Barbara couldn’t quite reach her buzzer, and had to wait until a nurse came past in order to ask for some much needed pain relief. She had been feeling pretty rotten for a couple of weeks and some blood tests had been ordered. The last time her GP came to visit, he gave her some bad news. Barbara’s kidney function was getting worse and they were considering putting her on dialysis.
Laying in a residential care home with your vital organs starting to pack it in, sure has a way of making you face your own mortality head on. Barbara was christened catholic, like Mary, but she had not been a practicing catholic for as long as she could remember. She started to wonder if she should turn to religion for comfort. The thought of death terrified her.
After finally receiving the pain killers, and having been toileted before lights out, Barbara thought about her quality of life. She felt as if her days were dictated by the daily routine of the facility in which she now resided.
Although her nurses were very caring, there seemed to be a stench of death and despair permeating through the drab-coloured walls. It was always there, lurking in the background, waiting to claim its next victim.
Her days started around six thirty with the lights coming on, abruptly disturbing her slumber. She was then showered at seven and sat in her recliner by the window until morning tea came around at nine. If the nurses were not too busy, she would be offered the toilet again before the tea trolley came past. Her room overlooked the carpark. She would sit and watch people come and go, while waiting for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.
She could no longer read or watch TV thanks to her failing eyesight. The humble radio being her only company, until she was wheeled down to the communal dining room for lunch at around eleven thirty.
There she would sit, feeling self-conscious about needing help to cut up her food due to the crippling arthritis in her joints, her knuckles swollen and stiff. She was often surrounded by confused residents who required full assistance to eat, while wearing adult sized bibs over their clothing. Barbara feared death, but sometimes she feared living long enough to completely lose any shred of dignity she had left, even more.
Her afternoon would sometimes be spent in the recreation room, when she felt up to joining in the activities. They batted a balloon around to help with dexterity and co-ordination, played a game of bingo, or had a sing along to the piano.
The only break from the monotony of ‘Groundhog Day’ was the monthly bus trips, but sadly, Barbara hadn’t been well enough to attend the last one. It was a trip to a local ballet school’s annual review. Barbara had been devastated that she had to miss out due to her ill health.
Once the recreation activity drew to a close, she would be wheeled back to her room, where the nurses would help her change into her pajamas at around five. Dinner came around at five thirty. After dinner, it was a final trip to the toilet, where the small incontinence pad would be swapped for a larger one resembling a nappy for the night. She would be in bed by six, and it was lights out around seven.
The pain killers started to work their magic. Barbara glanced at her little bedside alarm clock. It’s almost seven. Sure enough, the lights went out, with only dim lights in the hallway remaining switched on, so the nurses could see where they were going. She rolled over and settled in for another long and lonely night.
Unpublished Work (c) Hayley Walsh 2021