I have just returned from a week’s holiday on a Scottish island. My travelling companions comprised my 96 year old mother and her 80 year old cousin. Both women were at the top of their field (teaching and medicine) before they retired. My mother is now barely able to walk with a stick and does a bit better with her zimmer trolley. Her cousin can only walk short distances and on level ground.
Every morning I have to give mum her pills, remove her nightie and adult nappy, help her into the bathroom where she levers herself painfully on to the loo and washes her face, underarms and bottom with two flannels soaked in Dove cream wash and hot water. It is like watching a rusty robot or a badly managed puppet. Every movement takes a huge effort of both mind and body. Mum is so thin that I am scared of helping her in case I bruise her.
Back into the bedroom where I persuade her to sit on the end of the bed instead of the side of the bed where there is no room to manoeuvre. On with a fresh nappy, a vest, blouse and then the dreaded tights. Mum sticks both feet out at once. Her toes are not pointed but turned up, making it hard to put her feet into her tights. One time I nick her skin with my nail as I wrestle the tights over her shins and her leg bleeds profusely. Blouse, skirt and cardigan next then Mum wedges her feet into her shoes and collapses gasping on the bed. I leave her to recover and get dressed myself. Then I give her her false teeth, at which each morning she expresses surprise as though she has never seen them before and brush her hair. It used to fall to her waist but last year she agreed to have it cut into a more manageable page boy. All this happens in reverse at the end of the day. Mum moves slowly around the room, occasionally leaning heavily on the (switched off) wall heater. I am terrified it may fall off the wall.
To get to the breakfast room we have to go down three corridors and through endless heavy fire doors. Every morning Mum asks which way do we go and I struggle to make sure the fire doors are wide enough open for her zimmer and don’t catch her heels as they swing shut. Then we have to find room to park the zimmer in a crowded dining room and help Mum into her seat. Until you have seen Mum sitting down, you have no idea what an effort it is. First move chair out at angle to table. Mum clutches me and the table and sits unbearably slowly, gasping and groaning. I push her chair nearer the table.
During the £9.50 breakfast, Mum eats three pieces of toast and drinks a cup of tea. Her appetite is tiny and I deliberately did not book us in for meals included, hoping that she would pick and choose which meals she felt like. She insists on coming to every meal, even though she eats barely a tenth of what is on her plate. She finds it difficult to see (won’t put on her specs) her food, difficult to cut up and spear her food and ends up pushing most of it around the plate.
It rains heavily for the whole week on the island. Each morning we set out in the car to explore another bit of the island by road. By the end of the week we have seen all that can be seen from the main road circling the island and the two smaller roads the String and the Ross, crossing the island. Mum’s cousin needs elevenses in the morning and afternoon tea, so her eyes light up when we spy a cafe or restaurant. Each time we stop, we have to wrestle Mum out of the car, unpack the zimmer and proceed at a snail’s pace into the cafe. Then back again. For someone aged 80, Mum’s cousin is astonishingly good at nipping out of the back seat (three door car).
By mid afternoon I am desperate for a nap and Mum enjoys continuing the nap she started in the car in our bedroom. Then the manoeuvres start over again for dinner.
Both of my travelling companions are delightful but Mum never instigates conversation and Mum’s cousin and I never seem to get off the merry go round of Banks: I really don’t understand them and can’t believe how much they have changed; Modern Life: It seems so complicated; Cruises: how convenient they are (we had hoped to go on a cruise this year but Mum is too frail for the journey to and from the docks) Trams: what a mess they are making of Edinburgh; The Hotel: what an odd place it is. The same version of these conversational topics are rehearsed several times a day, every day.
Both Mum and Mum’s cousin said they enjoyed the week. I think Mum did because she forgets minute to minute what happens and Mum’s cousin because she is eternally positive and optimistic. However the island was requested by Mum and my cousin as they had both had happy childhood holidays there.