Three Rubys sit together in the corner of the nursing home. Ruby One is struggling to uphold her position of power. She is the longest serving resident and observes all interactions intently with her fiercely glum stance. Ruby One is a veteran. She has been challenged many times as new arrivals come and disturb the equilibrium with their unsettled behaviour and lack of respect for the resident hierarchy. Ruby One knows exactly how things should be for everything to run smoothly. Key to her power is that she is the keeper of the lounge buzzer. All calls to staff therefore have to be approved and activated by Ruby One.
Ruby Two arrived just a week or so after my mother. She has not yet come to terms with life in the nursing home. Ruby Two is unsettled and lives in discomfort and confusion. Unlike Ruby One, Ruby Two can get up and walk, but nervousness and a vulnerability means that a house rule appears to be in place to prevent this happening, at least not without the assistance of staff. Ruby Two’s great asset is her hearing. She is not always sure which conversations in the room are intended for her ears but she is one of the few who hears what is said from afar, and responds.
Ruby Two is placed directly opposite Ruby One each day. They both have window seats. If looks could kill… Nevertheless, over time, it can be observed that Ruby One has a caring heart beneath her hard shell of an exterior. She means no harm. On those odd occasions when the power battle is not in the process of being played out, a modicum of attention to her plight, together with a little understanding, brings out a softness through which the occasional half-smile has been known to emerge. Ruby One knows from experience that the sooner Ruby Two can settle down, accept where she is and allow the house rules to dominate her existence, the happier everyone will be. She has made it her business to convey this. This can be done quite sufficiently with a minimum of spoken words.
Ruby Three is the latest addition to the Ruby mix. She is the quiet and compliant one. She does not complain and she does as she is asked. She eats whatever is delivered to her table, speaks only when spoken to and causes no trouble. The less careful observers might not notice that Ruby Three is constantly trying to ensure fair and adequate attention for all participants at the daily lounge party. Careful observation is needed, partly because Ruby Three is very softly spoken. It would be easy not to notice that she has spoken. The sort of conversation that brings Ruby Three the greatest satisfaction is an almost whispered exchange in which she is able to include a kind word of encouragement or a thoughtful reflection. When the situation requires, and sometimes when it doesn’t, Ruby Three will use her whispered observations to initiate a mission of rescue on behalf of another resident or visitor in need.
Unable to cope too well with the presence of three Rubys in such an intimate environment, Ruby Three has sacrificed her name. The staff now call her Jenny.
The Rubys are slowly learning to inter-relate. This is now their life. It is not a life that any of them have chosen for themselves.
Today, as we prepare to take Mum out in the wheel chair for some fresh air, Ruby One is saying to Ruby Two, “don’t look so miserable”. “The problem is,” says Ruby Three quietly as she turns to speak to me, “she never gets out, visitors come, but they don’t take her out”. “Do you ever get out?” I ask. “No”, says Ruby Three. “I haven’t been out since I arrived.” She arrived about six weeks ago.
One of the assets of this particular home is that it is in a village. There is a village shop, a church across the road, a village hall, a duck pond around the corner and a friendly pub serving good food just a few steps away.
Mum now shares her life with the three Rubys. They sit day by day together observing each other and driving each other to occasional interactions. Others come and go, but Mum and the Rubys do not have the freedom of choice to come and go as they please. Their mobility does not allow them this privilege.
As we exercise our freedom to get up and come home, Ruby Three speaks once more, this time on behalf of them all.
“Thank you for brightening up our day” she says.
It doesn’t take much to make a difference.