Old Age is a Bugger

January 28, 2010

My parents were born in the 1920’s and are now old and frail. Thanks to improvements in medical care, they have outlived their own parents’ lives by several decades. In the last few weeks, my mother and father have each endured an emergency admission to hospital having been rushed by ambulance to A&E. They are now both safely installed back in the care of the nursing home.

A report published this week by the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), has shown that while life expectancy in Ireland has increased significantly during the 20th century, our later years are likely to be spent in poor health. The report emphasises the need for further research to ensure that sufficient planning is undertaken so that adequate policies and services are in place for older people.

The CARDI report revealed that since the 1920s, Irish men have increased their life expectancy by around 20 years, while women have extended their average life span by 24-25 years. A man can now expect to live to 76.8 years while a woman  can look forward to making it to 81.6 years.

Our expectations have certainly changed. Not so long ago, 64 was considered old. Remember this song?

By 2041, it’s estimated that the number of people aged 75 and over, will reach almost one million. That’s three times the number living now. And the number of people who make it to 85 and beyond, could increase five-fold.

The number of years a man can expect to live in poor health, has risen from 9.5 in 1999 to 14.7 in 2007. And for women, the projected years of bad health have increased from 11.3 years to 16.8 years.

In other words, these figures show that while we’re successful at keeping people alive for longer, we’ve not managed to extend healthy life spans to the same extent. Do you have an opinion on this?

If all this talk of old age is getting you down, let me remind you of the famous quote by Maurice Chevalier (New York Times, 9 October 1960)…

Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”

The Gift of Life

January 21, 2010

The Gift of Life is a brand new three part TV3 series which follows the stories of 14 people who are awaiting transplants in Ireland. It’s an extraordinary behind the scenes look at the lives of transplant patients in Ireland today. The series follows the dedicated medical teams in the transplant centres in Beaumont, St Vincent’s and the Mater Hospitals.

In the first episode tonight, we meet four people in need of a transplant:- Josephine McQuaid who is waiting for a heart transplant, Sarah-Jane Mitten needs a new liver and Aidan Mulligan and Darren Cawley are each waiting for a new kidney. This series follows these people over a period of months as they deal with their illness and the prospect of a transplant.

The Gift of Life starts tonight @10pm on TV3.

So What Happens Now?

January 20, 2010

Another page of the book has been turned. My head was reviewed again yesterday at the hospital and as the bone is still infected and discharging, the decision was taken to refer my case back to the specialist centre in Nottingham.

Being used to trouble, I anticipate it but all the same I hate it… wouldn’t you?  It’s anyone’s guess, what happens now.

Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is a song from the musical Evita with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Challenging Times Ahead

January 15, 2010

Last month, I was admitted to the day ward of the hospital for some minor surgery on my head. When my husband came to collect me in the evening, the nurses asked him to come back in an hour as I was still sleeping off the general anaesthetic. When he returned, I was awake but very groggy and sore. The other patients had already been discharged home and as the unit was about to close for the day, I was transferred to one of the main wards of the hospital to be monitored overnight. By the following morning, I had recovered sufficiently to be discharged home. Why am I telling you this story?

I heard on the news the other day that in an effort to reduce healthcare spending in 2010, acute admissions to hospital are to be reduced by 54,000 in the coming year. The HSE wants to transform the way hospital services are run by moving healthcare out of the hospitals and into the community.

It’s proposing to do more day surgery procedures so that the costs of overnight stays in hospital can be avoided. There were 900 bed closures in acute hospitals across the State in 2009 and the HSE is proposing to close at least another 1,000 beds this year. This inevitably means that more people will be waiting longer for surgery. It also means that there will be no spare beds available for when day surgery unexpectedly results in an overnight stay.

But it could also mean this…

Breast Cancer Screening

January 12, 2010

I’d another mammogram yesterday courtesy of BreastCheck. This Government-funded national screening programme invites women aged 50 to 64 for a free mammogram on an area-by-area basis, every two years. The aim of BreastCheck is to reduce deaths from breast cancer by finding and treating the disease at an early stage. I’d barely sat down in the waiting area yesterday when I was whisked away to be screened. The service was fast, efficient and friendly and could not be faulted. However, I recently read that a revolution in breast cancer screening is on the cards. Results of research in Galway suggest that a simple blood test may soon be sufficient for breast cancer screening.

“Mammography is currently the gold standard diagnostic tool and is the basis for national breast cancer screening programmes. But it is not perfect; it involves exposure to radiation and some 8 to 10 per cent of women who have the test, but who don’t have cancer, will be told initially they do have a tumour.

The ideal test for breast cancer should be easily accessible: it could be sampled in a minimally invasive way; must be sensitive enough to detect the early presence of tumours in almost all patients who have the disease; and should be absent, or at very low levels, in women who are cancer-free.

Ground-breaking research into breast cancer has just emerged from the Department of Surgery at NUI Galway. Not alone does the newly-discovered blood test have the potential to more accurately assess how a woman with breast cancer responds to current treatment, but it may, subject to further research, replace mammography as the main screening method for breast cancer.

Preliminary analysis suggests that the blood test will be 92 per cent accurate in detecting the presence of breast cancer in women who have yet to develop symptoms. If this finding is replicated in larger studies, there is a real possibility of breast cancer screening taking place in your local surgery, using nothing more complicated than a blood test.”

Although medicine has come a long way in recent years in the management of breast cancer, this research offers great hope for the future. Roll-on the revolution!

Information Source: The Irish Times HEALTHplus

Chapter 27

January 6, 2010

This being the start of a new year, my surgeon had a new senior registrar in tow at his out-patient clinic yesterday. Having outlined my extensive medical and surgical history, the consultant summed up by saying that a book could be written about my case. Four different surgeons have operated on my head at this stage and at least four more have been consulted, in an effort to solve the problem of chronic infection. Just recently, I found an old file at home which contained a detailed record of all the surgery I’ve had over the years. I was amazed to find that on my head alone, I’ve undergone a staggering 26 operations under general anaesthetic. I knew it was a lot but I’d lost count years ago as I’ve been through many day procedures and other operations as well. Yesterday’s consultation concluded with the surgeon suggesting, not for the first time, that I should write a book about my experiences. Right now, a new chapter has already begun.

My last trip to the operating theatre 2 weeks ago, was for a ‘drill-out’ of a small area of recurring bone infection in my head. The exposed bone was treated with an antibiotic medication and I was discharged home the following day. Once I’d recovered from the effects of the anaesthetic, my head felt good and I was confident that the treatment had been successful. However, a week later my symptoms gradually returned and my hopes were shattered once more. An uncharacteristic despondency descended over me as we entered the New Year.

On examination in the outpatient clinic yesterday, the surgeon confirmed that the infection has recurred in the bone. I was concerned that he would opt to refer me back to the specialist unit in the UK but to my relief, he decided to proceed there and then with some further work on my head. While the treatment was unpleasant (without anaesthetic), it certainly wasn’t unbearable and I have been asked to return in 2 week’s time for another session. If this treatment fails, then I will definitely have to return to Nottingham for further assessment. The story continues.