ME and Ophelia

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Elderly care in the Devon community

Reading between the lines of this report made me wonder how an 81-year-old lady had been coping with taking care of her 83-year-old husband at their flat. He was a retired butcher with deteriorating health, heart problems and asthma.

She stabbed him to death in August 2003, and is being jailed for two years. Prosecutors said the couple had a happy marriage, but that the lady was frustrated at her husband's deteriorating health.

Surprisingly, this story didn't shock me. I've read that in close relationships, where one is the "carer" and the nearest and dearest is the "patient", the carer can suffer as much - if not more - than the patient.

Carers can also become a prisoner within their own home. Unless friends, relatives or health professionals rally around, to arrange respite care, the carer can become isolated, cut off and depressed. Emotions build, of resentment, isolation, loneliness, grief and boredom. Many don't feel able to complain or ask for help themselves. Makes them feel guilty.

Some carers feel unable to leave their loved one, alone at home, for more than 10 to 20 minutes. Feels like leaving a baby alone. Around the world, millions of uncomplaining carers carry on like this for years. I recall that when my father was dying of throat cancer at home, towards the end, we didn't want to leave him alone. One of us was with him, at all times, to ensure he could swallow liquid morphine every four hours.

Carers are unsung heroes. Thankfully, at least some are starting to get recognition, in terms of appreciation and public funding. They are relieving the State of a huge burden because most of us are living longer than ever before. Carers are saving a huge strain on the public purse.

The lady, in the report, may have been at the end of her tether for a very long time. It's quite something, living around the clock with an elderly person who has heart problems and asthma. Taking care of their hourly needs. She must have snapped - and lashed out with frustration in a fit of anger. Patients can be pretty difficult at the best of times. Self centred and awkward too. I throw wobblies once in a while. Frustration must be rife amongst those who care for people suffering from heart breaking diseases like Alzheimer's and who need watching every minute, for fear they'll go wandering or get hurt.

Years ago, before our National Health Service became the single largest employer in Europe, all sorts of places were provided for those with health problems. I seem to recall 'geriatric' wings - and other wards in hospitals where the elderly and infirm were nursed and taken care of, when they could not be expected to manage at home. Other special places existed too, where convalescents could be cared for to aid recovery from illness, accident, surgery etc. TB patients needed special rest places for several months at a time to recuperate and heal.

Many of the large English hospitals and institutions built around the Victorian era have been sold off. Institutional care has been replaced by "Care in the Community". Patients are encouraged to remain in hospital for the least time possible and to remain independent at home for as long as possible. Some senior citizens are unwittingly "blocking beds" in hospitals because doctors have nowhere else for them to go - and refuse to send them home because they are in need of specialist care or just won't be able to manage with "Care in the Community".

My late father served 25 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps. British Military Hospitals were excellent wherever we went in Europe. Why can't they run our hospitals? Our hospitals are getting a reputation for being dirty and unhygienic. People don't know how to clean properly. Starchy Matrons have been replaced by managers and administrators.

Bring back the Matron is what I say! Bring in some military discipline - doctors and nurses. Matrons used to sort everyone out, make sure everything was ship shape, hygienic and up to scratch. No sloppy work or dilly dallying. And bring back the Community Health Visitor! Or whatever the person used to be called. No-one ever pops round here to check on how I'm doing. No doubt it's like that for most who are chronically ill out here in "the community".

Wonder if that lady was of the 'old school' and did not realise one has to request to be helped these days, and in some cases, push and battle for help. Some people, especially the elderly, don't like asking. It's not in their upbringing to ask for help or charity. Mostly, it's every man for himself - and he who shouts loudest, gets. And, those who do not ask, usually do not get. Wonder how long they were married -- and if there are any other relatives -- and what prison will be like for her... What a story.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 3/13/2004
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