No people – but too much of each other
We’re in lock down. Complete lock down, quarantined they used to call it, but not anymore. Now they call it social isolation. It sounds better, more friendly, but it isn’t, that’s the point. It is, to be honest, the least friendly way to live your life. I stopped having contact with the outside world almost eight weeks ago, well before the government said that we should all lock our doors and keep away from our neighbours. We stopped going out more than eight weeks ago when Mum’s oncologist told us she wouldn’t survive any new infections. We got used to each other’s company, to online deliveries and to the lack of sunlight. But that was then, now, when everyone else has joined us in our strange half-life, it feels very different. The view through the window has changed, there are no kids on their way to school, no students weaving home from late night parties, no old ladies shopping, no one to wave or shout hello to through my open window. I am luckier than some, I’m not completely isolated, I live with Mum, I’m her carer, her constant companion. There is always someone in the flat, someone who is, most of the time, very confused; but someone who is there, I have company, I am loved. It would be so much worse to be completely alone, never holding hands, never saying hello. Our world has changed, twice. It changed when we first closed our door to everyone, and it changed again when the rest of the country was forced to do the same. I have become obsessive, totally focussed on the details. It’s as if sweating the small stuff will sort out the big stuff. I’m controlling the minutiae because that’s all I can do.
Health is always an issue when you are caring for someone who’s ill. But my approach has changed, even if the issues have not. The main issue, the only issue really is making what’s left of Mum’s life as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. This used to be via regular appointments with the dentist, the doctor, the hospital, the other hospital etc. etc. Now those appointments are on line, phone calls and video calls – not the dentist obviously, even I would draw the line at DIY dentistry, even with advice from an expert on the other end of the phone. However all the other appointments have to be kept, with Mum starting at a screen that she can’t see and me shouting instructions to her as, no matter how often we mention it, no one seems to remember that the last round of chemo ruined her hearing. Records are kept, care plans updated and medication changed, all from the comfort of her arm chair. So far so good, except it’s not, because the trips to the hospital provide more than just medical care. They are a reason to go out, to talk to people, to stop for tea and cake on the way home. Without them she is truly isolated. She has all the chemicals she needs, but none of the contact. Her last days are likely to be lonely, because, when you’ve always been surrounded by friends and family, being, almost, alone isn’t enough to sustain an interest in living.
It’s not only the doctors that keep Mum healthy, it’s also her diet. If she’s going to make it to the end of the lock down she needs to eat and eat healthily. In the past this hasn’t been a problem. We live in the city, right next to a supermarket, finding nutritious, food that Mum could eat was easy. Even when we were first told to stay home shopping was still easy. On line shopping and home delivery meant regular supplies of delicious, fresh food was available at the click of a button. Cooking could be a challenge, Mum’s flat is small and the kitchen is designed more for heating ready meals than cooking from scratch, but it was possible, and it taught me to be more inventive. But, as I said before, that was then and this is now. Now getting fresh food delivered is almost impossible. At the end of March the government told everyone to stay home and suddenly there were no more supermarket delivery slots. None from the discount stores, none from the expensive stores and, despite what they say on the websites about supporting vulnerable shoppers, none from the on line only shops. It isn’t that we have no food in the house, years of living where weather, or war, can seriously limit shopping trips means that I always keep a well-stocked larder. It isn’t hunger that threatens Mum’s health, its malnutrition. No fresh fruit or veg, too much salt in the food from the pantry, and the lack of variety discourages a hearty appetite and means that I’ve had to add a vitamin supplement to Mum’s regular meds.
Eggs and other gifts
That reminds me of another thing that puzzles me, gifts. I should say that I really appreciate it when the family send mum presents. She loves to get drawings from her great grandchildren. Even though she cannot see the pictures she enjoys the fact that they sent them. She likes me to read the letters they send, from the very short
For GG from me
from the four year old, to the six page epistle explaining exactly how the 9 year old got to level 7 on his new computer game. She keeps them by her as a substitute for real contact. The problem seems to be with their parents. If only they would ask what to send. One of my nephews sends her a bags of toffees (I think he might have been misled by the golden tinted adverts of grandpa sharing his favourite toffees with a gap-toothed child. It doesn’t matter how often I explain that his grandma cannot share toffees because they would break her few remaining teeth, still he sends the same thing every week. I have a cupboard full of toffees just waiting for a visit from someone with all their own teeth. Another sends her cut flowers, which is nice, no, which is lovely, but how about a few vegetable plants, something we could grow on the window sill if possible. We have huge windows with broad windowsills. I’m sure we could grow tomatoes if only we had the plants. In fact if only they would organise the delivery of a dozen fresh eggs we would be all set for Easter, so much better than another broken chocolate egg, we have plenty of them. Chocolate eggs are easy to order on line, we have plenty of those. However I think I might sell my soul for a nice fluffy cheese omelette.
Books and things
Well that’s how things have changed, or how I wish they had changed, for Mum, but it doesn’t really explain how the lock down has changed things for me. I looked after mum before we were isolated together, and I’m still looking after her. I get lest exercise, that’s not true, now I get no exercise at all. Even a trip to the dustbin feels like a holiday at the moment, and the sound of the postman leaving mail on the doorstep is the closest I get to interacting with anyone I’m not related to. However I have finally started to work through the books I’ve been keeping for when I’ve finished my thesis. I should add that this doesn’t mean that I have actually finished my thesis, it just means that the deadlines have been extended and so … well you know how it is when there are novels to be read. I have also started baking cakes again, something that I stopped doing when the kids left home. On the flip side I’ve given up wearing make-up completely, not that giving up make-up has been such a hardship, I’ve never been the glamourous sort. Also I don’t think I’ve worn shoes since March, this wouldn’t bother me except I guess that one day I will have to squeeze my feet back into something other than comfy socks. I’m getting fatter, and lazier, and even more antisocial than normal. I can’t say that self-isolation has been easy, but, at least while we could get food deliveries, I hasn’t been as difficult as I expected. The danger is, I think, that it could very easily make me into an extreme version of myself. I’ve always secretly longed for the life of a hermit, if only I could arrange to drink my morning coffee outside I think that I might prefer Self-isolation to real life.
Bridget Blankley is a student and a carer. A full time daughter and a part time grandma (a Mamgu to be exact). A professional author and an ex-engineer, she feels at home in the Welsh mountains but, for now, she’s trapped in a small flat in the south of England. She Tweets at @BridgetBlankley