A Christmas Tale of ‘Care’ in the 21st Century

Let me tell you about a very important person. Her name is Mary and she is 101 years old.

She is….

  • a daughter
  • sister
  • wife
  • mother
  • matriarch
  • grandmother
  • friend

She is…
Indomitable – domineering – loud– critical – brave –clever – beautiful – interesting – educated – literate – political – bloody minded – contented – loved – bawdy sense of humour – engaged with life

She loves…
A beer or six – literature -roman history -horse racing -the Beatles -poetry – politics -snooker – her family – fish and chips

She …
Worked for the civil service and MOD in particular – Spent much of the Second World War working in central London for the war office – Raised a family – Had a life

Until…

Three years ago, Mary lived at home with support from family and carers. Then she broke a tooth, got a sore mouth, stopped drinking, got a UTI, fell and was admitted to hospital.
Treated for UTI but not broken tooth, still had sore mouth, still couldn’t drink. Discussions about Liverpool Care Pathway! Withdrawing treatment.   WHAT!!!?

With typical determination, Mary hung on.

“But why can’t you just get the tooth sorted out?”
“We don’t offer that service.”
“Why not?”
“We just don’t.”

BIG FUSS!  Hospital Matron got involved, called in a dentist and sorted out tooth.

Mary rallied.

Eleven weeks had passed. Mary went into hospital continent and mobile and living in her own home with support. After eleven weeks of being catheterised (for convenience) she was doubly incontinent, confused and unable to self -mobilise. Care in a nursing home was recommended.

Mary moved to a lovely (privately owned) nursing home by the sea and still close to family. Mary was cared for with dignity and respect and it was always clear that she was valued by the staff that looked after her. She was always grateful and felt lucky to be so well looked after. Everyone said she was a pleasure to care for and loved to listen to her stories and poems. She, the staff, family and other residents celebrated her 100th and 101st birthdays. Mary enjoyed the best quality of life she could.

Until…

This week we have summarily been advised, in a note with a second class stamp, by the Company Director, that the home is to close in five weeks, 2 weeks before Christmas, and her care will be terminated (as will the jobs of those caring for her) .  The manner in which this information has been conveyed is shameful. A curt note expresses no regret or concern that the residents will be forced to leave their home, but that its closure is an inevitable consequence of the demands of meeting increasing standards and economy of scale. The language and tone suggests that she is simply there to be serviced and the service will no longer be available.

We will find her another place to live and hopefully she will survive the move.

Mary’s favourite saying is,

“It’s better to be lucky than rich!”

What a quaint, old fashioned notion in a country where it feels as if the only thing that matters is making a profit and keeping the shareholders happy. Call me cynical if you like but I anticipate that there will soon be a block of luxury apartments standing on the site of what was Mary’s home.

Mary is not….

  • a burden
  • a service user
  • a patient
  • a commodity

Compassionate care has been a hot topic for some time. The focus of criticism is often on the nature and training of those on the front line but Mary has had nothing but exemplary care from those individuals. It is systems and society that have let her down

Mary has…A family who can advocate on her behalf

I am…

  • Her daughter in law
  • A social worker
  • An academic
  • A human being
  • lucky and rich to have Mary in my life.

Jenny Bigmore
Programme Coordinator – BA(Hons)/Grad Dip Children and Family Studies

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