Surviving Covid-19 at 91
I didn’t get to see my father this week. And I have tried calling him but his phone is switched off. So, I thought I would write this post about him instead.
My father is 91 years old. He is in a care home not far from where I live. He caught — and survived — Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic. That’s getting on for a year ago now, which is both strange and frightening to consider. The home called to say he had the virus but they weren’t going to tell him in case it worried him. He had a week of mild symptoms and then was fine again. When I visited him later he said he had not felt unwell at all and had no sense of being in danger. One of the lucky ones, obviously.
He enjoys the care home life. the best part is that he has everything done for him. My mother used to do everything for him, too. She died five years ago and for a year he found living a struggle. I suspected he would soon give up eating — apart from chocolate and biscuits — because he would tell me he was bored of even thinking of what to ask me to bring him from the shops. Arthritis in his hands had stopped him driving. He talked of wanting to go into a home. This, for him, was code for “I want to be looked after again.”
Our relationship has never been close and yet, as an only son, I felt it my duty to invite him to come live with us. My wife, not exactly a fan of the man, agreed that it was something we should do.
He stayed with us for two years and I don’t think any of us were happy. The happiest day of those two years for all of us was the day he left for the home.
I visit frequently for thirty minutes at a time. It is all that is allowed at the moment and it is long enough. We sit separated by a screen in a cabin in the grounds of the home. It is like visiting a prisoner but I’m not sure my father feels that the prisoner is him. My father remains, for the most part, cogent. He repeats the same questions from week to week. The best part of the slight memory loss is that he forgets how we argue about politics.
His days are spent reading the Daily Telegraph. Literally all day. He reads it more or less from cover to cover. A break for meals. The weirdest effect this generates is that he will raise an issue that is a result of Tory mismanagement, Tory policy, or the results of the years of pain and misery instigated by Thatcher and yet, when I point out the reasons for what he bemoans, he refuses to accept the root causes. His view seems to be that the world is a mess and the Tories are best placed to make it better.
You can imagine this makes conversation difficult. And this is not new. My father and I have been at loggerheads politically since I was a teenager. I think my father turned right-wing at an early age and has not deviated. He has not become more extreme but he has certainly not mellowed. He has a dry sense of humour and a notion of absurdity but his humour can turn to condescension when it comes to politics or economics. My father knows nothing of economics but thinks he is smart with money because he used to be a pensions manager for a large company. He is a perfect example of someone who accepts the right-wing myth that a national budget is the same as a household budget, with all the implications of balanced books and not spending what you don’t have. His acceptance of this ideological nonsense is the thing that most separates us.
We talk football and rugby and when we discuss Hearts or the Scotland team we are on safe ground. My father took me to my first game at Tynecastle a long, long time ago and I have followed Hearts ever since. For anyone who knows Hearts, this is a poisoned chalice that my father has given me. I forgive him for that.
There has been a new outbreak of Covid-19 at the home. The new strain, probably. They are starting to vaccinate the residents. My father has not been re-infected and it looks like the outbreak has been managed well. I received a message yesterday that the home was letting the residents mingle again and have meals together in the dining room. My father enjoys the chance to walk along the corridor to the dining room. I think it makes him feel like he’s in a hotel.
Tomorrow I will call the home and ask someone to remind him to turn his mobile back on. He worries about saving battery. I am the only person who calls him. Last time I saw him I said I had tried to call and asked him to remember to turn the phone back on. He said he would. He hasn’t.
Perhaps he’s happy not to talk to me.