Saturday, January 15, 2011

Last year, on the 9th of November, my 86 year old mother-in-law stood up to get something from her sewing basket.

She can't quite remember how this happened, but she fell. She tried to steady herself with her right hand, but couldn't stop herself falling, badly bruising her wrist.

It was the same wrist she broke about 6 or so years ago, and her main concern was that she might have broken it again.

In every other respect she seemed fine.

But that Sunday when she got up she found herself suffering the most intense pain in her legs. It seemed to start round her groin and then travel down her legs. It was a stabbing pain, she said. As if she was walking on knives.

At first she wouldn't see a doctor. She thought it had something to do with her arthritis, and that there was nothing they could do. But in fact she was frightened of going to hospital.

She was also most reluctant to think about getting more help. As she said: "I like my independence".

After a week of struggling with her stick, which clearly was no use to her any more, she finally relented and we could call a doctor. The doctor tried a variety of pills, some of which gave her hallucinations, but the best thing was she managed to get her a zimmer.

I wanted to write an entry in praise of this humble thing, which had trays incorporated into its design, and which suddenly made life possible again.

But the pain just got worse and worse; and by Friday 17th December we had reached a crisis.

But she still would not go to hospital. Perhaps it will ease, she said. But by Monday life truly had become impossible.

It was a day of heavy snow. We had to wait twelve hours for an ambulance. But eventually one came.

Once in hospital, everything got easier. She was no longer bound by the iron law that told her she had to get dressed every morning. She no longer had to walk down the long corridor to the toilet in the middle of the night. She no longer had to shuffle, in agony, to and from her chair.

She was in hospital 3 weeks. They gave her respite. They gave her stronger painkillers. They looked at all her illnesses, and tut-tutted over the vast amount of pills she takes, and gave her more.

She came home last Tuesday. She has problems with her heart. It beats very fast, often very irregularly. Because it is not really functioning as it should, her legs are very swollen and are at constant risk of becoming infected. She also has diabetes. If she doesn't eat regularly, she becomes dizzy and sick. It also worsens the problems with her swollen legs. She has an old hiatus hernia. An underperforming thyroid. Her blood pressure is high. She has osteoperosis. She suffers appalling pain from her arthritis. She has a hairline fracture in the femur. Because of all this, she doesn't move around very much, and this puts her at risk of chest infection.

Because of all this, she takes 33 pills every day.

Her chest is very wheezy, and I must make sure the doctor knows about this and prescribes her antiobiotics. This will take her pill count up to almost forty.

She keeps on. I have seen her forcing herself to eat through nausea because she wants to go on living.

A carer comes in every morning. Mornings are the worst time. Yesterday she was in great pain and distress because the milkman had knocked on the door. He needed his money. And she had spilt water down her wrist when she was washing: and so needed an extra journey down the corridor to change her dressing gown.

A carer also comes in the evening. But me and Bex take it in turns to also go round. Last night, watching her struggle to lift her poor swollen legs up into the bed, I couldn't bear it any longer and helped her.

She said, very gently but very firmly: "I have to learn to do it myself".

She keeps on.

I don't know how many acts of heroism like hers take place every night in lonely rooms.

I hope it means something that we are there, at least sometimes, to give a little love and encouragement.

And bear witness.

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