Eric, my father in law, is wheeled into the visitor’s room. He’s now wheeled everywhere. It was a battle for him to accept his walking days were over: another sign of mobility and independence ebbing away. A carer is pushing him. She’s in her uniform and behind her mask. The relationship between the carers and residents is kindly and they show concern and patience with their charges. She turns to go and Eric asks for two teas, it’s 3 O’Clock and time for afternoon refreshments. He’s maybe a little cheeky to ask on my behalf. However, she has no problem with the request and disappears. She goes behind the door into the corridor that I’m not allowed to enter without supervision as the home seeks to control the spread of the virus.
“Good afternoon!” I begin. I’m there as Anna’s abroad. Her attendance is around three times a week and heaven knows what she finds to talk about each time: a talent no doubt of the fairer sex. Our lives can be routine yet Eric, now a widower, has little variation in his daily schedule to talk about. However, Eric’s pleased to see me. I expect it makes a change from the daughters. I’ve now known Eric longer than I knew my own father; we go a long way back.
I begin by complaining about the wintery road surfaces being dirty and wet and how washing a car is pointless as you’ve undone the cleaning after half a mile. Of course, Eric knows the weather from a quick peek from his window. The opportunity to get out given the temperatures and the pandemic have been severely restricted, it’s a big loss and now his life runs on his memory. We discuss the snow and temperatures Anna’s experiencing in Finland. I say it’s not for me although Anna has taken enough thermals and layers to have made a serious attempt on being comfortable for a trek to the North Pole.
Scandinavia is part of Eric’s heritage. His Norwegian parents emigrated from Oslo. He warms to talk of the weather and how folk survive the winter. He’s only been as far north as Anna on a cruise with his late wife, Margaret. We relive the ship’s progress up the fjords as it dropped off groceries and supplies to the villages combining tourism and freight movement. Suddenly I think of the WW2 German battleship Tirpitz being attacked and fatally damaged by the RAF in the Kaa Fjord above the Artic Circle and asked Eric if he’s been up there? “Of yes”, he rejoins and goes on to explain the quality of Norwegian supermarkets in the fjords enabling the inhabitants to exist quite easily. Obviously he’s misheard and I settle back to learn about his understanding of Artic grocery retailing. I’m here to provide him with some company and whatever we discuss is fine.
The carer returns with the tea. Yippee, there’s a biscuit! However, because the food is calorie counted it’s a solitary fig roll. Not all bad I think until it nearly breaks in two as it’s so old and dry. She pauses near Eric, leans over him and asks if that’s okay? He grabs her fingers in a small act of affection that’s noticeable and touching. He’s not a tactile man and hilarious stories come to mind. When he had four females in the house it was observed the only member of the family who received any soppy or sentimental chat was the dog!
This is now his home and will be for the end of his days. They’ve done a magnificent job in protecting the residents from the virus but you can’t help, and sadly, reflect how many have lost some glorious time with close relatives or loved ones as the pandemic has locked them away. Anna’s photos of the Northern Lights, reindeer and huskies are shared on my iPad. He marvels at the quality and the fact that she’s still there, yet here we are and have these photos to look at. The family is always delighted to be inclusive and ‘transport’ him into their lives wherever they are in the world. He’s interested, engaged and stimulated.
Suddenly the door opens and a new carer appears. The visit is over in 30 minutes. The room we’re using is booked for another visit and a no nonsense approach is enforced as his wheelchair is turned on its axis and I watch his back as he trundles off across the corridor to his room. The carer bellows up the corridor, in broken English, for someone to show me out. My plastic apron is handed back and an external door is opened and I’m soon out into the winter air. Bye bye Eric.