Bugwoman on Location – Things Can Change in a Second

Dear Readers, last week I was on my montly visit to Milborne St Andrew to see my 81 year-old parents. It felt like the beginning of summer: for the first time this year, I didn’t bring a raincoat and felt very daring. Dad took me for a walk around the garden, and I treated myself to thirty minutes taking photos of the plants and insect life. I adore the ceanothus, with its heavy honey-scented flowers. For three months it thrums with the sound of bumblebees, as if it was singing quietly to itself.

We had already removed three queen wasps from the house: Mum and Dad had previously had a wasps’ nest just outside the bathroom, so this was quite concerning. Although they have such a vicious reputation, I have always found wasps to be relatively mild-mannered and tolerant. I think that they are somewhat attracted to the cotoneaster outside the front door, not so much for the flowers at this time of year as for the possibility of caterpillars or other small creatures.

Teeny jumping spider on the cotoneaster

And there were many bees on the geraniums and the centaurea, and a fine long-legged spider as well.

I had such a feeling of well-being that afternoon. We had chosen, personalised and ordered the invitations for the 60th Wedding Anniversary party in September. I had spoken to the venue and found details of photographers and bakers and florists. Mum had even started looking for her outfit for the party.

Mum; ‘Maybe I could wear what I wore for my Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary Party’.

Me: ‘Blimey, Mum, if you can’t get a new outfit when you’ve been married for sixty years I’d like to know when you can’.

Mum: ‘You’re probably right’.

And then, just after dinner, Dad announced that he was cold, stood up and nearly fell over. It was 75 degrees outside, but I closed the door and Mum wrapped him up in her shawl while he sat there, shivering. After half an hour of this, he decided that he wanted to go to bed. Mum put the electric blanket on and he shuffled off.

Now, Dad has COPD, or emphysema as we used to call it. He had been a bit chesty, but not more than usual. He’d been admitted to hospital while I was in Canada with early signs of sepsis, but had been sent home, to all intents well, after 24 hours.

‘Shall we call a paramedic?’ I asked Mum.

‘No hospital!’ came a feeble little voice from the bedroom.

The night wore on. Dad became increasingly confused. This is never a good sign. Normally he is as sharp as a tack. When Dad (or Mum) are admitted to hospital, I have to keep repeating the mantra that they aren’t usually confused, and don’t have dementia, otherwise it’s assumed that they’re always this way.

At 11 o’clock, Dad announced that he was getting up and going to work. He’s been retired for 25 years. He actually had his shirt on when Mum went through and persuaded him back to bed. I could hear her telling him off from the living room in spite of Hercule Poirot being on at significant volume.

There is something deeply distressing about seeing someone you love in a state of delirium. It’s as if the person themselves has disappeared under a welter of strange beliefs and impressions, as if you’re no longer living in the same world. And, in some ways, you aren’t. It’s very hard for Mum, but with a mixture of exasperation and humour she normally manages to get Dad to do what she wants.

At this point, we really should have rung for an ambulance, and Mum and I both recognise this now. But no one wants to panic, or to be a burden on the already over-burdened health service. Dad dozed off, and sometimes he’s better in the morning. Come the morning, he was no longer confused, but he did say that he felt terrible, and believe me, that’s not something Dad normally says.

We rang for an ambulance. A bearded paramedic called Ian arrived, checked up Dad’s vital signs and pronounced that he didn’t have sepsis, but he did have a chest infection on his left lung. He reassured Mum that she’d done the right thing in calling him, and said that she should always ring 111 if she was a bit worried, and 999 if she was very worried. The paramedic also got Mum and Dad’s GP to come home for a visit. He prescribed some antibiotics, and within a few hours Dad was looking a bit less pale, and was talking sense again.

It is always such a relief when someone that you love is on the mend. For me, there’s the sense that things can start to get back to normal. I try not to catastrophise, but I can’t stop myself imagining stays in hospital, deteriorating conditions, and worse. Over the past five or ten years I’ve become hypervigilant – if the phone rings and it’s Mum and Dad’s number, my heart starts to thump. It’s much worse for them, of course.

The following morning I was packing to leave when there was a heart-stopping thud from the living room, a sound that had me running down the passage. Dad was sprawled out on the floor, having tripped over his slippers (they are alarmingly carpet-coloured and difficult to see). He peered up.

‘I’ve dropped me antibiotics’, he said.

And indeed, tablets were scattered like so much confetti all over the floor. Of course, that was the least of our worries.

Fortunately, Dad wasn’t hurt, but he was horizontal, and getting up from that position can be tricky, especially when one of you is 81 with a bad back and the other is 57 with a bad back. We managed to get Dad propped up against the chair, but there was no way that, even between us, we could get him any further. Plus, we were worried in case his fall had been because he had deteriorated further, and that he might have hit his head. Mum sighed and rang 111.

20 minutes later, two handsome, burly ambulance guys came in, checked that Dad hadn’t broken anything and got him into his chair. They made sure that the sepsis wasn’t coming back and one of them reassured Mum that she’d done the right thing – it was always as well to check when someone elderly had had a fall, he said. Not that Dad was really elderly, of course, he interjected when Mum gave him what I would describe as ‘an old-fashioned look’.

And so, what have I learned from my latest visit to Dorset? Firstly that when you are getting on a bit (not elderly, obviously) and have multiple health problems, an infection that a younger, healthier person might shrug off can come on like a tornado, and always needs to be taken seriously. Secondly, that dialling 111 is a good thing to do, because they will make the decision about whether or not to call out the paramedics, and then the paramedics make the call about an ambulance. But thirdly, what a remarkable institution the NHS is, and how much we all have to be grateful for. Everyone that we dealt with was kind, patient, competent and good-humoured. Everyone treated Mum and Dad with respect and helped them to maintain their dignity (even when Dad was stranded on the floor).

The NHS is the envy of the world. We are so lucky to have it. It will be one of the major factors influencing my voting next week on June 8th. If you would like to see what the main parties are promising in their manifestos, there’s a link here. Let’s not take the NHS for granted.

19 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – Things Can Change in a Second

  1. Julia stapleton

    So glad to hear positive comments about The Health service. I work in the NHS in Somerset and will also be voting for the party giving the strongest support. Hope both your parents continue to thrive.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Julia, in the past few years the NHS has saved both my parent’s lives several times, both in Dorset and down here in London. I honestly don’t think people in the UK realise how lucky they are – when hear of the problems that my American friends have, it makes me very sad. I have an aunt in Somerset who also has very positive things to say about the service that she receives, so you are definitely doing so many things right!

  2. Brian

    So glad your Dad is OK again. I’ll say the dreaded words ……. I go to local NHS oversight meetings each month, and the only party that will stop the creeping privatisation of the NHS (as the rich go from strength to strength is the one with red posters.

  3. Sarah Ann Bronkhorst

    Glad he’s better. The dry mouth/thumping heart/sense of dread you have when the phone rings were familiar to me for much of my mother’s final decade. NB hydration: dehydration can result in urinary tract infections and, weirdly, apparent confusion.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thanks, Ann, I know that you understand, and thanks for the note about rehydration – the doctor mentioned that Mum and Dad have a spike in infections (particularly UTIs) in summer, and thought that maybe they weren’t drinking enough. They certainly make lots of tea, but generally it languishes beside them until it’s cold and then gets replaced with another one that meets the same fate….

  4. Laurin Lindsey

    I am tucking your parents in my prayers! They are fortunate to have a loving and caring daughter. The NHS is brilliant and I wish the USA would stop being so money and power hungry and take care of all the people. The photos are beautiful!

  5. Veronica Cooke

    My mum had COPD; the first we knew of it was when she told my brothers (who both lived with her then) that the wallpaper was moving…the hallucinations were caused by lack of O2.

    She recovered but never recovered fully and had to have continuous oxygen. Her quality of life became seriously curtailed and she decided she didn’t want to be here any more. She was a very strong willed woman and died in hospital aged 76 sixteen months after the first episode.

    Our NHS is absolutely brilliant; we must keep it and not let it be sold off to the private sector. My vote was (I postal voted) very influenced by this issue, too.

    The flowers and insects in your parent’s garden are wonderful!

    1. Bug Woman

      Yes, COPD has a lot of invidious effects, doesn’t it. Mum has it (a bit) but she also has heart failure, which has its own issues. Mum and Dad both seem to lurch from one crisis to another, but with periods inbetween when they enjoy life. I am so sorry about your Mum. She sounds like a remarkable woman.

  6. Katya

    You are indeed fortunate to have such a wonderful health service. My sincere hopes that your Mum and Dad will be able to celebrate their sixty years together with health intact and spirits joyful.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thanks Katya – I’m keeping my fingers crossed too! We go forward with hope, because that’s the only way to do it. The challenge will be finding something else for them to look forward to once the party is over, but there are whispers of a cruise 🙂

  7. Fran and Bobby Freelove

    We thought we must offer you our best wishes and hope your Dad continues to do well. We know exactly where you’re coming from as we looked after our father for the last 8 years of his life, he too had those dreadful infections and towards the end had the onset of Alzheimers. It’s a very difficult time, stay positive. We quite agree about our NHS service, i had a major operation just over a year ago and i’ve nothing but admiration for everyone that works for them. In the meantime keep being at one with nature and continue with your lovely and always interesting blog.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you so much for your support, Fran and Bobby. It must have been a very hard time with your father – as people get older they seem to be just one cough or uti away from the hospital the whole time. I’m sure that the NHS has saved Mum and Dad’s lives on multiple occasions over the past few years.

  8. Toffeeapple

    I am sorry to learn about your father’s problem and equally pleased to know that he is on the mend.

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