Chapter Eleven ...Bruce
In part this is ground covered in
Chapter 6, but it provides the background to the antics of officialdom.
On the 17th March 1999
Bruce Whiteside was working away on a bench he was erecting in his den. It was a
phone call that reminded him that in a couple of days he would be 65. The
following day he remembered would be 'old Tom's, (as he often referred to him
as,) birthday. He thought to himself the 'old bugger would be 85'. In truth he
had not seen the old man, even in the street more than a couple of times in the
last twelve months and these days he never warranted a passing thought ...until
now. He wondered how he was getting on upon reflection. Living on his own was
not all that it was cracked up to be he thought ...and carried on with what he
That evening after his wife Iris had gone to bed, Bruce raided her box of cards and picked out a birthday greeting and wrote in it. 'Pity we don't talk these days Tom. Anyway have a good birthday'. Slipping it in an envelope he walked around into the next street and dropped it in Tom's letter-box. Conscience eased he headed home and forgot all about it. Bruce says, ' It was no more than a spontaneous gesture on my part and to be honest I never expected to hear from'. But hear from him he did.
A couple of days later the phone rang in Bruce's home in mid morning. On the other end a plaintive voice, 'Bruce, would you come back?'
'Is that you Tom? are you O K?'
'I'm O K but I am lonely'.
'I'll come over shortly if you open the gate'.
Just before mid-day Bruce made his way toward the gate that as far as he knew had been shut for over twelve months. It opened. Walking across the lawn he arrived at the twin sliding doors to see Tom slowly walking across the room. Bruce was shocked at both the pace he was moving and the stupor that appeared, even in that moment of time seemed to grip him. Bruce spoke; ' Tom, what the hell is wrong', he said alarmed at his appearance. He made his way across the room.
'Its the loneliness and the not having companionship', he struggled to say. It was as though he was traumatised, almost stunned that concerned his neighbour. Tom threw his arms around his old friend, squeezing like a frightened child. For the moment both men were overcome by emotion; one from the sheer relief of for once being wanted and the other from the anger that this old war veteran should be treated as a neglected institutional case.
Bruce Whiteside remembered with crystal clarity hearing those self same words from his late father who had died in 1992. He was in a nursing home in Rotorua New Zealand. Like Tom Jowett he was a man with a good and keen brain. Both men were in their eighties at the time and they suffered from lack of intellectual stimulation. For the most part the going to a nursing home can be akin to a life sentence of boredom or at least what is left of it. The conversation can be of a fairly primordial standard. Whilst there is no doubt that nursing homes try their best to ease the boredom of their patients, a few souls either starve on healthy discourse or worst still go into their shell. As a consequence their days can be a private incarceration in hell. Bruce knew this from first hand.
'Tom, I know what you mean. I understand fully and as long as you live I'll make sure you don't have to go through that again'.
Tom was visibly overcome and wiped the moisture from his eyes. Almost in a whisper he struggled to say 'You were always a good friend'.
Over a cup of tea and sandwiches that Bruce had knocked up in Tom's kitchen, they talked about how things had been.
'You've lost a lot of weight, since I last saw you Tom. What the hell have the girls been feeding you on?'
'Nothing I get my own meals', he said as he ran his right hand over his left arm .
'I bet you don't. You used to go out for meals, but looking at you now I don't think you eat at all. You are like a rake'.
It was interesting banter and Tom was beginning to warm up a little. They talked about how the nurses were caring for him, but to Bruce it appeared as though they were simply going through the motions of keeping an eye on him, although he could not comprehend how they could not be concerned by his deteriorating condition. Toward the end of the year the reasons were all too clear, but for the day they were a puzzle. They yarned for over three hours and then Bruce had to leave.
'Don't worry about cooking Tom, we'll bring a hot meal; over about five-thirty'.
'I'd like that. I haven't had a hot meal for weeks', Tom said as though that may have come as a surprise.
'Yeh, I know. It stands out a mile', Bruce fired back as he walked toward home.
What had happened to cause this rapid deterioration Bruce pondered. The old man has lost perhaps a stone and a half and that showed. Never more than 10 stone in the time that Bruce had known him, this fall in twelve months was either the casus of an illness or that he had been starving himself. What he could not wrap his mind around was why were the Blue Nurses not looking after him, if such was the case and all indications pointed that way, then why was he not being looked after.
Bruce's wife Iris, never had a great rapport with Tom and she never really took a great deal of notice, because essentially he was her husband's friend, if they really could have been called such. Her day was spent running a pre-loved shop, that she had taken on after a good many years to alleviate her boredom. For many years she had not only created the pre-loved industry on the Gold Coast, but had given a new meaning to the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, or opportunity shops as they were known. In fact the kernel of the idea arose out of a battle of ideas and principles when several ladies from the old Salvation Army Citadel, Southport opted to open a shop in Kirra. The idea was somewhat flawed because of its distance from the then Citadel. Ladies had to travel to volunteer their time and after a while the enthusiasm waned. Iris who was giving one a day a week, soon found that that became two, then three days. Iris's handyman husband then painted and wrote a large sign with the inventive name Sally's Boutique, instead of the established Thrift Shop. Iris's foray into this business appealed to her ordered and organisational skills. She had on two occasions been in charge of supermarkets and travel agencies. Gradually, because she was now there for most of the week, she occupied her time 'getting rid of the junk, and in doing so improved the quality of the stock. Next she dealt with the presentation. This is where her husband came in handy and created all the new stands, shelves and the like. The shop began to make something of a name for itself among the Salvationists and the new officer decided to have a look at the 'new baby'. At the time he was not very well liked, but true to form the congregation whispered among themselves, but carried on as though he was. Some who were not all that happy decided to break away and form what the Army calls an Outpost. For sometime these people had been viewed as renegades by officialdom, but heroes by many of the Southport Citadel. At the time both Iris and Bruce Whiteside were attending the SA. As it happens their parents were involved with Iris having both parents as Salvation Army officers. Bruce's father, grandparents and may relations were 'Army to the Corp' (core). Bruce however was never destined for the diplomatic corp., and neither rank or position mattered a fig to him. His respect is honed on the person not his station. The SA Officer who paid the new shop a visit that day, was insensitive.
'Get that sign down', he was looking at the handiwork that Bruce had created. He turned to Bruce.
'Allan it bloody well stays there. If you think that people can give of their time and material just to be bawled out, then think again'.
This was not quite what he was expecting. Word of the brief altercation spread through the corp. Most found it hard to suppress a laugh, but the old guard were not amused. Within two days the Corp Officer, sought and got permission to close the new baby down. Never mind the work that volunteers had put in, this was a matter of sweet revenge. What amused Bruce was the pettiness that God fearing men would go. This devastated Iris, but she decided to make the best of it and made a written offer to buy the stock. She was staggered when the Corp Officer refused to sell it to her. With a little piece of lateral thinking a friend made a separate approach to the Corp Officer who not only sold the stock to him, but paid 25% less. With a receipt for the stock Iris went to the lessor and took over. Twelve months later she opened a new shop on the highway and never looked back. The Officer was moved to Sydney a few weeks later. Ironically it was Bruce who called on him in a spirit of goodwill, the day he left. Four months later the Officer died from cancer.
When Iris came home that evening she was surprised to learn that her husband had visited Tom Jowett. 'What brought that about?''
Bruce explained what had developed from the card that he had written a day a couple of days previously. 'To be honest I did not expect him to even let on that he had received it, but he did. I think you should go over and see him. You'll get a shock.'
'Why, what is wrong?' Iris asked as she began preparing the evening meal.
'Look I'll carry on with getting tea, whilst you go over and see him. Incidentally I told him that we would take him over a hot meal'.
She just stood there as Tom opened the sliding door. Flatly Tom greeted her with a monotone 'Hello Iris'.
Iris put here arms around his frail pathetic figure. "Tom are you eating properly', she questioned, knowing that he was not.
'Not really dear. Now and again I have a meal or two, but I usually don't bother that much'.
'I thought you had carers and nurses looking after you'.
'They don't do much, sit down and have cups of tea and talk'.
'They haven't got time Tom there is washing, ironing and meals to get, so how do they do it? Iris said , mildly angry that the old man was being neglected.
Let there be no illusion about the image that is generally accepted that these organisations do a great service in the community. Unless the carers are adequately organised and kept in line, anything can happen. In Tom Jowett's case this was but early evidence of that slovenly attitude that often old frail people have to endure, fearful of over-zealous authoritarianism , terrified to complain unless the carers pull out or just plain oblivious to what they are being subjected to. Of course these self-same caring institutions will cry down any such criticism, fearing it will detract from the public perception of their Christian profile. As we see they can be just as devious and dishonest as their weakest employee. When it comes to safeguarding their reputations, they will fight dirty.
The sad part is that their intentions are basically honest, but when one of their own step out of line, they will prevaricate, play for time and deny or admit nothing. It was this that permeated the best intentions of Bruce and Iris Whiteside as they set about trying to rehabilitate an old warrior who was dying in the tender arm and care of what passed for Blue Care nursing.
Bruce was on his way over with a hot meal, possibly the best feed Tom would have had in weeks., as Iris was leaving. He handed it to her and told Tom that he'd be over later for a chat.
'He's good man your husband. You know he saved my life one time', said Tom as Iris set his table.
'He has his moments, Tom', she said indifferently as though it came from years of saying it.
'I suppose so, but he's always been good to me.'
Some weeks went by and Tom bored with being at home asked Bruce if he would take him out for the afternoon. All went well and they took a drive down to Tweed Heads. They stopped and fill their cups from a flask, spending the afternoon on the shores of the Tweed River. Coming home Tom took a bad breathing spell and they had forgotten to bring his inhaler. It is distressing enough to witness this sort of attack, but it paled on the Monday when the carer Giselle found out. To say that she went 'to town' would be putting it mildly, but she moved then to have 'the neighbour' prevented from removing Tom from his home. It was nasty and it was damned disrespectful. Bruce accepted the outburst, believing that the Blue Care people had sole charge of Tom's welfare. That they did not, was not communicated to him, so he backed off.
Tom took a bad spell and one of the other neighbours rang Carole Crozier. In the middle of her visitation Bruce had wandered over to have a yarn, not aware that Tom was ill. It was the first time that he had come in contact with Blue Nurse Crozier and she was concerned that Tom might have to go into hospital. Tom remonstrated and said in the manner of a disgruntled old man, that he was not and would not go.
'Tom, you always say that', Crozier mildly admonished. 'One of these days you'll have no say in the matter and you will go whether you like it or not', she warned.
'Not while I have breath in my body, you won't'. Crozier turned to Whiteside.
'He always says that, but he knows that he has only himself to blame, don't you', she said turning to Tom. 'He was offered an operation a few years ago, but turned it down', Crozier went on addressing this neighbour to whom she had only heard of. 'Tom suffers from black-outs from time to time, caused by TIA'S'.
'What are they', Bruce asked.
'Mini heart attacks. They leave minute blood clots in the brain, which tends to weaken the agility of the brain'.
"You mean like Alzheimer's?'
'Tom ...Tom with Alzheimer's, you jest. He's too crafty to ever have that, but his short term memory is bad at times.
As Carole was leaving she suggested that Bruce might keep an eye on him from time to time and if he took ill to ring her at home as long at it wasn't later than ten or then thirty, otherwise ring the hospital emergency.
It wasn't long before a name in Tom's conversations began to crop up, with regularity. He often spoke of the girls that came to ostensibly help him, but they were not like 'his Saraid'. At first Bruce either did not take much notice or just chose to not labour the association.
'She was my favourite Saraid. She would do anything for me and it was never any bother. I miss her', he would carry on.
Bruce came to the conclusion that the 'silly old bugger' had a crush on her. The trouble was that it was upsetting him. He had not seen her for weeks after having just vanished without as much as a goodbye.
Belinda Leigh -Murdoch, a friend, a young girl with a two children and a husband turned up one day to see Tom. It transpired that they were neighbours who had moved away and were now heading for Dubbo. Because they were going in the not to distant future, they decided to bring their children to whom Tom adored. Tom adored all children. Whist her husband was talking to Tom Bruce asked her if she had heard of the name Saraid. Belinda was only too effusive to hold back.
Sheila, a little friend' and Tom. Tom had a natural affinity with children
'I reported her to the
'Why?', Bruce asked a little amused, by her triumphant response.
"She was always taking Tom out. If it was not for tea or lunch, the bank or the shops, then it was the clubs'.
'A busy girl in other words', Bruce was trying to be detached.
'Busy? No, she was getting to close to Tom'.
Bruce never did pressure her to be more explicit, but she was convinced that she had her sacked.
Saraid, however continued to work for Blue Care.
In the meantime a new lady stepped into the breach. A little older and mature she found time for work and a little time to chat. She and Bruce worked well together, although their paths did not cross all that often. Prudence was always pleasant and upon reflection there was never any hostility. Often she would bake at home and bring something in for the old man and he always showed his affection. Giselle, was at times resentful at Bruce's presence, which was not really fair because he was there purely and simply because Tom wanted him and resisted any talk of keeping him away.
It was difficult, for Tom was something of an softy were girls were concerned. If he liked somebody, he would shower them with little gifts. If someone helped him in any special way he would want to give them something. It was not always easy to get along with and when Bruce rejected his $20,000 gift in his Will for 'saving his life', he promptly disinherited him. Whiteside himself can be a 'funny bastard at time'. A highly principled man, he can often work against his own best interests, by upholding values that mean much to him. It was for these reasons and not as unprincipled lawyers and barristers alluded to 'setting the old man up to strip him of his estate', that he undertook the moral stand to help Tom for the remainder of his life.
When Bruce undertook of his own volition to help Tom it did not impinge upon his personal life or financial affairs. He had made that clear back in 1996, so it was no great surprise to find two bulging manila folders, fully ten inches deep, deposited on the table and not in the writing cabinet. They were also very conspicuous due to the bright pink taped that tied them all together. It was nothing to see windowed envelopes or letters lying on the free-standing dining island, unopened for days. Whatever was happening sooner or later these were taken care of.
With the exception of the kitchen dining room area and ablutions, the remainder of the rooms were shut and those that were not by virtue of arches in place of doors, was furniture shrouded in sheets. This didn't worry Tom to much, who lived in the confined space quite comfortably.
It was late in June or early July that the relationship soured.
Bruce had asked Tom earlier in the day to come over for morning tea. He had been making a cabinet and was running late when he called over to the house. What he saw disturbed him. Carole Crozier, senior Blue Care nurse was facing off with Tom. Standing less than six inches away, she was giving the old man a right telling off and he was shaking and in tears. It was into this maelstrom that Bruce intervened.
'What the hell's going on here', his assertiveness threw Crozier for a moment as she observed him walking up to Tom and saying, 'Don't worry I'm here now'
Tom pointed to his arm intimating in a gesture that he had been struck. Bruce decided to leave that alone.
'What's this got to do with you?' Crozier shot back. She pointed to the door and said "get out and keep away from here.'
Tom quietly said, "Don't Bruce', but he backed away and said he would be back shortly. Moments later he heard Carole's Crozier's car driven off.
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