When his home closed to visitors for the second time, it had a devastating effect on my father’s mental health, so I decided to take action
By Jacqui Deevoy
“This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.” These were my dear dad’s words on his first night back in his own house after spending the year in a private care home. He looked so comfortable in familiar surroundings, in his favourite high-backed armchair.
At the start of the year, my dad went into a care home, having suffering a major stroke last October. His speech had become slurred, he didn’t always make sense and he could no longer walk unaided. The stroke had also left him with vascular dementia, which made him unable to look after himself, needing round-the-clock attention. But then in March, when the country went into lockdown, so did the care home: no visitors would be allowed. At first, I was understanding about the measure. We’d all seen news reports about Covid-19 tearing through nursing homes.
But after a tough few months of not being allowed to see my father, and with him struggling with our daily phone calls, the restrictions were relaxed in July. We were finally permitted to see each other at a social distance in the care home grounds, or through his ground-floor window. But, as cases began to rise again across the country, the home brought back its ‘no visitors’ policy two weeks ago. “Please come and see me,” my dad begged whenever I spoke to him on the phone, his vascular dementia causing him to forget what I’d said from one call to the next. I explained again, trying to sound patient (and probably failing). He was devastated, but seemed to understand – before ringing back five minutes later:
“Please come and see me…” Every time he pleaded, my heart broke a little more.
I could tell his his heart was breaking, too, as was his spirit. Some days, he’d be near to tears, other days telling me his life was over, that he was “finished”. But what could I do? For a week, I despaired. But eventually, having convinced myself that rules are rules, I realised that they’re also made to be broken. I called the care home administrator. “I’m coming to visit my dad,” I said firmly.
“That’s not possible, I’m afraid,” she replied. “I told you last week, we have a no visiting policy for the foreseeable future…”
They’d had a couple of Covid cases in the home, so it was imperative to prevent visitors, “to keep the residents safe”. While Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded in the summer that for those in care not to be able to receive visits from their loved ones had been “painful”, the Government has broadly left it to individual homes to “put in place guidance that protects everyone”.
I suggested it might be safer if the residents who tested positive were quarantined, and the others left to go about their business, including receiving visitors. But no. The home’s management had decided on a belt and braces approach: solitary confinement for the infected, and no outside human contact for the healthy. I think the administrator was hoping to end the conversation at that point. But I hadn’t finished. “OK, if I can’t visit my dad, I’m coming to pick him up.”
She said she’d talk to the higher-ups and get back to me. But I wondered why she was bothering: I wasn’t asking for permission. When the administrator called back, she said it had been decided that I could visit after all, but only if I went to the closed window of my dad’s ground-floor room and we talked on our mobile phones through the glass. “Like a prison visit,” I said. It wasn’t a question.
The administrator was quiet for a moment, then told me it’s the best she could offer. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but that’s not acceptable. That would be too far too distressing for both me and my dad.” I emailed the manager and, after advising her that holding my dad prisoner would be in breach of his and my human rights, I instructed her to have him ready for me to collect him at 3pm the next day. “Hurray!” my dad yelled down the phone when I told him I was bringing him back to his house. “I can’t wait to see you!” I could feel his smile.
He called several times the following morning to ask what time I would be arriving. I’d never seen a beam as big as his when he was wheeled into reception to meet me. When I bent to give him a hug, even the masked carers seemed happy, with one saying “Make sure you come back!” as she fastened his seatbelt when he got into my car. I hadn’t given much thought about how long I could look after him myself, or how I might afford to keep his empty room at the home. On his first night home, friends and neighbours popped over. We drank wine and played cards. Dad, who usually goes to bed at 8pm out of boredom, kept winning and stayed up until 1am. It was lovely to see him laugh. “I knew you’d come and get me,” he smiled, eyes brimming with tears as I tucked him into bed. “You’re a good daughter.”
He told me he didn’t want to go back to the home and I said he didn’t have to. We’d find a way, I said. I smoothed his fluffy grey hair flat and kissed him goodnight on the cheek. “Anyone would do the same for their dad,” I replied. And they would. I know they would. If only they realise that they could.”