Abreshmina is an Iranian born creative writer. She is 81 years old, highly independent and, until recently, was a fulltime carer for her beloved husband of 60 years. Despite struggling with her own aches and pains in her neck and back, Abreshmina washed him and tended him when he woke which was often two or three times at night. Eventually however, managing his dementia became too challenging and he now lives in a nearby care home where, until lockdown, she would visit him every day. Being unable to visit her husband has been the greatest tragedy of the Covid-19 restrictions.
“I will do anything for him because I know how wonderful he is and I know he would do the same for me. Now I can’t even see him. On the telephone he sometimes doesn’t know me so now I can’t communicate with him at all and it breaks my heart. I am thinking about him all the time.” Abreshmina is supported by her daughter who lives close by and calls her every day. But she likes to get out.
“I was an independent lady. I used to go out every day because my flat is small. I used to go a walk and do my shopping. Now, because of the situation, I must stay home. It is horrible for me. I am sitting on my own. I cannot be sociable. I am not talking to my friends or phoning them because I don’t want to tell people about my sadness. This morning I felt ready to die.”
Abreshmina knows that help is on hand if she needs. Her daughter has ordered her shopping online. Neighbours are also on hand. “The neighbourhood has made a small army to help and they have told me I can let them know if I need,” she says. She is also in contact with Camden Carers who have called her to check she is managing. But for this independent lady, depending on others is not her style. “I like to be able to choose my own things from the shelf and I like to have a reason to go out to get something for myself. So I am going out to get my shopping. I wear a mask and gloves. People let me go in and not wait in the long queue.”
Abreshmina’s health is not good and she hasn’t been able to visit her GP in the way she normally would. “I have a swollen foot and my allergies are back,” she says. “I phoned the GP and the doctor phoned me back. He made a prescription and told me to phone the pharmacy and they would deliver it to me. It worked okay over the phone. I got the prescription. Doctor was very kind. But he couldn’t do anything for my foot because I need an examination and in this situation I cannot go. My daughter said don’t go to hospital because it is dangerous for you.”
Isolation and loneliness are already taking a toll. Abreshmina explains from the perspective of a poet. “If I can write a poem there should be a tingling to my brain otherwise I can’t write. I feel my brain is completely blocked because I feel sad and hopeless. I used to be very active but now I am like a bird in a small cage. Life has become so much smaller — I feel I am suffocating. But today, doing this interview, I have talked myself out of my sad mood!”
The following week, Abreshmina was in better spirits. “It’s a sad time but I feel a little bit hopeful. I went out and I bought my fruit and milk.” Undaunted, she had been travelled by bus to the shops but was taking precautions with careful hand washing. She had also been contacted by Age-UK to offer support.
The week had involved complications around getting her prescription and anxiety seemed to be affecting her day to day management of practicalities. “I didn’t contact the doctor’s surgery because now they don’t answer the phone and you get a long lecture from an automatic voice… Instead, I phoned the pharmacy but unfortunately I forget things my memory is a little bit funny. I feel more anxious than usual so I find I am forgetting things completely. For example, my pills for cholesterol —suddenly when I finished them I realised I didn’t have any more.”
“Thank god yesterday they delivered my prescription to me. I said they should put it in a carrier bag and hang it on the door handle but they put it on the door mat — lots of germs — so quickly I opened the door and took it with gloves. And twice I changed my gloves.”
She reported that new information had arrived although much of it seemed to be confusing and some was inappropriate. “I have had letters with information from Waitrose and John Lewis and from British Gas. Lots of different information. I get some funny letters — for example I got a letter about the TV licence in my husband’s name saying my TV licence will finish but I wanted to phone them and say what are you talking about my husband is in a care home!”
Abreshmina has continued to be defiantly independent. “My daughter tries to convince me not to go out to buy food and I know that if I need anything she will organise it. But I decided myself, because I am very independent, I believe I should go out and if I want to go again I will.” She has, however, started to avoid public transport. “Before I was taking the bus but now after the rule change the bus is too crowded. I can’t walk very far without sitting down. From my flat to the shops there is nowhere for me to sit down but I can sit on the bench at the bus stop.”
She has also been active online, getting in touch with friends and family. “Always I am sitting by my laptop and my mobile. One of my cousins (who lives in Canada) sends me lovely videos to make me laugh and another cousin in Los Angeles phones me. And I listen to the news.”
The best news of the week was that she had been able to speak to her husband at his care home over the phone and was reassured that he was well. Talking about her husband makes Abreshmina very emotional and she becomes tearful as she speaks of her love for him.
By the following week, there had been a significant breakthrough in communicating with the care home.
“It was wonderful,” says Abreshmina. “I saw my husband using video on Facetime. They are taking care of him and he was clean and shaved. So I am happy about that.” She had also spoken with the manager and was very grateful to him for making this contact possible and very complimentary about all the staff at the home. “They say I can do Facetime anytime but usually I just phone to hear his voice.”
Abreshmina had also been busy socialising over the phone with lots of calls from friends in Iran and elsewhere. “I’ve had a good day,” she said.
In her final interview, Abreshmina expressed mixed emotions. She was feeling hopeful that there may be an announcement that lockdown was easing and she could go out more. The saga of getting medical attention for her swollen foot and adjusting her blood pressure medication was continuing. “I phoned the surgery with lots of difficulty and they made an appointment for the doctor to call me back. The doctor called me but the first time I didn’t hear the phone. I called them back to say I was waiting and why didn’t I get the call and they said he phoned but you didn’t reply. I am a bit deaf.” Eventually, however, she did speak with the doctor who was able to make a good diagnosis over the phone. A new prescription had helped reduce the swelling. Nevertheless, Abreshmina’s anxiety about her health was clear. “I am not scared of death but I am frightened of falling or something and dying here alone in my flat without anyone knowing.”
The care home had made a short video with her husband. “They took him into the garden and he was drinking coca cola or something and eating a lolly but he didn’t like that he likes ice cream but I was very happy because I saw my husband. They sent the video to my daughter and she sent it to me and I was able to watch it on my phone.”
She went on: “Today I phoned my husband. There was good news because they did a Coronavirus test and my husband was negative. Physically he is in better shape than me but his brain is out of work because of the dementia.”
“In a way I am happy that his brain doesn’t work because otherwise he would miss me and be unhappy. Instead it’s me that misses him and is unhappy. I wish I could still be taking care of him but it was too difficult after I had my fall. But he is alive. And when this thing is finished we will go to visit him — me and my daughter — and we will buy him ice cream which he loves very much.”
You can read all of the 8 Personal Stories in the Covid-19 Report 'Life in Lockdown.'