The musings of a final year medical student

Monday, 3 March 2014

Living in care

For the past year I have worked on a voluntary basis at a residential home. Here, we have residents with varying different mental and physical diseases. As we are a 'residential' home than a 'care' home, we do have a very select few (2) number of residents that are deemed safe enough to leave the complex unattended as they choose. We have the complex set up to facilitate this without causing too much frustration from the other residents that are not allowed this privilege. However, I've always wondered how it feels to live 24/7 at such a place.

I'm proud to say that where I work we uphold a very positive reputation in the community, and when I speak to the residents I look after they have nothing but nice things to say about our carers and healthcare assistants. But one thing I didn't appreciate until began working there was just how busy carers and HCAs are. It's non-stop work. Consequently, the residents may be well fed, dressed and comfortable, but once these needs are met there's always another resident that needs tending to. Some residents have good established friendships, but not all of them. Some are either too ill to leave their bed, or if they wanted to move they would need someone to help that they oxygen tank came with them as well. That's why I am so happy to be a volunteer, because most of my job revolves around simply talking to the residents. I work with one particular resident who is disabled; I take her to church and back each week, make her a cup of tea and have a nice chat with her. Because of her disability she can't just pop into the lounge whenever she wants and have a chat, and she doesn't eat her meals in the dining room with the rest of them. Yes, she has her books, her letters, her flute recordings, and she has a circle of friends of family that visit her on a weekly basis. But that doesn't mean she isn't lonely sometimes.

I suppose loneliness is an issue that depends on the resident. Some residents with very poor memory would never wallow in being forever alone all day because they simply don't remember it. They live right in that moment.

I never appreciated how much the few hours I spend with her on a Sunday would make such a difference. I also feel like I'm helping out the carers because before I joined the team they always had to alter the Sunday timetable and bring in extra carers so that one was spare to take residents to church, which leaves fewer at the home to look after all the other residents. Now I take the residents to church by myself, so the carers have a good capacity of staff to look after them.

I can see the disappointment on the lady's face when I can't stay longer for a chat. She sends me letters and always asks me about my A levels and my family, and my dreams of becoming a doctor. Likewise, I know all about her long-lost brother that died aged 17 to the war, her wonderful husband, when she lived in India, her life in Dorset, her yoga teacher daughter, her grandson and her 2 great grandchildren.

Whenever my parents talk about when they 'get old', my dad insists "Just chuck me in a home, I don't want to burden you and stop you from living your life. Don't make me live in with you, it'll be too stressful for you and you'll resent me for it".
He says this probably from experiences that he's had to deal with his patients as a GP. But I think should that scenario ever come to play, I will certainly make sure I can visit him several times a week, because one hour or one lunch every now and then can never replace the longer loneliness.

Sending a loved one to a home is often a very necessary step, but to be quite honest I still don't know how I feel about inflicting that lifestyle onto a loved one.


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