A series of sentences is running round my addled head, as I try to come to terms with my mother’s shambolic journey through different wings of the NHS.
Twice this week she was prepped for surgery which didn’t happen. She’s in the “wrong” ward in a hospital which apparently was not expecting her scheduled transfer. It’s a damaging, depressing process which has left the family devastated and mum at a life-changing crossroads.
It’s been a month of many words, emails and phone calls since she was admitted, but the same four sentences keep returning to the front of my brain. You may relate to all of them or none of them, but for the time being at least, I am learning to live with all of them, trying to nurture some and acknowledge the others.
The first sentence is this: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” This one has been with me since the day she was admitted.” I’ve quoted it to her when she feared she was in danger of physically falling, but its meaning of course goes much deeper than that. I have always feared that hospital admission for the elderly is a one-way trip. I keep returning to this sentence through gritted teeth, and clinging to the fact that the everlasting arms are there even when we cross from life to death.
The second sentence is this: “What the f*** are you doing to my mother?” OK so rather more human, rather less spiritual, but no less real. This week I attended an Awfully British Meeting about the catalogue of errors which had happened in my mother’s care over the previous few days, most of them on weekend days when the NHS pretty much shuts down and so do some of the unluckier, sicker patients. The sentence I wanted to utter at the meeting is as above. The Awfully British translation is, of course: “I’m terribly afraid to say that I find my mother’s level of care unacceptable. I’m afraid I feel I have no option but to escalate this into a formal complaints procedure. I am, well, terribly sorry about all this.” The doctor apologised wholeheartedly, a way forward was agreed, was naturally abandoned within 24 hours, and at time of writing absolutely no-one knows where she is heading next on her journey through the NHS. It’s a rollercoaster ride, and anger and helplessness are never far from my emotions at the moment.
The third sentence is neither spiritual nor angry. It is this: “It’s an imperfect system trying to resolve imperfect situations.” This one came from a social worker many years ago, describing the care system, when I was preparing to foster children. Fostering breaks your heart in a way you never thought it could, as you watch the guilty go free, and even produce more children to abuse. In the current phase of my life, I’ve found this sentence as helpful as the first two. The NHS is an imperfect system: indeed parts of it have turned out to be deeply flawed. Mum’s situation is of course imperfect, and caring people have been doing their best to resolve the series of unfortunate events brought about by the imperfect system. It currently seems beyond any of them to resolve, but I keep referring back to Sentence 1 and trying to keep Sentence 2 at bay. I remind myself that mum remains inexplicably cheerful.
The fourth and last sentence is this. “I’ve got her now.” It keeps coming back to me, like a cracked record, in the long sleepless hours when the Sentence 2 is trying to prevail. It’s closely allied to Sentence 1, but so much more personal. It’s a promise I’m holding onto. I have to relinquish the care I was giving at home, to the imperfect system which is the NHS. And I have to trust that her God is still with her in all the chaos, the pain, the uncertainty, and the changes of carers and places. It’s a work in progress, but I’ll try to listen to that fourth sentence most of all.