How much do we care for our elderly?

D is 90. She is a Franciscan tertiary who lives alone simply and with a good network of friends. She is very independent and sharp as a tack, with few health problems considering her age, and volunteers regularly at a centre providing care for the elderly. (She didn’t think of herself as elderly!) That is, until a few weeks ago when she came downstairs in the morning and opened her curtains, got a sharp pain above her hip and fell, hitting her coffee table on the way down. Luckily she had her phone in her dressing gown pocket so was able to call a neighbour, who phoned an ambulance and left her lying until the ‘experts’ came. She was taken into hospital and admitted to the Acute Assessment.

Her next of kin phoned a church member so we knew about it straight away and I popped in to see her the next day. (No visitors, she’d said, because she didn’t want to be a nuisance but I told her I didn’t count.) They said she was a bit dehydrated but they sorted that quickly but nobody seemed to know why she’d fallen. Without doing an x-ray they were certain it was not a broken bone so they treated her with painkillers. Physios came and helped her with some exercises and tried to get her walking but she really had quite a lot of pain and had lost her confidence. With the zimmer she could manage but didn’t cope well with a stick. So they kept her in for about a week before discharging her with a zimmer. She still didn’t know what was wrong with her.

A friend came to take her home to a dark and cold house with no food in the fridge. Since then (over two weeks ago) she has seen a nurse every morning who comes to put a patch on her hip for pain. That’s it. Until 2 days ago when a trolley arrived she was unable to feed herself because she had no way of carrying food or drinks from the kitchen to her seat and couldn’t stand for any length of time in the kitchen. D’s neighbours and friends had to come in several times a day to make food for her. The hospital had also arranged for a cushion which came with the trolley. It was covered in plastic and sweaty to sit on. D has had no other help.

When I was visiting yesterday I discovered that D has not had a shower since she got out of hospital because she is unable to climb into her bath. She has had to make do with a wipe down herself. She still has awful pain and is stuck sitting all day on a cushion on a low couch watching TV. She has never been given exercises to do at home, nor does she know what is actually wrong with her. No x-rays, no scans = no diagnosis.

Then this morning I heard on the radio that the NHS is cutting back on unnecessary treatments which cost money. One of those unnecessary treatments is x-rays for lower back pain. And I bet if you’re 90 you’re even less likely to get one.

holding-hands-elderlyD doesn’t appear to have a Social Worker, Occupational Health worker, Care assistant, anyone to whom she can phone and ask for help. The nurses who come in the morning (seldom the same one) only have been told to put her patch on and that’s it.  Her GP comes back from holiday tomorrow so she is going to try her. We’ve helped her write down all the questions she needs to ask. Like: who will help me have a shower? can I get a chair to help the pain? are there other aids which might make life easier for me at the moment? what is wrong with me and how can I help it improve?

D is fortunate in a way. She has a community of friends from church and the Franciscans, as well as some super neighbours who can pop in and do shopping and keep her company. What she really wants is her independence back. And she wants to know what’s wrong with her and will it get better. It’s the not knowing that causes worry and sleepless nights.

But what about the other folk, I’m left wondering? What about those without communities of support? What about the forgotten ones sent home from hospital with no way of feeding or bathing themselves? More cutbacks means less care and more vulnerable people. Its just not good enough. And it makes me very sad and more than a little angry. I love the NHS, I really do. I’ll defend it to the end and I’d pay more taxes if I knew the money was going to the vulnerable and not management. But why are we not getting something as simple as communication right? I know there is help out there but I just don’t know how to access it for D.

I did a funeral on Saturday for a lady who was ill at home for a long time, cared for by her husband. He has about 30 items they have been ‘loaned’ over the last year to help her: a reclining chair, toilet support, cushions, hospital bed, rails, grabbers etc. He wants them taken away now for someone else to use. They can’t say when that will be. I’m tempted to hire a van and just get over there and fill it up for D.

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