and consumed in a couple of days when they are ripe.

That same impulse, the same força de vontade, which is so good for my physical improvement, impels me to be difficult about the pear situation.

I enter the dining room for dinner at 7.00 sharp and notice the small rock-like green projectiles – what’s this, I think, are we going to have a window-breaking contest after dinner or have some of us been distributed with uneatable pears again:

–          Excuse me, I don’t want this fruit because it’s not ripe, is it? I’ll have the fruit pap, please.

–          There is no fruit pap left.

–          No fruit pap left!

–          You have to warn us in advance if you want fruit pap instead of a green pear.

I’m entering The Twilight Zone again.

–          Can’t you just assume that I will prefer fruit pap to unripe fruit …?

Meanwhile someone else has tactfully produced one of the apples that they keep in the kitchen in reserve for difficult cases like mine.

STILL LIFE WITH APPLES - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

STILL LIFE WITH APPLES – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

Bark bark

Bark on, sister, bark on

At the aged creature who dithers

Listless all day in a mental fog

Who’s queued all afternoon

In a gloomy crowded room

 with a thousand years

Of spent humanity

Nodding off in front of

The stultifying crassness

Of daytime TV

Whiling the long hours away

In senile topor

 

Suddenly whirled into tea

Mashed up dried biscuits

In an oversized heavy cup

Of milk or tea

Or milky coffee

Dunking bread

From time immemorial

Into the turgid liquid

Dazed and confused

Harried and hustled

Hectored and admonished

Muffled shouting

Hardly reaching

Into damaged mind

And broken memory.

 

Bark on, sister, bark on

But consider this:

Nothing divides you from them

But three odd decades.

Your present is their past

Their present is your future.

The Home where I live

The Home where I live is situated in the north of Portugal in a village called Maceda

that thread of good luck which has run unobtrusively through my life, I have found myself in one of the most reputable Old People’s Homes in the district. Modern, spacious, clean and fairly well designed, it’s a large building salubriously situated on a hill overlooking the sea.

The sea-view makes all the difference to me – satisfying my sense of aesthetics and soothing my troubled psyche.

The Home was the brain-child of the parish priest Sr. Padre Florentino Sousa and all honour to him for that.

Padre Florentino is the President of the Centro Social Paroquial S. Pedro de Maceda, (facebook ref. CSPSPMaceda) which includes a pre-primary school, a day-care centre and a meals-on-wheels service as well as the Old People’s Home, which was formally opened in 2003 by the then Bishop of Porto, D. Armindo Lopes Coelho. (There is a polished brass plaque attesting to this in the entrance hall). The funding for the project came from local worthies, one of whom donated the building land. The project is certified and supervised by the Social Security in Aveiro.

If the Padre is the President, then the driving force (the beating heart) of the Home is the Technical Director, Dra. Marta Reis.

This wholly admirable young woman has worked tirelessly to improve the level of care and professionalism of the whole team of care-workers. When I first arrived here not long after the place had been opened and before Marta & Co. came on the scene, some of the care-workers didn’t care and some of the cooks couldn’t cook and I was in too dark a mental place to be a position to assert myself.

Now, about eight years later, conditions have greatly improved, both with me and with the Home, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of Marta and her team and I would like en passant to express my gratitude for being so well and kindly cared for.

Here is a rather inadequate sketch I recently made  of the Home from the garden.

Memo from Terra

Name …………………………. Terra

Status ………………………… Planet

Location …………………….  Solar system on rim of Galaxy (Via Lactia) – North/West Quadrant

Mass ………………………….  5.974 x 1027 g

Volume ……………………..  259,875,300,000m3

Equatorial diameter …  7,926,381m

Polar diameter …………  7,899,806m

Age …………………………..  c 4,500,000,000 years

Surface gravity ………..  980 cm/s2

Escape velocity ……….  11.18 km/s2

Planet year ……………..  365.256 days

Core temperature …..  4500 degrees C (est.)

Water:land ratio …….  71%:29% (est.)

Report from Terra early 21st century CE 

Dem/S.Europe/Micro/Institution/old people/recruitment/subsection 3K.

To:               The General Council of the ISF (Intergalactic Space Federation)

From:          Agent 47sq – code name <Thomas> (N/W quadrant inspectorate)

Subject:      Care-home Recruitment Policy

Date:          20.09.2012  CE – LPT (Local Planet Time)

Your Excellencies:

The policy in an Old Peoples Home (such as this one) of recruiting all the staff from the same village has many advantages:

  • The Institution becomes the biggest employer and provides work in an otherwise inert and non-dynamic local socio-economic environment.
  • The carers, from top management to the cooks, together with the old people they care for, largely share the same socio-topographical background.
  • Thus the management is able to make value-judgement-based policy/decisions.
  • Many of carers and inmates are nearly or distantly related to each other thus a family atmosphere is engendered.

However there is a downside to the situation:

  • The policy of recruitment based purely on topography as opposed to a merit-based criterion (as is more usual) can sometimes lead to inappropriate staff/workers being recruited.
  •  It appears that in this particular area there is a culture of inter-communication by speaking loudly or shouting.  It seems to me that in sometimes treating the old people as recalcitrant or stubborn family members who are answerable to the norms of logic and correct social behaviour, the workers are drifting away from their core function which is the client/service-provider contract; moreover a few of them seem woefully lacking in what one would have thought a basic tool of their trade – an understanding of and empathy for the various types of senile behaviour/dementia.

CODE NAME THOMAS oil painting by THOMAS MILNER

(To be continued)

The Silent Ones

WINTER FLOWERS AT SUNSET

The time has come to consider the sometimes anonymous inmates of the Home.

The patients that one never sees because they are bed-ridden, isolated and never quit their rooms.

 

They are the silent ones and little sound reaches them from the outside world.

Everything is for done for them

(Existence in the Passive Voice).

They are washed and changed twice a day.

They are spoon-fed little bowls of soup or pap four times a day.

They are visited once or twice a week by their families but they are not edified nor are they stimulated.

They endure.

Oh, those lethargic and inert mountains,

Those skeletal ghostly wraiths with their sunken collapsed faces

Speechless in Gaza,

Now they’re on the last leg of the race,

Inching silently towards the finishing line,

They have run of steam and interest.

Thoughtless,

They are dying of old age.

OLD HANDS

We honour them.

The Lombard Reflex

I get to considering local common characteristics of the village people.

They do love a good noise, don’t they? Last year I read about the Lombard Reflex, the theory developed by the French physicist Etienne Lombard (specialist subject – Stating the Bleeding Obvious) that in a noisy crowded room people will raise their voices to give weight to their opinions, thus adding incrementally to the ambient noise pollution.

That theory doesn’t apply to some of these people though – they start off loud and work their way up through the decibels to just plain deafening.
They do love a good noise don’t they, bless them. They presumably equate noise with having a good time, the pleasure principle, as exemplified by the village feast. Saint’s days, municipal holidays, football victories, none of these events goes unmarked.

It’s time for a village feast.
First the PA system is strung up among the pollarded trees of the square in front of the church and stalls of tat and seriously unhealthy snacks – egg-mixture dipped in batter, deep-fried in boiling fat and then sprinkled with sugar (a riddle inside a mystery wrapped up in an enigma) are deployed. Then comes the booming voice of the DJ testing for sound – what the system lacks in quality it certainly makes up for in quantity. Then we’re off!

The banshee wailing of some local chanteuse (with impressive tubes) is belting out folklore favourites, repetitive and relentless. The people drift contentedly among the trees in the warm summer night. (They are music-illiterate – this is the only music they know).

For me It’s a bit like living, I imagine, in a normally quiet sector of the Western Front where, every now and then, there’s a small (and pointless) battle with the whoosh and crash of in-coming shells and the bang and boom of out-going ones with the distant dull thudding crump of explosions in the next sector of the line – It seemed that out of battle I escaped/down some profound dull tunnel … Then at midnight the thunderous BOOM of the celebratory fireworks, (when I first came here to this room some years ago, I nearly jumped out my skin; I thought we were being invaded from the sea – the Greek navy’s opening straddling salvo perhaps, testing the range to strike at the air-force base down in the pine forest).

HEARING CRISIS – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

Last year was especially unfortunate for me. Now check out these dates: Thursday 23rd June was a public holiday in Portugal – Corpus Christi (a movable feast dependent on an unusually late Easter); moreover it was the night of S. João and so warrants municipal noise about 30 meters from my window as the deaf crow flies until the early hours. The next day (Friday) was the feast of S. João (there are two St. Johns on the A-list – the Apostle/ Evangelist and, the saint in question, the Baptist). This time the party comes right here to the Home.

The bad news is that per cubic litre of space these old dears were being are subjected to more decibels than at the Glastonbury Festival but the good news is that most of them, to a greater or lesser extent, have faulty hearing; meanwhile I cowered blenching here in my room on the second floor feeling the building vibrate.

The next day (Saturday) was the feast of S. Pedro, the village patron saint, so it’s time to party the night away again. The next morning (Sunday) a couple of warning guns go off at 8.30 am to remind people to wake up for the procession. Le tous Maceda has turned out to line the streets; even the wheel-chairs are shoved into a line beside the road to watch the proceedings; all that is except for one misanthropic Englishman and a couple of inmates whose minds are completely lost in the maze of forgetfulness; and finally to round off the festivities (and ram the message home) more boom-bada-bada-boom from the square at night.
Such thoughts are unseemly in someone whose life is nearing its sell-by date.

I should be more tolerant.

I should take the broader view.

I should finish up my pastimes of reading, writing and painting, close my laptop, log off my mind and join the others in concentrating on doing some serious full-time waiting.

In space no one can you scream

I was literally petrified (terrified, horrified, shocked, frozen, stunned, appalled, numb, dazed, speechless, aghast, dumbfounded, stupefied, scared stiff, scared shitless, terror-stricken, shit-scared. Or literally turned to stone, fossilized, ossified, rock-like, statuesque

POINT TAKEN?

Historic victory (until it is forgotten next week)

Unique occasion (a royal wedding)

There are no words to express our loss – she was a kind, brave, popular yada yada yada yada

It was an electrifying experience (oh really, how many volts?)

Hopefully, it won’t rain tomorrow (oh, I didn’t the climactic conditions had feelings!)

————————————————————————————————————————

Actually I am in a unique position to observe (in English) that shouting at old people (unless they are deaf) is unacceptable in an institution such as this for the following reasons:

  • They are human beings
  • Only 30 or 40 years separates the shouters from the shoutees, nothing else
  • They are old, ill, exhausted and therefore defenceless
  • They are clients (i.e. they are paying the very people who are shouting at them).

There is stock of bad qualities which are attributed to the old folks and victims of dementia/Alzheimer’s, the chief of which seems to be STUBBORNNESS and an inability to answer to logic.

I must hasten to stress at this point that «they» form only a very small percentage of the staff here, the rest of which carry out their duties in a friendly and competent way under often very difficult circumstances.

What can I do? I only have useless words – the dictum The Pen is Mightier than the Sword doesn’t apply here. The English language seems to be an impenetrable code that (in this village at least) the inhabitants seem disinclined to break (even though they are subliminally exposed to the language most days of their lives – it’s just wagga-wagga to them; some invisible chip in their brains simply switches off (we don’t do that).

In a recent blog I fell back on bitter satire:

After the skirmish the captain has a debriefing session with his Sargent

–    Well Sargent, any casualties?

–    Yes Sir; one Sir, Fernandes Sir, blanket-job Sir

–    Was she stubborn at all would you say Sargent?

–    Ooh yes Sir, she could be so stubborn, that one!

–    I see; anyone else?

–   Two others only lightly injured Sir; they was caught in the-friendly-crossfire- of-verbal-abuse, Sir.

–    Jolly good; any other business Sargent?

–    Yes Sir, permission to request my transfer out of here, Sir!

–    Good lord, Sargent, any special reason?

–    I am Home-sick, Sir.

–    But I thought this was your Home Sargent!

–    Yes, Sir, it is and I’m sick of it!

—————————————————————————————————————————

  • Where are you going?
  • To the bathroom …
  • You have a nappy don’t you, well use it!

After 5 years in nappies and now happily liberated from them, I will remember the discomfort/indignity/smell/helplessness/hopelessness to the end of my days, so whenever I hear that particular one, my blood literally boils!

I must simmer down, take deep breaths and, far from the madding crowd, turn my attention to my paintings and books.

I am experimenting with collage again:

COLLAGE by THOMAS MILNER

And here’s my latest yellowy therapy effort thingy:

NESTS – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

The book I’m currently immersed in is WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel:

On the movie front I have just heard tell about Ridley Scott’s latest offering PROMETHEUS – sounds promising; think I’ll check it out (I like Ridley Scott – Bade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, Body of Lies, The Kingdom of Heaven et. al.)  especially ALIEN

IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM

No Country for Old People

With more than 1,000,000 old people, Portugal has one of the largest (proportionate) ageing populations on an ageing continent.

I live with about 35 of them.

THE OLD PEOPLE'S HOME

There is a tradition in most of Asia of reverence of and respect for the old. Here in the West however, owing the urbanization of society, the disintegration of the extended family-unit and the frenetic nature of people’s life-styles, we stick our old people into Care-Homes where they are sometimes neglected and disrespected.

I am not in such a Home, but even so dining downstairs can be a depressing experience indeed – the atmosphere muted, senescent and crepuscular. The three carers, who are nearing the end of their working day, are impatient to get home and who can blame them.

After the meal, which is rushed through at record-breaking speed, the walking wounded stagger off to their rooms while the wheel-chair brigade are briskly lined in the hall up in front of the elevator; one or two of them are dribbling slightly from the corners of their mouths.

They are patient, silent and exhausted.

Painting entitled 'flight attendant' by Thomas Milner

Painting - Flight Attendant - by Thomas Milner

And what am I (also a wheel-chair job) doing? I have stayed at my table near the double doors of the dining-room and am writing this.

There’s quite a crowd of them, by now, waiting for the 8.00 take-off; the queue is tailing back into the dining room, the last two old dears are sitting here beside my table; they are both wearing black; one of them is telling off the beads of her rosary and the other pulls a tired smile at me. I smile back. The others are all in serried ranks now, as though on a tired and murky Gatwick evening, waiting waiting waiting.

Oh, ye daughters of Jerusalem, cry out, cry out!

%d bloggers like this: