Suzy Snapper
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Romantic or Psychotic?

An absolutely heartbreaking incident happened in Penticton on Tuesday.

A 77-year-old man walked into the front doors of the local hospital, through to where his bedridden 80 year old wife was. She had been in medical care since a stroke 28 days ago. He pulled out his handgun, shot her in the head and then himself.

They had no children. Both in failing health in an already overburdened health care system, it would seem they chose a quicker end to their time on this earth.

Last week, they were told that she would not recover from her stroke and the decision was made to place her in a care home. He had lovingly cared for her, visiting her every day and spending hours upon hours with her. From the news reports, it sounds like it was simply too much to bear to be separated after so long.

Of course, some must make it into a bitter commentary on gun control.

As I've found recently with the declining health of my aunt, it is increasingly difficult to find solutions to the long term health issues of the elderly. To many of our elder generation, the mere thought of having to rely on others for their basic upkeep is unthinkable and a bitter pill to swallow. They're the generation that survived the Depression, World War II and other wars, didn't have the modern conveniences we have today. They made it. They coped. Now, as they become incapacitated and are offered beds in overcrowded hospitals where even more diseases lurk, or homes with chronically understaffed overworked nurses, the thought of the McCaddens is more a romantic end than anything else.

When my Aunt was in hospital in April for her stroke, it was not a serious threat to her health as far as these things go. She had a TIA which affected some of her speech, vision and mobility but did not affect her ability to care for herself. However, 3 days into her hospital stay, amid discussion of returning her home, she contracted the Norwalk virus. Her entire floor was quarantined. We were not allowed up there, nor any telephone communication with her. Calls to overworked nurses were met with exasperation as they did not want to update conditions, but tend to the patients - as they should. We had no way of knowing how her condition was - or if she was fairing ok. And of course, she does suffer from severe depression which was also on our minds. Finally on the 5th day of 'quarantine', I decided enough was enough.

I arrived on the floor and demanded entrance. I told them, while I understood there was a quarantine and that I was taking my chances, I would scrub and gown up just as they were. They relented and allowed me in.

I found my aunt in squallid conditions at the end of the hallway. Very confused and not completely aware of her conditions, she had virtually been left. Because she was not the 'sickest', the nurses were tending to those who were. She had only suffered 2 days of the Norwalk symptoms and now was simply resting. The only people my Aunt had seen in the previous 5 days were the food handlers (who left food in the hallway as their contract stated they did not have to enter quarantined rooms), and the nursing students to bring the medication. No physiotherapist, no doctor. She had no idea why she was there, or what was happening. If she tried to enter the hallway, she would be shoo-ed back in lest she get farther down into the higher quarantine area.

Is this what we have to give to our elders? I hope not. As much as I would hate to see more of the Penticton situation, I can understand how this man felt this was his final option.

Vancouver, British Columbia
A patriotic Canadian full of visions of a better Canada, random thoughts and a lot of hot air. Who am I? A struggling writer and photographer trapped in a corporate buyer's body. Steel shopping by day, and freeflowing prose by night. One day I hope to have the nights become my days, but am intimidated by the sheer amount of people who share my dream. So I read. A lot. I learn. A lot. I push myself. A lot. The world is a small place, and getting smaller every day. I'm proud to have friends in every corner of the earth, and abide by the old adage that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met yet.
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