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The car glissades off the road bucking and lunging across a frozen buckled verge unexpectedly stalling on a ridge of iron-hard mud only a whisker away from the pole…I can scarcely believe it, I’ve stopped, I’m unharmed, the car’s okay, and, because of the freezing conditions, not even stuck – as far as I know. My gods were with me. I’m shaking so much I can’t get the car into reverse let alone co-ordinate clutch and accelerator. Eventually I manage, and after some manoeuvring, dislodge the car from the ridge and gradually inch backward onto the lethally icy corner. I limp home at a snail’s pace overwhelmed by emotions. I creep into the house trying to avoid being heard or seen, but Ben finds me and engulfs me in a hug – it’s too much, I burst into tears. I mumble about the animals and scrabble around for my overalls.

“No mum, no! You don’t have to go out there it’s dark, it’s cold. Rob will do them. Hey, look at me…it’s not been a normal day, look at you- you’ve had it. The animals will be okay. You’re ill. It’s freezing. Hey mum, don’t.”

I look at him and feel overcome – my son, so concerned, so gentle, so caring and he doesn’t even know about the might have been accident, his love is breaking me up. “Pip, I know it seems stupid, but I want to. I think, just for a moment I need the space, the peace. Please. I’m not being difficult. I promise I’ll stop when Rob gets back. Are you coping with the New Year’s Eve meal? The goose, all the bits? The pudding?”

“Yes, everything’s fine. Not probably as you’d do it, but it’s just fine. Don’t worry. But please, don’t do too much out there. Come in soon, won’t you?” Reluctantly he lets me go.

I stumble out to the animals and, as I know they would, they calm me, ground me. They sense my anguish and even though it’s way past their normal feeding time, they don’t bawl and jostle, they don’t even demand.  Instead they’re quiet, conciliatory; concerned liquid-treacle eyes follow my every movement, dew-dropped noses and rasping tongues tentatively nudging and exploring my hands, arms and hat. Gentle reassurance. I curl up on the straw where Robert finds me. In a couple of hours it’ll be time to welcome in the New Year!

The following few days passed in a haze of phone calls, journeys and doctor-nurse-hospital arrangements on behalf of my mother. Clamouring, pleading, demanding; questioning, challenging, probing. Eventually I was persuaded to take her to the main hospital in Plymouth in case the local cottage hospital could not provide all the treatment needed. Also, I was assured that return transport would be far quicker from there.

Her triage treatment in A&E was excellent and in a couple of hours we found she’d fractured her knee cap. From then on it was a nightmare. Treatment was to be ‘conservative’ – in other words nothing would be done, not even pain relief. Mobilise, I was told, get her moving (with a fractured knee cap? with nothing to help?).  It was obvious they couldn’t wait to pass the problem back to her home, her GP and community services. If you’re old and demented you don’t stand a chance, even if yours is a ‘mechanical’ injury, time and money will not be wasted on you. After a seven hour wait for return transport we arrived back at her home at 9pm – my mother was past all reason – frightened, confused and irrationally furious at everything, including me.

So here we are, frustrated and banging our heads against several brick walls.  Trying hard to find her some form of pain relief that won’t exacerbate her mental condition. Trying to get a response and hurry along the re-enablement team so we know how best to mobilise her without causing her more injury (but referrals, don’t you know, have to be processed through proper channels before a visit is allowed). Trying to encourage her to eat and drink (at the moment she won’t). Trying to explain to her what’s happened (she has no idea of why she hurts). I don’t know how she’s going to cope; her body’s fast becoming a random muddle of irrelevant, awkward bones.  But I know I still see that spark of  fighting spirit flashing in her eyes, and until that dies I will do everything I can.

hartland - new year's day 2009

hartland - new year's day 2009

I arrived at my mother’s home and found her, her body a poor old jumble of bones, crookedly crumpled on the bed.

“Mummy I hear you’ve had a fall?”

“Oh yes darling, I think I must have.”

“Where do you think you’ve hurt, sweetie? Can you tell me where the soreness is?”

“Oh yes, it’s up along there.” She indicates the ceiling with her index finger.

Dementia is an unkind and horrid thing, for both the sufferer and the carer. Normal things like pain, hunger, thirst become extraordinarily difficult for the sufferer to communicate or pinpoint. Usually I’m lucky enough to be able to interpret my mother’s needs, though when she’s overly anxious, agitated or distressed it becomes much more difficult.

I gently stroke her head. “Mummy, I wonder if you can do something with me. I need to find out where you hurt so I can make it better. I’m going to feel all the bones – little and big – in your body. When I touch one that feels different, do you think you can tell me?”

“Of course I can. Don’t be silly. Why are you asking me that?”

I continue to talk gently to her, telling her exactly what I’m doing. The first thing that knocks me backward is the smell – I’m sure she had a massive UTI (urinary tract infection), which would explain the series of falls. Funny the doctor hasn’t mentioned this. She’s hot to touch, her skin papery dry. She has a fever. I carry on, asking her to grasp my arms as I move her shoulder – no pain here. I gently work through each of her ribs, her shoulder blades, her spine and yes, there is a definite tenderness down her left side. I reach round for the softness of her kidneys…

“Ooh, ooh that’s sore.” This confirms my suspicion of an UTI.

I move along her pelvic girdle, her femur – no pain or soreness at all. And then I see it – it’s glaringly obvious, her left knee – it’s huge, weird, completely out of shape, and hot. Gently I cradle it with both hands and apply pressure…

“Oww, oww, oww . Don’t, don’t do that! Oh owww. Oh no.” She’s deeply distressed and in agony. It’s isn’t her hip, it’s her knee.

I phone the doctor. I explain that I’m desperately worried about her going in an ambulance to Derriford, Plymouth’s main hospital, on New Year’s Eve. She’s too frail and ill. He agrees. I explain about the UTI and the knee and ask if I can pick up antibiotics and painkillers. We also agree that she should be x-rayed in Tavistock, just a few miles down the road, first thing on Friday.

I hurtle into Tavistock to pick up prescriptions, hurtle back. Another problem has arisen, her skin is breaking down and she’s developing pressure sores on her heels and feet. Julie has coped brilliantly creaming and wrapping her feet in sheepskin as well locating a ripple mattress that can be delivered tomorrow; she’d also tested her pad for infection and found her urine contained large quantities of blood…no wonder she was so hot.

At last I leave and dash home – it’s dark, late, I’ve animals to see to, bales to move, hopefully Ben is coping with the cooking and Robert will be back with our French family. I’m exhausted, feverish and developing a hacking cough. I’m worried about what tomorrow will bring and if I’ve made the right decision in keeping my mother away from hospitals for the next twenty-four hours (often in the case of elderly, demented patients it’s NHS policy to treat ‘conservatively’ i.e. do nothing). I’m beginning to doubt my own judgement, it’s clear that everyone else believes it to be her hip. There are a million thoughts spinning around and around in my head.  I’m not concentrating properly and don’t see the ice, black, thick and shiny smooth over the whole lane. I touch the brakes, the wheels lock and I’m powerless, a telegraph pole is racing towards me at an alarming rate. ‘Please. Please, please,’ I pray, ‘if anyone is out there, just don’t let me hit the pole. Ditch, ruts anything, but not the pole, please, not tonight.’ I brace myself for the impact…

rushes in heavy frost - cow moor

rushes in heavy frost - cow moor

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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