This week’s writer is a social worker in a London-based older people’s team


I’m still reeling from escorting an older woman into residential
care. Yes, I know we don’t normally work at weekends. But she has
no family, regards me as her nearest and dearest, and I guess the
success of the move matters as much to me as it did to her. It is a
pleasant-looking place and she has visited the place in preparation
for her move. The room they give her is not over-large, but the
member of staff introduced as the key worker promises a larger room
might be available in a few months. I find the room stuffy. It also
has an unpleasant smell, which opening the windows does not
dissipate. The key worker tries hard to ignore the smell, but this
proves impossible. Checking the room out, we find that the commode
of the previous tenant has not been emptied or cleaned. Not a good
start, and we progress from there. “Well, Mrs Er,” smiles the
member of staff, who obviously hasn’t bothered to check her name.
“What do you want done with your things when you die?””Not now, she
hasn’t got her coat off yet,” I interrupt fiercely. I am ignored.
“I have to ask these questions,” the resident is told. She is great
– says she doesn’t care what they do with them, they can throw them
out of the window, as she’ll be dead. I storm off to the senior
member of staff who, very surprised, insists no-one has ever
objected to discussing arrangements for their death before. On
their first day? In the first hour? Also, the art leaves a lot to
be desired. The last things she will see as she lies down at night
are faded prints of foxes being torn to pieces by hounds while
laughing red-coated men drink from hip flasks. When “Mrs Er” asks
me to take them down, the same bleating of “No one has ever …”
starts again.


Call in to find “Mrs Er” has become friends with another
newcomer. They walk round together and chatter away at meals. The
established mafia of residents is not yet speaking to either woman,
but having found each other they don’t care. The mafia feeling
thwarted is not a pretty sight, but the staff are enjoying every
minute of their discomfort.


An anxious GP asks for a visit to be paid to an older patient
living alone. The woman in question is delighted to see me. She
tells me that, aged 12, she went into service in Lord X’s London
house, where she rose from vegetable skivvy to housekeeper. Her
flat is immaculate, with something delicious cooking on the stove
and crochet and knitting to hand. However, this 93 year old
confesses to needing help in taking her curtains down and dusting
the picture rails, as she has promised the GP not to stand on a
ladder anymore. I ask her to adopt me, but she laughs my quite
serious request away.


What a generation they are. Visit another person well over 90,
who is normally supported by a helpful neighbour whom she has known
since he was a boy. She lets him use her flat to store goods from
his firm, which turn out to be boxes of export cigarettes, bonded
whisky, and so on. On her bed are spread three fur coats that she
uses as covers on cold nights. Alas, the helpful neighbour is away
doing two years, so I’m organising a care package of practical
help. Haven’t worked out what to do with the ciggies yet.




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