This week, I visited my uncle in the nursing home where he is now a resident. It's a nice enough place, the staff are kind, and the care perfectly adequate. But I find these visits hugely sad. My uncle - David - is 93 (he keeps telling me he's 100, and that's probably the way he feels), and terribly confused. I have no idea what goes on in his head, but he seems to drift from one world to another, as though through a series of diconnected dreams. Some of these are sad, some not so bad. Sometimes he's chairing a committee (he's chaired a lot of committees in his time), or staying in a hotel, and at others he seems lost, and begs to be taken home.
He knows that he knows me, and enjoys a big hug (perhaps the only language he can now fully understand), but not always who I am. Thus, sometimes I'm my mother (his sister), older than he but long-dead, and he reminisces about how I used to take him on outings from his boarding school. At other times, I'm myself, or someone completly different. His hearing is all but gone, making his world even lonelier than it would otherwise be.
This is a common situation. There are thousands of elderly confused people, living out their last days in institutions. I have nursed some of them. But I find it quite heartbreaking, watching this vital, energetic, highly successful man reduced to confusion and incontinenece and (often) sheer bewilderment. Twice,he has nearly died, only to be rescued by antibiotics. Pneumonia used to be called "the old man's friend", and with good reason, but not any more. We may have defeated pneumonia (often), but not the wretched half-life that so many of its survivors lead towards the end of their lives.
So I shall continue to visit David; to write him messages in thick marker pen in the hope of getting some kind of message through to him, and to give him hugs. And to hope that his ordeal will come to a peaceful end sooner rather than later.