Every time I visit 82 year old Ruth Cuddlepot I read this poem.
She has it up on a wall of her home, just above the toaster, on the kitchen bench. I know it by heart now because it's so hard to miss and I stand there every Wednesday reading it (at least three times over) - while I'm waiting for her crumpets to pop!
It's a short, but popular verse and most of us carers have encountered it on our travels in and around the Aged-Care industry. To be honest, I always feel annoyed whenever I read it because as far as desribing the hopelessness and grim reality of Alzheimer's disease - it's pretty spot on.
It's also quite sad.
We all know this one, right?
The story goes, that back in her day, Ruth Cuddlepot had an outstanding career as a principal in some hoity-toity private school for boys (at the time the youngest female to obtain such a role). She never married, didn't have children and had no real family to speak of. Therefore she had bucket-loads of money tucked away ready to spend totally on herself, whenever she needed it.
That day came a few years back when Ruth received the official crushing diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease. Being such an insightful person however, she decided early on that she would set herself up for when the time came, when she could no longer work or take care of herself.
Indeed, there would be NO nursing home for Ms Ruth Cuddlepot!
Instead, she arranged her affairs and teed-up the lawyers so she could be completely looked after and cared for in her OWN home - no matter what. She knew her condition would deteriorate; that her memory would crumble and she would eventually "lose my marbles completely!" Apparently that's how Ruth used to say it although I didn't know her then and have relied on verbal reports from other carers to fill me in on all her background reading.
Needless to say, she was a very clever lady. Although, by the time I had the pleasure of caring for Ruth Cuddlepot she was no longer the organised and efficient educator I had been told she once was.
Ruth had instead evolved into 'Ruthie'.
And thanks to the personality-morphing Alzhemimer's, Ruthie had become a frail, but openly happy and affectionate elderly woman.... WHO LOVED TO HUG!
Even when her speech faltered, Ruthie could at least continue to communicate with a nice big fat welcoming embrace whenever I arrived for my shift. I looked forward to it in fact!
There she would be, sitting at her favourite spot on a chair in the sun at her enormous loungeroom windows... the spot where she had the perfect view of her garden and a watchful eye on the next visitor she could throw her arms around and give a great big squeeeeze to!
Really if it wasn't so heart-breaking, it would be lovely.
Ruthie's window... - waiting for her next hug-ee!
Recently though, Ruthie had started calling me Wendy!
Which is fine by me because you can imagine it happens a lot in this line of work (I'm also known as Debbie, Louise and Margie with some of my other cognitively-challenged clients). Remembering each carer's name, rank and serial number is understandably not high on the priority list for some Seniors - especially when they no longer know their OWN name!
I knew something had started to change in Ruthie when one day - the hugs stopped. Another cruel stage of the Alzheimer's curse... Ruthie Cuddlepot started to become aggressive.
Without much warning her moods were up and down and she couldnt stand being touched. Not even a hand shake or a gentle pat on the shoulder. You just wouldn't dare in case she would flare up and start screaming and punching the wall in what looked like the ultimate frustration within Ruthie's mixed up mind.
This most heartless and indiscriminate disease had finally taken hold of her ... it has been just awful to watch.
Finally, after accusations that Ruthie had started slapping and pushing her carer's, we were told last week that she had to be whisked away by ambulance and sedated in hospital. Quite honestly, it looked to me that they just didnt know WHAT to do with her!
After all Ruth's organising, having purposely prepared herself and her future to remain forever being tended to at home by an army of paid care-working bees - it now seemed this was no longer a viable option.
I wonder now looking back, how Ruthie could have possibly planned for this part of her illness?
Perhaps she'd anticipated that by this late phase: 1) she wouldn't know where she lived, and 2) she wouldn't care?
I hoped so for her sake.
The poem was right and the best of Ruth had gone.
Yes, we had failed in standing beside her. Basically, it had become too unsafe to do so! Poor Ruthie had become a danger not only to herself, but to everyone else as well. And if a support worker is under any threat whilst looking after an elderly client in their home, then the people in charge needed to move to plan B.
I was informed only today that the once proud and brilliant Ruth Cuddlepot had been relocated 'indefinitely' into a High Care facility. Just like the poem had foretold: she was now sad and sick and lost. Her beautiful forward-thinking brain now full to the brim on medication to keep her comatose and manageable (for the staff's own protection, we were told).
I have deliberated about going to visit Ruthie but honestly, what would be the point? And I know it sounds completely selfish but I don't think I could bear it.
The worse part is finding out she doesn't even have a window.