Old Betty has seen better days but is still in good condition. She rocks an immaculate green coat and a chrome bumper. One tyre sits halfway low.
The door to the main house is open and sounds from a TV filter through the silk curtains. It must be a Mexican soap opera. The volume is set a little high – the old man is hard of hearing.
“Have you seen Betty?” The voice booms across the hallway to the living room.”
“Betty is beautiful. She’s asking about you” I shout back, as I swing the steel door shut.
It seems pretty basic, but it’s anything but it. The old man shouting from a corner bedroom is bedridden. He’s a springy, talkative old gent – perhaps, eighty years old.
His name is Thuita – one of the city’s old money – net worth in the billions of shillings.
His vast investments spanning real estate, petroleum and hospitality – except, he’s schizophrenic. His family, or what’s left of it hardly thinks of it.
My name is Stacy. I’m a home care nurse. My job is to provide in-home professional support services to this old man. Thuita is ageing and needs assistance to live independently. Like other professional caregivers such as nurses, aides and therapists, an in-home care nurse work short or long term in the patient’s home -depending on a person’s needs.
At Thuita’s, I’ve been working, on and off, for six months. It’s not an easy pursuit. It’s an occupation that saps passion and energy – and, draws some more. It’s heartbreaking that an elderly person, the patron whose success the family is riding on, leads a dog’s life in the final days of his life.
I mean no disrespect, dog lovers.
Thuita luckily doesn’t suffer a chronic health condition. Yet. He’s in pretty good shape for an 80-yr-old. The old man is confined to a wheelchair, with a broken hip bone sustained from a tumble down the stairs. The family doesn’t find that easy to handle. The patron’s latest diagnosis – schizophrenia – had the family split in the middle.
How do we handle this? Do we hospitalize the old man? Is it life ending? We have to work!
Thuita didn’t take kindly to a hospital set-up. The family doctor recommended the home care option – I got the referral.
When I reported for work, I found a visibly agitated old man. The family had a tight schedule to run. The wife, a matronly lady in her 50s, had businesses in town. The eldest son had final papers in law school, and the youngest daughter had recently been married.
They had their life. In this midst, the old man – in his schizophrenic fits – wanted to play games no one was at pains to play.
Thuita, for instance, had personified the old Renault. The saloon was his first car, bought half a century earlier. He’d been a struggling salesman in a timber yard. He’d kept it. He had personified it to Betty – his first wife. The family found this uncomfortable. They avoided the old man.
When I first met Thuita, it was apparent that my major role here as a home care nurse was companionship. The old man was lonely.
No one in his household understood him. As it often happens with the elderly in a similar scenario, Thuita was filthy – smelly, even. He hadn’t had a bath in weeks.
My second role was helping him with daily activities – dressing and bathing. A bit of therapy and rehabilitative routines to ease the pain in his broken hip. The greatest of these, though, was companionship – sit, and talk. Tell stories. A conversation.
Sometimes, all it takes to make an elderly person’s day is a few minutes to have a conversation. I was grateful. I’d handled patients with ongoing medical conditions. Sometimes managing delicate extremes like tracheostomy and ventilator care. Thuita just needed someone to play games with.
Schizophrenia is manageable with a pill prescription. The trick is in having the patient stick to a medication schedule. Thuita loved games. Let’s play, Old Boy.
“Betty needs a shower and a nice dress,” I say.
Thuita is propped up on pillows, staring at a screen pinned to the far wall. There are several remote controls on his lap. He flashes a wide smile, dentures sparkling white.
“I’ll buy her five of those. She’s beautiful? She loves to dance…”
“She loves to dance?” I’m looking at rows of vials and bottles. As long as I can keep this train of thought, he’ll take his pills without hassle.
“Yes! Yes! She loves Franco, Werrason and JB Mpiana!” He says, excitedly. In a really cute way – like a kindergarten kid telling of a candy treat in school. It’s hard to think of this old man running a business empire.
“Take this, dearie. Then we take Betty shopping….” I coax him, handing him a glass of juice and three pills.
Thuita pops the pills in his mouth and takes a swig of juice. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. He is not swallowing. After an eternity, he pushes it down his throat, then leans back. He rubs his neck. It must be aching.
Barely a minute past, there’s s sound of a motor driving into the driveway. The family is back. They get into the living room. Thuita and I silently watch the soap on the TV.
I can hear the family scurrying up and down the stairs. I can hear pots and pans clucking in the kitchen. I can hear a cell phone ringing. It has a Baby Shark ringtone.
No one checks in on the old man. No one brings in a delicious plate of cookies from the oven. I can see the sadness in Thuita’s eyes. The pills, thankfully, kicks in. The old man drifts off to sleep.
I leave for home with a breaking heart. It’s another day at work.