It's a sad fact of life (and death) that the majority of us are destined to end our days in a care home. Or if recent and continuing news stories are to be believed, a couldn't care less home.
There hardly seems to be a day, week, month (it's hard to keep track of time when you're 92 and suffering from dementia) goes by when there isn't another damning indictment of what it is to be an old person today, residing in the likes of Apple Tree House, Orange Blossom Court, Cherry Orchard Manor or Sea View Lodge.
All of which are conveniently located on the outer reaches of an industrial estate. The only chance of a sea view coming with the increased risk of global warming and the only smell of Orange Blossom coming from the cheap job lot of scented candles purchased to help disguise the omnipresent smell of soiled bedsheets and over boiled cabbage.
Mind you, with the number of undercover reporters who seem to find themselves in such establishments, you'd think the staff to resident ratio would be akin to the average 6 star hotel. Every whim catered for, every buzzed call answered within seconds. Although it's anyone's guess how a Ritz-Carlton butler would respond to someone's anguished plea of "I think I might have pooped myself", especially when he's more used to pouring out glasses of Cristal and organising a masseuse for Madonna.
Plainly, no investigative journalist is ever going to show the best of what's on offer. Their hidden cameras aren't going to linger on the stroked cheek and the bright responsive smile. It's in their interest to show the worst. The anguished cries in the middle of the night that are ignored. The callous misuse and abuse, both physical and mental. Sometimes, it all seems so dramatic and traumatic, you could almost think to yourself that the whole thing was being staged.
"Mabel, sweetheart, if you could just scream a bit louder when she hits you, that would be tickety boo. And if the you playing the nurse, sorry love I forgot your name, could try and look a bit meaner and more viscous that would be super".
It's often difficult to know exactly where the truth lies. There are bad apples- not from Apple Tree House though, which has never seen any semblance of an orchard- in all organisations. And residential homes for the elderly are no different. These bad apples are the people the media want to tell us about and bring to our attention. They don't want to show those who, despite the appalling wages and agonisingly long hours, see caring as a vocation.
I have first hand experience of care homes. I hasten to add this isn't as a long term guest (a much nicer term than inmate). At least, not quite yet. My mother currently resides in such a place. I don't know why I used the word 'currently'. It's not as if she's going anywhere else. Her next place of residence is only going to be heaven. Or wherever it is that we all ultimately end up moving to.
And frankly her passing can't come soon enough. I should stress that she's not mistreated. On the contrary. They do what they can for her. It's simply not enough.
There never seems to be sufficient trained help when needed. The food is nowhere as good as promised in the brochure. In fact, it tastes like the brochure. The entertainment is lamentable. It's not even end of the pier standard. I'll jump off a pier if I hear another rendition of 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary'.
To be honest, it's no place for a woman such as Claire. Yes, her name is Claire. I feel no need to change it for the purpose of this post because she no longer has any idea what she was actually christened. Once so vibrant, vital and beautiful. Back in the day, I suppose you would have called her a stunner. Outside of her room, there's a large framed photograph which we got blown up. In it, she's standing in front of an orange Ford Capri and is wearing a bright yellow above the knee (quite a lot above the knee) dress. Her ensemble is topped off by an oversized pair of sunglasses. She looks like Angie Dickinson in the Killers.
Now, however, Claire is nothing but a bed-ridden vegetable unable to eat the vegetables they whizz up in a blender for her. She's also unable to move, wash herself or go to the toilet unaided. She can just about manage to squeeze our hand and laugh occasionally. At what, God only knows. If she had any knowledge of her condition, she'd beg my brother and I to smother her with a pillow. We'd willingly do it if it wasn't for the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence.
So for the time being, we visit the very abode where her remaining days dwindle helplessly away. Thousands of other relatives are in the same boat as us. We know that. Every month they see themselves dutifully pay the fees- £4000 in our case (Yikes!) - to a business that is, well, nothing more than that. A business with its eye firmly on the bottom line.
This begs the following question. Can an organisation that ultimately only cares about profit truly hope to care for those it should be duty bound to look after?