Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fight For Life

I mentioned the TV programme "Fight For Life" a couple of weeks ago when the subject matter was how resiliant young children and teenagers are to serious illness and how quickly their bodies recover.

Monday night the final episode was still on the same subject - the remarkable ability that the human body has to recover from illness and trauma - but this time the last programme in the series had come full circle, this time it was the turn of old people and their reaction to serious illness.

One remarkable snippet to come out of the programme was that elderly people react better to chemotherapy than young people, simply because their body does not replace cells as quickly, its a problem when you are waiting for your bones to knit of course, but when you have cancer it actually helps that your rogue cells are not duplicating as quickly as they would have done had you been 60 years younger - cancers in young people develop much quicker than cancers in old people, I never thought of it in quite that way.

Another angle on the "cancer will affect one in three" motto is that its a direct result of better diet and living conditions, we are all living so long now that cancer is about the only thing left that will kill most of us - just two generations ago we had all sorts of good diseases and filthy living conditions to die from.

And yet another snippet - every ten years we add another two years onto our life expectancy, I quite like the osund of that one as I am very optomistic in the belief that I am only half way through my life yet - don't smoke, don't drink, don't dance, I'm going to live forever.

And of course the programme showed three old people who were admitted to casualty for a range of ailments and with the aid of surgery we saw how their bodies fought against the problems and won some more time for them - and then into casualty came an 82 year old Welsh man who was the sweetest old man you'd ever wish to meet and who looked remarkably like Johnboys grandfather off "The Waltons".

He had bad pains in his stomach, blood tests showed a high level of acid and a suspicion that his problem lay in his bowel - a scan confirmed this and the camera was privvy to a long conversation that he had with the doctor who was assigned to him in casualty in which he explained why he was living in Birmingham (he had moved there five years earlier to be with his childhood sweetheart) and how he had fought on the Normandy beaches during the war and all the other good stuff that sweet old grandfathers come out with, and the doctor kept promising him that his life wasn't over yet and that they'd have him fit and raring to go right soon, just as soon as the surgeon came down to speak to him.

And the surgeon came and sat down and held his hand and explained to him that whilst technically they could remove his damaged section of bowel, it would involve a very risky operation for someone of his age and that given his already weak heart the surgeon could not guarantee that he would survive the time that he would spend in theatre and even if he did he seriously doubted that this sweet old man would ever wake up again from the anesthetic.

The surgeon basically told him that he wasn't going to operate and that this was the end of the road and try as I might I just couldn't put myself in that surgeons shoes, say that and then sign off my shift, go home and not think about my decision for the rest of the week.

The old man was very philisophical, he simply said that he'd had a wonderful life and asked what would happen next, he was told that he'd be taken to a ward and made comfortable, which is a codeword for "pumped up with morphine until you die".

It was gripping television and while I watched this upstairs my family sat downstairs goggle-eyed at "Big Fekking Brother" - Channel Four should have their licence removed for force feeding shite down the throat of gullible fools for six months of the year whilst other broadcasters have to actually put some thought and money into their output.

It all reminded me of the time that our dad died, he'd flown home from Benidorm four weeks beforehand with pains in his liver and although we all knew that it was possibly terminal we never actually said anything to each other, I kept taking him for tests and because it was nearly christmas and the consultants were all finishing a week early we never actually got the diagnosis until he was in too much pain to stay at home, it was left to a young chinese doctor, four days before christmas to actually find his files and come into a small interview room to tell us that his liver was completely fooked from cancer and that there was nothing else that they could do - he looked very worried while he told us this as if it would be a terrible shock and when I said "yes I know" the relief on his face was tangible - just like the old man on TV last night our dad was "made comfortable" until he died on Boxing Day 1998 and just like the old man in TV last night he seemed perfectly at peace with the end result of his years of making merry in Benidorm.

Another fifty years of writing this crap and I'll be ready for my "make him comfortable" moment...


Ms Jones said...

Great Post!
I cried buckets & one day I may be able to write my journey.(not yet tho)

Maine said...

I kinda welled up.

I can only imagine someday being in a hospital bed, hearing the truth from a doctor then saying, "One request? The best drugs you have, and play Siamese Dream on repeat in a pair of headphones until I'm dead. Thank you, kind sir. Now go save somebody who really needs you."