The Radio 5 phone-in this morning is all about terrible conditions in some care homes, and the suggestion that hidden CCTV cameras might be installed in some of them to keep an eye on the staff. It sounds Orwellian, but I’m not sure that I’d be against it if I were one of the old folks.
In The Little Girl in the Radiator, Martin Slevin talks about the decision to have his mother taken into care, a decision which made him feel as though he had ‘betrayed and abandoned’ her. In the end, she went through three homes, with varying standards of care. She was treated reasonably in the first, though her clothes were all lost or ruined; in the second, the treatment was exemplary; in the third, to which she was admitted following a stroke, it was terrible.
On her admission to the hospital where she died, following another stroke which happened at that third home, Martin was taken aside by a doctor:
‘What can you tell me about the nursing home she has just come from?’ he asked.
‘Not a lot, really,’ I said. ‘She only just moved in there a few days ago. She was in Walsgrave [Hospital in Coventry] for about 10 weeks before that. Why do you ask?’
I had the strangest feeling there was something he wasn’t telling me.
‘She was not admitted in a favourable condition,’ he replied. ‘The nurse who first admitted her commented on her condition.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Heather. ‘What condition?’
‘The admitting nurse wrote some comments in the admittance book, which is a very unusual thing for a nurse to do. I think she was covering herself.’
‘I still don’t understand,’ I said. ‘What was mum’s condition when she arrived here?’
‘I didn’t see her personally,’ he said, ‘but the notes written by the admitting nurse state that she was covered in faeces. Some of it had dried onto her legs, and looked as though it had been there for some time. There was also dried faeces under her fingernails, again indicating that she had not been washed in some time. Also the feeding peg on her stomach was caked in dried blood, again indicating a lack of personal care.’
I thought I was going to be sick.
‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this,’ he said. ‘You can go through and see her now.’
Meanwhile, there is another excellent review of the book, this time in the GPs’ trade magazine, Pulse (written by Dr Natalie Smith, a practising GP at The Manor Surgery in Headington, Oxford):
‘Both medics and laymen alike stand to learn an awful lot from reading this book’ says Dr Natalie Smith
This book is a heart-breaking account of the author’s personal experience of coping with his mother’s deterioration with the cruel disease that is Alzheimer’s. It is not meant as a medical text, nor should it be taken as one, however both medics and laymen alike stand to learn an awful lot from reading this book.
Don’t be put off by the subject matter; the book is incredibly well written and is very entertaining and even amusing in parts. Mr Slevin manages to recount some of the more distressing aspects to his mother’s condition with a hint of humour, and throughout you feel that he is sharing his experiences in order to help others to cope.
Some of the more harrowing episodes relate to the lady’s treatment in a care home, which opens our eyes to the distressing and harsh attitude that some of these supposedly caring places may have. Fortunately, in the end [as above, this is not quite correct], Mr Slevin finds a wonderful home for his mother, where she is suitably cared for and lives out her last days in relative happiness, unaware of her condition, and talking always, to the little girl in the radiator.
Having read this, I for one, shall look at my patients with dementia in a new light, as well as treating their carers with even more respect, admiration and sympathy than I have done until now.