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Diary: Ann Morisy

26 January 2024


Place of safety

MY NURSING home has a regal history. The mid-Victorian pile occupies one of the hills of south London, and displays royal photographs that would have once graced the front page of The South London Press.

There are 80 or so residents, and we all have some form of brain or spinal injury. Goodness knows how many staff there are — too many to count, or even estimate. It is like living in a village, with far more comings and goings than Ambridge. And I like it. Let me underscore that, because we have come to dread going into care more than death itself.

It’s just over a year since I came here, and, first and foremost, it has become a place in which I feel safe. That’s a combination of the care I get, and my growing understanding of my damaged body and metabolism. I am still a novice in relation to complete tetraplegia, which throws up all kinds of sensations, and blood-pressure highs and lows. Today — and most days — I feel safe, and at ease — descriptors I haven’t always been able to claim.

Top of the morning

MUSIC is all around you in a nursing or care home: music that is best described as low-brow. I am grateful I grew up in a low-brow family, which means that I can hold my own at karaoke, matching anyone singing Dusty Springfield or Cilla Black.

Alexa (there are other brands available) is also a boon. My daily ambition, which mostly I fulfil, is to make sure that my carers begin their day in a happy mood. Alexa enables me to select the music that might most appeal to them as they make me ready for the day. Often, it will be country and western that provides the best singalong. Together, we sing “Achy Breaky Heart”, or “Wichita Linesman”, loud and word-perfect, as they dress me and hoist me into my chair.

An unexpected delight is Afrobeat, a favourite of my Nigerian carers. Now, I recommend you try Afrobeat if you’re blessed with Alexa (or some other brand). I enjoy it immensely. It comes with a slight health warning, however: Alexa alerts me when the lyrics are somewhat explicit, prompting discretion with whom I start singing my Anglicised version. It’s gratifying to know that Alexa has such an unexpected but well-honed moral compass.

Benefit of the doubt

TALKING of music, a recent highlight has been a trip to ABBA Voyage. To understand this event, you need as much knowledge of avatars as of Abba.

An audience of near 3000 gather in a specially constructed arena to facilitate a gasp-prompting laser display, and hologram versions of Abba as they were 40 years ago. Three of us went, each supported by our personal carer, taking advantage of the best “seats”, which are invariably allocated to wheelchair users.

Sure enough, I had perfect views of the avatars, as well as of the serious Abba fans, in glitter and bell-bottoms, who danced and sang themselves into exhaustion.

I was pretty exhausted, too. I did my ablest shoulder-jiggling, and swayed as best I could. To my puzzlement, my efforts gained attention from surreptitious onlookers. Thumbs up were the main currency, but encouraging smiles also ensued.

As a greenhorn disabled, I am unsure how I feel about this. I think I am right to opt for its expressing positive, warm friendliness rather than patronising condescension. Perhaps, if I had been disabled for ten years, I might have tired of such attention, and my response might be less friendly and more of a glower.

Tipping point

TEA is a distinctive feature of nursing and care homes. I recall the times I have visited friends and relatives in care homes and they have been brought a warm, milky tea, in a stubby cup, on an equally stubby saucer. Whenever offered a cup I have declined, unable to face such a poor version of that luxurious offering called tea. Now, I drink tea in all states.

Fortunately, I am spared the stubby cup, as my nursing home offers tea in a variety of mugs, mostly porcelain. Even so, tea can be of variable fashion, and I drink it regardless of how much milk or how little teabag has been used.

How I have changed! This ability to adjust to our circumstances is called habituation. It is a remarkable capacity of the human species. We can adapt ourselves, often quite quickly, to all kinds of situations, whether those situations are good or bad. This means habituation is a mixed blessing. It is part of our resilience, but it is also the route to passivity.

The antidote to habituation is indignation. Indignation is that moment when we decide that a situation or circumstance is no longer acceptable; it is the moment when we cry, “This will not do!” Indignation is an art that is best honed with prayer. I can imagine occasions when my life as a resident in a nursing home might well arouse my indignation. I thank God that it hasn’t so far.

Rather helpfully, Jesus was the master of indignation. I enjoy reading the Gospels one by one, and, with each reading, I keep an eye on Jesus as he grapples with the insidious nature of habituation, and the courageous embrace of indignation. Good man.

Ann Morisy is a community theologian, and a member of the congregation at St Leonard’s, Streatham, in the diocese of Southwark.

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