posted on Dec, 8 2011 @ 08:28 AM
I have long been concerned about the care of the elderly. Often there is some scandal or another in the newspapers, either about the poor care
received by patients in residential homes or about the abuse they receive from carers who visit them in their own homes.
A few years ago I shared a house with a young man who was a carer and was often horrified by his stories of what went on in the residential home where
he was working.
Things got so bad that I eventually asked him not to tell me any more because it made me so unhappy to think of the poor treatment these elderly human
beings were receiving.
This man, S__, would tell his stories to me, and our other house-mate, obviously expecting us to laugh or to support him when he complained about his
work load. When he saw how disgusted we were he would backtrack and say 'Not really' or 'Oh they like me more than the other carers'.
He had no medical training or qualifications and had sought a job in the care home because he failed to find the work for which he was trained.
Prior to training for his desired career he had been a rent boy.
I never minded about his past, I wasn't prepared to judge a person harshly because of something like that. What I hadn't been prepared for is that
it seems to take a certain venal mentality to see everyone you come across as a potential money source and be prepared to fleece them in whatever way
you can. Everybody he met had the potential to be exploited in the most ruthless ways he could devise.
I was the victim of his lack of scruples and I'm still waiting to recover the many hundreds that he owes me. I'm too stubborn to give up, but think
it's unlikely that someone as work-shy, manipulative and plain selfish as he is will ever voluntarily do the decent thing and pay me back.
He spent many hours trawling the web for potential 'money sources' and did, indeed, find a few lonely and gullible victims. Lucky me, one such
source gave him enough money to cover some of the outstanding bills.
This then was the person a local care home saw fit to employ to look after vulnerable elderly people. Of course, he passed any official checks
because he'd never been caught in his 'other' activities and, sadly, there seems to have been no requirement to take a personality test to see if
he had a suitable temperament for this type of work.
At the time he got the job I was unaware of his true, nasty nature and commented more than once how lucky the residents would be to have a caring
person like him to look after them. I thought his attitude to my remarks was a little odd, and started to become suspicious that maybe they wouldn't
be so lucky after all.
I started to make a few other suggestions, hoping to encourage him to be more kindly in his outlook, but was met with the same nasty smirk.
One of the first things I found out about his work was that he, an unqualified and barely trained person, was required to help the old ladies get
undressed at night and help them into bed.
It became apparent that he could just walk into their rooms in the evenings, from the first shift that he ever did, and demand that they let him help
them. These vulnerable old ladies couldn't argue because it was his job and they were expected to co-operate.
I don't care how elderly these women were, I cannot and will not see any justification for the managers of that home requiring them to let a young
man they had never met before undress them for bed. No introduction, no standing on ceremony, just get on with it. And he not even a proper
He told me once about two old ladies trying to help each other with their clothes, insisting that they could do it themselves. That they'd rather do
it themselves. He was very dismissive towards them, apparently, and insisted on doing the job for them despite their protests.
On another occasion he'd passed a couple of old ladies who were standing in a doorway and they'd complained that he was rude. Apparently, he'd
brushed or barged past them. I asked what was wrong with saying 'Excuse me, please' and was rewarded with a look of utter outrage and
incomprehension. He had no idea of even the basic rules of being polite to the elderly and vulnerable people in his care. It surprised me because he
wasn't habitually rude around other people, from my observation, so his contempt appeared to be reserved for those in his charge.
Besides helping with the dressing and undressing of the old ladies, one of his responsibilities was to change their incontinence pads. A job he
didn't relish, for obvious reasons.
I ask, is it necessary for these old ladies to suffer the indignity of a young man changing them? Why, just why, could not that job be performed by
the female staff?
Does anyone really want their beloved mother or grandmother being forced to give that sort of intimate access to her body to a young, unqualified,
uncaring man who sees his job of looking after her as an inconvenience? One whose previous jobs didn't include caring for the elderly? Someone
with hardly any training except for what he could learn on the job.
He literally walked into that home one evening to start his first shift and went straight into their rooms demanding that they allow him to put them
The night staff, by his account, were lazy and bordering on incompetent. The day staff made many complaints about coming into work in the morning and
having to perform tasks that had been neglected by them.
I don't know if the day staff were aware that one of the perks of working at night was that one team member could sleep throughout their shift, with
the other staff covering for them. They used to take it in turns to have a night where they could sleep, so it's hardly surprising that work was
being left undone when they were one person short each shift.
Of course, the residents suffered because of this. The staff who worked the night shift were rushed and had no time to be delicate.
One night a resident died in her bed. She was considerably younger than the others but needed to be watched carefully. She either broke her neck
whilst she was moving in or out of bed or suffocated, I forget which. It appears that the staff were negligent and not doing their job of supervising
her properly. Afterwards they were reluctant to talk about it and all were trying to avoid having the blame pinned on them.
One of the old male residents was known to wander about and, due to his dementia, had become a danger to the female patients. It seems that he
wasn't supervised closely enough, either.
On S__'s first night at the home he was 'shown the ropes' by a supervisor who told him things that the staff were or weren't supposed to do. She
blithely told him that she regularly broke those rules and seems to have ensured that he knew all the little dodges too. Some of the doors which were
supposed to be kept locked could be opened using spoons – don't ask me how – and staff who were not supposed to access certain areas were able to
open these doors for themselves. I suspect that, on occasion, they were careless about closing them properly, allowing patients to roam about the
building. Including the man who was a danger to women.
I felt particularly sorry for one old lady who used to object to being (roughly) got up in the morning. It was the night staff's responsibility to
waken the residents and get them up and dressed.
Every morning one or two of them would go into her room and she'd ask for 'Just a minute' more in bed. Because they were rushed they'd deny her
the minute and insist on hauling her out of bed.
That poor woman, who was paying to be looked after in that home, was going to spend the rest of her life wanting just a little more time in bed in the
morning and being denied it.
I could have cried for her, but her circumstances changed. Her husband came to live in the home and I clearly remember S__ complaining that the staff
were having to be more careful about the way they treated her due to his presence.
How utterly appalling. What a horrible admission. They had to stop their bullying of a frail old lady because, finally, she had someone there who
would stand up to them.
I'm glad to say that S__ didn't last very long at that job and left after some acrimony. But I've not much confidence that anyone who replaced him
would have a kinder attitude, having heard about the behaviour of the other staff on his shift.
Some of the people in the home I am describing were suffering from dementia and I wonder if they might be the lucky ones in that they wouldn't have
noticed so much how their lives had deteriorated. Seen just as another source of income, they'd be allowed to sit about all day with little to do
and a largely uncaring staff to look after them.
I had a reason to call in at the home one day and was confronted by a note on the front door. It informed me that all visitors should enter at their
own risk as they had an epidemic at the time.
It seems to me that the elderly are just becoming and industry and are being milked for everything that can be wrung out of them.
They are paying for this, at best, indifferent care and it would be wise if persons from younger generations would speak out about it. Or we'll all
end up the same way.
I'm serious, we have lost most of our manufacturing jobs to other countries so how else can work be provided? No-one is allowed to die these days.
People have their lives prolonged and have no quality of life that we would recognise.
I do understand that caring for elderly people can be a demanding job. It's certainly not a career that I would choose for myself. But, surely, the
highest possible standards of care should be maintained? These people are paying for the treatment they receive and should be treated with respect.
Anyone purchasing a service is entitled to expect to be treated as a valued customer.
I don't want to spend my final days, weeks, months or years being bullied in a care home. I have no shame in saying that I'd rather be cast adrift
on an ice floe before I'd want to be shut up in a home living my life according to the schedule of staff I was paying to look after me.
I remember some time ago when a friend visited her mother in a care home. She'd had to give up caring for her and had reluctantly put her in the
home. She said her mother couldn't even have a cup of tea when she wanted one.
That upset me, to think of just sitting about thirsty and no-one being able to find the time to make me a drink. But I could never have been prepared
for the stories that S__ used to tell me.
So here we are in a society where the elderly have become just another resource to be exploited. Prolong their lives with expensive medicines and
charge them a fortune to live in care homes where the 'care' they receive falls far short of anything I'd recognise as care.
A society where life at any cost is the norm. Never mind the quality or lack of it, let's just insist that people keep on living.
One day it could be us being bathed and dressed by poorly trained, rude and hurried staff. It could be us living in a home full of strangers and only
seeing our families for the few hours a week or month that they can spare us from their busy lives. It could be us being fed poorly cooked food at
mealtimes and left without refreshment at other times because staff cannot or will not find time to tend to us. It could be us who are being hauled
out of bed every morning before we're even properly awake.
Well, I don't want it to be me. I don't want some politician or another rubbing their hands gleefully over my poor old body, counting up what I'm
worth in keeping the unemployment figures down. Or what I'm worth to the drug companies who, I strongly suspect, may be behind many of the
objections to voluntary euthanasia.
I know there's more to me than just this body and I don't want to inhabit it when it wears out. I'll leave, quite happily and go on to pastures
new. Life at any cost? Not my life, you money-grubbing low-lifes. I'll be gone long before you can pick me clean.
Postscript – I happened to walk past the home I'm writing about yesterday, during my loooong hike into town. It had been closed and was up for
sale. I don't really feel like rejoicing, it can be traumatic for elderly people to be moved from a place they have become used to. I suppose I
have to hope that they all went to a better place.