What Do You Say?

A conversation I overheard last week, has stayed with me ever since. It took place between a carer and an elderly resident at the nursing home. Tess is a widow who was living independently at home until a series of falls brought about a deterioration in her health. She was put into long term care at the nursing home as her grown-up family all live abroad. Tess is a much loved lady as evidenced by the constant stream of friends and ex-neighbours who visit her at the home. She is rapidly fading physically but still has all her other faculties.


Carer: Eat up, Tess, before your lunch goes cold

Tess: I’m not feeling very well today

Carer: You’re not feeling well because you’re not eating enough food

Tess: I’m not hungry

Carer: If you don’t eat your food Tess, you’ll fade away

Tess: I know… that’s what I want.

What do you say to someone like dear old Tess?

9 Responses to What Do You Say?

  1. annb says:

    Maybe “would you like someone to sit with you while you fade away?’ would be a good place to start. I don’t know, but Tess sounds to me like she’s lived her life and is ready to move on with dignity. People at the beginning and end of life expectancy see the world with such clarity, that we in the middle, find it almost unbearable.

  2. Grannymar says:

    I bet that carer was standing up when she spoke!

  3. Steph says:

    Annb – The situation with ‘Tess’ really upsets me. She’s patently had enough of life and wants out. I think it’s so sad to see old people like her who feel they’ve nothing to live for any more. She would be much happier in a sheltered housing environment where she could still enjoy a bit of independence but as we all know, the HSE doesn’t provide sensible options like that!

    Grannymar – On the ball as always. To be fair, the carer in question is very kind but was busy feeding another resident when this conversation took place. I make a beeline for Tess at every opportunity I get and make physical contact with her by putting my hand in hers or by giving her a hug when appropriate. She’s still got a great sense of humour despite her despondency. You’d almost wish she could die suddenly and unexpectedly so that she would be spared any further indignity in what’s left of her life.

  4. Dunno what I’d say to Tess, but if I was Tess I’d tell the carer to piss off!

  5. Steph says:

    Nice one! Roy

    I’m sure Tess must often feel like telling the carers to leave her alone but instead, she tends to feign sleep in the hope that she’ll be left in peace.

    I’ve noticed as well that her hearing loss varies according to who’s on duty 😉

    In reality, there are no words that could console poor Tess in her wish to call it a day. A little hug goes some way to show understanding.

  6. annb says:

    Steph, we both know that the HSE wouldn’t recognise a sensible, patient centred, cost efficient option if it came up and bit them in the proverbial. It is however, still amazing and life affirming to witness health care professionals who manage to retain their humanity while working under such a brutal regime. Tess, and many like her are the collateral damage in the turf war of vested interests which pollutes our health system. Thankfully, she has someone like you who cares and respects her dignity. Keep the flag flying.

  7. Steph says:

    Cheers! Anneb

    I have to agree. There is as much despondency amongst hospital/nursing home staff as there is amongst many of the patients. The working conditions for most people working in the public sector, are truly disgraceful. I know only too well having worked in that sector myself. It was like stepping back in time and no matter how hard you tried to get things changed, it was like banging your head off a brick wall. Thankfully, there are many fantastic HC professionals out there who are prepared to go beyond the call of duty to ensure patient comfort. Worryingly however, many of our best HC staff have had enough and have been lured over to the private sector, to the detriment of the public system.

  8. Baino says:

    Steph, my best friend’s grandad was in that position in England with most of his family now in Australia he was 99 years old, frail after an incredibly fit and long life and simply wanted to die. We all hoped he’d make his 100th birthday but he simply gave up . . .death with dignity is very important. You’re doing a sweet thing for Tess.

  9. Steph says:

    Thanks Baino.

    I do my best for Tess but I’m very limited because of my own parents’ needs at the home.

    I have to tread carefully as just like kids, old people tend to want you all to themselves 🙂

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