Wednesday, December 01, 2010

And Mother Makes Five

In a juxtaposition that would have been worthy of a mediocre episode of Casualty, while my family and I were transforming ourselves into the living dead for Halloween, my mother was being rushed to hospital by ambulance. In Casualty, I suppose I would have been standing by her bed as she lay dying, dressed as a vampire, with the make-up running down my face.

Fortunately, life is rarely as crass as a BBC hospital drama and after nine days of being connected to various drips and machines, my mother pulled through.

The NHS is a wonderful emergency service. They saved my father's life and gave him another 11 years, during which he saw the birth of his first grandchild. Unfortunately, this excellence does not always extend itself to the basic nursing care that is so vital if people are to recover from operations and illnesses.

My father ended up dying from the MRSA bug, in conditions that reminded me of Guantanamo Bay: kept in isolation, strapped to a bed, with a radio playing nothing but white noise and painfully bright sunlight beating down on his face.

My father-in-law's case was even worse. Two years ago, he had a small lump removed from his tongue. The eight-hour operation was a complete success and although we had been warned that his speech would be affected, within a day he was able to chat on the phone. I won't relate the details here, but as a result of an appalling dereliction of duty by two of the nursing staff, a simple complication resulted in irreparable brain damage.

Three weeks later this healthy man in his 60s, who had been paragliding only months earlier, died. The hospital later admitted full responsibilty.

Of coure, these are two isolated incidents and perhaps my wife and I have just been unlucky. Overall, I'm a big fan of the National Health Service, but I couldn't help feeling a little jittery at the prospect of leaving my mother at the mercy of a large, impersonal hospital. How well would she convalesce in a noisy environment where the lights weren't turned off until 2.00am and the staff consisted of an ever-changing line-up of agency nurses?

But convalescence wasn't even an option. The moment my mother was no longer in danger of dying, she was discharged. On Monday she was being fed intravenously. On Tuesday she was expected to go home and cook a meal. I couldn't let this happen, so after a frantic weekend of tidying my youngest son's bedroom, building a bed and washing sheets, I picked my mother up from Teddington and drove her down to Lewes.

For the last four weeks, my mother has been completely pampered. A combination of rest, good food and company has worked wonders and she now seems to be back to her old self again. At some point we will have to make a decision about what happens next (moving to a nearby warden-assisted flat seems the most sensible option), but for the time being it's important that my mother feels that she can stay for as long as she likes.

We're quite different people. This is her bathroom:

Whereas ours is a more chaotic envionment, consisting of a Swedish barometer, far too many plastic toys, dozens of bottles and unashamedly naked loo rolls. But I think my mother is happy here. She hasn't mentioned going home.

If you have noticed a decline in the quantity and quality of my blog posts recently, this is my excuse. At the moment I no longer have the time to peruse the vast archive of Derek's diaries and even scanning old photographs feels like a major task, so please forgive the lazy YouTube links and barely-edited posts.

Normal service will hopefully be restored in the near future.


Martin said...

Episodes like this, make us realise what a frivolous pastime, blogging is.

I'm also a big fan of the NHS, despite the conflicting anecdotes. It seems for every glowing testimony (the safe delivery of our twin granddaughters) there's an indisputable nightmare. My step-father was admitted last year, for a repair to his hip. Post-op, he was delirious for a few days. Within days of the warning against prescribing antipsychotic drugs to elderly patients, for fear of inducing a stroke, he was prescribed a cocktail of drugs, including the antipsychotic variety. He had a massive stroke on Christmas Eve and died five days later.

My 91 year grandmother had an oxygen cylinder dropped on her leg. I made an official complaint, the hospital apologised unreservedly, and no one was ever brought to book.

Someone once said, "look after your mum, she's your best friend." I think you have demonstrated that this cuts both ways. Every good wish to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Don't apologise, blogging should be done for pleasure, it's not a duty. You clearly have far more important things to deal with. I am glad your mother is recovering well. Quite frankly she is probably doing so well because she is staying with you - I have heard plenty of horror stories of hospital 'care' recently (from friends as well as in the press) and it seems likely that in hospital, once off the danger list, she probably would not have been fed or watered adequately and you might have had a third bad NHS experience.

Lucille said...

God help you if you haven't got family to step in, preferably with a medically qualified member who can assert themselves when you are left with an overflowing catheter bag, or your only food has been a piece of cold toast with a bite taken out of it.

Steerforth said...

Martin - every time I try to convince myself that our situation is the exception to the rule, I hear anecdotes like yours. I think I'll start eating two apples a a day!

As far as looking after my mother goes, I'm amazed at the number of people who've said how wonderful we are doing this. I always reply "But she's my mother!" What else could I do? I'd be wonderful if I took in a homeless Somalian refugee, but surely this is just normal family life? It certainly should be.

Alienne - I agree that blogging should be a pleasure, not a duty. I just don't like posting hastily-written third-rate material, as I have a second-rate standard to maintain ;)

Lucille - I thought exactly the same thing. It's terrifying.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

What an upheavel for you. I think you've done an amazing job of managing to do any blogging at all considering.

My late cousin Margaret-Doreen was blissfully happy in St Thomas Court sheltered flats at the top of Cliffe High Street, which was superby run by a very caring warden called Rosie (still there). If she can afford it, I would recommend your mother investigate there with church and church hall right next door and plenty of shops and cafes about a minute away. It was incredibly sociable with lots of parties and activities.
Her daughters are planning to move in there themselves when old enough! (still only in their early 60s).

Steerforth said...

Thanks Laura. Yes, I'd thought of there too but didn't know anything about the place, so your recommendation is really appreciated.

I want my mother to be able to live as independently as possible, but with some sort of safety net, so that sounds ideal.

CC said...

This is all part of life. I look after my Mom who is about to turn 88. She is totally blind and totally recovered from a stroke over a dozen years ago. She lives alone in her own apartment not too far away. I shop for both of us and cook. Once a week, do laundry, light housekeeping, pay bills (she signs the checks) and usually have time on nice days for time the park. I always think, "How would I like to be treated in old age?". We talk, gossip, laugh and even disagree every so often. We all feel fortunate to have her safe, secure, happy and "still at the party".
Good luck to you and your Mom. Lots of things are much more important than blogs.

Anonymous said...

NHS acute care is wonderful. NHS run-of-the-mill care is abysmal especially if you're old and infirm. My father of 90 was almost deaf, almost blind and was admitted to a large ward where food was placed out of reach, nobody troubled to tell him what was going on close enough for him to hear, and the night staff didn't answer the bell, meaning that this proud, intelligent man, had to pee in the water jug, which just about destroyed him. He just turned his face to the wall and willed himself to die...God save us from NHS care when we're old. It's worse than third world standard.. Anna C

George H. said...

Hey, your mom's bathroom decorations look like my mom's bathroom decorations.
You're helping because good people do that. Take your time.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your posts, hurried or not. As one of your fellow bloggers so wisely pointed out, this is supposed to be fun, not another item on a to do list!

I agree with Alienne that you are amazing. It's wonderful that you can (and are willing) to care for your mother in the interim. I know you think what you are doing is nothing out of the ordinary, but trust me, it is very unusual, not only to do it, but to do it with any grace or humour and/or harmony. So kudos to you and your young family.

I hope you will be able to find your mother a suitable protected accommodation too. They are out there, but not always easy to find.

Canadian Chickadee

Anonymous said...

You are a good son, and I'm so pleased to hear your mother is much better. As a regular reader, I'm delighted with whatever you have time to share on your blog. I agree with everyone else who's said it should be a pleasure and not an obligation.

Steerforth said...

Carolyn - that's the key to it all - "Do unto others..." The people who complain about paying taxes for supporting the vulnerable invariably change their tune when there's a sudden change in their circumstances. A society should be judged by the way it treats its weakest members.

In my mother's case, it is easy to care for someone who has shown me nothing but love.

Anna - it's chilling to see other people ratifying my impression of the NHS - great at emergencies, but terrible at genuine care. Your father's situation must have been heartbreaking for you. How awful that we keep people alive and expose them to circumstances that rob them of dignity and hope.

George - my mother's bathroom decorations aren't quite to my taste, I must admit. But I can see her looking at my paintings thinking "Well, I don't know what that's all about."

Canadian Chickadee - thanks for your kind words. I really hope that what we're doing isn't unusual, because I worry about the way old people are treated.

A few years ago, the BBC did a documentary where some "primitive" Papua New Guinean tribespeople were taken to Britain. It started quite innocuously, with one scene capturing their excitement when they saw snow for the first time. But the thing that I really remember was their horror when they visited an old people's home. They were absolutely appalled by the way we treated our elders.

Steerforth said...

Due to time lapses between comment approval, I didn't see yours Christine, but thank you.

Anonymous said...

I think you and your mum are both lucky.
I would not do this for my mum - she did not look after me when I was a kid, and although I love her, she's not a nice lady now and it would be toxic to have her around in her dotage, especially around my own kids.

Whatever you do, however it works out, treasure this. It's important and special. Bless you all.

Caroline said...

I won't go into all the things my mum went through when in and out of hospital during her final months, but it was a total nightmare and not something you'd wish on your worst enemy. I'm sure there are great carers about, but it can also turn out very badly. Just be glad you're mum is still there.

Between Channels said...

No need to apologise re the blog - I think it's wonderful and very involving. I hope all is well with kith and kin in these wintry times.