It’s the thing everyone dreads eventually happening in their lives and hopes never does, but one day I was working full time as an assistant head, the next I was signed off sick, two weeks later I was admitted to hospital and two months after that at the age of 46 I was moved to a nursing home.
Needless to say my life has changed quite dramatically over the past few months! My MS had been progressing quite rapidly for about six months and it was a relief to finally get admitted to hospital. It was equally a relief to find I was getting moved to a nursing home a few days before Christmas. My flat was unsuitable for my needs so I was technically homeless but the thought of having my own room after two months on a hospital ward was the news I had been waiting for.
The first thing I did was Google the nursing home and was relieved to see it was in a great location not far from the seafront in Saltdean, just a few miles east of my flat and an easy bus ride into Brighton.
I had recently learned the difference between a care home and a nursing home. I was concerned whether the home would have the equipment needed for my care and I was reassured to find that a nursing home has two carers per resident and the equipment I needed – a stand aid (an electronic device that lifts you from sitting to standing to transfer from bed to (powered) chair and a hospital style bed.
The manager came to meet me in hospital and showed me photographs of the room I would be staying in and again, I felt a huge sense of relief – it looked clean and modern and had an ensuite bathroom.
So, the next day I escaped from hospital and arrived at my new home. My first impressions were that it smelt of neither pee nor cabbage, the views from the front of the building were amazing and my room was lovely (although sadly not at the front with the aforementioned views). When you come out of the building there is a park straight ahead and the sea at the end of the road. It is five minutes to the seafront and the view from the bus stop is amazing!
I had missed several shows I had booked tickets for whilst in hospital and was over the moon to actually be able to go to a ballet that first evening. I arrived back at about 10:30 and was a bit surprised to see a resident open the door but she was very welcoming.
I went back up to my room and the resident followed me up but it turned out she wasn’t a resident at all. She was one of the night staff! K Is 85 and for some crazy reason still working. Thankfully, the other night staff member was a bit younger and more able and between the two of them they got me safely into bed. It’s always quite stressful explaining to new people how to move my body but we managed and the same was said for the rest of the staff that I met over the next few days.
I learnt the dark blue tops meant they were senior healthcare assistants, light blue tops care assistants and navy blue tops were the nurses. There is one nurse on duty day and night, two care assistants at night and 5 during the day. The staff are busy and on the go the whole time but nowhere near as frantic as in hospital.
I got to know them quite quickly and resigned my body and dignity to being looked after for everything I need. I have a call bell to be used day and night. I had said for some time that I would be happy living in a care home and in a lot of ways it is like living in a five star hotel – everything you need is just a press of a button away!
I am the youngest resident although there are a couple of others here that are not much older than me. But the majority of residents are elderly and suffering from dementia. I am certainly one of the only residents here that doesn’t have communication issues and it’s great that the care staff seem to enjoy having a resident with a different set of needs to the majority.
The first weekend I was here T, one of the care assistants was showing The Greatest Showman in the lounge in the afternoon. She makes popcorn and ice cream floats for everyone. How could I say no?
So, I made my way down to the lounge and a space was made to me right at the front. ‘No screaming B’, one of the residents was warned and so the movie began.
The woman behind me began a chatter that continued throughout the whole film. It was such a happy, joyous chatter – mostly with the characters. ‘Ooh, isn’t your dress lovely!’ followed by chuckles. Then O caught the attention of one of the carers and she had a quiet word to which the response was ‘just go in your pad dear…’.
Then B started screaming. There were tuts and huffs suggesting this was a pretty regular occurrence. The carers had left us to it by this point so one of the more mobile residents went and told on B. I felt so bad for him but there was no stopping the screaming – seemingly out of excitement over the movie. He was gently warned that they would have to take him out if he continued but it didn’t make a difference. The screaming and yelling that ensued as staff wheeled him out of the room was quite impressive if a little upsetting.
We then watched the rest of the film pretty calmly, and as I left the lounge I gave everyone a smile, especially the lady holding a teddy like a baby. But, I had decided that socialising with the residents was probably not something I would be doing a lot of.
My main experience of the residents now is hearing them from my room. I’m right at the end of the corridor and keep my door shut but everyone else has their doors open, often with TVs blaring at hard of hearing level.
The most vocal resident on the corridor is C who has had a stroke and makes me very sad. All she can say is ‘izz eeyore’ over and over at varying volume levels and with varying degrees of stress and annoyance. I hear it in the background almost all of the time. I’m hearing it now. I also hear how caring and gentle the carers are with her but they share with me their frustration and sadness at not being able to help her communicate. They have tried pictures, signs, all sorts of strategies but nothing seems to work.
Soon after I arrived W moved into the room opposite. When the carers and his family spoke with him he was incredibly quiet but once left alone he would begin impressive ranting monologues, barking out orders such as ‘SOS! Emergency! Ring the doorbell!’ and singing Onward Christian Soldiers at the top of his voice.
One evening I got in from town and was waiting in my room for the carers to come and take my coat off. C was ‘izz eeyoring’ at the top of her voice and W was mimicking her amongst his own ranting over the top of his cowboy crooning music he enjoyed. I was chuckling to myself at the craziness of my situation. Then to top it all I went to try and take my handbag off from over my shoulder, dropped it and it got caught on the joystick of my powered chair. This sent me spinning in circles at top speed until I eventually got stuck under a table in my room. By the time the carers found me I was crying with laughter.
Sadly, W passed away a couple of weeks ago and I miss his monologues and music. But the other week I passed C’s room and said hi and in a moment of distraction she replied quite normally with ‘hi’ back. It was lovely but so far a one off.
So, the majority of my interaction is with the care staff. They are so hard-working, caring and cheerful. They work 12 hour shifts and are just amazing with the residents, some of whom are very challenging (I’ve seen the bite marks and scratches), every minute of those 12 hours. My bedroom is above the garden where they sit and have a fag break so I get to hear some conversations. Not once have I heard them moan about the residents. They laugh and joke with each other and really are a great team.
On one of my first evenings there S and L came to put me to bed. S is in her 50s and L is in his early 20s. We were talking about what we had done at Christmas and L told me he had proposed to S. I laughed at the joke and there was silence… I didn’t know what to say so proceeded to take great interest in the proposal, whilst dying inside of my faux pas. As time has gone on I have learnt that S has grandchildren and her own children are older than L but who am I to judge? I still wish I could turn back time and respond with congratulations rather than laughter though!
I must confess to dreading getting back late on evenings when 85-year-old K is working. Firstly, she jokingly tells me off, but the joke wears quite thin. ‘You’re a dirty stop out’ I get told every time. Actually, I’m a 46-year-old woman and it breaks my heart that I have to come back to full help and a telling off each time. Secondly, as amazing as it is that she is 85 and still working, physically she’s not really able to manage my needs and I find it quite stressful. It’s also difficult for the carers helping her.
Amazingly, I discovered that one of the night staff used to be a pupil! We were chatting about where I used to teach and then we realised she attended one of the alternative provision centres I worked at and we completely recognised each other! She’s come so far from where she was at as a pupil and I find it really touching that she is such an amazing carer for me now.
There is another K who is very sweet but apologises non-stop for every thing she does to help me and explains what she is going to do before she does it which after a while becomes quite tiring! ‘Sorry Nina…are you ok? I’m just going to turn the shower on to get the water hot before I wash your hair…sorry Nina….I’m just going to wash your hair now…sorry Nina…I’m just going to to take the shower off your hair and get the shampoo…are you ok?’ and so it goes on.
My favourites are R, a guy who is a similar age to me, no nonsense, funny and we get on really well and young sisters C and C who are just lovely. They are really sensitive to my emotional state and one of the sisters particularly has given me a hug when I’ve needed it and come and checked in on me a couple of times when no one else has noticed I’m upset.
I’ve got used to my time in the shower being quite a social occasion. Many mornings someone is giving me a shower, a couple of carers and a nurse will come in the room to have a chat with each other and it all becomes a very friendly get-together! They completely respect my dignity but you really do just have to let your inhibitions go out of the window. Full frontal nudity is just the norm for them.
Whenever R gives me a shower he takes his shoes and socks off and rolls his jeans up. One morning he got carried away and started to absent mindedly take his top off too! It still makes me laugh thinking about it.
I appreciate the help so much but I do get fed up at times with having to be constantly physically manhandled and needing assistance with every single thing I do.
My days are pretty relaxing on the whole. I sleep until 8:30, press the bell for breakfast, they get me up around 10:30/11 or earlier if I need to go out. I’m only ever in my room or out and about. I read, watch TV, eat my meals and sleep in my room. I come and go as I please and can I have visitors whenever I want.
I don’t eat the food here – it’s fine but I have become vegan and eat raw and unprocessed as much as possible. It’s quite repetitive and meat and two veg. The staff joke that the residents don’t remember the last meal so they’re quite happy with the same thing over and over again! It’s not that bad but really not for me.
So, this is my crazy new home. There’s not much space for my own stuff and I have sold the majority of it anyway but I do have a few bits and bobs around to make it feel like home.
I’ve still not really got my head round where my life has ended up right now. Sadly, tragically in fact, having worked non-stop for 21 years and owning a home means I can’t access affordable, accessible accommodation. I’m stuck with too much money to be eligible for help but not enough money to buy the two bed adapted flat I need. I do have a social housing officer looking into other options but in the meantime I am here indefinitely with the potential to stay here permanently if there are no better options or I should choose to do so. At least here it is safe, comfortable, in a great location and the care really is fantastic.
So, I shall once again fall asleep to the sound of C ‘izz eeyoring’…