When John was in his late 70’s, he decided to move to a hostel when living alone became difficult for him – he liked his independence. He felt his security was threatened and he was aware that nieces and nephews cared for him. Moving involved changing his address and all that that entails: changing his doctor, his post office where he received his Old Age Pension, and many other practicalities – including deciding what he could take with him.
He settled in, having the choice if he wanted to mix with other residents, or not. Technically, the hostel became his home – meals were cooked, laundry done and the only responsibility was to pay his weekly rent, which was subsidised by the Eastern Regional Health Authority.
After a number of years, his health deteriorated, his mobility became a problem, looking after his personal hygiene, walking to the local shops – even visiting his G.P., walking to the nearest toilet created problems, which led to soiled clothes and bed wetting.
We arranged chiropody, organised eye test and glasses. Weekly assisted baths ensured he maintained his appearance, skin was checked regularly especially for pressure sores. We supplied changes of clothing when required as his income was insufficient to provide that for himself. In a situation like that it would have been necessary for him to attend a clothing centre to obtain help. However, he was a proud man, and would have preferred going to a shop, but this would have also proved difficult for him.
When his medical card ran out, he mislaid the notification, which requested a birth certificate for proof of age, even though he had had a card for years! To get one he would have had to go to the Birth Registrations Office some miles from the hostel, with no direct bus service.
All forms left in the local welfare office were mislaid twice. Meanwhile, his rapidly deteriorating health meant he could not walk up the hill to the office even though only 5 minutes away. A TRUST volunteer informed the office staff, who said they would phone him when the card was ready – but he had no phone! Three visits, and numerous phone calls later, he got a medical card number. His GP had arranged a geriatric appointment at our request – hostel staff were using a wheel chair to take him to his GP.
Numerous appointments in Day Hospital followed – numerous tests were ordered. The procedure in Out Patients Department is not always a patient friendly experience. A consultant says ‘ see you on 02/12’ but the patient is rarely told that it is necessary to go to appointment desk. On all his hospital and GP visits, TRUST staff or hostel staff escorted him. It was patently obvious the man was losing weight, was in severe pain, and needed care delivered by trained staff in a proper setting with at least some basic comforts.
Following a letter to the hospital consultant from TRUST, he was admitted to hospital, where we also visited him. There, he refused to let hospital staff bathe him. One afternoon, 3 weeks later, he was transferred to the Hospice. No one was informed. He died less than a week later.
We tried. But the “system” has become so depersonalised that we must continue to demand we treat people as people and treat outsiders like John with some respect.