• Corona Thinkers

Lockdown in the retirement home by Anne Penketh

I was listening to French radio this morning as usual in bed, waiting for the news headlines with their daily dose of death, when the interviewer began talking to a manager from a care home in a Paris suburb. Its 65 residents have now been in lockdown for more than two weeks, confined to their rooms. How are they coping?, the interviewer wanted to know. Their relatives stand outside windows to wave, or connect on Skype as they can no longer visit, but the residents can’t handle the virtual world. “We’ll say: your daughter’s here, and they get all excited and start looking for her in the room,” said the manager. “They don’t understand that she’s on the tablet.” Sometimes the staff leave the door of a room open, but then find the residents gathering in the corridor and have to shoo them back inside. They are on alert for the slightest cough in case of coronavirus. But what they notice most is the residents’ loss of appetite in their solitary confinement, during which every meal is brought on a tray to their room. Then a question surprises me. “Do you cry?” the interviewer asks. “Yes I do,” the carer replies. My own mother, who had Alzheimer’s, was in a care home in Lancashire and died in July last year, aged 91. I began thinking how lucky she was to have passed away before this modern plague, whose constraints she would never have understood. And I realised that, listening to this interview, my own eyes were wet.

Anne Penketh is an author and journalist. She was Diplomatic Editor of The Independent, and a staff foreign correspondent for the French news agency AFP. She has also reported for The Guardian from Paris. Her latest crime novel, Play Dead, is published by Joffe Books.

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