The Carer.

“Blessed are they who make it known, that I am loved, not left alone.” –Beatitudes for Old People.

Damn. Late shift tonight. This means he’s missing Top Gear. He missed it last week too.

He sighs and carries out a tray from the kitchens to place on the cart. He takes a whiff- fullbodied, meaty and wholesome meatloaf. As he reaches for the condiments, he looks at the measly box of bibs. They’re only plastic and there aren’t many of them. The residents need them; their old ways guarantee that the food makes a detour from its route from plate to mouth. Even considering this, he must ration the bibs out to the messiest meals of the day. He makes a quick decision to leave the bibs for tonight’s dinner and use one per resident next breakfast.

As he skilfully wheels the cart out, he hands a tray to the family of the resident in room #47. They’ve agreed to feed him his puree for tonight. That’s one less for him, (him internally congratulate yourself).

Eyes bore into him, then the hard plastic tray. They survey their relative’s most despised meal; Meatloaf. Eyes flick back at him. They probe where the bib is for tonight’s meal. They interrogate on meal variety.

And he can see where this is going-

*  *  *

The Relative will announce; “We come every Tuesday night and there’s always a bib.”

The Carer will sigh at this bold statement, “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have enough for today.” (He mentally notes that his statement is in fact a statement and therefore didn’t require a response.)

“But this is a commercial facility. You should have enough funding for these. They’re just bibs for heaven’s sakes,” he will huff.

The Carer will stand his ground, “Sorry sir, but there’s not enough money for smaller things, such as the bibs. We have staff pay cuts and I have to work longer hours. There really isn’t much coming in from the Government at the moment.”

The Relative will divert his gaze out the now darkening window. “Except the new lift. Look, I don’t really care about your problems. I wanna know why I’ve paid top dollar to have my father-in-law cared for in here and you can’t even provide a bib so he won’t spill his puree. Let’s not get started on the puree, it’s not even hot!”

In resignation, The Carer’s head will tilt a little, to the left side and he will shift uneasily on his feet. “I’m sorry about that sir, but if you’d like, I’ll reheat the food. I’d like to reassure you that my colleges and I try to make do with what we have.”

A bead of sweat will roll down The Relative’s forehead. “Yeah? Do tell. I’m not really seeing much here. Frankly, I’m dissatisfied with the treatment and care of my father-in-law.”

The Carer will choose to let this stranger into a pocket of his life. “I wash this man. I wash your father-in-law. I try to lessen the time he’s exposed to the water, because then his skin will wrinkle like a prune. I try to get the temperature right while minimising the thunderous groans from the pipes in the walls. Then I ask him to choose his clothes every morning and then I dress him in the quickest and most comfortable way possible.  And after that, I wheel him to his room and I try to give him as much attention as I can, before I must move onto the next patient.”

The Relative will glance at his wife. Perhaps they approve of the current political party in power. Perhaps they didn’t realise there is a hole in the state health system. Even if this is Christian Aged Care, there should be some government funding.

“If we had more funding, I’d have more actual staff members on duty tonight. I think this would ensure more attention for each individual resident. I think if we didn’t have funding cuts, we could buy a more bottles of Sorbelene, so that we wouldn’t have to ration it out per person. I think this would help improve the quality of the patient’s lives. If we had more funding, we could have the physiotherapist in for a few more days every week and perhaps we could get some of the younger residents moving again. I think if there was more funding, we could afford to have air-conditioners throughout the nursing home so the residents don’t have to sit in the habituated discomfort every January.”

The Carer will remind him that his uniform is the baby blue of volunteers, as opposed to the lichen green of paid workers.

“I think if there was less neglect from the Government, this wouldn’t be a nursing facility, this would be a nursing home.”

*  *  *

He foresees this conversation. He’s had it before. Now, he looks at the son-in-law and he apologises for the lack of bib. He also apologises for the meatloaf on the patient’s plate, even though he knows he doesn’t have any of the resources to make anything more, en mass for the nursing home at present. He bites back a sarcastic comment about The Relative buying the Matron a cookbook of recipes, because of all the drama he’s causing.

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