Saturday, 15 July 2017


‘FIASCO!’ read the header on my brother’s email, just as my husband walked in and announced our strimmer was no longer working. In fact I had already guessed as much by the sounds of it dying and failing to restart, and a lot of groans emanating from the garage. I approached the garage with the same trepidation as I felt when opening the email. The strimmer’s instruction leaflet lay disgarded on the floor, its absurdly complicated diagrams and multilingual commands abandoned. After a quick discussion the machine itself was loaded carefully into the car and promptly disappeared, along with said husband, to the garden machinery repair shop on Dartmoor.

My brother’s fiasco began in a more orderly manner with an appointment letter from the NHS, that guardian of our health and welfare. Our 87-year-old mother has spent the last ten weeks in and out of hospital, and it’s been awful. She experienced a bad fall – if you’re 7, you fall over, but at 87 you ‘have a fall’ – and you don’t jump back up again. When eventually she was allowed to go home, all kinds of provision had to be made for care, oxygen, carers and machinery to enable her to exist in a rather unforgiving house layout. She needs oxygen most of the time, although she can now go for up to an hour without it. Her bed had to be moved downstairs (cue my husband, brother and me managing to lower it out of a window…), but the only bathroom in the house is upstairs. There is a stair lift, but I think by now you may be beginning to understand a little of the difficulty carers of the chronically sick and disabled experience in providing home care. Not that she wanted to stay in hospital – oh no! The other day I found pages of her notebook covered in ‘countdown’ dates which she had ticked off in her now feeble handwriting. The date of her ‘release’ was written several times by various people and she had underlined it. ‘I want to die at home,’ she informed all of us.

The appointment at the hospital with a urology specialist, therefore, came as a blow to both of them. She hated the idea. My brother telephoned to make scrupulously careful arrangements for her transport, oxygen and return home. He would not be able to accompany her (not allowed!) so his journey would be separate, in his car. We are talking about a 26-mile journey across Devon which according to Google Maps takes 55 minutes – and in practice somewhat longer because of the poor roads. So naturally enough when the day arrived, a carer having come in especially early to prepare my mother for the journey, and the transport did not arrive at the right time, my brother grew worried. A few telephone calls seemed to indicate that the ambulance was not having a good journey. Eventually it arrived, and after getting her into it and safely off to North Devon, my brother phoned the hospital to advise she would be late for the appointment and jumped into his car. He knows the route well by now, and using a shortcut he was able to beat the ambulance to the hospital by about ten minutes, seizing the last available parking slot at the same time.

Eventually my mother arrived, but the problems began to multiply. There was no oxygen available. The nurse who had booked the oxygen was furious and rang all round the hospital to find some. After a while a chronically old-fashioned cylinder appeared which several people were unable to connect up, so when at last a porter appeared with a more recent appliance everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Literally.

The session with the specialist is more curious, because he was so unprepared for it. After looking through my mother’s stack of notes he pronounced himself unable to comprehend the reason for the appointment. He then gave my mother a long look and told her she should still be in hospital. This went down like a ton of bricks. My brother outlined the situation at home and reassured him as to her care, and she was then able to ask a few questions and receive some encouragement about various matters, so we have one plus point to the visit so far.

In the NHS some things are doomed never to join up. When the appointment ended they returned to the waiting area, to wait for the return transport… which never came. They waited for an hour, and eventually my brother went to investigate, only to be told by a red-faced administrator that the return trip had been ‘overlooked’. By this time my brother’s patience had reached an end. Thinking on his feet, he wheeled my mother to the drop-off entrance, went and got the car and managed – with her help – to get her into the front passenger seat. In the absence of an oxygen supply, he opened all the windows and turned on the air conditioning, and proceeded to drive her home where she arrived safe and sound. And she’s fine.

We all discussed it yesterday (two days later) and came to the conclusion that no conclusion could really be drawn from such an illustration of communications failure. The oxygen debacle can clearly be blamed on lack of funding, but the rest of it is incomprehensible.

The strimmer has fared better. The garden machinery repair shop on Dartmoor has been inundated with such items, the main problem being fuel having been left in the machine over the winter, and fuel ‘not being what it was’.
Unfortunately the hedgecutter has now stopped working. Ah well, off we go to Dartmoor again…