Individualised Care

The top floor was unexpectedly clean and tidy, and as I strolled about I recalled how staff and residents had tried to ‘personalise’ the bedrooms over the years. Some remained entirely featureless because the patient had been so damaged by their disorder that they had virtually no personal interests, pastimes, opinions or sense of self. In these cases, staff had tried to personalise the room in keeping with the patient’s known employment and family history, but it was still an imputation of the patient’s interests rather than a genuine expression of them, and so it always seemed a little sad to witness it. I visited one such room, where a man who’d lived through World War II was surrounded by faded reproduction posters from the period, Vera Lynn records, and lots of model tanks and aeroplanes. This may indeed have triggered his memory and given him back a sense of personal meaning, but I suppose it was just as likely that he’d rather forget the war (and his non-combatant role in it), or that he’d prefer something more up to date now, or that he was pretty much oblivious to it all.
“See you later, David” I said.
There was no immediate reply, but his Adam’s apple wobbled up and down his long, thin neck like a bingo ball stuck in its chute, his domed head assumed an affected pose to the left, and his wise, mocking eyes observed me from the bed. A rambling mantra of circuitous remarks and well-rehearsed fiddle-faddle then followed, and I found myself edging slowly, involuntarily, towards the door. Painstakingly tangential in everything he said and did; his behaviour was a perfect antidote to the rational world he feared. An artist in his dotage, he lay back and sighed.
Yet for some reason David always reminded me of the old chap I’d seen on T.V. who was so lonely after his wife died, that he regularly engineered the company of local antique dealers who came around to buy the few bits of bric-a-brac he had left in his run down maisonette. He’d even sold his own bed and, because he wanted to preserve his deceased wife’s bed untouched, he was left spending every night propped up in a chair. He was last heard of trying to interest the dealers in his oak floorboards.
It was disturbing to think how many tortuous little worlds existed just below the surface of our glossy bourgeois lifestyles, half-civilised manners and smiley badinage. Worlds which were carefully repressed until teatime, and then explored with virtuous vigour by familiar television faces; cameras zooming on the tears.
Worlds which waited patiently to discover us…….


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