BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
I found myself on a train from Liverpool this week after a meeting with a team of hotshot lawyers. Sat in the seat opposite was a young lady dressed for a polar expedition. She asked to read my discarded newspaper and proceeded to comment on all the stories. Like this our conversation began.
After ten minutes discussing Hewitt the Younger and (we concurred) the temporary decline in Klopp’s wizardry, I felt bold enough to ask this lady, especially since she heralded from icy Gdansk, why she felt the need on such a mild day and in such a cosy train to sport a woolly hat and North Face puffer, to leaf through my newspaper in a pair of down gloves.
For the next half an hour our conversation on the Trans Pennine Express from Lime Street was mostly one way, as she explained to me that she felt more comfortable wearing surplus clothing than showing the wounds she had received that week from working as a carer in a residential care home.
By Manchester I had been shown the bruises and cuts on her hands and wrists, contusions on her neck and right arm. The cut above her brow was now healing and covered in make-up but I could see that my travelling companion had been slashed across the forehead with something sharp (as it turned out, a plastic knife).
The establishment at which this lady worked, on minimum wage, had 38 beds and, like bedspacer bunks in downtown Manila, they were always in use. The day after a death, a new resident appeared. The management were under pressure to fill the beds for their bosses – the private owner living miles away from their care home insisted on beating last year’s profits, was happy to regularly fire management and did not seem to care that some nights just two carers looked after the entire establishment. Agency staff were not an option – they squeezed revenues inconveniently. Even if the new resident had been ejected by a local home for being violent or hard to manage, this lady’s home seemed delighted to welcome them.
The lady told me how she had worked nights over the festive season, how she was hit by a Christmas tree thrown from a balcony by one resident, how the biro in the breast pocket of her uniform had been snapped in half by a ninety-year-old male resident’s punch; this same retired lecturer had also tried to rape her. She described how she’d regularly walk in on some residents playing with themselves. Others sat on their beds in their Sunday best waiting for their long-dead relatives to collect them. She looked genuinely perturbed at how many of these residents talked of a young boy bouncing a red ball who played in their rooms and seemed to often set off the automatic doors and emergency pads on the floor – yet no children ever set foot in the care home. She cried when she talked of one shift when she was pinned down on a chair and beaten by a male resident, powerless to retaliate as:
There were some memorable anecdotes alongside the horror stories. The afternoon a German resident showed up and a stampede of residents chased her out of the care home and into a pond as a rumour spread that she was Eva Braun. The Casanova who discovered Viagra at 103 and was found dead slumped in carnal embrace with a Henry the Hoover. The local politician resident with dementia who now cannot help but let slip the truth. I suppose one should show sympathy towards these forgotten souls and not chuckle. Certainly the young lady was not laughing…
Hearing this brave, hard-working lady’s tales from her workplace made me both pity and respect her. I felt sorry that she had to come all the way from Gdansk to be hit by our elders. I bought her a fruitcake slice from the trolley service. It was the least I could do.
One wonders how greying Britain’s social care problems shall be fixed. Pouring cash into this unfillable and growing hole is surely not the answer, just as those who espouse euthanasia, like modern day George Bernard Shaws, are mistaken (and depraved) in their calls to “kill, kill, kill, kill them”.
The answer in the longer term is surely AI. No need to clear Gdansk of young ladies any more. But what kind of future can we expect as we grow old, our incontinence pads changed by automatons and our meals conjured to health specifications by pill-grinding machines?
In respect of dementia care I disagree with those who say human roles are vital. Better to beat a robot than a human when one knows not what one’s doing. Better to avoid condemning a young Pole or Filipino to a life of arse-wiping and bed-changing. Better to not place people in the way of criminal behaviour that cannot ever be prosecuted.
As to one’s own destiny, is not welcoming a massive heart attack caused by overindulgence in port and cigars superior to losing one’s marbles? Maybe David Niven was right when he suggested holding off experimenting with hard drugs until an age when Death’s door was already well ajar.
The prospect of dementia is a frightening one. After this young lady disembarked and continued her journey on to Diggle, I found myself downloading Cognifit apps.
We cannot keep putting carers through this for peanuts. It is not fair on them.
There must be a better way.
Like Klopp, we must conjure solutions, and sharpish.
Dominic Wightman is Editor of Country Squire Magazine.