Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A Good Book

I've just finished this excellent, if harrowing, book, lent me by my friend Julie who is the oncology nurse who accompanied me to my mother's last August when we were singing in Gloucester cathedral and mum was starting to show signs of a really rapid decline. As mum got worse, I found I couldn't cope with reading the book, so set it aside, but recently picked it up again and finished it today.

Nuland is what the Yanks call a physician who has spent his entire working life in hospitals, so is only too familiar with what really causes us to shuffle off this mortal coil, and he writes about it sympathetically and honestly, including references to things he's done wrong over the years.

It's full of a wealth of information about the detailed causes of death, and as you can see, Oliver Sacks describes it as 'unsparing'. I think I'd express it more strongly than that.

For instance, old women are prone to urethral and kidney infections, and once infected, the kidneys stop regulating the blood sugar properly. As the chemical balance of the blood is disrupted, the brain can't cope and the sufferer becomes confused, forgetful and sometimes delusional.

Mum's dementia became noticeable in February, but this stuff about kidney infections gave us false hope, because she did seem to get better when the antibiotics controlled her infections and right up until August we still clung onto the hope that if we could just nail the infections, she'd return to her old, spiky self. Trouble was, the confusion meant she forgot to take the antibiotics, which meant the infection wasn't properly controlled, which meant she forgot her meds, etc.

In truth, none of that was ever going to happen anyway. Julie, who has more experience with death than most, said it like it was, and after that we were really more focused on making mum's last days as comfortable as we could. We were lucky, in that her dementia progressed relatively rapidly, and she died in mid-November. Other folks have a much tougher, more drawn out agony. It was bad enough for us.

So you can understand why I found the book all too easy to leave on the shelf last year!

And the final joy is that I recall mum's father died, aged 91, after a short period of dementia, so I guess that's waiting around the corner for me, too. Hmmm....thinks.

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