• A white haired man with a green sweater and yellow colooard shirt

      Reg Green (Photo – Martin Green)

      A few weeks ago, ColoradoBoulevard.net was kind enough to run an account I wrote of how in the middle of the night I had lain on my back in bed in a madhouse in a neighborhood a few miles from Pasadena unable to move.

      By Reg Green

      The door of my room was open and I could hear every sound, the timid asking pathetically for help, the aggressive roaring for it. It wasn’t called a madhouse: it was called a nursing home but everyone I met there was in the throes of dementia or something similar.

      I was recovering from a broken hip, so mercifully my stay was less than a week. Many patients are in nursing homes for months or years. Some are visited by loving families whenever possible. Others are more or less abandoned. Covid restrictions have added another cruel turn of the screw.

      As we live longer — I’m 92 — and our brains weaken, more and more often productive and happy lives end in bleakness and despair. It’s a development satanic in its irony: the one thing we all asked for, a long life, has become our gaoler.

      The third-world immigrants who looked after me, who had been trained in basic nursing care for just a month and spoke English full of errors, mostly trivial but some potentially serious with such sick patients — many of whom also speak faulty English! — struggled to give me the best treatment they knew, but they were completely unprepared for the loneliness, fear and forgetfulness of their mentally-impaired patients, and would find less stressful or better-paying jobs as soon as they could, their places being taken by the equally bewildered.

      For those of us who have lived self-directed lives… that’s you and me and almost everyone we know… the sudden total dependence on someone else can be shattering in the best of conditions — and these are not the best of conditions.

      Among those who contacted me, Rebecca Bynum, editor of New English Review, told me that her husband had been transferred from hospital to a rehab center close to their house. “He has advanced Alzheimer’s. He didn’t know what was happening or where he was. …. no one helped him eat ……He told me he called all night and no one came to help him. Then they said he would have to be quarantined for two weeks.

      The next day, I hired an ambulance and brought him home …. I was afraid they would shut the place down if we have a surge in COVID cases and he’d die in there. I signed the papers saying it was against doctor’s orders, but I didn’t care. He’s eating now (he hadn’t eaten anything for a week – I brought in my own Ensure to give to him). I’ll never put him in a place like that again.”

      But for even the best-preserved brains the abrupt change in life is painfully restrictive and health services everywhere are under great strain. Over the last few years I have carried on an intermittent email conversation with Jan Morris, whom Rebecca West called “the greatest descriptive writer of her time” and whose books and articles — erudite, witty and beautifully written — have opened intriguing corners of the world to the rest of us: in one paragraph showing us some revealing detail in Venice that, despite many visits, we’d never seen before; in another the sudden cold and touch of fear as night comes on at 25,000 ft. on the slopes of Mt. Everest; and in a third a nail-biting account of the slaughter of a British army by Afghan tribesmen in 1842 in which only one man out of 16,000 survived.

      She died recently in a small hospital in the north-west corner of Wales, where her family feels the staff did all they could to make things as easy as possible, just a few miles from her home where some of the best-known literary figures have visited over the years and would have thought it a privilege to have come again to let her know how she had reshaped their view of the world.

      Her son, Twm (the Welsh version of Tom) described to me how in her last few days letters, emails and books arrived from the four corners of the earth. Unable to be with her until the very end, he wrote to her every day in the last weeks. “She related through the hospital window thoughts that might make short pieces for a book she had in mind. I took them down as best I could but the hospital is near a road and it was hard to hear sometimes.”

      I have been unable to get that touching image out of my mind. But surely we can do better than this.


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      Comments

      1. Cynthia Holt says:

        A very sobering, and all too true, article. I well remember the incident when his little son, whose name I believe was Nicholas, was shot. A tragedy.

      2. Blair Haynes says:

        Thought provoking!

      3. Jacqueline says:

        Beautiful. Touching

      4. Ken says:

        Nice! Very telling. I love reading your articles.

      5. This Article was mentioned on brid.gy

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