Out with the Old?

It is not my intention to talk non-stop about my current health problems. But, even just a few days into what promises to be a rather long haul, so many things have been brought to my attention that I feel need to be highlighted. I’ve already mentioned the hospital food, albeit briefly compared to what could have been said, but that… although nowhere near as minor as it might seem… is as nothing compared to some of the other concerns that were raised.

Let me say straight away that I am not blaming the grossly overworked nurses; the care from individual to individual was, in most cases, superb. I am questioning a shift in our attitude as a society that allows unnerving changes in the way we deal with older and more vulnerable people.

After spending time in the Rapid Response unit and then in Resuscitation, I was eventually wheeled into a private room for the night, which was most welcome. Next day, I found myself on a ward. There were several other patients whose stories I could relate, but the saddest case was the old lady in the bed opposite mine.

Scrunched up into a little ball, the old lady barely moved. She would not speak, would not eat or interact… or so it seemed. But, just after two, her husband came in… and she came to life. The two of them were as much in love as when they had first met, nearly half a century earlier. They had shared a bed for forty seven years and the separation now was almost killing them both.

He had walked into a village dance one evening, caught her eye and winked at her. She winked back… and they were both lost to a lifelong love.

We learned how close they had become when a car had ploughed around a corner, ripping into her legs…and killing their children in the pushchair. We learned how their lives had been lived for each other from that day onwards…and how very deep the love between them still ran.

It was beautiful to see them together. She, all girly, wearing the special earrings the nurses had been forbidden to remove, he, dapper and smart, dressed for a date, bullying and cajoling the girl he loves into swallowing a little water or lunch. Honestly? They glowed. Both of them.

But that brief hour together was all they had… not even that much at weekends, thanks to Covid. He hoped to take her home… we could see him making plans for holding her in that bed together… and were worried that her almost catatonic state would prevent that.

It was the care of one or two of the nursing staff that made all the difference. In particular, the ones who took the time to talk to her, treating her like a human being with hopes, emotions and memories… talking about her husband, the cruise they had shared, the things they had done and life they had built. It was all it took to turn the silent, closed-in mannequin into a shyly proud bride, flashing a cheeky eye at her love.

Is there always time for this on our wards? No, of course not… but there should be. Perhaps with fewer managerial tiers and less red tape there would be more funding for sleeves-rolled-up nursing staff with time to help heal a patient through loving and personal care.

On Tuesday, I was told there was nothing they could do for me. That it would be a case of making me comfortable… no more. I could not speak to my family or see them. Could not comfort them. I could not be held. I could not cry on any shoulder or rail against the verdict. A lonely and impersonal death… separated from all I love…that was hard to deal with. I can’t even begin to imagine how it felt for that poor old lady.

I am so grateful that verdict seems to have changed for me at least, but this is the reality Covid is imposing in our hospitals. At a time when warmth, humanity and compassion are most needed, restrictions are pushing us further apart, and when hopelessness is added to despair, there can seem little left to live for. It does not seem right that policy is doing this to our oldest and most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable moments.

It is from our elders that we learn… have always learned. It is from them we see how to treat others, how to cherish life and love and laughter, how to value toil and continuation and courage. It was, I believe, Gandhi who said that ‘the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’. If that small cross-section of people is representative, I can only say that if we were to have been measured we would have been found wanting.

For many, especially older patients, technology is a mystery to be accessed only with the help of those visitors who are now banned. With no ability to leave the ward, thanks to Covid, no books or even television screens, there is nothing to do except sit and wither away. I felt it myself and I am lucky. I understand how to use technology. My granddaughters waved to me over the telephone, my email and messages were seldom quiet and although there would be no hugs, the voices I love were never more than a call away.

Surely, after all our older generations have done… the least we can do is warm their final days with a little love and compassion?

117 thoughts on “Out with the Old?

  1. Oh, this really makes me feel sad, Sue. In the Indian community, the elders are revered and respected.
    I agree, it us from them we learn.
    This needs to change, so badly…

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    1. There was a Moslem lady in the bed opposite… breaking her heart over the lack of respect for the elders in the community and doing her utmost to get the old lady, and the two other vulnerable patients on the ward, the attention she needed. It made the difference between zombified survival and living with life and a twinkle x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Having spent some time in a Czech hospital, I can relate a bit – it was like being in prison and all the harder as the language was a mystery to me then. The nurses that spoke English told me they had a system and that system worked and I needed to go with it. I don’t disagree that the system worked but it lacked any real interpersonal stuff at all. As for the elderly, I agree wholeheartedly and like many things, as I got older, what was there for previous generations has been removed – pensions at 65 and the like. I fully expect to work til I drop/ But the biggest change is the disrespect the young have for the elderly. I was taught to give up my seat for old folk but here anyway on the tram, the old stand and the young laugh, joke and sit. However, trust Sue Vincent to have such an awful experience and yet come away with a heart warming tale of someone else and this is why you are precious to so many people…… why every word you utter is longed for. You see the best in others and the positives in life. It’s why we love you. Stay strong and know that there are many many sending love and virtual hugs your way.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Like so many, I should have retired at sixty… having started work at twelve, that’s long enough. But I suppose I’ll be retired now.
      Systems are supposed to work, but they are good for efficiency, seldom for compassion or humanity. Watching this elderly pair of lovers, lighting up each other’s eyes after half a century, really brought that home x

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I think you have summed it up really well. Have just had dad (aged 85years young) as a family on the outside unable to visit the loss of wellbeing for the person in the hospital and those outside worrying.
    Although the physical care was good the emotional support was poor. I did around robin e-mail so at least 6 family members sent cards and letter to break the isolation NOT 1 reached his hospital bed. One day I rang in the morning no answer from the ward during the morning or afternoon finally got through in the evening!

    Get well Sue and home you get home soon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is more than sad, Andy. I know the nursing staff are under huge pressure and blah the system, but being in the middle of just that situation, it makes you feel that certain sections of our human family are less valuable than others… and at an official level.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Sue firstly thank God that your prognosis has been changed, all the prayers and love from bus all is helping.
    I can agree with everything you say and you say it so beautifully. I was in hospital at the hight of the Covid and like you found it a scary sad place. The nurses spent a lot of time discussing who was the most recent victim on staff and which ward or department they worked in… They were busy and they did try, but it was those who took that little extra time to care who made a difference. As you say it is the older more vulnerable patients that suffer most. If they don’t eat then the food is taken away, no one tries to help. No one has time to talk. Also all the PPE is unsettling, I found a masked gowned, gloved and in some cases visored figure a tad disconcerting. If your confused or deaf it must be down right frightening.
    The sad thing is Sue I have seen this before in hospital, 20yrs ago when I broke my back and then 10years ago when I was in for a month, after smashing up my back, it was as bad and there was no Covid then. I would of starved had it not been for my husband, I could not move, in a surgical brace . Food would be put by my bed, then taken away with a casual ” not hungry? ” Not listening to the answer, same with washing. There were nurses there who made the difference thank goodness but I shall never forget the the older ladies like the one you describe, I remember them still. The lack of care they received still frightens me.
    We have been losing compassion and care for years. Hospitals now in this uneasy present are dark places. People really need to look at what is going on. It can’t all be put down to Covid. It is really just attitude and lack of care for the vulnerable and old. I am dreading going back in eventually to have my op I am truly scared now of what hospitals are like. I am still willing you well and sending you love 💜💜💜💜

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    1. So far, Willow, I don’t actually have an ‘official’ diagnosis, prognosis or treatment plan. Even though we know it is cancer, can see the collapsed lung and have drained off all that fluid from my heart…we are waiting till Friday now for definitive answers and a way to move forward.
      I am not keen on waiting 😉
      The nursing staff have een brilliant throughout this, as far as I can see, but some of their job is done by agency auxilliaries who seem not to care at all, and the biggest worry is that we are not even noticing and putting our foot down as a society.
      There are those elderly and vulnerable people who need more care than others… and it may not be long before we ourselves are either old,vulnerable or both. Lawmakers may have access to healthcare with different standards… I certainly can’t see the heads of Sodhexo eating hospital food with equinamity… but unless we address this slippery and fundamental attitude shift that says older folk are no longer useful members of society and are thus disposable, we are at risk of losing far more than we might bargain for.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes so true, such a wealth of love, knowledge and experience wasted. Will someone decide an age where we will be disposed with regardless of whether or not we are hale and hearty and in full command of our whits? …Of course that won’t happen to the rich and privileged! 💜

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  5. This is the saddest post I’ve every read, Sue. It is a tragedy what happened to you, being given news like that to bear all alone. Even if it has changed now, it was a terrible thing to do to someone. This has been my greatest fear about any of my family getting C-19, they isolate the sick person and won’t allow family visits. I think our world has become a horrible place where people are crushed with stress and anxiety and no one cares for anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The problem the Covid measures is that we do tend to forget how wide ranging the effects can be. For Mary, myself and ANY family having to face such dire or poetentially life-changing news, no-one should have to go through it alone, not the person who is ill or their loved ones who have tocome toterms with it.
      And watching the old couple, whose every moment has been together for years, be separated for so long at what might be the very last chance they had to spend time tgther…that was heartbrreaking.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Amidst your own fear and uncertainty, Sue, you see and share a story of pure love. ❤ You are in my healing prayers, as is the loving couple. So many memories, of feeding Mum in the hospital when her shoulders were broken. I felt then that the nurses were overburdened with paperwork from the fear of being sued which necessitated an avalanche of the stuff. The volunteer and auxiliary services are no more during these times and they, along with relatives filled such a vital role. Respect for our elderly and vulnerable is so needed and common sense and loving care needed more than ever. My Dad was in the hospital again last week and thank goodness he could ring us. I am wrapping you in much love. ❤ Xxxx ❤

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    1. Thank you so much, Jane.
      There are so many restrictions and so many good people whose hands are now tied by them but who would love to do more… I do think there needs to be a fundamental shift back towards respect for our elders, though… not just dismissing them as ‘elderly’…. we have lost something very imposrtant if we let them slip through the net xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I so agree with you. I remember I play where Pete Postlethwaite played a son who’s Mum needed care. The carers were seeing to her needs, but talking over her. He placed a photograph of her in her younger days by her bed. One of the carers picked it up and saw her a person and started to talk to her. We need to make the time for listening and flowing love and respect to our elders. It is vital. May I also ass into the mix, there is a crying need for us to recognise our carers and nurses and treat them better. The care aspect of our society is seriously neglected. You are right, in that there needs to be a huge shift. I recall a moment last week, when Dad was on the phone from hospital and someone came to talk to him and ask him what he fancied for his tea. What I ‘heard’ was the kind pause she gifted him as he had a think about it. He then called me back to say that the soup was homemade. ❤ Xxx

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        1. The old lady across from me had a photo of her and her husband together…even looking at that and talking to her about him filled her with life and sparkle. Some of the nurses and carers understood that and used it to get her awake and talking…and therefore alert and eating.
          As to the carers themselves, I’m with you there, Jane. After eleven years as Nick’s carer, every day, it does take its toll and you have no idea how many people have said that I should just quite and get a ‘proper job’…. 😉 ❤ xx

          Liked by 1 person

            1. I can understand it when people are unaware of the ramifications of caring…especially all the hidden things with caring for family members. But it is not always helpful to hear 😉 xx

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              1. There is a lot that is ‘hidden’ when caring for family members. We go into a space of instinct and just do, because we have a knowing from doing. We learn as we go and it’s an energy that runs on trust and love. Yes, I can see what you mean and thank you for gifting me a new perspective on it. I can get triggered and drop into defensive mode sometimes, especially when siblings don’t ‘get’ what is unfolding. Wrapping you in healing love, Sue, always. ❤

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  7. I know they have all these rules in order to try to keep us safe, but isolation can never be the answer. Until Anita was allowed a telephone on her recent stays in hospital, she was alone and very lonely. So glad your prognosis is sounding better and I know you are strong enough to make a difference, Sue…

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    1. I’ll be glad of answers on Friday and know what I am dealing with. They keep changing their minds 😉
      There are so many areas where the current restrictions are having a very negative impact… I wonder how many just give up when all the joy is taken out of life? x

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello Sue. What a sad but also delightful love story and life the patient across from you has lived. I do hope that her prognosis improves and I hope that your continues to improve as well. Best wishes and healing thoughts from South Africa.xx

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  9. I agree with Chris. I hope you have many more years.
    On the subject of lack of respect for the elderly: at the start of the pandemic, the Government was considering a lockdown for the elderly, as the most vulnerable. I read someone saying something like,’Thank goodness. I can go to the shops without the wrinklies blocking them up.’
    I was appalled.
    I love your story about the elderly couple. I hope they have many more years of love together.

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  10. Goodness, that’s heartbreaking. I hope she can be reunited more permanently with her beloved husband before long, and I hope you can come through your problems as swiftly as possible too. xx

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  11. Thank goodness for that one nurse who had compassion and empathy. Our infirmary, recently built, has only single rooms so there is absolutely no companionship, only isolation. In the old hospital four-bedded wards were the norm and patients looked out for each other. My dad was often a patient in his later years and we were glad there was always someone on the ward to look out for him, ring the bell for a nurse, help him eat, find his way to the loo. We seem to be going backwards.

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    1. I would personally prefer a single room for myself, but thebenefits of having others around you are vast in that situaion… the patients were maing sure the shift changes knew what each other needed, calling nurses and offering comfort. It seems so many of these small things make a huge difference.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. To be fair, Sue, in my experience, Covid only highlights the shortcomings you’ve touched on. They’re already there. For one reason or another, I seem to have always had an old person in my life. Obviously, there are many, but I’ve had very few periods where I haven’t found myself calling regularly on an elderly person who lives alone. It was noticeable how, when they had limited contact with others, their health declined rapidly – and many times over the years I’ve seen them being ignored in hospitals and nursing homes. Clearly, it’s important to have staff there who want to spend time with them, but even those who do are restricted by the low staffing levels. In truth, all the clapping for the NHS achieved nothing. What it really needs is to be properly funded – as does care for the elderly. Sadly, it’s not politically attractive because the only way to do that is to raise taxes.

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    1. Spend money on unproductive drains on the the economy? Surely not, Graeme…
      And that is the trouble. The elderly, the infirm, the disabled, those with learning difficulties…anyone who cannot make a costable contribution to society now seems to be increasngly sidelined. How far exactly is the step between that and the decision as to who is ‘worthy of life’?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It could be argued that the decision is already being made by default. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you are dependent on the state when the shit hits the fan, and the state – which never provided generously – has been progressively cutting costs for decades. And cost-cuts leave no room for displays of humanity – which are essential if we’re to enjoy ‘life’.
        I could go on for hours, but I’ll shut up now…
        Our thoughts are with you, Sue.

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  13. It is such a hearbreaking situation. My own attitude to the elderly has been transformed over the course of several years as I have learned that they often have the most powerful stories, the greatest wisdom and humour and discernment. I have learned that through those who have been part of Christian small groups I have belonged to. Currently there are several people in their 80s I count as the most colourful, lively fascinating people I know. This has been a personal journey of awakening for me and I can only mourn some of my own past attitudes. I’m afraid our society needs a profound spiritual reawakening to change the systems that are founded on these attitudes. When will it come? Who knows? Through the most unlikely person of all, I think.

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    1. I think we all need to take a hand in changing such attitudes where and when we find them. The richness of experience towards the end of life cannot be matched by anyother time… we need to garner and learn all we can from our elders. Age may no always and automatically bring wisdom, but it does bring experience 😉

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  14. This post has me in tears, for you, for the older couple and for society right now. This was a story worth sharing. Thanks. The hugs and positive thoughts are still being sent in truckloads. xo

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  15. This is a problem highlighted by the callous attitude taken by government officials to the care received in nursing homes, even before the pandemic. It has been shown to be less expensive to care for many patients at home, but no one will pay for home aides, and they themselves are both undervalued and underpaid.. The medical establishment has too much power. And now, even visitors are not allowed. It breaks my heart.

    I do not envy you the waiting, but hope there will be positive answers for your treatment. I do know several who have successfully recovered from lung cancer in the past few years–when my father was diagnosed with it 20 years ago there was no hope. As always, thinking of you and sending my best. (K)

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    1. Care… real care, wherever it is given, has to be better than some of the callous behaviour I have seen where it is not a question of overworked nursing staff with too little time, but of casual agency staff who simply do not care.

      As far as cancer is concerned, we have come a long way over the past few decades and statistically outcomes are much more positive on the whole. Whatever happens, though, we only get to go forward 😉

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  16. Thoughts, as they popped into my brain …
    The greatest numbers of people who died here in the early months of the pandemic were those in care homes, and most of the outbreaks still occur there. (although the idiots throwing rave parties are coming up a close second) Thankfully they are smaller in size and are being caught earlier and earlier.
    I sometimes wonder if, because we’ve made such a mess of the world, environmentally, socially, politically, and more and more of the ‘iceberg’ is becoming visible, that some people have, on some level, given up caring for anything and anyone beyond their immediate survival and personal gratification circles … a case of party today, for tomorrow we die.
    Thankfully so many more of us don’t feel that way and we stop and look into the eyes of others and say, ‘hello in there’.
    You mentioned Nick in the comments … is he doing OK without the Greatest Mum Ever coming in daily?
    I’m betting it’s going to be a long wait for you until Friday.

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    1. I do think this current situation is allowing us to see things we might not otherwise have noticed, It would e nice to think we might take advantage of that to get things right…
      As to Nick, he has got in some temporary help, but seems to be doing a pretty good job ib his own 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Of the five on my little ward, three were unable to avail themselves of technology to stay in touch, which I found very sad…especially when there was nothing else for them to do except lie there and forget how to be themselves…

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Bless you for your compassion, Sue. Such a sad story, I hope that couple were able to be together again.
    Things have gone down quite a lot. There used to be chaplains and volunteers that tended those in the wards, but with Covid, no one is allowed in. It breaks my heart to think of those parted from their loved ones and support, dying alone. I can’t think of anything more cruel than that.

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    1. It is a very sad thing to watch. I could see the chapel window from my bed… but it might as well have been on the moon for all the chaplain could do.
      I too just hope he took his girl home again.

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  18. I have felt this way for years. The way that elders in our society are treated is disgraceful. Rather than treat them with the honor and dignity they deserve, too often no one is advocating for them and their voices go unheard.

    Because people are generally living longer lives, we need to deal with these issues now.

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    1. I agree, Pete…but we cherry-pick the benefits etc. Sadly, so much of ow our societies treat the elderly, the infirm and the sick needs to be overhauled at a very deep level. We have created a youth-worshipping culture, but Nature likes things to age… including us.

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  19. I’m late to the party as usual, but agree with everything everyone has said so eloquently – and your responses.

    The elderly couple reminded me so much of my mum & dad. Once mum went into a care home, dad was there every lunchtime to feed her. It really upset me that other people were left with their lunches and needed help that the staff just didnt have time to give. I could go on, but I won’t. Except to say that we are hoodwinked by the media into thinking that caring isn’t a valuable commodity – I recommend the book “Humankind” to give a better view of our human nature, and cause for hope, still.

    Thinking of you and Mary all the time. xxx

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    1. Thanks, Jemima. Without the levels of care the older generations have given to us, we would not be here. I wonder how long we will last if we cease to care for them… until we realise that they are us x

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  20. Oh Sue, my heart aches from your beautifully written tragedy. The loneliness that comes with this Covid, on its own, is a killer. Seniors need to be engaged and children need to engage with their own kind too. The hospital situations are nightmares for everyone. I know this well as my hub hasn’t been well for months and next week scheduled for another day surgery. He is lost without me. I am so blessed his surgeon’s secretary has given me special permission to come in and sort himself out before the surgery. I know that unbearable feeling when you feel so helpless and your hands are tied. This bloody Covid and cancer can rot in bloody hell! And I can’t even imagine what has gone on in your head so far with death edicts then changing minds, not knowing, and nobody allowed in. I hope all our collective prayers get you home soon! ❤ xx

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    1. It is an awful situation for so many worldwide now… and the sparation from loved ones at such criticial times is taking an appalling emoional toll globally.
      I amlucky to be home at the moment… I hope they will be able to let me do most of this from home… and I am so glad you are able to go in to be with your hsband for a while. My thoughts will be with you both for the surgery xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Sue. Yes, this isolation for the sick and senior has to be rectified. It’s not humane! I’m so happy you are home and await your news of treatment. Prayers coming your way daily Sue. ❤ xx

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