I am surprised how quickly things change. In the two weeks that I have been away mum has slipped further and further away: Even dad now wants an assessment done so that he can get some respite. Dad needs help with two things. He needs me to distract mum so that he can make the call to arrange for an assessment and he needs to cancel a payment she receives as his caregiver. She no longer helps him to get around. She has given up cooking – even though she still looks at her recipe books and buys ingredients for things she used to make.
I sit with mum and copy out a recipe from her cookbook while dad makes a call from the phone in the back room. She repeats the name of the cake, “flourless chocolate cake Sue Candice”. She has no idea who Sue Candice is nor does she remember the cake. I doubt that she even understands flourless.
“So I should make this tonight,” she says.
“No, I am going to make it,” I say. Then offer to bring the cake I will make later that day so that she and dad can have it with dinner.
She keeps saying that she will make the cake and I keep correcting her. She wants to mark the page so that she can find it and make it later. We mark the page then, as dad is still on the phone in the back room, we go through the book looking at the pictures and other recipes.
When dad comes back into the kitchen I tell him that I am going to make the cake then mum says that she is making it. Dad then tells her that she bought the ingredients, cooking chocolate and ground almond meal, some time ago. He gives me a block of cooking chocolate and the almond meal so that I can make the cake. This seems like a good compromise.
At home I make the cake. Then I try to call Human Services to arrange for the cancellation of the payment. I am on hold and listen to a Mozart concerto over and over and over. After 20 minutes I put the phone into my pocket, leash the dogs and take them for a walk. After another 45 minutes Vanessa asks how she can help. I explain. She asks for mum’s date of birth. I have two wet dogs on a leashes and I am carrying a bag of dog poo. I tell her it is sometime in April, the 28th I think and that she is 84. She asks me to tell her the year. I tell her that I can’t do the maths in my head as I am out walking. I ask her if she could work out the year. She is frustrated with me as I explain that rather than sit around waiting for my turn in the queue I have left home and I am out with my dogs. I tell her I have a bag of poo, two wet dogs and I add that I too am frustrated. I add that I don’t have pen and paper to subtract 84 from 2017. She puts me on hold. When she comes back she tells me that she has searched five dates around the date I told her and that she cannot find my mother’s record with the information I have provided. I ask her if she can search under address or full name. I try to tell her how difficult this is for me and that I just want to do the right thing and stop a payment that my mother is no longer entitled to. I wonder who created such a rigid system.
She tells me she is very busy.
I tell her that I too am very busy.
She tells me I will have to ring back with my mother’s date of birth.
She terminates the call.
When I ring back a few hours later, the line is busy. I cannot even get a place in the queue. I wonder how old people navigate a system that is there supposedly to help them but that really doesn’t want to help them at all.
I take the cake up. I also take a shower chair up. Mum and dad are not showering and this is a concern for us. I think it is months since mum last washed properly and she smells. She also has a nasty rash that looks like a yeast infection on her neck. I hope that with the assessment dad has arranged, there will be some personal care for her.
I adjust the chair legs so that the height is good for her and put it in the shower then I take mum into the bathroom and show her how to use it. I fix the height of the shower and the soap so that she can reach them. I show her how she can put her towel on the rack inside the shower.
Then I take dad down and show him what I have set up for them. I explain where everything is and tell dad that all he will have to do is to make sure the temperature is adjusted and help her into the shower. Whilst I am with dad in the bathroom she says to my daughter, “I don’t need that person to show me how to shower.” When I bought it, I knew that the shower chair had the potential to make her angry. But when I demonstrated it I was surprised at how OK with it she seemed.
The next day I phone dad. He is tells me they have had a bad night, that she is angry about the shower chair, that she fell out of bed and was disoriented. He tells me that she cannot cope with people coming to the house, that she tries to follow what is going on but can’t. I think he is telling me kindly not to interfere. I know that mum would be horrified if she could see how she and dad present themselves now. I am just trying to preserve her dignity. I think she would want me to do this for her.