Mum looked well, but was wheezing and very out of breath by the time we got to the armchairs. Ever since my Father died from Pneumonia, I've been alert to low lung function, so I checked with the Key Worker, who showed me records to prove that Mum had been seen by the Doctor. Apparently, all is well with her lungs, so it's a bit of a mystery why she's short of breath. Mum and I sat there smiling and holding hands, with nothing much to tell each other about our lives.
The Key Worker took the opportunity to sit with me and go through Mum's 'Life Plan', checking that I was still in agreement with various protocols in place around Mum. The only one that had changed was that the sensor under her mattress now alerts staff immediately once she rises during the night, so that they can come and help her in the bathroom. Originally, the alarm had only sounded if Mum didn't return to bed within 10 minutes, giving her time to see to herself. She is past being able to cope now, and the Key Worker was quite frank that Mum is now essentially incontinent.
It was surreal to be sitting next to a beaming Mum all the time that this was being discussed. The Mum I used to know would have angrily denied most of the stuff we were covering. Sometimes it makes me feel so guilty that I find it easier to like this version of Mum. She's much more easy-going and non-judgemental.
We discussed Mum's activities. Mum always claims that they don't do anything, but it turns out that she goes to every single event in "The Venue": sing-alongs, poetry readings, bingo, movies and dances. I was treated to some charming anecdotes about her participation. It seems that Mum is going through a bit of a jewellery-flaunting phase, and regularly returns to her room to add another rope of beads or a broach to add interest. She's still competing for the attention of any young men who come onto the household, with a view to securing a boyfriend.
The Key Worker asked me what I thought of the ever-changing decorations around the room. I told her that I felt reassured, as a relative, to know that the staff themselves were taking the trouble to make artwork for the walls - this month the walls are alive with Easter Eggs and Bunnies and there were some South Park-esque wall decorations which included real twigs and artificial birds. I told the Key Worker that seeing the effort that the Care Staff put into the decorations helps me believe that they are committed to more than their shifts. This went down well because, apparently, the Management are considering installing permanent artworks and banning the "tacky decorations". I was asked to complete a questionnaire on the issue and I was lavish with my praise of the team's efforts. I made the additional suggestion that maybe the residents themselves should be involved in making the decorations, but conceded that this would probably require more staff members to supervise the activity.
This is when I learned that the Care Team are also resisting the Management's decision to cut staffing to the level of 2 workers per household. As the Key Worker told me, this would mean that the residents would be unsupervised any time that both workers were needed to lift or bathe someone. The staff are currently documenting everything that they do in an effort to justify the presence of the third staff member. I am somewhat alarmed that the Management is trying to cut costs in this way whilst the fees I'm paying rise ever higher.
Mum's overall 'Well-being' report was very positive: she's relatively active and participative, sociable and friendly. She shows some awareness and can ask for help. I left the Home in the evening, feeling happier about the Care Staff, who seem more attentive than they were last year. I've seen a marked improvement over the past months, since the Gerry Robinson TV documentary. Simple changes, like sitting down to eat alongside the residents, can make a huge difference in normalising the experience for everyone.