Friday, 27 May 2016

Sometimes a stranger is the best person to listen

I went into the GP's office this morning to get a referral for my psychiatrist, and also to get my right ear irrigated because it was clogged and my hearing was being affected on that side. While the doctor was syringing my ear to get the wax out of the canal we chatted about my mother and her situation in the nursing home. We talked about how mum has cellulitis and whether a nursing home was a poor environment for infections generally, but he said that cellulitis is brought on by physical inaction and low resistance to infection due to old age. I mentioned that I sometimes felt guilty about my mother's cellulitis because I thought that nursing homes might be bad environments for cleanliness. He said it wasn't necessarily true.

I also talked about how I had brought mum to Sydney from southeast Queensland in December 2014 following her diagnosis for dementia in March of that year. He said that looking after someone with a degenerative mental illness like Alzheimer's can be tough. "We all like to think that we will look after our parents," he said, "but sometimes it's not always possible." He sounded quite calm and neutral about it, so I had no reason to doubt him. I am sure that he talks with a lot of people about their elderly parents in the course of his daily work. So it made me feel better.

Then I told him about how, in the middle of 2012, I stopped freelancing because looking after mum was taking up too much time. I told him of one week around that time when I had to take mum to the GP every day for a week. I have always wondered if giving up journalism was a wise move, because now I feel the lack sometimes of a guiding principle in my life. I mean, I go and see mum every two or three days in the car but at other times I might sometimes feel like I am at a bit of a loose end.

It was relaxing to talk with the doctor while he was engaged in the essentially simple task of irrigating my ears. It was quite intimate and personal, and I felt as though I had his complete attention. I don't think he minded that I talked to him in this way during the procedure. He seemed quite relaxed about it. He said that it is a novelty for people to live as long as they do nowadays. Even 20 years ago people were dying ten years earlier than they do now. I had ventured that in the previous generation people were dying at age 65 or 70. So we were on the same page essentially. He also said that because humanity is quite a recent form of life, evolutionarily speaking, we have not really yet worked out how things like old age should be organised.

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