Aches, Pains and Appliances.

The other day as I was shaving I remembered my mother, this often happens. I’m not sure why the act of shaving invokes these memories, but it usually does. My mother died back in 2001; it was a good death. She was lying in bed and asked her devoted carer, Chrissie, for a cup of tea, and when Chrissie returned with it, she had departed this life.

I recall that whenever I visited my mother particularly towards the end of her life, the first half-an-hour of our conversation was spent in cataloguing and discussing her ailments, aches, pains, and other trials and tribulations. She would sit in her velour covered armchair in her flannelette nightie with her nasal cannula in place and hold court. It was impossible to move her off health topics until she had exhausted every possible nook and cranny.

These memories were in part awakened because of a recent weekend I spent in rural Yorkshire with some good friends all of whom are now in their 60s and 70s. We all arrived at our host’s lovely old house and after the usual hugs and cuddles and comments like “you’re looking well” and “you look just the same” “you haven’t aged a bit” we all settled around the large kitchen table with cups of Yorkshire tea and a variety of other infusions.

It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to the various health conditions that several of us are currently managing. Five out of the eight of us were wearing hearing aids, three had had a hip replacement or were waiting for one, and we discovered that just about all of us now take handfuls of pills to keep body and soul ticking over. It didn’t matter how hard we tried over the rest of the weekend we kept returning to the subject and if we weren’t talking about the health issues we were talking about the gadgets and appliances we are using to fight off the ageing process. Automatic bottle and tin openers, Amazon’s Alexa, grab rails in showers and subtitling on television programmes all got a mention.

How does this happen? I don’t recall banging on endlessly about my health when I was in my forties. Is there some kind of switch that gets activated when we retire or reach our sixth/seventh decade?

I think in my mother’s case the process was gradual, but I think she became preoccupied with her health because her world gradually contracted as she aged. She rarely got dressed, hardly ever went out except to the hospital or the local doctor. She had few visitors, and the TV was her only window on the world. I recall that on one occasion my brother took her shopping in Croydon. They strapped her oxygen cylinders to her wheelchair and spent the afternoon travelling on the trams and visiting the shops in the shopping mall. When we next visited her general description of her latest health challenges took second place to the magic of Croydon. She had something else of interest to talk about!

So what of my friends and me in Yorkshire? We are all busy, we all travel and have a wide variety of interests. We all routinely access the internet, we all have grown up children plus grandchildren our worlds could hardly be described as contracting.

Maybe the problem is that if you have a peer group who are all in their sixties and seventies you have a shared history and you are all anxious about the same things like the gradual loss of your physical and mental faculties.

Perhaps part of the answer is to hang out with forty-year-olds? When I see my grown-up children, our conversations are all about what’s going on for them. I listen to their hopes, fears and dreams which are often wrapped up in things like mortgages, buying a bigger house, work, holidays, their children’s education and so on. These are all things that I have been through so can contribute my ideas and suggestions. Fortunately or unfortunately they aren’t going through what I’m now going through so they have no particular interest or suggestions to make. They care, but the topics are alien to them. The terrifying realisation is that I’m slowly but surely becoming my mother and my children are indulging me. How very depressing! Now, where did I leave my reading glasses and what should I be doing next?

In Awe of the NHS

Hello once again.  The last time I wrote to you I was waxing lyrical about my Caribbean cruise, well, it didn’t take long for me to come down to earth with a bump.

In the final few days of our cruise we learned that my wife’s mother Jean, a lovely 89-year-old was suddenly taken seriously ill. At almost the same time, I took to my bed with the worst case of flu I have ever experienced. Four days under a duvet and then as weak as a kitten for three weeks afterwards. My illness meant that I couldn’t visit my mother-in-law as often as I would have liked.

Sadly after two months of struggle Jean finally departed this life and we were left to remember a loving, supportive, generous, and caring woman. Her passing caused me to reflect on the NHS and the care that she had received from all the staff who looked after her.

A picture of Jean and her granddaughters wedding
A picture of Jean at her granddaughter’s wedding

Jean spent two months in the hospital, first in intensive care and then on surgical and rehabilitation wards. What you notice immediately, when you spend any time in an NHS hospital, is that the doctors and nurses come from all over the world. (Where would the NHS be without immigration?) The second thing that is very obvious is the high number of agency staff working on the wards. The nurses seemed to change on a daily basis so it was rare to see the same person two days running. This inevitably led to things not being followed through, presumably because the handover between shifts with so many ‘temporary’ staff was less than perfect. An example of things falling through the cracks was that monitoring food and liquid intake were sometimes not recorded, this led to increased anxiety for us as we couldn’t tell whether Jean’s lack of physical improvement was due to not drinking or eating enough.

Another significant issue facing staff was the high turnover of patients, this was quite extraordinary and the beds on all the wards that Jean spent time on were never empty for long. Many of the patients were elderly and very confused and the nursing staff in particular needed to exercise extraordinary sensitivity in dealing with some of the challenging behaviours that they exhibited. I was in awe of their professionalism and patience.

As many of you know I have been involved in campaigns to prevent assisted dying being made legal in the UK.  I was concerned that the end of life care that Jean might receive would not be of the highest standard given the demands on the staff and other resources, my concerns were unjustified.

In the final days of Jean’s life, everything that could be done to keep her pain-free and comfortable was done. On the night of her death, she was moved to a side room where we could be with her. Her passing was peaceful and dignified, and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who was involved in making this possible.  We are indeed a fortunate nation to have the NHS and the dedicated people who work in it.

Picture head and shoulders of Blake the black Labrador
Our 13-year-old black Labrador, Blake RIP

Finally just to put a tin lid on what has been a tough few weeks our 13-year-old Labrador, Blake, collapsed, despite the vet’s best efforts there was nothing that could be done to help him. He too departed this life with dignity, and we miss him but differently.

Can’t wait for May!!

Here are the links to the latest news. I hope they are of interest.

Capita faces fresh call to be stripped of PIP contracts

Latest ‘reckless’ DSA reforms could leave disabled students without support

Fears over government links as equality watchdog launches welfare probe

Government ‘must see disabled people as innovators and contributors’

Rail access improvements set for delays… along with nearly £50 million funding

All news provided by John Pring Disability News Service