Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Geriatric Phenomona

Years ago, when I was 14-15, I worked after school as the tea lady at the hospital...in the geriatric ward. I think this set me up for life when it comes to not judging a book by it's cover (it also completely put me off drinking tea forever after). Each day after school I would do the rounds in the ward, handing out tea/coffee and clearing plates etc from the patients. Some of the patients I got to know fairly well, others, I had to introduce myself to each and every day...due to various stages of dementia setting in.

One old duck in particular would keep us on our toes and amused for hours on end. I'd often push my tea trolley past her as she was standing in the corridor, handbag over her arm, patiently waiting for the bus to arrive. Another time I found her in front of a full length mirror talking to herself. Her name was Frances, and she always spoke to "Frances". I heard some crashing around in the kitchen one evening...went in and found her going through cupboards, slamming doors and yelling "This is the last bloody holiday I come on with you Frances!"

I've a real thing for the elderly. They are my favourite patients at the surgery. I'd love to have the chance to sit down and convince them I truly was interested....delve into their histories and listen for hours to them speak about their past. Unfortunately, they aren't always so happy to divulge this. And considering the losses and hardships they had to deal with way back then, it's not surprising.

I see them at work, struggling to hang onto their independence. Who can blame them? I feel for these old souls....I think about how I would feel to have my independence taken away from me....not being able to look after myself....no longer being able to drive due to eyesight and slow reflexes etc. So many of them...minds as sharp as tacks but their bodies letting them down. How frustrating it must be.

I had a phone call recently from a driving instructor who was very concerned about one of our elderly patients. Over here in New Zealand, once you hit the age of 75 you have to go to the doctor and have a special check up to make sure you're safe to yourself and others out there on the roads. They also have to resit their practical drivers license....get taken out on the roads with a qualified instructor. Anyway, one old dear that he'd taken out, had failed....she insisted on trying again.....he took her out again at another date....she failed. Not being one to give up (let's face it, they're pretty determined these old folks), she insisted on having another go at it. A few weeks later, they hit the road again...she failed.

The instructor had rung that day, because he didn't know what else to do...he'd tried to explain the dangers of her continuing but she refused to listen. Then, just when he thought he'd finally got through to her and relaxed...the following week he saw her shoot passed him on the road in a brand new Honda she'd just purchased (ya just gotta love the spunk of this woman). Hence the phone call.

There's another one that we always know has arrived before she sets foot through the door....we can hear her car engine as she's riding the clutch into the carpark...the sound of her changing gears making us grit our teeth.

I wonder what kinda of old lady I'm going to be? I can see myself now, sitting in a comfy chair at the nursing home, smiling sweetly at the male attendants...pinching their bums, should they dare to turn their backs on me.

The other night 15 asked me "Mum, you know back in the day when I was....blah blah", I repeated this later to Walker. He said to me "He has a 'back in the day'??" lol. I find it amusing that my 15 year old, who's barely begun his life, threw out this old age maxim. Saying that, it was certainly easier to swallow than hearing 14 ask me a few weeks ago "Hey Mum, back when you were a kid, what did you feed the dinosaurs?"......."14 year old boys that asked too many questions".
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