My dad waits in his nursing home, which has become stranger and more isolated with each passing day. With the onset of COVID-19, aged care is now in complete lockdown.
He can only look out the window or wheel himself out on the balcony to get some morning sun. No visitors, hairdressers, fitness instructors, massage therapists or volunteers are allowed in anymore. The resident doctor consults by phone. There are no outings any longer. My dad’s twice-daily walks to the park and to get a few groceries are a thing of the past. One of the carers tells him that it’s a matter of ‘not if, but when’ coronavirus will infiltrate their defences.
My dad had his right leg amputated below the knee early in 2019. He was lucky to escape with the loss of a leg; he could have died. His diabetes complications advanced so swift and sudden that from one day to the next he was facing kidney failure and total shutdown.
We’d just moved to semi-rural Queensland three weeks previously and were in a beachside rental, with a tiny downstairs bathroom and two long flights of stairs. There was no way a wheelchair could get in there. My dad is a lively, humorous 74-year-old, so making the decision to place him in aged care was tough. It felt expedient, selfish, and wrong.
My dad is a lively, humorous 74-year-old, so making the decision to place him in aged care was tough.
Since then, he’s learned to walk with a prosthesis, leaning on a cane, and due to his regular walks and daily weights routine, is fitter than he’s ever been. He’s also become part of the fabric of the nursing home: laying tables for breakfast, pouring drinks, lending the carers, nurses and residents, books, music and DVDs.
In the meantime, we’ve bought a five-acre property which was affected by Australia's east coast bushfires in November 2019. It’s been a long, sad and arduous process of regeneration and rebuilding. Only last night, we were burning off the enormous piles of dead wood we’ve cut over the months, with the help of our hardy 80-year-old neighbours, teaching us how to burn safely, from a 1.5 metre distance from each other. Watching the already-burnt banksia pods glow reddish-gold like lanterns and explode into sparks, I thought: We’re slowly becoming country people.
We’re also slowly building a cabin for my dad. It is beautiful, so far, with an entire wall of glass facing the north-eastern light and a huge deck for him to tend the herbs and vegetables he’s keen to grow. But it’s not finished, and we’ve run out of money.
Yesterday my dad came home. The cabin isn’t ready, but we have a small room for him to sleep in.
Yesterday my dad came home. The cabin isn’t ready, but we have a small room for him to sleep in. Yes, it's hard making nutritious meals for a man who is set in his ways. It’s irritating hearing someone else’s radio and TV at night. It’s frustrating having a wheelchair in a home that has narrow corridors, floorboards and rugs. It’s a challenge managing his raft of medications and supplements, doing pharmacy and grocery runs, washing his clothes.
But it’s the only thing I can do. I’d never forgive myself if he contracted coronavirus in aged care, become sick and died.
So far, we’ve been solicitous with each other, overly accommodating, polite. The whole family cleans up after each other, vying to pack the dishwasher, sweep the floor. I’ve pinned a checklist of daily and weekly tasks my dad needs to do on his bedroom wall, in order to stop myself from nagging him. My nagging, his ignoring me, has been a longstanding feature of our relationship. Now’s our chance to change it.
Already, we’ve had some disagreements, but they’ve been mild. We’ve also had some precious moments: laughing over old jokes, reading poetry aloud. My daughter and he go over her Maths, play Scrabble with an antique set he brought here, packed among his underwear folds.
Is this love or obligation? Self-sacrifice or good karma? Who can say? It’s everything and nothing. It’s just what I need to do.
For now, my dad is in self-isolation on our five acres.
For now, my dad is in self-isolation on our five acres. At least he can breathe clean air, hear birds, feel wind and sun and rain on his face. He can walk around the property with his cane —halting, slow, careful—giving him time to marvel at wildflowers and bees and the myriad of butterflies we see at this time of year. Our old dog trots behind him, faithful to the core. He smiles, bends down and rests his hand on her head, steadying himself.
It’s a bright autumn day, with fat clouds scudding across a huge blue sky. My dad is here. That’s all we have, for now.
Katerina Cosgrove is a writer. You can follow Katerina on Twitter @katcosgrove.