Paracetamol and a hot water bottle: the cure for everything

I’d love to panic about Wi-Fi and mobile masts, but this is the stuff that really scares me.

The elderly mother of a woman I know hasn’t been well for some time, and her GP has prescribed a few things – water tablets to help her kidneys remove fluid, warfarin to keep her blood thin. Recently, though, she’s been complaining of shortness of breath, and of quite severe pains, so her daughter has called out the GP a few times.

Incidentally, the woman has dementia, so her short-term memory doesn’t really work. On one visit she asked the GP, “Why are you here?” and he boomed, “Mrs X, you have human rights! If you don’t want me to be here, I will leave!” Her appalled daughter made it very clear to him what would happen if he left without first checking her mother.

The verdict? Nothing to worry about. The pains are muscular. Take two paracetamol, hold a hot water bottle where it’s sore and it’ll sort itself out.

Her daughter wasn’t convinced but hey, doctors know what they’re doing. But when the shortness of breath got worse and the pain got worse, and the GP once again said paracetamol would solve the problem, the daughter took her mother to hospital.

It turns out that there’s a real cause for the shortness of breath: her lungs are so full of fluid that they’re barely functioning. One lung is down to 10% of its normal capacity and the other one isn’t so far behind. That’s treatable, though, and all you need to do is drain the lungs.

One wee problem with that. It turns out that the warfarin she’s on has been massively overprescribed, and her blood is so thin that any attempt to drain the lung would almost certainly kill her. So she needs to stay in hospital for a bit while they thicken her blood.

The good news keeps coming. Thanks to the water tablets – which the hospital doctor says should not have been prescribed for her at all – her kidneys are utterly fucked, and could be days away from outright collapse. Go home and prepare yourself, he tells the daughter. Your mum might not live through the weekend.

But she does, and her blood thickens up, and (eventually – the procedure was cancelled several times before going ahead) they drain the lung (which, I’m told, was extremely painful for her. It’s certainly not a barrel of laughs when you’re otherwise fit and healthy). One lung collapsed and couldn’t be re-inflated, which isn’t fantastic news. But the good news doesn’t stop there. There’s a reason for the fluid in the lungs: cancer. She has three different, very advanced and therefore untreatable, cancers: in her chest, in her gut, in her reproductive system.

You know someone’s situation is bad when you’re glad they suffer from dementia and aren’t entirely sure what’s happening or where they are.

Still, two paracetamol and a hot water bottle will sort her out.

11 thoughts on “Paracetamol and a hot water bottle: the cure for everything

  1. Gary says:

    Realistically, there’s not hellish much you can do with advanced cancers. But it helps if you at least take the patient seriously and do your damndest to find out what’s wrong with her so you don’t make a terrible situation even bloody worse.

  2. Gary says:

    Oh, I know loads of similar stories, most of them just as depressing, but it just makes me miserable – and distracts me from this blog’s true mission, which is to make bad jokes and run gratuitous pictures of Girls Aloud.

  3. Squander Two says:

    This post’s title is a bit unfair on the GP. I’m sure such a qualified professional wouldn’t use the same treatment for everything. For other types of cancer, he might have prescribed asprin or even cushions.

  4. Ms Mac says:

    And to be fair, it’s not just the NHS/British GPs at fault. Mr Mac once had a colleague in the Royay Australian Navy who went to see a RAN doc with chest pains and was sent home with paracetamol and mouth wash. Dropped dead of a heart attack the next day.

    How I wish that were not a true story.

  5. Brian H says:

    It’s about horses and zebras. New doctor sees hoofprints, he says, “Zebras!”. Seasoned doctor sees hoofprints, he says, “Horses, again … ” Old guy’s usually right, but when he’s wrong, he’s seriously wrong. A false negative can kill; a false positive, less often.

  6. Squander Two says:

    Well, truish. In my experience, new doctor sees hoofprints, he says “What the hell are they? Lions? Mosquitos? Wombats? Could be anything. Let’s send you off to the lab and do hundreds of tests.” Old doctor says “Tests? Tests? I don’t do tests, my dear boy. I’m a consultant. Now go away and stop bothering me. I’m four under par as it is.”

  7. L. says:

    That’s just unbelievable.
    I just wish some doctors took their patients more seriously, and did listen to their complaints. What else are they there for?

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