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Second Last Resting Place

(Thoughts of a long-term nursing home patient)
by Leah Francis

My back has been troubling me for years. Now, quite suddenly, I can't walk. Why? Why? The doctor says old age and a hard life (but I'm only seventy-four). There's nothing he can do. I just have to stay in bed. Someone suggested I get a second opinion but I feel it's hopeless.

Ray* has to do everything for me - help me to the commode; bring my meals, everything.

The district nurse comes every second day to shower me, the rest of the time I stay in bed.

Ray has to get up for me several times each night. It makes him tired and cranky. Sometimes when there is nobody around I just cry. Neighbours and relatives are being kind though. They come to visit and sometimes they help Ray. They cheer me up.

There was a family discussion today. Nobody mentioned it to me, but I knew they were all there in the dining room and I think they were talking about me. Do they think that because my legs are gone I shouldn't be included any more?

Without asking me or warning me, they have brought me to this nursing home. Not for long they say, just until I regain my strength. But I wonder. Ted comes to see me every day. He tells me about home - my home, where I no longer cook the meals, plan our finances, clean, water the garden, feed the birds, welcome our friends. I just sit here and read, and try to knit and watch television. The rest of the family visit, too, bringing me what they think I need; they are decisions that should be mine.

The arthritis in my fingers is worse. I can't knit or crochet any more. I don't even care to read. Life has lost its point.

I worry about Ray. He's getting old and he shouldn't have to take care of himself. He shouldn't have the burden of visiting me every day. We should be sharing these last years enjoying each other as we grow old. Yet why am I complaining? I always said I didn't want any of the family to have to nurse me when I grow old.

Most of the staff are very kind and considerate; though some are impatient and some are tough. They try to force me to do things I can't do, like walk to the bathroom when they hold me. They all call me Bella, as if I were a child; they talk down to me and bully me, as though I were not an adult at all.

Where is this place? I don't know where I am. How far away is home? Why can't I go there, sometimes at least? Some of the patients who can walk go for bus trips, and some have relatives who take them out once in a while. It must be wonderful to see people in the streets, and houses and shops.

Last week they wouldn't answer the bell and I wanted to go to the toilet. By hanging onto beds and doors, half crawling, I managed to get to the bathroom. Then I must have tripped, because I'm in the hospital now, with a broken hip. It hurts so much. People have scolded me for 'trying to be independent.' I wish I could die.

People have been sending me cards and writing letters, but I can't write any more; can't say thankyou at all. They say there's a public telephone at the nursing home but I don't know where it is. Anyway, I suppose I couldn't dial numbers any more, even if I could get to the phone.

I like the woman in the next bed. They put our chairs side by side in the middle of the day so we can talk together. Mostly we sit alone by our bed and it's so hard to look directly at people, let alone talk to them. They are so far away. Strange how lonely it gets, even though there are people all around.

We had another concert today. Nice to sing the old songs but it makes me sad, and it makes me think. But, there's nobody really close to share my thoughts with.

Some days Ray doesn't come now. Maybe he's getting tired, of me. Maybe he's found someone else. Oh, how could I think like that! Poor man, he's just getting old. If only we could be alone together sometimes. He's my husband but I never see him in private. Why can't I go home, at least for some of the time? This life isn't my life. It has nothing to do with me. I'm in limbo. Nobody needs me, nobody wants me. They come smiling, bringing news, but they are not intimate any more, my family and friends. How can they be, theirs is a different world, and anyway we are always with other people.

Yesterday the entertainers brought percussion instruments with them. We all sounded like a lot of kindergarteners. I started to cry. I thought, that's just how they think of us, as kids. "Come on Bella," they say, "eat up your dinner, there's a good girl." Well, I suppose you can't blame them. They have to do so much for us. Maybe second childhood's right, but I'm nearly eighty. I've lived long and worked hard, and I'm not a child.

Arthur came on Sunday. He got me into a wheelchair and took me into the garden, and out into the street. It was wonderful. I wish he'd do it again, but it was heavy work, and matron says I'll catch cold if I go outside. I'd like to be able to sit on the verandah and watch the cars and people go by but it's hard to get the wheelchair down the step.

Some of the nurses give us a laugh, and the cleaners can be fun too. They remind us of the world outside, the world I know I'll never see again.

Leah continues to bring the children. I worry when they come, though I love to see them. I think matron might get angry.

Ray* died. The family told me in the ward with the other women. I wanted to howl, but how could I do that without upsetting the others?

It's been weeks since Ray died but I can't get used to it. I keep waiting for him to come, then remembering, and crying. Matron said it would have been easier if they had taken me to the funeral. Then it would have been more real.

I don't seem to remember what day it is, and when they ask who came to see me, I can't remember either. If only the pain in my back would go away, just sometimes.

Joan, my friend from the next bed, died last week. At least she's gone. It happens all the time, someone just goes, dies I'm sure, and the nurses never speak about it. I suppose they think we don't know. Sometimes I wonder why I'm here with all these dying people.

My mind is getting worse. I keep thinking people are taking my things, forgetting what I should be doing. Sometimes I don't quite recognise people. My hearing aid doesn't work any more, and my fingers are so arthritic I can't move them. My teeth hurt so much I don't wear them. I can only eat mush. My throat hurts and I can hardly talk.

The entertainers came again today. I felt like a dummy because that's what I was. I couldn't do anything they were doing. Couldn't even hear the music properly. Anyway it was nice for a change.

Very few people come to see me now. I am forgotten.

They've started to feed me now, and I dribble. I wear nappies like a baby. Only my eyes are still alert, only with them can I communicate with people.

I'm going to die very soon now, at last, but nobody can understand. Now it's happening, as I sit in this chair, alone. No one is aware that I'm going.........to my last resting place.

13th October 1982

 

notes:

Aunt went into the nursing home at Christmas 1975, and died in 1980. Leah died in 2003.

* Leah wrote this piece with fictional names. We have decided to replace the real names, since the details in the story are nearly all true. -BACK-

* Ray Thomas was found dead in the chookyard at 2 Romani Avenue, Hurstville. -BACK-