In which a brother and sister struggle to determine the best care structure for their aging ailing father.
“He’ll be better off in the hospital, Frank,” said Ellen firmly. “Mother can’t look after him. She’s not strong enough. She can’t get him to the bathroom, and such like. He’ll wear her out!”
Frank stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“I know you’re right,” he said slowly, “but…”
“They can take care of him there. The nurses can deal with him,” insisted Ellen.
“But they’ve been together so long,” protested Frank. “More than sixty years. He’ll miss her, and she’ll be lost without him. Can’t we…”
“Look, Frank,” said his sister bluntly, “you can’t take him. You’re living overseas in another country for goodness sake! I have four kids to look after. I live two hundred miles away. And there’s no room in my modest little house, so they couldn’t move in with us. It’s just not practical!”
“I don’t see why they can’t just go on living together,” persisted Frank stubbornly.
“Come on! Get real!” exclaimed his sister. “Dad’s losing control of his bodily functions, not to mention that his mind’s wandering. I was talking to him the other day, and he was off on some other planet. Couldn’t remember what I’d said to him five seconds before. Don’t get me wrong. I love him as much as you do, but Mum’s already had three minor strokes. If she has to lift him out of his chair, take him to the bathroom, cook and get him to bed day in day out, I’m afraid it’s going to kill her!”
“What if we hired someone to come in and do those things for them,” began Frank brightly. “You know like a home help or something.”
“Have you got some spare cash to pay for that?” asked Ellen gloomily. “I know I don’t. It’s no good! He’ll have to go into hospital…at least for a while.”
“Will you talk to mum about it then?” asked Frank sheepishly. “I haven’t the heart for it.”
His sister eyed him scornfully.
“Eh, Frank Barton,” she snapped, “sometimes I think you’re as weak as water!”
“But I don’t want him to go to hospital,” protested Mrs. Clara Barton. “I’ll look after him. I’ve done it these past sixty years, and I’ve no reason to stop now.”
“You can’t do it anymore, Mum,” said Ellen bluntly. “You’re not strong enough. He’s not the man he was. He’s near as helpless as a baby these days! I was shocked to see how he’d changed just since I last saw him three months ago. I fear for you, Mum, if you have to go on doing everything for him.”
“That’s my job,” said Clara stubbornly. “I’m his wife after all.”
“Mum,” said Ellen urgently. “You’ve had three strokes in the last two years, and that last one scared me to death. They rushed you to the emergency. I thought we were going to lose you!”
“’t weren’t nowt,” declared her mother truculently. “I were back home in two days as good as new.”
Ellen shook her head in exasperation.
“You’re eighty-four, mother,” she said. “You’ve had a hard life. You should be slowing down and putting your feet up. You’ve not got the strength to be looking after a man with incontinence, arthritis and creeping dementia.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” snapped Clara angrily. “Maybe your Dad’s got a problem mekkin’ it to the toilet once in a while. Perhaps he’s got a few aches and pains, and sometimes his mind wanders, but I can handle him.”
“Well, Frank and I don’t think so,” said Ellen firmly. “We think you’d both be better off if he were in a hospital where he could get professional care.”
“And what’ll I do stuck here on my own?” asked Clara pugnaciously. “I’ve been with that man every day of my married life. Apart from when he were at work, we’ve not been apart a day in sixty years.”
“I know it’ll be hard at first, Mum,” said Ellen soothingly, leaning over to take her mother’s hand, “but you’ll be able to visit him whenever you want. It’s for the good of both of you.”
“I’m not so sure o’ that,” said her mother grimly, “but you’d best talk to your Dad.”
She uttered a long-drawn out sigh.
“Sixty years!” she exclaimed wearily. “How it’s flown by!”
“I need to talk to you about something, Dad,” said Ellen slowly, enunciating in a clear distinct voice.
“There’s no need to talk to me in that daft way,” grumbled Jim Barton crossly. “I’m not a babby, tha knows.”
Ellen ignored him, and continued:
“Frank and I have had a serious talk, Dad, and we think, for Mum’s sake, you should go into hospital for a while.”
“Oh, you do, do you!” exclaimed the old man in an irate tone. “Well, I’m not shiftin’. I’ll not leave this house till they carry me out feet first!”
“But, Dad, you have some serious health issues,” protested Ellen, “And Mum’s not strong enough to look after you like she used to. So we think…”
She paused as she noticed her father was staring out of the window with a vacant expression on his face. All of a sudden he turned to face her. His face lit up with pleasure.
“Eh, but it’s our Ellen come to see us,” he said with obvious delight. “When didst tha ‘rrive, lass? Dost tha mother know tha’s here?”
A pained expression flitted across Ellen’s countenance.
“Yes, Dad, she knows,” she answered patiently.
She sat down next to the old man on the sofa, and took his hand.
“We think you need professional care, Dad,” she said simply.
“Aye, lass, ‘appen tha’s reet,” said her father resignedly.
A moment later his face lit up.
“Put on tha coat, lass,” he declared brightly, “I’ll takk thee down to park, and tha can play on t’ swings.”
Ellen kissed him gently on the cheek.
“I love you, Dad,” she said, “and now I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.”
When Ellen, Frank and Clara entered the ward at the local hospital, they found Jim sitting up in bed. Ellen’s face fell as she caught sight of the dismal expression on her Dad’s face.
“Why, what’s the matter, Dad,” she asked after she’d kissed him on the forehead.
He gestured wordlessly at his mouth.
She looked puzzled.
He opened his mouth to reveal his toothless gums.
“They lost my dentures,’ he lisped.
Ellen remembered how she and her brother had used to laugh as kids when their Dad took out his false teeth, and made funny faces. Now he just looked forlorn.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” said Ellen reassuringly. “I’ll find them for you.”
She walked off down the ward in search of a nurse.
Clara sat down next to her husband.
“I’ve brought you some grapes, pet,” she said.
“Don’t be so daft, woman,” spluttered her husband. “How can I eat ‘em wi’ out my teeth!”
“We don’t know what happened to your father’s dentures,” said the nurse frostily. “He leaves them in a glass by his bedside, and this morning the glass and the teeth were missing. We are searching for them very carefully, I assure you.”
“Well I didn’t see anyone looking for them!” exclaimed Ellen testily.
“This is a very busy ward!” replied the nurse. “We have a lot of patients who require constant attention, and we’re doing the best we can!”
“Well, my father is not happy without his dentures, and he’s one of your patients,” insisted Ellen.
“And one of our most difficult!” murmured the nurse.
“I beg your pardon,” said Ellen sharply.
“I said that finding lost teeth is very difficult,” said the nurse hastily. “I promise you, Mrs. Warren, that we’ll let you know as soon as your father’s dentures re-appear!”
Ellen departed the nurse’s station with a less than satisfied expression on her face.
“So, how is it, pet?” asked Clara. “Are they looking after you?”
“The food’s terrible,” grumbled the old man. “It’s too noisy in the ward. I can get no peace, and if I need help to the toilet, I might as well whistle for it! I’m fair miserable!”
“I told thee, Ellen,” said Clara, “I told thee that he’d not like it. I can’t say as I blame him.”
She looked around with some disdain.
“Eeh, I’d hate to be stuck in ‘ere for very long,” she declared loudly.
“Have you been watchin’ the football, Dad?” asked Frank, indicating the TV set fixed on a swiveling arm at the end of the bed.
“Costs money, dun’t it?” replied his father.
He leaned over, and gripped his wife’s frail arm.
“Tha’s got to get me out o’ this dump, Clara,” he pleaded, a look of desperation on his wrinkled face. “Tha cannat leave me to rot wi’ all these senile old buggers!”
A tear escaped from the corner of Clara’s eye, and rolled down her cheek.
At that moment a young nurse approached, a sheepish expression on her face.
“We found your dentures, Mr. Barton,” she began hesitantly. “Somehow they’d got taken away with the dirty dishes, so we found them in the kitchen just as they were being put into the dishwasher. We’re awfully sorry!”
The old man rolled his eyes in exasperation. Then he seemed to notice the nurse’s embarrassment.
“Aye well, pet, I don’t suppose as it’s thy fault,” he said kindly. “Just hand ‘em over, and I’ll stick em back in my gob.”
The nurse handed over the dentures gratefully, and scuttled off down the ward.
When the dentures had been firmly fixed in his mouth, Jim turned to his family.
“I don’t know who you people are,” he snapped, “but thanks for the grapes anyway!”
Clara, Frank and Ellen looked stricken.
Then the old man grinned and gave them a mischievous wink.
“Visiting hours are over,” he remarked. “Now get off home and gimme some peace!”
Two days later the nurses conspired to lose Jim Barton’s reading glasses which were never found. By the end of the week the old man’s spirits had plummeted and Clara could no longer stand to see her husband’s expression of pure misery.
“I’m takin’ thee out of this hell-hole,” she said.
And over the protests of her son and daughter she did just that.
“Perhaps it were a blessing that he passed away when he did,” said Clara to her daughter three months later. “It was terrible hard getting him dressed every morning. His mind was going fast, the poor old bugger. He wasn’t my Jim anymore. That last two months he couldn’t recognize me. Didn’t know who I was!”
“I wished I could’ve helped you more, ma,” said Ellen.
“Aye, well, you had those bairns of yours to look to,” replied Clara soothingly. “He didn’t suffer, your Dad. I only had him but a couple o’ months after he came home from the hospital.”
“We were wrong to ever suggest putting him in there,” said Ellen regretfully. “I wince every time I remember how his face was every time we visited him. That ‘condemned prisoner’ expression. I felt this terrible anguish every time I looked at him.”
“Aye, but you meant well,” Clara reassured her. “You did it to spare me, I know. But I decided that I’d have him out of there and back with me if it killed me. At least we’d be together. And so it was. I were with him when he died. He went peaceful, and in his own home. That were a blessing. Now I can wait on my own passing with a clear conscience, knowin’ that I didn’t abandon him.”
Ellen smiled and patted her mother on the arm.
“Tha’s a good woman, Clara Barton, and no mistake,” she said.