You Wouldn't Do It To A Dog

Posted at 00:13am on 30th October 2008

A cracked rib is painful at the best of times. A fortnight with an undiagnosed cracked rib still worse. But a fortnight, yelling in pain, being fobbed off with paracetamol and accused of malingering, when you’re 94 years of age is outrageous.


It began two weeks ago last Sunday. My other half and I went to my parents’ home to spend the day with my father so that my mother might have a day of respite playing in a bridge tournament. My father is the ninety-four year old; my mother – his carer – is ninety.

For those of you who don’t know (I’ve almost certainly mentioned this in previous blogs) my dad has Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), vascular dementia (and the beginnings of Alzheimer’s) and a WW2 related deafness. The deafness is dealt with in the conventional manner with hearing aids. Unfortunately, because of the dementia, most of the time he can’t remember where he’s put them. The AMD occurred first in one eye – at which point he was told that treatment would not be available until the second eye went. By that time it was too late. He was virtually blind in the first eye. (AMD attacks central vision, leaving only a distorted peripheral vision.) Now, like British rail who famously had the ‘wrong sort of leaves on the line’, he’s told that the second eye is ‘the wrong sort of AMD’ to receive treatment.

My mother has to do all the driving. Each visit to the doctor’s, indeed every postage stamp purchase, requires a car journey. Every shopping expedition means a round trip of an hour; every hospital appointment two hours of travel – let alone all the time hanging around explaining again, and again, why one is there.


Until recent years, my father has always been active, physically and mentally. A pilot during the war, he did his bit for 'King and Country'. At the age of eighty he took a supervised IQ test at the MENSA headquarters and not only passed, but ended up in the top 1%. Once an artist, a writer, an intellectual, his world has now closed down on him. He has become, at best, a figure of fun; at worst, someone to be avoided.


And now, it appears, someone to be ignored! Having observed, first hand, the spasms of pain that hit him with each movement, each cough, and knowing he had had a fall, I made an amateur diagnosis of a cracked rib. The doctor thought otherwise. ‘It’s probably nothing but a pulled muscle,’ he said when my mother rang the first time. ‘Give him paracetamol,’ was the advice on the second phone call. ‘I think he likes having you run around after him,’ said the social worker who calls each week. ‘Has no one tested for a fractured rib?’ asked his own doctor on his return from holiday sixteen days later.


I am currently visiting my eldest daughter. My son-in-law, a farmer, tells me that if one of his cattle is sick, he can have instant access to penicillin, cortisone, steroids or other anti-inflammatories, terramycin or any number of other medicines. If one of his cows were bellowing in pain it’s unlikely that he would deduce that it was malingering. He would do all that he could not only to try to ensure its recovery but also to relieve its suffering. Would that we, in this country, had as much compassion for our elderly as we show a dumb animal. You wouldn’t treat a dog like this.

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