Wednesday, 17 August 2016
Over the past decade we seem to have become knee deep in safe havens for the sick and the elderly, those abodes you progress to when you have outgrown your average Retirement Village. Even places that started out as simple examples of Retirement Living, with perhaps a Community Centre as their focus, have stealthily added what might be called `The Extra Care Wing’. It seems that every suburb can offer one or two of such facilities from which to choose, and some more affluent areas even three. These nurturing, sheltering sanctuaries seem to be built in less time than it takes to properly observe as you drive by making two or three trips to the supermarket. They can be up and running within the month. The resulting structures are most pleasing on the eye and set in landscapes that would make Capability Brown himself sigh with envy. You can always identify them because they will have a name reminiscent of a nineteen thirties Lunatic Asylum. `Daffodil Heights’…… `Tranquil Towers’ …….. `Summer Fields’ , identifying titles that were quietly ushered from our lives when Care In The Community was ushered in. Over recent years I have had several friends who have passed through these places, one woman progressing through each of the three possibilities in her own upmarket Auckland suburb, starting with `Cherry Orchards’ where she had an entire apartment. Yvette had for years suffered from a progressive illness that ultimately curtailed her activities to the point where she abandoned the orchards realizing `Daffodil Heights’ was the only way forward. I visited her there several times, in her comfortable room on the first floor where everything she might need was available simply at the press of a bell. Well that was the idea at least. Yvette being the difficult personality she was managed to fall foul of those in charge very quickly because she pressed the bells too frequently and then she rang me excitedly to say that she was moving on to `Autumn’s Nest’, a convenient street or two away. It was a much more salubrious environment, she told me, more congenial in every way. And when I finally visited her I was impressed to find that each of the support staff, clad in their matching rose pink uniforms of Sea Island Cotton, was equipped with a cell phone with which to communicate directly with residents. No further need for bell pressing! Unfortunately Yvette’s illness had progressed to the point where she was occasionally supported by morphine and somehow or other the morphine made her quite thirsty. Her only complaint about her new environment was that it could be difficult to access glasses of water. She asked me to bring her a selection of the bottled variety – which I did, though I found it an odd request. `Autumn’s Nest’ appeared to run very efficiently, appetizing meals appearing regularly and placed on wheeled bedside trolleys that sadly for Yvette were always placed just a little out of reach. Without dedicated old fashioned nursing staff to ensure food was consumed, over the following weeks Yvette rapidly lost a great deal of weight and eventually seemed to simply starve to death. I was not her only visitor during this time of course and although I was shocked by what appeared to be wholesale negligence on the part of the pink cotton clad staff, I somehow convinced myself that it was my vivid imagination that led me to believe my friend was paying a great deal of money in order to be treated with an amazing lack of regard. In the years since she has been gone I have discussed the matter with a number of people and to my surprise have found that Yvette is merely one in a long line of sick and elderly people who enter the portals of modern Care Facilities in order to be finished off in a manner that is astonishing in its efficiency. Edwin is quite convinced that `Paradise Springs’ the home from home especially chosen for his grandmother was responsible for what he terms `her murder’, carried out over a mere two months of general neglect. He said that he had doubts about the place from the very beginning but because it was such a welcoming environment, thought he must be imagining things and so kept quiet. Lucy still feels guilty about convincing her mother to go into `Blossom Downs’ where she managed to live a half a year. `I trusted them implicitly because they were so approachable….so affable’ she says. And she is not alone in her views which you will find for yourself if you broach the subject and simply ask around. Overall these places cause me great concern which might well be lessened if we took a leaf from Aldous Huxley’s `Brave New World’ and simply called them `Hospitals For The Dying’. But whatever we finally decide to call them I wish I had displayed more courage where Yvette was concerned. It would not have been too difficult to ask a few pertinent questions on her behalf.