This afternoon is Veraâ€™s funeral, my mother-in-law who passed away 10 days ago. I thought I would share my experiences of her medical care in her last few weeks following controversial headlines about the Liverpool Care Pathway and reports that one in four families are not informed when doctors decide that terminally ill patients should be left to die.
While families can accept that a loved one is dying and future medical intervention can do little, it is natural they want to keep them alive as long as possible.
My father-in-law Roy told me that when Vera was in Addenbrookeâ€™s Hospital, Cambridge a doctor told him they would not try to save her if she took a turn for the worse. He was very upset and I advised him to make certain the doctors had a note on their records saying this was not his wish.
Nobody mentioned the Liverpool Care Pathway process and how it would apply to Vera. However, when another elderly relative was dying in the same hospital last year, her daughter-in-law was told by doctors that they would be following the LCP system. This totally baffled her as she comes from Liverpool and had no idea what its connection was with Cambridge. Clearly, the name is confusing and needs to be changed so this process is easily understood when explained to grief stricken relatives.
I asked a local doctor who called to see Vera on a house visit if they were following the LCP process, and he confirmed that it was something similar. I feel doctors may want to protect our feelings as they know how distressing it is for relatives to watch a loved one die. While I cannot fault Veraâ€™s local doctors and district nurses who were very caring, I was not keen on the paid-for care workers and their unsmiling brisk manner, watching them put on their latex gloves as they walked through her bedroom door.
Medics will judge each case through their professional eyes while families are governed by conflicting emotions because they do not want to see their loved ones suffer, but neither do they want to lose them. Thankfully, Vera was not in pain. As she became weaker and weaker, we hung on to every word which she whispered faintly, sometimes seeing a tear in her eyes. We chatted around her bed and tried to amuse and comfort her, but not exhaust her either. She did enjoy the company and a cousinâ€™s wife and myself shared a glass of sherry round her bed on one of her last days â€“ it was Veraâ€™s idea as this was one of her favourite drinks.
Towards the end, Vera was unable to swallow fluids and we tried different ways to give her drinks – through a straw, a childâ€™s beaker and then a teaspoon. I remembered that when my father died of cancer seven years ago, we used a sponge on a stick which we dipped into water and pressed on his lips and tongue which were provided by district nurses. Sadly, they are no longer allowed to provide them because some of the sponges came off. I hope someone is trying to remedy this problem because they are desperately needed by the dying. A clever member of staff in Boots had a greatÂ idea and suggested we tie gauze on a cotton bud and dip this in water. Roy made some up and this was what I used to moisten Veraâ€™s dry mouth. Her eyes told me how much she appreciated it. We were advised that Vera couldnâ€™t have a drip at home.
My father also had an NHS nurse sometimes sit by his side all night towards the end of his life as he also died in his own bed, but because of cash cuts this service is no longer available. Thankfully, the wonderful Marie Curie nurses were there for us.
I know Roy has been overwhelmed by the many kindnesses from friends and relatives and has had close to 100 condolence cards. It is going to be a very hard and emotional day for him as he remembers the beautiful land army girl he was married to for 59 years, and for my husband Stephen too who has lost his first love, and true unconditional love which only a mother can give.
*These pics were taken on one of Veraâ€™s last outings this year when I treated her and Roy to a pink champagne tea at Peacockâ€™s tearoom in Ely to celebrate their birthdays.