“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 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”.