My father is nearly ninety and in the last three years has been declining physically and, less obviously, mentally also. He started having trouble with his legs about five years ago, when he began lifting and putting down his leg foot in a strange ‘flapping’ manner that gradually became more pronounced.
At first he (and the family) put it down to his left knee which he finally had ‘replaced’ about fifteen years ago having lived with it for sixty years after rupturing his ACL playing rugby, an injury that finished his playing career. Subsequently he blamed his right knee, claiming that after so long spent compensating for its companion, it was finally giving up itself.
Either way he gradually developed balance issues. He’d bump into furniture, and for example now descends into armchairs by manouevring himself backwards ‘over the target’ and just ‘letting go’, presumably hoping that he’d come to rest in an upright position against the back of said chair.
Inevitably, he’s had the odd accident – mainly over-balancing, including at least three occasions in which, deliberately ‘falling backwards’ into a plastic chair in the style outlined above, said chair (and he) has collapsed backwards to the floor.
As you might expect, these instances of falling – and the occasional injuries resulting therefrom – have gradually increased over the past three years. He has been warned many times that he must be vigilant and careful at all times because, sooner or later, he is going to have a serious incident and potentially injure himself badly.
As a proud and stubborn man hewn from the British stiff-upper-lip (“Don’t make a fuss”) school, my father bears his periodic tumbles with a mix of good humour, viz. plenty of four-letter swearing and asides such as “You may need to put me away soon!” and then, more worryingly, subterfuge. He falls more often than he lets on – or has done so in the past – and also seeks to conceal his bumps and bruises unless they are so patently obvious that he has to confess or else appear an idiot.
As a family we are increasingly concerned about him, especially since he lives alone and has consistently responded “I’m not at that stage yet” when we’ve made representations to him that this ought to change, even if only for our sakes.
Last Friday he had a potentially serious fall in his drawing room, crashing against a table and bruising his ribs. Although soon afterwards he left a voicemail message for me to ring him, he then failed to answer the telephone about ten times over the fifty minutes after I had returned home and listened to his message. He then compounded the felony when, once I had called a neighbour and asked him to go and check on the house (to see if he was okay and so on), spotting said cove in the garden, instead of opening the door to him or responding when he banged on the windows and doors – in his own words, he “lay low” until he had gone away.
Since Saturday my brothers and I have been taking turns to ‘mind’ my father at his home. His rib injuries, about which of course little can be done but wait to heal, are plainly painful and he had the added complication of a chesty cough he picked up last week, so that whenever he coughs or takes a deep breath he also involuntarily winces at ‘tweaking’ his ribs.
On Sunday afternoon, not long after taking up residence at my father’s house for a couple of days, I had an ‘interesting’ exchange with the local NHS ‘111’ call-line service.
He looked frail and pale as he sat with us on the terrace, unusually quiet and withdrawn, and then he semi-collapsed at the lunch table. I moved him to the drawing room sofa, where I made him comfortable and then rang the local doctor’s practice. After 15 minutes waiting online – listening to a ‘looped’ tape saying they knew I was calling but the lines were very busy, as a result of which I had no idea whether I was in a queue or waiting until Monday – I bailed out and rang the local hospital, who in turn suggested ringing ‘111’.
After going through all the procedural hoops to establish the situation, I was advised to take my father to the local hospital A & E for a check-up.
By this time we had moved him upstairs to his bed, so I went up and said this was what I wished to do. He wanted no fuss and no doctor and refused to go to hospital. In reply I made the point that he was entitled to his opinion but – as his son – so was I to mine and I also felt I had a responsibility in the matter.
He would not budge.
I then went downstairs and rang ‘111’ again – I explained the situation and asked if they could now send someone to see my father, even just a para-medic if necessary. It was explained to me that – since the patient had refused to go to hospital – by protocol they were now not able to do this.
After some further conversation I rang off, now feeling that there was something amiss in the kingdom of Denmark.
In the old days, especially with an aged relative, you could call your local ‘on call’ GP and he’d come out to do a house visit come rain, shine or typhoon at any time of the night or day.
Fast forward to 2015 and – even where you as the caller have formed the view that a member of your family is potentially in a serious and weak enough condition that he ought to be seen by somebody … the medical authorities are apparently so busy filtering out crank and/or ridiculous calls that sending anyone medically-qualified out is quite beyond the question.