Letter: Hospitals fail to accept the fact of death

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The Independent Online
Sir: I would like to endorse John Hoyland's moving article about his stepfather's illness with regard to the total inability of the NHS to acknowledge the fact of death.

An elderly tenant whom we looked after in the final years of his life went into hospital about six weeks ago with bronchial pneumonia. After a few days he contracted an infection and was moved to an isolated ward. After a few days in hospital it was quite clear to us that he was dying. On one occasion we made an inquiry as to his condition. "Oh he's doing fine, he's sitting up, he's making good progress," said the staff nurse.

When we went in to see him later that day we found him, indeed, sitting up, but with all sorts of tubes coming out of him and an oxygen mask over his face. A few days later we were told, "Oh he's a bit poorly today" as if he had a mild touch of the flu. We found him deathly white and in a coma. He died the following day.

During this period we were also going through a ludicrous charade with the social services to discuss provision for his care when he came out. Like John Hoyland, we found that nobody in the medical and caring services was prepared to accept that (old) people die. This seems to me a reflection of society's inability as a whole to come to terms with the fact of death.

Until we are able to accept that death is an integral part of life, then we will never satisfactorily be able to deal with many of the problems that life itself throws up. And old people will continue to die painful and humiliating deaths.


London NW5