Adventures of a Reluctant Carer: Some Like It Hotter
Scorching hot humour is all that is keeping our Carer alive in the firepit that is his mum’s house as she loses the ability to feel hot. Or is she evolving?
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Recent high temperatures have proved divisive – for every smear of lotion and enjoyable lick of ice cream there is the sense that we are also heading into - or perhaps already inhabit - some disastrous collective terrain.
As ever my mother’s house offers a troubling insight into all our potential futures – in this case, a planet where it almost never falls below 30 degrees. I am well accustomed to mum feeling cold in winter when the house is well-heated. My late father was something of a pioneer in this regard, but now his surviving spouse is convinced that this record-breaking, life-threatening summer, is just not that warm, and this is proving tough on those of us who must attend her.
The problem is compounded by the fact that she has shifted her headquarters. For years she was based in the living room, but for the last few months, mum has insisted on sitting in the conservatory. Even plants struggle to survive here in the summer. If you bring her a cup of tea and she falls asleep and fails to drink it, after an hour it will still be warm.
Her present live-in carer hails from Africa but she says it is worse in there than being close to the equator. And she has a point. Sitting down and trying to talk with mum in there is like getting a workplace review from Satan. Although they do say the devil knows your name, whereas mum sometimes does not know mine, so perhaps I am being unfair.
Fairness though is a relative term. I look online. There are lower limits on the minimum temperature for a workplace but no upper ones. Legally we are fine. Physically we are in danger.
Sit by an open window and mum will warn you that you might get a chill. This is as heartfelt as it is deluded, but it is also a polite way of expressing her own anxiety that she might somehow perish here, like a snowman on Venus. Meanwhile, out on the molten driveway, salamanders tap out and surrender and crickets scream for rain.
My humour, of course, is a coping mechanism. It is a skill I learned as a carer, largely from (and maybe for) my mother, and it is sad sometimes to see how she is now less able now to deploy it.
For her, though, the situation is as profound as it is subjective. Temperature and our perception of it are separate matters. The sun is out and amplified through the glass roof of our extension, yet its tenant shivers in her very soul. If Joan of Arc was 94, her stoicism might have been less surprising.
Meanwhile, the heat beats on. The carer and I open windows, mum trundles past and tries to hook them closed with her walking stick, like a mad shepherd. “I’ll freeze,” she hisses as we steer her away from the fresh air she has come to fear. Part of me understands, but another part of me – the part that wishes to live, presumably, does not. It is so hot that at one point I wonder, is she trying to save on the cost of cremation? Numerous factors stop me from saying this out loud, more down to fatigue than discretion.
Then I wonder, is she evolving? If the planet is heating up, then not feeling it is perhaps an adaptive manoeuvre? I have been in the elderly realm a while now and, believe me, stranger things have happened.
When my father was in his late eighties I sat with a consultant who stared long and hard at an X-ray before announcing that a hole in my dad’s lung, of some years standing, appeared to be repairing itself. This minor miracle was of little help in the bigger picture but it does prove what I can see now is becoming one of the persistent refrains of this column – that, in the end, you just don’t know.
Knowledge and power are not always hand in hand. There is freedom sometimes in letting go of wondering why things are as they are – the quest for light, for illumination, has its limits. In life and in our house especially – sometimes we fare better in the shadows.
The Reluctant Carer moved in with his elderly parents and looked after them for eighteen months – though neither intentionally nor entirely alone. His confessional and reflective blog The Reluctant Carer – I see old people. Confessions and reflections from the edge of life. has spawned a book The Reluctant Carer by The Reluctant Carer that’s been described as bleak, wise and hilarious.
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