So I am sitting next to my semi-conscious mother on the medical assessment ward and I suddenly find Thomas Wyatt’s “they flee from me that sometime did me seek” sloshing about in my head. Until now I had always thought it the self dramatising lament of a roué in his cups having just been knocked back by a teenage waitress. But right now it seems entirely appropriate.
Most of the patients on the medical assessment unit are old. Properly old. My mother will be 90 on Wednesday if she survives, and I am not sure she is the oldest. Everyone is moved around on wheels, on gurneys, in wheelchairs, even a special stand that moves them from bed to chair and back. Everything has some mechanism that raises, lowers, angles, enables positions to change from a to b because the subject cannot do this on their own.
Each one of the patients looks old. Oversized ears, saggy skin in various shades from blue tinted, pink and grey and yellowish. Dalmatian spots on the skin, great welts on brown and black that look almost brindled where it is creased and folded. Some have blankets of fat that now just hang where before they would have tightly wrapped the frame. Everything sags and slackens and time seems to be pulling them towards the centre of the earth. In fact there is so much collective time in those rooms it is surprising the mass of all this experience, hundreds of years, thousands of experiences all bundled up into sepsis fractures and various stages of dementia doesn’t drag all of us with it.
But the most surprising thing is the solitude. At this stage in their lives when they need other people most the supply is depleted especially that of familiar peers. My mother is the only one with constant company or at least the maximum regulations allow. The woman in the next bed will be collected by a friend because it is too late for the professional careers who normally look after her. She is being discharged into the home of someone who neither a child or any other family. This doesn’t help. There may be me and then my brother and then my sister in law and then another brother and another sister in law and eventually my eldest brother who is her primary carer. But despite this band of the familiar, intimate and loving, it is difficult for any of us to tell what she is asking for when she tries to communicate. We can guess, me least well of all because I live so far away. I just do not really know her day to day requirements and nor do I understand all of her ticks and gasps.
Later, thinking about this; I recall that on the first night she started to kind of speak and I think she said mother and also her sister’s name and maybe also husband. She was involved in some story that we could only see the temporal side of. This seemed to distract her until my brother and I decided it was time to leave and she became visibly upset so she was more conscious than we thought. So we waited for her to slip back into sleep before we left.
On the whole she was comfortable and calm because of us. She was lucky that the silk she had spun between us was strong and stretched so far. Having love that cannot be reflected back is what makes us difficult, unlovable, lonely. I can only express my gratitude at the kindness and gentleness with which the staff treated someone they didn’t know at all.
Which made the Wyatt make sense as it is about having a broken heart because the object of his affection has told him to sling his hook. We’ve probably all been there. Dumped and exiled from out happy place. The only thing that will fix it is a return to that person who doesn’t want us back doesn’t want to come back. Then what we need is a high dependency unit for emotional wrecks.