My Dad’s A Goldfish – a farm outing

A friend invited the Goldfish to visit his farm so he could get up close and personal with cows. Did I mention, before retirement the Goldfish was an AI man – artificial insemination? Of cattle – that is. I smile writing that because living here in what was the heart of dairy farm country saying AI is enough, everyone understands you mean cattle insemination but once, when the Goldfish was in hospital, the doctor asked the DH what the Goldfish’s job had been. DH said he had worked in artificial insemination. The doctor, looking a bit startled, asked: “In humans?”

Anyway, when the Goldfish was the AI man he went to my friend J’s father’s farm. J always remembered how nice the Goldfish was to him in those far off days and he invited him to visit – only someone connected with farming would understand what it would mean to the Goldfish to be amongst cattle again.

A scene from the farm.

A scene from the farm.

It was a dreich day but dry. J had fastened a sort of carriage thing – made from an oil drum – to the back of his quad bike. It had a seat – quite small as it’s mainly used by his granddaughter. We managed to install the Goldfish in this and I sat on top of the quad bike – feeling grateful for my years of riding sidesaddle on the pillion of motorbikes in Pakistan – and off we went. My years of being the AI man’s daughter mean I like cows and have no fear of being amongst them and the Goldfish was delighted.

J kept up a running commentary about everything we saw and whenever I looked back at the Goldfish, who couldn’t actually hear a word being said, he looked happy, alert and interested. In one field we stopped amidst the cows and J asked the Goldfish what breed he thought they were. The Goldfish studied them for a moment and said: “They look like Ayrshires.”

J nodded. “They do, don’t they? In fact they are Montbeliard cows, originally from France,” he said. A discussion about the breed and milk yields followed and it was so good to see the Goldfish totally engaged in the conversation.

Montbeliard cow

Montbeliard cow

There was a bit of a problem when J stopped the quad bike back at the house and we tried to get the Goldfish out of his carriage. He was stuck fast and it took our combined efforts to prise him upright and then he started quivering from top to toe, all his muscles in spasm. I was terrified he would topple over and didn’t see how we were ever going to get him out and safely on the ground. Finally he was able to stand upright and somehow J managed to get him down and he tottered into the house, none the worse for his shakes.

J’s wife had put on a lovely afternoon tea and the Goldfish tucked in with gusto, scoffing pancakes and scones with jam and cake and several cups of tea.

Driving home I asked what the step-monster (of course I didn’t call her that. I gave her real name) would think when we told her he’d spent the afternoon driving over fields on a quad bike.

“Oh,” he said, “have you been on a quad bike?”

“You have, too,” I said.

“I don’t remember.”

Even so, it was a really good outing. With these kinds of trips out and interaction with other people talking about things with which the Goldfish has a connection, it’s the lasting feel-good factor which is more important than the fact he forgets the event almost immediately.

My Dad’s A Goldfish – return of the step-monster

Although the Goldfish kept asking where his wife was, he appeared satisfied when I explained she was on holiday at her sister’s. Of course, he immediately forgot where she was so I had to answer the question many, many times, especially in the evenings. A few days before her return he seemed less satisfied with the answer. “Well, no one told me she was going away,” he would exclaim.

Within days of her return, even the joy of sleeping in my own bed had evaporated and my mood swung between raging temper and a deep sadness. She never said a word about the new carpet or the chair. Only when her granddaughter commented on the lovely carpet and pointed out that green was the step-monster’s favourite colour did she grudgingly admit it was ‘nice.’ The commode was out and the bucket back in place. I had told DH to remove the bucket from the premises but he didn’t think she would actually swap them over, especially as the Goldfish had been using the commode. When I challenged her about it she said, “It’s only for a few nights until he gets to used to it.” The urine-soaked cloth was back in the bathroom, which stank to the heavens again.

The arms and back of the Goldfish’s lovely chair were covered in mis-matched throws and the back  twisted out of place. I pointed out the damage to the chair, asking why she had moved it.

“No one moved it,” she said. “It’s too heavy to move.” Quite – but she’d had a good go at it. I called the shop and someone came out to fix it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there when he came and the step-monster persuaded him to move it to where she wanted it so it was too close to a wall and could no longer recline. I wanted to cry.

The CC came for a meeting to discuss the new care plans including having someone in to help the goldfish have a shower at the weekends. As we expected, the step-monster was not happy. She liked to have peace and quiet on the weekends (remember, the carers come in for half an hour each morning) and she goes to church on Sundays. We know she often sends him back to bed while she goes to church and he remains unwashed and unshaven all weekend. Having someone come in at night to give the Goldfish his meal didn’t go down well, either but the CC knows Wee-sis and I are struggling now. We’ve been providing three meals a day for months. We stopped going in at lunchtime but left soup and a sandwich for her to give him – we suspected she shared the soup so the goldfish was only getting half his lunch but we reckoned if he had a good enough breakfast and evening meal we could still be sure his calories intake remained high enough. Finally, after lengthy debate, she agreed. Well, she said: “You must do what you think best.” As far as she was concerned the discussion was over.

Two days later she was threatening to leave the Goldfish and live on her own. Her arguments were that she can’t cope. It’s too much work. She said the Goldfish keeps pressing his fall detector button – something he only did once before she came home. I told her we’ll find out how often he does it because all calls are logged and we’ll be sent a record. I don’t know if they log the calls or not and I’m pretty sure we won’t be sent a record but it stopped her in her tracks and we heard no more about false alarms. She said it is too much work for her. We agree and explain this is why we are putting in extra help. She then shifts the argument to how she can’t cope with the intrusiveness of having people coming in to provide the extra help. She said: “I have to think of myself, you know.” Like she’s ever done anything else.

Wee-sis and I were stunned to say the least. Is this something she was planning while away at her sister’s? Was it really anything to do with the new care package? Did the thought of what the Goldfish had spent on the new carpet and chair tip her over the edge? Whatever, she seemed to have second thoughts and was overheard telling someone how relieved she was to have extra help.

Needless to say the dominoes and jigsaws and books have been tidied away out of reach of the Goldfish. Really, she makes me want to cry – and she makes me want to scream. And I so wish I could make her see what she is missing out by her refusal to engage with the Goldfish.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – playing while the cat’s away

We took delivery of the fall detector, which the Goldfish wears round his neck. If he falls he can press a button (or the step-monster can if she’s around and the Goldfish is out cold and can’t press it himself) and if there’s no one around to press it someone will come on the line.

Wee-sis and I are first responders for the door alarm (which the step-monster refuses to use) but I’m not sure what happens if there’s no response when care call tries to talk to the Goldfish. I mean, if he’s out cold on the floor it’s going to waste time if they have to ring me and/or Wee-sis and one or other – or both – of us is working. Must ask the CC about this. Have to say our local social services have been great, mainly because we have been very lucky in having the CC we have. She happened to be on duty when the referral for the Goldfish came in – luck of the draw.

We’ve only had one false alarm with the pendant but mostly the Goldfish seems not inclined to play about with it or press the button. He seems rather proud of it and showed it to me one day, saying it belonged to him. “My mother gave me it,” he said.

The Goldfish in his chair enjoying a visit from a neighbour's cat

The Goldfish in his chair enjoying a visit from a neighbour’s cat

The decorator has been brilliant as have the carpet fitters, managing to get everything done with the minimum of fuss – even helping to move furniture around. The living room looks really nice now, though it took the Goldfish several days to notice the carpet. One day he said: “Oh, have we a new carpet?”

“Yes, we have. Do you like it?”

“Very nice. Must have cost a few pennies, though?”

“Well, it wasn’t so expensive and it’s much better than the old one. Besides, it will last you a lifetime.” I winced as those last words came out of my mouth but the Goldfish laughed as though at a great joke.

I’ve had Power of Attorney for some years but, as the Goldfish was able to manage his finances himself, I didn’t act on it. Even when I began to worry slightly I was reluctant to take away his independence. It was only when I was flicking through his cheque book stubs and noticed he had paid half the step-monster’s car insurance, made a substantial donation to the church roof fund (something I knew he was unlikely to do) and paid for the flowers for the step-monster’s friend’s funeral that I began to take a closer interest and, finally, begin to handle the Goldfish’s finances.

The DH arranged a new package for an additional television channels so the Goldfish can watch more nature and wildlife programmes, which he really enjoys. Wee-sis said they’d watched a programme about orphan elephants which she said the Goldfish and really enjoyed, so they watched it twice. I started to watch it with him but had to miss the second half of the programme. When I next sat down to watch it with him he suddenly turned and said: “Is there nothing to watch on this television apart from bloody elephants?” Nice to know he doesn’t totally forget everything!

I managed to secure a nice little tax rebate for the Goldfish and we decided to use it to buy a chair

which reclines, has a foot rest and, more importantly, tips to make getting out of it easier. He is delighted with it; even tries not to spill coffee on it. Not sure how long that will last but the woman in the shop says the fabric is very robust and can be scrubbed. I’m sure it will be scrubbed many times.

The step-monster will return to a lovely, freshened-up house with a smell-free bathroom and a husband who is more alert than he has been for a long time. He loves playing dominoes and we’ve been playing cards with him, looking through books which prompt memories and generally keeping him stimulated.

The cat likes the chair, too!

The cat likes the chair, too!

My Dad’s a Goldfish – home at last

The Goldfish was delighted to be home. DH collected him from the hospital while I shopped and cooked. The three of us ate together before the DH went home leaving me on overnight duty.

The Goldfish seemed not at all worried by the absence of the step-monster. We explained she was visiting her sister and he only asked once in the evening where she was. We settled to watch television but nothing seemed to suit until I found a football match which he watched with apparent interest. When he got up I thought he was going to the bathroom but he said he was looking for the football. I explained it was on television. He sat down again but was very tired and losing his words. He would start to tell me something but the words just weren’t there.

Although he began to repeat he was ready for bed, he made no move to go. It took me a while but I eventually realised he didn’t remember what to do to get ready for bed. I started saying I was tired, too, and that seemed to help motivate him towards the bedroom where he managed to get into his pyjamas and into bed.

The Goldfish slept well and I didn’t do too badly, only waking up a couple of times. He was obviously up several times in the night to pee as the commode (the hospital provided it so I was able to get rid of the bucket) was pretty full.

The bathroom stinks. The Goldfish’s aim isn’t always very good (I think this is probably true of most men!) and there is often a little puddle on the floor. This takes a minute to clean up but the step-monster’s answer is to place a cloth on the floor by the pedestal to catch the spills. Unfortunately she leaves it there for days so instead of a wee puddle which can be instantly wiped up, a stinking, urine-soaked cloth lies on the bathroom floor. I am on a mission to have it stink-free by the time she returns.

Wee-sis and I had meeting with social services. The Goldfish greeted the CC with a big grin and promptly fell asleep. The CC is happy to increase the care package to include a carer to come in for shower and personal care at the weekends. We also discussed having a teatime companion to supervise the Goldfish having his evening meal, which I and Wee-sis would continue to provide but would give us a break in the evenings.

There was some discussion about how the step-monster is going to react. We all know she will be furious. CC said the Goldfish is a vulnerable adult and if he is at risk because of the step-monster’s lack of care they can take steps to ensure he is not at risk. I said I was worried it could lead to removing him from here if this is deemed to be the place where he is at risk but she says that won’t happen. If need be it would mean getting someone in overnight and during the day.

She also arranged for the Goldfish to have a fall detector and we try out the door alarm, which was installed months ago after the Goldfish went walkabout early one morning. It works fine and is very easy to use – though we all know the step-monster will continue to steadfastly ignore it – she prefers to lock the doors and hide the key.

I’ve asked a decorator to come and do some freshening up of paintwork around the house and we’re ordering new carpet for the living room to replace the threadbare remnants of what is there. It’s going to be a busy week getting everything done before her return.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Hospital (part 2)

I managed to alienate the nurse (rank undetermined as I’m still trying to work out the colour coded uniforms) who said she was ‘happy’ to discuss any concerns I had. That is, until she realised she couldn’t answer my questions. She shuts down – telling me to ring the consultant’s secretary. Why do I do it? Why can’t I keep the edge of sarcasm out of my voice?

I should learn not to ask questions they can’t answer but the Goldfish had been in hospital for over a week. As he was admitted on a Saturday not much happened other than quantities of blood taken and sent to the lab. They all came back ‘clear’. Next they stopped the Alzheimer medication in case it had caused a change to the heart rhythms and asked a cardiologist to see him – a day, maybe two, after they stopped the medication. Would 48 hours without one med make a difference?

The Goldfish was being kept in hospital for no apparent reason. They weren’t treating him for anything, he had no infection and they don’t know what caused the episode when he became unconscious. The scan was never done. Did he trip and fall and knock himself out? Doctors think it may have been a TIA (transient ischemic attack) – quite usual in patients with vascular dementia. There’s nothing to be done. So why not discharge him?

Three days later I’m beyond caring who I alienate. The Goldfish is becoming increasingly agitated about being kept, against his will as he sees it, in hospital. He’s determined to come home – packs his belongings in his bag and sets off down the corridor. They usually catch him before he leaves through the swing doors. They solved the bag-packing problem by hiding his bag behind his locker. This is the ward where they have had special training to look after dementia patients! Now, a patient who has dementia, is distressed about not being allowed to go home is becoming ever more anxious because his bag has disappeared – possibly stolen. Still, it means they don’t have to keep escorting him back to bed.

Every day they put a specimen collecting jar on his bedside table. “He’s supposed to give them a urine sample,” the patient in the next bed, helpfully told me. The nurse tells him when he goes to have a pee he should put some in the jar. He has dementia! He can’t remember that he’s been told to do this. Half the time he can’t remember where the toilet is. This has, predictably, resulted in ‘accidents’ so they make him wear an incontinence pad. This is what special training in care of dementia patients means. Maybe I got it wrong and they haven’t been given special training.

Every so often the Goldfish asks where he is and I explain he’s in hospital. Then he asks, “Did you come in the car?”

“Yes, I drove over.”

“Well,” he says, “I’ll just come home with you, then.”

I explain again he has to stay in hospital for another day until the doctor has seen him. Then he asks why he is there and we go round it all again until the tea trolley arrives to give us a wee break, much to the relief of the other patients who must feel they’re listening to a stuck record.

Nurse said he can’t go home until an assessment has been done and his care package increased. I ask her by how many hours the package would need to be increased to prevent a TIA occurring. She really hates me now.

Next day and still no assessment then it’s the weekend. Manage to speak to an OT who says she’ll call on Monday. When she doesn’t, I ring her. At least I try to ring her – turns out it’s a local holiday so she’s not at work. Begin to think my dad will die in there. Phone local social services, explain the situation to duty social worker and ask if she can’t get dad out and we can look at care package once he’s home. She agrees this sounds like a good plan, tells me she’ll call me back. Twenty minutes later, she phones – all sorted. We can collect him tomorrow and bring him home.

I don’t know what has happened on this ward. Last time he was in the care was good. The nurses took his ‘This is Me’ bag with notes on his life – childhood, school, work, likes, dislikes, hobbies. They kept it with his notes and they read it and talked to him about the things they had read. This time the bag is left on top of his locker, the notes unread. No one knows anything about the Goldfish – other than he has two daughters, one of whom is perfectly nice, one of whom is stroppy and given to making sarcastic remarks.

As for the step-monster’s role during this time – well, she buggered off to have a couple of weeks ‘respite’ at her sister’s. Didn’t even say goodbye to the Goldfish. She says he won’t remember. But I will!

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Hospital

The Isle of Arran, Scotland

The Isle of Arran, Scotland

This time last year DH and I took a holiday to the island of Arran where we did lots of walking and I did hardly any cooking. We were beginning to unwind and feel the benefit of our break when Wee-sis rang to say the Goldfish had been rushed to hospital. They thought it might have been a TIA and were talking about doing a scan to see if there was any bleeding in the brain.

Wee-sis had been coming to give the Goldfish his breakfast and met the step-monster, hyperventilating at the garden gate. She had left the Goldfish unconscious on the floor. Wee-sis said she was afraid the step-monster was going to have a heart attack as she was in such a panic she could hardly breathe (step-monster, not Wee-sis). She called an ambulance, put the Goldfish into the recovery position and, to give her something useful to do, sent the step-monster to fetch a blanket.

The ambulance arrived within minutes. By then, the Goldfish had regained consciousness but couldn’t move his right arm and had lost the ability to speak which is why the paramedics suspected a stroke. Once in the ambulance, though, he seemed to be able to talk again although much of it didn’t make sense. Wee-sis says not to cut short our holiday but although we decided to stay on, it was no longer relaxing. Daily phone calls with progress reports were both looked forward to and dreaded. The signal where we are staying was terrible, other than in the supermarket car park, so calls were frequently abruptly cut off, with the ensuing quandary of who was calling whom back?

At least, DH and I kept reassuring ourselves the Goldfish was in Ward 18, the ward for people with dementia and last time he was admitted there we were impressed by the standard of care. The nursing staff had been cheerful and good-humoured, even when the Goldfish dumped another patient’s slippers in the bin. He’d apparently tried them on, realised they weren’t his and disposed of them. He’d appropriated his neighbour’s shaver and walking stick.

I took in his ‘This Is Me’ file which contains masses of personal information from the work he did before retirement to hobbies and interests, likes and dislikes. The nice thing was the nurses kept it with his notes and actually read it so were able to talk to him about his work and so on.

Hospital visiting hours can seem never-ending, especially when there is no real conversation with the patient. I took in dominoes and a magic painting set – remember them? All you need is water and a paintbrush and the colour appears as if by magic. The ones I bought were pictures of sportsmen and are specially made for people with dementia. Once the picture is complete it is left to dry and the colours fade so it can be used over and again. Time passed quickly with the Goldfish absorbed and happy, other visitors looking on enviously! The nurse in charge of the ward said if she’d been staying on the ward she’d have bought some for patients to us. I should have taken note of that ‘if I’d been staying’ remark.

Back from holiday and our first port of call is the hospital and Ward 18. We walked in to find the Goldfish sitting on a chair beside his bed in his pyjamas, no dressing gown and the bedside table was awash with spilt water which had also formed a puddle on the floor. He had rested his feet – no slippers – on the leg of the table to keep them out of the water. There was food including chips on the far from clean floor and an unidentifiable orange blob of something under his neighbouring patient’s chair.

The Goldfish was looking okay though anxious to come home. I spent time with him, telling him about our holiday, looking at the postcards I’d sent him, though one was totally saturated by the spilt water while the DH went off to speak to staff.

At the top of Goat Fell, Island of Arran - worth the effort for the views.

At the top of Goat Fell, Island of Arran – worth the effort for the views.

He came back disgruntled – it’s the weekend, no doctor has been to see the Goldfish yesterday or today, they don’t know why they didn’t do the scan Wee-sis said they were going to do, nor could they tell him very much at all about what the diagnosis was. We would have to wait until the next day to speak to someone who might know something. Depressing.